As a child, Lettie Nash loved letters. She loved the curve, the swoop, the long stroke, the quiet point. Then as she grew, letters became words, became sentences, became prose, and overflowing with things to say she wrote and wrote and wrote.
Her mother made her hide her work, lest her father find and burn it for being too learned, too flighty for a ‘principled lady meant for women’s duties’. So she found a hollow in an old oak, and wrapped in oilskin lovingly she laid her letters, her poetry to the world.
One day the world wrote back.
Dear Lettie, the letter said, when she cracked the waxen seal. I came upon your letters and must admit to having read them all. Once begun, I could not stop, you see. Your words spoke to my heart, previously lamentously cold. Would you forgive me this digression, and write again? I know no other who can speak such wisdom with such youthful passion. Yours in hope, Stefano.
What joy she felt, that someone read her words! She promised it was only once she would reply… but of course this promise soon was broken. Stefano wrote so floridly, enchanting her young girl’s heart with outlandish tales of far-off cities and forgotten queens, songs of mountains and gentle sonnets, sweet praises and sympathetic advice. Lettie in turn told him of her hopes and dreams, her childhood and her education, her ambition and her family and her heart.
And of course there came a time when Lettie told him of her crush, her romantic fantasy of running away with him, her Prince of Words. To which Stefano, ever the gentleman, replied in earnest woe that he could not, in fact, elope with her, dear Lettie, though he wished it was not so.
I would be your ruin, he wrote that day. And later, Don’t tempt me, please. Then absence of response told more than words conveyed. After which, the haste of spurned youth turned Lettie sour toward letter-writing.
Years passed. One night, shaken and in tears, finding herself on the bench beneath the old oak, the now-married Lettie penned a letter. An apology, and a promise.
I shall not desert you, as hope has deserted me. I come back now, broken by my circumstance, cold beneath these winter boughs, hoping for your wisdom once again. Please reply, Stefano. My body has forsaken me, soon my husband too. If ever friend was needed, now is the time. Yours always, Lettie.
She did not expect a reply, but could not hold back hope when two weeks later, one came.
I hear your cry, dear Lettie. I am here. Stefano.
At this she wept, the friendship she’d forsaken for a silly youthful crush, when truly their old bond was deeper than a such torrid thing as emotional love. And renew that bond they did, once again narrating lives weighed down with misfortune and regret, but finding peace in shared sorrow and in observing that which made them happy. The glint of light on a gossamer wing. The first rays of dawn. The petrichor that lingered after rain.
Now it was understood that they should never meet. So when Lettie married again, and conceived miraculously, and shared her joy and fear and love, Stefano shared in it too, and there was no jealously, only companionship. And Lettie bared her soul to the one person she knew would never tell, and Stefano bared parts of his that none had ever known or even wanted to.
When the oblivion of war arrived in her sixtieth decade, Stefano’s letters ceased. Lettie thought she had prepared, but it did not stop her heartbeat’s crescendo each time she added yet another unread letter to the oak and found no more from him. She mourned then, and none knew why depression took her. When her second husband passed of lung disease, none questioned her continued blues. Her daughter moved away, sent cards at Christmas, and never bothered to return Lettie’s letters with words in kind.
She passed the time with crosswords and calligraphy.
Late one evening, rocking on her porch, waiting for dusk’s warmth to fade, a stranger came to her. Tall and dark, the young man smiled and bowed, offering daisies. Her favourite flower.
The moment stretched, until finally she had to ask, “Thank you, but… who are these for?”
“They are for you, Lettie Nash,” the smiling man declared. “I apologise, and lament my tardiness.”
A gasp, then sob followed. “Stefano?”
The man arose, and placed the daisies on her lap. “Yes. I have loved you seventy years, dear Lettie. Please let me love you while your years remain.”
And though she blushed, and showed her wrinkled skin, he took no complaint.
“It has always been your mind I loved,” he said. “Come, let us share our minds together.”
Lettie shook her head, a smile upon her aged face. “Gladly.”
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