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Monday morning. Finally.
The start of the week, for most rational citizens, usually commenced the humdrum of the weekdays: work meetings, weak coffee, long train or car rides. But for Riley, it signified the writing of a new letter.
It was his weekly tradition to write a letter to her every Monday. He cherished the ritual that had been carried on for seven years: reaching into the bottom drawer filled with the yellowing paper of his hardwood desk, and, with the same blue ballpoint pen, composing a letter of sheer brilliance (or so he thought) that would sweep her off her feet. He mastered the art of romance, and had written every metaphor and simile dealing with love that had ever been imagined, and then some. He put his sweat, blood and tears—literally, sometimes—into the composition of this letter for her. And he knew that she received them, even if she never wrote back. She was too occupied with work, he reasoned, but she loved them still. She voraciously read every single one, and she wrote him letters that the post office never sent because she wrote down the wrong address. She wrote down the wrong address—yes, that’s plausible. Every time, she wrote down the wrong address. So he just made the return address clearer on his envelopes; still no return. Perhaps the mailman couldn’t read her handwriting? It was not as flamboyant as his, he remembered. He even wrote in the next letter to express her handwriting more clearly, but still no responses.
He knew that she was dying to reply, but there were obstacles interfering with this objective. He knew. It was just so obvious to him. Why couldn’t she see it too?
He vividly remembered the time they spent together. The many hours walking hand in hand through the woodlands of the park; embracing under the moonlit paths of alleyways and dusk-covered awnings; huddling together beyond the stars and heavens that caressed their cheekbones and palpitated their hearts. The tissues that wiped tears—his tears—were replaced by letters, by pens, by drawers filled with paper that made the treacherous journey into her soul. It was the only way for him to enter her life again. Oh, how he longed for her touch, for her gaze, for his true love once more! And this he recited weekly in his letters, in the beautiful, yellowing scraps of paper that traversed the city only to end up within her heart.
Darkness. The atmosphere around him was shrouded in darkness. There were the moments of false hope when a bright light came pouring from above, and the world surrounding him suddenly became illuminated with fluorescence. It was just white, all around him. But slowly he could see his way to the top of the pile of his brethren, pushing past just to be touched by the man’s plump fingertips.
All he really had dreamed of was the touch of those fingertips and the sensation from a pen scribbling words over his body. He assumed it was pure bliss. That’s what he physically lived for.
And finally, after months of waiting, he felt the warmth of his fingertips. It was heaven. It was euphoria. His life was complete, literally. And after absorbing the sensation of warmth from human contact and the vivacity of life, he was coerced into the darkness and frigid, musty air once again. But this time he was elated, as he knew the destination was paradise. He had heard the idle prattle of his comrades discussing the destination and how they couldn’t wait to commence their sojourn. Now it was his turn.
The journey felt like he was being taken across the world rather than just across town. It wasn’t even a long drive to her mailbox, but to him, who had been stuffed in a drawer for countless months, the travel was one for the books. And he relaxed in solace in the metal mailbox, relieved that it was over and he had arrived there safely. He had heard about the patchy job of the mailmen those days in that town.
And he waited, ever so ecstatically, for the click of her high heels and the gasp upon receiving the envelope.
He heard one tale in which one of his own was stuffed back into another drawer upon arrival of paradise. Without even being opened, the poor friend was treated like trash. He hoped he wasn’t just trash: nay, he knew he wasn’t trash.
The overflowing drawer in the kitchen, next to the cabinet of china but across from the grey-marble countertops, always was the main focus of Violet’s eyes when she stepped through the archway onto the linoleum from the living room. She often even considered opening it; however, she weighed the circumstances and decided against it. It was filled with papers--well, papers to her, but love letters to him--and when she opened it, she sometimes had difficulty closing it.
Every time she received one of his letter, she performed her idiosyncratic ritual. Each letter was the same: always in a pale and yellowish envelope, postmarked on a Monday (although there was one time when it was postmarked Tuesday; yet she believes that he just didn’t make it to the post office before 5:00 PM closing time). The letters were always written in cursive, sprawled across the page in a sort of handwriting mixed between that only taught in 3rd grade classrooms and the unusual “Advanced Victorian Calligraphy” courses offered at sundry universities. It was blue ink, probably the same pen (although after seven years of letter writing once a week, she failed to believe that it was the same pen: perhaps the same type of pen; yes that would make sense). The pen was inky, but did not bleed through to the writing desk she presumed he sat at.
