Three Letters

By Chris Castle

 

Mia looked at the envelope sitting at her desk; her grandpa’s handwriting was thick and clear. His funeral had been the week before, his death a few days previous to that. This is what it’s like she wondered to get a letter from a ghost. Gently, she opened it and three further envelopes fell out, all neatly addressed. There was no note tucked inside, no explanation. Mia saw that none of them were heavily sealed; if she wanted to, she could have steamed them all open. He’d find out, she thought and grinned. It was the first time she’d smiled since he’d died. On the top right hand corner of each letter was the order they should be delivered, the numbers circled, where postage should have sat.

 

Mia walked outside and lit a cigarette; it was safe to do so, as her ma was in town, busying herself against the shock. It was a beautiful day, the sun high but warm, touching out but not ready to burn. Mia knew of the three places, each a half-day’s journey from the front porch; she was supposed to be going to the university library for books anyway-getting the jump on the rest of the first year students- so she was covered. A prickle of laughter ran out of her and she wondered; did he know that, too? She finished the cigarette, stubbed it and jammed it under the plant pot; she did a double take and swore there were more butts gathered up than she’d remembered smoking. Her ma had quit the year before, but…this is a family that does secrets, Mia realised and a part of her felt sad, even though another, bigger part, sparkled at the idea.

By the time she had packed her rucksack, her ma had come back, setting down the bags and calling her name. Mia carefully pushed the three letters down the right side of the bag and the larger envelope down the other. She set the bag by the bedroom door and made her way out, listening to the sound of tins clanking on the surface, one spilling to the floor and rolling until it bashed the wall a little further along.

 

“All fingers and thumbs,” her ma said, scooping up the can and looking over to Mia. She smiled brightly, but her eyes were red and puffy from crying. The handkerchief she had been using to dab away the tears stuck out of her jeans pocket, like the Rolling Stones tongue. Mia walked over and pressed it back inside the pocket, her ma watching her all the way. She wiped her eyes and then drew her hand up so rested it on Mia’s cheek.

 

“You see everything, don’t you Mi?” she said and moved her fingers onto her hair; with her free hand she reached into the near empty bag. “I got you something.”

 

The broken hearted love buying gifts for others, her grandma had said once. She had not understood then, but maybe she did a little now. Her ma pushed the small pad into her hand; there was a small sash around it, which spilled over her fingers.

 

“It’s got a pencil fixed into the side, so you’ll always have one,” her ma went on. “So it saves you looking for one in your bag all the time. And there’s a loop so you can put it round your neck, if you need to have it on you all the time.” Mia slipped the sash over her neck and let the pad dangle down in-front of her. She smiled her thanks and fresh tears came to her mother’s eyes.

 

“I know you think it’s silly, but it might help, Mi, okay? Not with your friends, but when you’re at college and around strangers. It’s…practical. You’re grandpa always said, ‘it pays to be practical, as well as romantic.’ He would have said this was a…practical thing to have. A good thing.” She nodded empathically, as if the old man had just agreed from someplace close-by.

 

A red flag and a noose, is what he would have called it, Mia thought and grinned a little. He would have said that, but he would have been smiling all the same. She drew her ma close and the two held each other tight; Mia whispering her thanks soundlessly, her ma trembling slightly, as the tears fell and then dried against Mia’s cheek. When they drew apart, her tears were gone and she was smiling for real.

 

“That feeling, Mi, is my favourite thing in the whole world.” Mia looked at her, eyebrow raised; her facial expressions were shorthand between them for a million small things. “Your breath on my neck when you say, ‘thank you’. It means a lot to me.” She walked away and began to fill the coffee pot. She’s saying these things because she never got to with him, Mia wondered. He’s still helping, Mia realised, shaking her head and reaching for two cups from the unit above.

 

The two of them ate take out in the evening and watched a film. Mia spent most of the film looking around the room to the condolence cards, most of them simply filled in with names at the top and bottom and handed in like report cards at the wake. Mia had already stolen the one card that had had a message in; it had been slipped under the front door and was from one of grandpa’s old work friends. He said how grandpa had always stopped to talk whenever they saw each other; it almost broke Mia’s heart when she had read it.

