Day 117 (Writing Challenge) — Be Brief: “Thank you for the shoes.”
You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.
Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.
Randall picked up the letter, thinking at first he had just dropped it. “One of my notes, you know.” This is what he told us.
Everyone knows the deal. He’s surrounded at all times, wherever he goes, by little — often incomplete — “notes” (to self): reminders (e.g., 10 am Tues, next to B’s), interesting bits of conversation (e.g., “she knows exactly what she’s doing”), movies he hopes to see (“Julia,” WA’s “Hotel…”), etc. They’re all over his house, he says, never to be seen again, “or, when they do resurface, I can’t remember what they’re about.” Ha-ha-ha. He leaves a trail of them in his wake, too, languishing under seats in friends’ cars, tangled up with crumpled napkins after dinners out, to be dealt with by housekeeping after work meetings (along with emptied sugar packets, presentation print-outs, etc.), stuck to the bottoms of people’s shoes after happy hours, wherever. “Whatever! Ha-ha.”
Some may even be “loosed into the great yonder,” he used to like saying, dislodged as he rummages through his man purse (I used to like saying), looking for his cell phone, credit card, hand sanitizer, mace, trademark handkerchief, or “a pen and more little bits of paper on which to write more notes!!!” (Loosed? Really?) And then who knows where they end up, “caught by the wind, carried off by a bird? Ha.”
These are the kinds of things he’s said about his notes. And then, also: “That’s fine.” “So what?” or “It’s not like I will ever miss them.” They are merely “the marginalia” of his life, neither precious nor trivial, he’s explained, simply the overflow of an overactive, unusually creative mind that is headed, fast, toward a “terminal sum.” His father, a plumber, used to use that term in association with particularly gruesome jobs. “I like to imagine what the old man would think of my novel! Hmmmm.”
Blah, blah, blah.
So I had to ask, having endured all of this talk over so many years, as we all have — almost as much about his tiresome notes as about his supposed novel: “So why did you pick it up, if you thought it was just another one of your notes?”
I was being mean.
Rachel and Merke stiffened. Lucia waved the waiter over. “Another order of mussels,” she said. “Make it two,” said Merke.
Randall’s eyes started to glisten. He smiled a little, looked down at the empty bowl at the center of the table. “They are good tonight,” he said. “The mussels.”
When we were young and new to each other, newer to life, I once spent the night at Randall’s. It was nothing romantic, just one of those nights when the conversation goes on so long that you feel, as you come to the end of it, that you’ve been traveling by foot for days and days and must sleep. He told me all about his father, and mother, that night and about the novel (same story) and the notes (same story). I remember looking around and thinking, yes, there were plenty of places here where a note could hide or get lost forever. Just before I fell asleep, Randall began talking again.
“But one might be caught by the wind, one day, or carried off by a bird … to be discovered by someone on the other end, who might want to know more. Or simply to connect.”
“One what?” I thought I asked aloud, but maybe I just thought it. I was hardly awake.
“A bird brings you a note and you open it up. Right? Of course you do! Who wouldn’t? No one. And you see … nothing really, just a fragment of a message, nothing that makes any sense at all to you. A bird’s come all this way to bring you nonsense? What a travesty. When I think of this person, I wish I’d been clearer in my note, said something more, something of value, maybe included my email address? When I think of this person, I want to cry. Really.”
“Me too,” I said. And then I was out. We never talked about this again, exactly, not to this extent. And remembering it now (… “simply to connect”), I felt a little sick. What happens to us?
Randall let out a long, deep sigh and placed an envelope on the table. It looked nothing like his notes. He then picked it up again and showed us the front and the back. It had the makings of an address on the front; on the back, someone — maybe an 8- or 9-year-old — had drawn a picture of a smiling girl, all dressed up. The shoes were especially detailed. Fancy.
The mussels arrived.
“Well, was there anything in it? A letter?” I asked, as the others began digging in.
Without a word, he opened the envelope, which had clearly been sealed at one time, and very gently removed a folded piece of lined, three-ring paper, holding it away from the steaming plates.
“It’s nothing really,” he said, “just so sweet is all. Silly-sweet.” He paused to wipe his eyes beneath his glasses with his handkerchief. “Oh my God, why am I crying?” he said, now starting to laugh.
“Dear Mommy,” he began. And then there were more more tears. Rachel wiped her hand on the tablecloth, still holding her tiny mussel fork in the other, and placed it softly on his shoulder, which I was happy for.
“Dear Mommy,” he repeated. “Thank you for the shoes. I love them and they are just the right size for my little sister, Bea. I drew a picture of her on the back. She wears them every day. I love you and now Bea does too. Thank you for the shoes. Love, Rose.”
I’m pretty sure Merke stopped chewing a mussel half-way through then. Rachel set down her tiny fork. Lucia looked down at her hands, folding and unfolding and refolding her napkin. Everyone was quiet for a few moments.
“That is sweet,” said Merke. The others nodded. “You found it where…?”
Randall mumbled something incoherent as he began rummaging through his bag.
“May I, Randall?” I asked, reaching for the envelope, which was still on the table. Randall gave a quick nod, never taking his eyes off my hands, the envelope. I moved slowly, carefully.
I held it toward the light. “Oh, I know this place. My old office-mate, Alec, works there now. I’ll talk to him first thing and I bet we can get this to … the mommy.”
“Yes,” said Randall, carefully folding the letter now and reaching for the envelope. “Let’s try.”
Note: This little story, which I tried to make brief, was inspired by my friend’s little story about receiving a text that was obviously meant for someone else: “Thank you for the shoes.” We laughed about it but were both touched by it too. Not sure why. I’ll have to double-check, but I’m pretty sure she texted the person back to let them know their message had not reached the intended recipient. This friend is nothing like Randall.