She would oftentimes wait with anticipation for the mail to come. Receiving new letters from friends, family, or strangers was one of her favorite past-times; the thrill of opening the unmarked envelope and reading the faint scribbles both amused and enchanted her. She would laugh at the dots above the “i’s,” and even mock the unusual ampersand symbols if they were not perfect. The mail would come each day at 3:00 (sometimes at 3:03, if Paul the mailman was late, or at 3:07 if Paul was on vacation and Mark had to replace him). But when she leafed through the envelopes and encountered his letter again, as she did once every week, she would sigh. The sigh would be a fusion between a sigh and a scowl, more specifically; yet nonetheless, she was unhappy upon realization that he was continuing to write her. Did he not comprehend? She thought it was obvious when she had never responded to a single one that she did not want to converse with him further. She believed it was even clearer when she filed a restraining order against him in the county court. Although she did admire his persistency, as he never stopped addressing her and he found a loophole in the law and he even contacted the post office to ensure that his letters got to her home. That’s commitment.
What he did not know, and what he could never know, is that she had a custom each time that she received another letter. She would reach deep into her overcoat pocket—she always seemed to be wearing an overcoat—and dig through the layers of gum wrappers and receipts and washing-machine-dried dollars and slightly used tissues and scraps of paper and phone numbers until she reached the coins. They were always at the bottom of the pockets, as though the heaviest objects sunk to the floor in the sea of discarded, stuffed-away items. She would arbitrarily choose one and pull it out, placing it on the table, and flip it.
On the most recent instance, she pulled out a quarter. It was staring up at her with a face eroded away after eons of use, through registers and vending machines and wallets and pockets, through dryers and sweaty hands and piggy banks. She wondered just how many people had touched it, just how many people were involved with the fate that would follow upon the flipping of the coin.
She then always chose tails to be the “better” fate. “Tails” had a unique harmony in the repetition of the word that “heads” just did not share. She hesitated and stared deeply into the eyes of George Washington looking back at her; though his eyes were old with age and not particularly eminent to begin with, she convinced herself that she could still see into them. She had a penchant of staring into eyes, because she believed that if she looked hard enough, she could see herself within the iris. She liked to know that part of herself was inside others. He understood that. She was ashamed that she thought of him once again: she needed to forget about him. But how, if he constantly sends letters?
She sighed and clenched her fingers, as though this basic coin flip determined a significant part of her future. She rested the coin on her thumb nail, allowing herself a final breath before the flip. It was funny, she thought as her heart raced, how this coin flip would decide such a minute fate, yet she was so nervous. And before she knew it, the quarter was midair.
But it’s funny how coin flips work, because the moment that she propelled the piece of metal into the atmosphere, watching it spiral and flip around itself in such a fashion that it looked like a column of steam from a tea kettle, she suddenly desired for it to land on heads. She completely changed her mind. And her eyes were glued on the coin, flipping through the air, turning ever so slowly before her watchful gaze.
And just as quickly as it ascended, it descended and landed promptly on the table. She looked down. Tails. She audibly sighed in relief, but her mind was in a fury. Trapped and repressed thoughts bumped against the walls of her cerebrum. She could make an exception and go against the fate decided by the coin flip: maybe just this once? He did take so much time to compose the letter.
“So I guess it’s decided,” she said softly. She ripped open the envelope and read the letter to herself. She quickly scanned the document, noting how the “l” looked and how the “o” and “v” were connected at the top, and how the “e” wanted to be closer to the “y-o-u,” because that was the prettiest word of them all. And she almost let out a tear, because it was a beautiful letter. Another beautiful letter. He did have a way with words. But she suddenly recalled that she couldn’t respond. She could never respond. He could never know that she read the letters. He could never, never know. She opened the drawer, painfully, as it was filled to the brim with paper, and stuffed it with the others. She groaned, and sat down at the desk. He could never know.