 

Mia remembered the wake itself. How most of the people assumed she was deaf because she couldn’t talk, or blind for the same reason. For over an hour she had been led around by folks, or shouted at with all the best intentions. Her ma had held her tongue as best she could; later, they joked how Mia must have lost her seeing-eye dog from the chapel to the house. It was the same dark humour which made the sadness bearable and something for the two of them to focus on. ‘It was’ her ma mused later, sipping her drink steadily and free of people, ‘something grandpa would have appreciated.’

 

Mia wrote ‘eight’ on her pad and looked over to her ma, who was close to dozing. She repeated the number and nodded, too tired to get upset again. Even though she was nineteen, she fretted about Mia like she was still nine years old, which was of course what she loved and hated most about being at home. It was what she would miss in the most in the months to come. Mia wanted to tell her about the envelope, but somehow knew she couldn’t; why else had grandpa sent it to the post office, in her name alone? There was something to all that, though she didn’t know what. Instead, she kissed her ma lightly on the forehead and slipped away. I’m learning to lie, too, she thought glumly, and wondered if that was as much a part of moving away as the dorm posters and half-assed drinking.

 

Mia had the car ready at eight on the dot, letting her ma throw the ruck sack into the back seat. Mia checked the petrol gauge and slipped the road map into the glove compartment; for a nineteen year old who passed first time, she was surprisingly organised when it came to the vehicle; a fact that had stunned her family as much as it did herself. She hugged her ma quickly and then climbed back in; Mia looked over and saw a paper bag, lunch, drop through the open passenger window onto the seat, looking for all the world like a drug drop off. She turned the key and pulled out, waving once and looking into the rear view until the first turning. Then she indicated and turned right, slipping the notepad off her neck for a while and pulling the map out of the glove.

 

***

 

The drive to the first destination was a beauty; off the main roads and onto the country trails, so there were trees over buildings on either side. Mia switched from CD’s to the radio after the first hour and then lapsed into the peace of the car, the open windows, for the hour after that. She thought about her grandpa, the timbre of his voice, the way his face was not old, not exactly, but full of age; then she laughed to think of how he would have reacted to that description. Mia recalled the way he moved, even how at the end he had that odd grace that looked so out of place in men; like he was gliding in water. A bottle never fell from the table, he’d said, that I couldn’t catch before it shattered. Damned if it wasn’t true too, Mia thought, as she pulled into the small town.

 

Rather than go through the rigmarole of writing down directions and facing bemused locals, Mia followed the map that he had drawn on the back of the envelope. It was detailed without being fussy and she followed it over the lantern in the square, left at the bar and onto the old dirt track. She giggled following the directions, feeling like she was in some real life, low-rent ‘Scooby Doo’ adventure. The small, still-child part of her treated it like a treasure map and was almost disappointed to not find a big painted ‘X’ on the dirt. Instead, she followed in out and came out on a pretty house standing all alone.

 

Mia took out the letter and reluctantly slipped the notepad back over her neck, the ‘trusty’ pencil lightly jabbing her, a constant reminder that she was not like everyone else. Not quite the freak-show, no, but still the odd one out; still the one the boys looked out like a puzzle than a person, the one cruel jokes could be fashioned out of, given time and spite. She shook her head and looked back to the house, suddenly aware of how tight she had been gripping the letter and carefully smoothing it out. Mia pulled herself out of the car, repeating the woman’s name over and over in her head, as if it were an answer to some shy question in the back of her mind; Amy Ryan, Amy Ryan, Amy Ryan.

 

Mia pumped herself up and of course no-one answered the door. She stood, tilting her head up to the bedroom window, up to the roof, everywhere but that looming, hungry mouth of a letterbox slot. He’ll know, the notion stabbed over and over in her mind. She felt a sharp throbbing in her head, one that was only set to get bigger and then suddenly felt another sound, a low, peaceful sounding hum, come into her ear. Mia followed it, stepping off the porch, round to the side of the house; dimly aware she was trespassing but not caring.  It couldn’t be breaking the law to follow such a beautiful sound, she reasoned. She followed the narrow walk and looped out into a wider piece of land, one that didn’t seem possible, not tucked behind such a petite little house. The sound swelled and she found the source.

 

Bees.

 

If she could have screamed, Mia would have at that moment; in fact, if she could have, she would have sworn enough to send sailors running, blushing all the way to the nearest church. There weren’t just bees in-front of her; there were swarms. In amongst all this, she thought she could see a figure buried amongst all of them and for a horrible moment she thought they were being attacked. But then she saw how steadily the woman and she knew it was a woman, moved and knew it was something else entirely. She moves like grandpa, Mia realised and took a step back without quite knowing why.

 

“Go back to the porch!” she called out, in amongst the droning. “Ten minutes!” Mia didn’t need to be told twice.

 

Mia sat on the porch steps and wrote a few things down on the pad; her name, her relationship to grandpa, why she was there. All the time she wrote she batted at her neck, knowing nothing was close and feeling them all the same. Maybe grandpa’s come back as bees, she thought stupidly and laughed. Mia had an odd relationship with her laugh; sometimes it felt like a beautiful mystery, still but trembling, other times it felt as if it taunted her, cutting any good times short with its silence. Hell, at least you’re laughing, kid, her grandpa’s voice shot out at her, clear as day. She jerked up, as if he were behind her and almost fell off the stoop. A stray bee drifted past and Mia shook her fist at it, smiling. At least he didn’t sting me on my ass, she thought. It was, of course, at this moment, while she was shaking her fist at a long gone insect, when the woman of the house chose to open up her door. Mia spun round, the notepad rearing up just enough to clock her a good one on the nose. Flustered, she reached down for the pad.

 

“So, you’re Pat’s granddaughter, huh?” she said, just as Mia had gripped the pad; she immediately let it drop, crestfallen. “And I trust you brought this with you?” she said holding the letter that had slipped out of her hand. Mia nodded. The woman stepped away from the door and back into the house. She didn’t call back but she didn’t close the door either. Mia followed her in.

Mia sat at the kitchen table while the woman made the coffee. The room itself was cluttered, though there were no photo’s on the fridge door, no messy hand drawn pictures pinned on the walls. Instead, there were print-outs, bills and nothing that looked human; the letter itself stood out as much anything just by having handwriting.

 

“He told me about you,” she said, setting down the coffee mugs. Instead of coasters, she plucked one of the bills from the board and slipped them onto it; each left a big, messy ring against the red letters and Mia’s ideas about the woman shifted all over again. “Wasn’t expecting a letter though. He hasn’t sent me a letter in over thirty years.” She tapped the envelope against her nose and she suddenly looked younger.

 

She doesn’t know. Oh god, she doesn’t know. Mia quickly reached down for the notepad and then saw the woman’s hand slip over her own. It should have felt uncomfortable but it didn’t; Mia was expecting her to have rough skin, but it felt soft, like the coloured crepe paper they used to wrap expensive gifts in.

 

“I know he’s gone, sweetheart, that’s not what I meant.” She sipped her coffee and then set it down. “We wrote each other e-mails over the years, to keep in touch. What I meant was, he hadn’t written me a letter since we were in college together. We used to write each other in the breaks.” She looked over to Mia and smiled; it was beautiful and sad and the type of smile that only came with age, Mia understood: after things had happened, both good and bad.

 

“You know, we were probably the last generation to write letters like that; last ones to not rely on cells phones, too. It was a joke, the e-mail thing, because it was so out of keeping, but I enjoyed it all the while, even though it wasn’t the same.” She looked up and past Mia, like he had just walked into the room. “‘Letters last forever,’ that’s what he used to say. I never believed him then…but I guess I do now.” She shrugged and shifted from being old to young again. Mia thought about it and then just drew a big heart on the notepad, a giant question mark next to it. When she held it up, her hands shaking a little, the woman’s eyes narrowed for a second and then she drew her head back and laughed.

 

“That’s right,” she said and tapped her coffee mug on the rim. “If ever there was a way to sum up a pair, then that picture just about hits the bulls-eye.” She reached over and held it in her fingertips, as if there was more to it.

 

“Your grandpa, he was quite the talker when he wanted to be,” she said quietly. “Told me the very first day he was a star seller. Wouldn’t have made much sense if anyone else had said it, but he had a way alright.” She leaned back and lifted her cup with both hands, then tilted her head. “You going to college?” Mia nodded her head.

 

“You meet someone; you either marry them or forget them when you leave, okay? Because there’s no middle ground.” She looked up to Mia and her eyes were hard, even though the way she spoke was soft. Mia felt herself going along with her, even though she didn’t really understand all of it, though she felt, somewhere, that she followed it a little. When she looked back, her eyes had softened.

 

“You’re a smart girl, you’ll figure it out. What are you studying?” She asked and watched as Mia flipped the pad; she leant over a little and Mia liked that, that she was involved and interested and not leaning back and keeping a distance like most people did.

 

“English is a good choice. Pat always loved reading. He’d read a book a week, easy. The only guy I ever met who could read a book with a hangover, the way the rest of us watched TV. You ready for it?” Mia nodded, fascinated, following as her grandpa became a stranger, ‘Pat,’ all silver tongued and reading hung-over. For a moment, she had a flash of the woman as a girl, batting her eyelashes and telling a sly joke by candlelight. The woman looked back and caught Mia staring; she smiled as if reading her mind.

 

“He was going to write a novel and I was going to…” she waved her hand, as if the answer were in-front of her close-by. “…To be somewhere else.” She kept looking on, out of the window, next to where they sat. It was calm outside, the droning stopped. Mia looked out, too, snatching a glimpse at how sad the woman looked.

 

“Turns out there are big bucks in making honey. It’s called apiculture. My ex-husband got me into it.” She looked back over to Mia and she smiled; it was warm and true and there was no sadness in it; Mia saw the girl his grandpa had fallen in love with. She looked back out to the garden.

 

“I sometimes think about if Pat knew that word, ‘apiculture.’ I thought about him saying it once or twice, especially now, seeing how he’s gone. He used to go crazy when he found a word he liked; he’d say it over and over, laughing, like it was a…discovery or something. It used to drive me crazy when he did it, saying it over and over like he did, but now…now, I think I’d like the chance to hear him say it a few more times, you know?” She turned and faced Mia and the smile fell away.

 

“Do you want me to open it now? So you can find out what it says?” Mia saw the pain in her face; it came from not knowing what was in the letter. She shook her head and the other woman nodded, neither relieved nor upset.

 

“I kept his letters in a cardboard box in the attic. I haven’t read them since we left college. I think we both understood why we had to stop writing but when we did…when he stopped writing, it felt like…I was older. Not old, but not young, not forever young, not in the same way, after that. But…it’s okay. It was okay to have that, good to have that, I think.” Her eyes tightened into a squint and she set the cup down on the table. Mia did the same and stood up first, saving the woman the awkwardness of having to end things. As the woman walked away, Mia tore off the sheet with the heart and the question mark and slipped it under her cup.

 

“Thank you for delivering the letter,” she said, as they reached the door. It was barely past noon. Mia walked out to the car, not realising the woman had stopped at the porch until she turned round. Mia raised her hand and the woman waited and then did the same. Then, as Mia opened the door, she called out, disappeared and then came back out jogging down the steps, cradling something.

 

“Here,” she said, dropping the jar down on the passenger seat next to Mia’s lunch. “As a thank you, for coming out of your way.” She nodded once and then tapped the window three times, the same as her grandpa used to, when he was seeing someone off after the day and then walked away. Mia turned the key and waited for her to look back, but she didn’t. Instead, she kept on walking, the envelope in her hand, curling on both sides where she gripped it too tightly.

 

Mia drove back down the dirt road, wondering if her grandpa inherited his grace from the woman, of it she had taken it from him unknowingly, watching him steal across a bedroom floor, a crowded bar. She thought about how the woman had dropped the honey jar in just like her ma did the lunch-bag and for a split second imagined a different life, one with a woman with beautiful, sad eyes as her mother. Finally, Mia imagined what was in that first letter; her mind knotting at not knowing, while another part of her revelled in being party to a secret which she would never know.

 

***

 

Mia parked up at the local park and ate her lunch. She poured coffee from the flask and thought some more about Amy Ryan. By now she would have read the letter and maybe even added it to the box in the attic, along with all the rest. Her grandpa would have written the truth, but then there were ways to write the truth, as much as there were to lie. Mia hoped he had been kind and thought he would, but then who really knew what went on between lovers? It was something she would find out soon enough and she both craved and dreaded the idea. Mia looked out to the park and counted the years since she had played there; her last visit had been to smoke and try whiskey for the first time, which she promptly swore off within two gulps. She tightened the flask and walked back to the car, feeling elated and frightened, the highlighted route on the map half buried by the dark gold jar that had rolled on top of it.

 

The drive to the second destination was not as pretty and cluttered with lunch time workers desperate to escape. The heat grew steadily, making the crowds she passed laugh more and shout louder. Mia kept checking the map, hoping that at some point there would be another diversion out of the centre, but the lines kept burrowing deeper and deeper in. By the time she stopped, parking three blocks away from the building, she rolled the jar under the seat for safe keeping and stuffed the map back into the glove compartment.

 

Mia walked the steps after finding out the elevator was out of order and settled herself outside room 302. The building was noisy without tipping over but there didn’t seem to be anything coming out of the room. She took a deep breath and then knocked three times. She heard things shifting, even though no-one called out. A chain snapped, then a second. Mia lifted the sheet of paper with the details on it and held it out, feeling like an agent of something and foolish.

The man appeared and immediately stooped to read the note, not saying anything. He kept looking at it, long after he was done, as if deciding something. He looked up to Mia and then reached behind the door, slipping on a shirt over his vest.

 

“Roof,” was all he said, as he closed the door and walked down the corridor; quickly enough that Mia had to jog just to keep up with him. They reached a fire escape and went out onto a set of spiral steps. Mia climbed after him, counting each one, until they came up to the top of the building. The man kept walking and then turned suddenly, as if she had called him. He began to talk and she had to walk closer, already having missed the first few words. By the time she reached him, he had drawn out a cigarette and was lighting it. He looked up, thought about it, then offered her one. Mia took it and he nodded, though she didn’t like to think what it confirmed in his mind.

 

“Getting a girl who can’t talk to ask the questions, isn’t he? How very much like Rick.” He reached out and lit the tip for her. The man’s voice was as clear and punchy as her grandpa’s was slow and mellow. “You got the envelope?”

 

Mia took the letter out of her back pocket and handed it to him. He lifted it up and waved it once to say thanks. Then, he folded it and jammed it into his trousers, as casual as the other woman had been careful. As he smoked, he looked around her, to the roof, as if it was the first time he’d seen it. By the time he looked back, he had worked through half the cigarette and blew a long trail out of the side of his mouth. He looked at her, as if they had only just been introduced. Mia looked down, feeling awkward.

 

“We always said; ‘no funerals.’ Me and Rick, we decided on that, when we were younger than you are now. I mean, how old are you, nineteen, twenty?” Mia nodded at the second one, confirming it. He grunted. “Nineteen, yeah. When we were twenty one, me and Rick went all over the world travelling together. They were some high times. Maybe he told you about them, maybe he didn’t. So that’s what we did. Suspect that’s what the letters about, in part.” He tapped it with his fingers and then let the cigarette drop to the floor. He crushed it with a twist of his foot and looked up. Mia did the same and then wrote something down. He read it quick, like the words were still moving; Mia had never seen a person’s eyes tear through words like this guy.

 

“Yeah, sure. Best friends for a time. We fell out some; he didn’t like my ways, I didn’t like that he was changing. I guess we were both right and wrong, to a degree. You got a best friend, kid?” He looked up and fixed her straight in the eye, “I can see from your expression that you do; don’t ever fall out with a best friend, kid; more painful than any love affair, I can tell you that much. Hurts twice as much and goes on hurting twice as long.” Mia watched him talking, watched his eyes burn; they were blue, the bright blue that stands out in a man’s face when he gets older, as much as they draw people in when they’re younger. Despite that, she wrote something down on the pad. He read it and then slapped his hand down on his knee.

 

“Sorry…Mia. I call most people under fifty ‘kid’, so don’t get too bent out of shape by it, okay? Truth is, I can hardly remember anyone’s name and that’s not age talking, just something I always found hard to come by.” His voice softened and Mia felt herself relax a little. She got the idea this was his real voice and that some of the rest of it was just bluster. Mia imagined her grandpa as a young man, sizing up the man, cutting through all the quick-talk and waiting for him to speak in his own voice when he was good and ready. She smiled.

 

“So you understand why I didn’t come, to the funeral, I mean? That’s what we agreed on. I mean hell, we missed out on so much after we fell out anyway, it didn’t make much difference, but even so, now you’re here, I want you to understand that it was a promise we made.” He looked up, as if something had rung out nearby. “Maybe the last thing we swore, together, as friends. Yeah, maybe that was the last thing. Huh. Well, at least I did that much for him.” He reached for the cigarette packet in his shirt pocket and then stopped himself.

 

“I heard about you, heard he was glad to have you around him. You were good for him, I think,” he said and then did draw the packet open and jammed another one in his mouth. He didn’t offer one to Mia. Instead, he kept looking at her, opening the matches and lighting it up without looking over either action.

 

“So you work, or stay in school?” he said, blowing the smoke in and out absent- mindedly. She wrote down the school, the charity she spent two nights a week. She began to write more but he waved her away.

 

“I know it, k-Mia. The old people’s project. ‘Loneliness is the silent killer,’ right? That’s good, a good thing you’re doing. You’ll turn out alright, I figure, if you listened to what Rick told you…” his eyes sparkled for a second. “Not all of it, though, right?” He laughed and Mia found herself laughing along, even though she was usually self-conscious about it in-front of anyone but her ma. He looked at her and he seemed to be appraising her about something, though she didn’t know what.

 

“Yeah, you know enough to know what’s what. Got to know when to listen and when to come right out and say its all bullshit, right? If you’re pardon my language.” On the next building over, some people gathered and began lighting fireworks and sending them up into the blue sky. It looked wrong, seeing explosions below the sun, but the people cheered anyway. Mia and the man both turned and watched them for a while.

 

“I guess he wants you to hear something, something we did.” Mia began to protest, pointing to the letter and bringing her hands up, palms empty, but he kept on looking to the fireworks, as if he didn’t see her.

 

“Relax, girl, it’s not like we changed the world or anything. Not many people do anything they can be truly proud of, and that’s the cold truth of it.” The fireworks kept going and more people came up to the roof. A bottle broke and someone cheered. Mia looked back round and saw the man wince.

 

“Okay. We were in New Zealand, I think and ended up staying at the bottom of an honest to god glacier; there are only three of them left, I think; there, Chile of all places and some other god damn place. So, we decided, what the hell, we’ll go walking up this glacier for a day. And we were small town boys, mind…not exactly the ‘outdoors types,’ you understand? So we had these picks and these boots with spikes and all the rest of it and we set off with this group.” He dragged from the cigarette and exhaled deeply. From across the way someone tried to set up the stereo.

 

“And the night before it was fine. The night before it was all piss and vinegar…but this was the morning, see and it was a god damn mountain, a glacier, whatever you want to call it. So, we get going and I’ll tell you, I’m not so good with heights. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Scared of heights and climbing a glacier, but what the hell when you’re twenty one, right? So I start getting jittery and edgy and the guide calls out and says if anyone wants to go back, then now’s the time, because after that it gets tricky…He said ‘the point of no return,’  like it was a joke but I saw a couple of them go green, probably myself included. So one girl cries off, then another guy and I was thinking to myself, ‘hey I could take it or leave it, get a few beers in and hear about it from Rick when he gets back down.’”

 

He finished the cigarette and let it drop to the floor. He crushed it without looking again. He looked over briefly, as if to see she was still there and then coughed.

 

“So here I was all ready to throw it in and Rick just turns back to me and winks. Nothing more, nothing less. No grand speeches or stiff handshakes, nothing like that. He just winks at me as if to say ‘man, we’re really living now, ain’t we?’ and that was it. I saw that and I just went right along. It was a good day, something I’ll remember. Like I said, it didn’t change the world or nothing, but…it was a good memory, Mia, fine; something, I kept. You understand?”

 

Mia looked at him and nodded. She didn’t write anything down. She smiled and he smiled back; the party went on and none of them looked over to the two of them; they didn’t even now they existed. And that was okay. Mia watched them, heard more bottles smash and more people cry out. That’s sure some party, she thought, but are any of them friends? She went on watching for a while longer and then reached out and took his hand. She gripped it and squeezed it tight. She didn’t look over but when the man spoke next his voice was rough and she knew there were tears.

 

“Thank you,” he said quietly, and even though the party went on, she could hear him perfectly. “It has been a long time since someone held my hand.” He said and squeezed her hand back gently. The two of them stood there for a long time, watching the fireworks against the sun, neither of them needing to speak, the letter jutting out of his pocket, brushing against them both.

 

***

 

Mia got back into the car and the haze of the mid afternoon sun. She poured more coffee and hooked the map back into her lap. The last place was a little further and thankfully a little more out of the city. She looked out to the road and saw the traffic had thinned out; she checked her watch and saw it would be rush hour in two hours or so. She placed the map on the dash and pulled back into the street, her head gently swimming with the old man’s voice, the things he had said and the things in-between, that she almost understood.

 

The drive was brisk and uneventful and Mia was glad. She was tired in a good way, the stories fresh in her mind. By the time she pulled down the dirt road, she realised she had not once resorted to the radio or the CD player. She shook her head and smiled and climbed out of the car, the last letter in her hand. It was different than the others; there was no name but just an address. As Mia walked up to the small shack, little more than a shed, really, she saw something on the door, something that looked like an eviction notice. She walked up to it, slipping the sheet out of the plastic folder to see the words more clearly.

 

THE LAST LETTER IS FOR YOU, DUMMY!! It read. Mia’s jaw fell open. She turned the sheet over.

 

THE KEY IS UNDER THE PORCH. Without thinking how much she had been played, Mia stooped down and felt under the mat; sure enough a key felt cool against her fingers. She fished it out and opened the door with it.

 

Mia walked into the room; it was decked out in a way that made it look like her grandpa’s place if it were a dream. There were posters, books, an old record player. She walked through it, out to the back; from the step there was a view of the woods that was as simple as it was achingly beautiful.

 

Mia looked briskly around the room; there was only one item of any note, a sturdy box-treasure- she thought and smiled, which she bent down and opened. Inside, there were photos of him as a much younger man, alongside another guy with impossibly blue eyes. Below that were letters, some written in her ma’s hand and a whole other set that were not.  Mia put her hand to her face, the fit of giggles as much out of shock as of joy. Almost as an afterthought to all this, she remembered the letter and drew it out of the envelope. She walked out to the back step, as the sun fell a little and the woods gleamed with the heat and she opened it carefully, as if it were ancient. Mia looked out once to the woods and then closed her eyes; she thought about what she had seen and heard in just a single day and all that she was going to find out in the days to come. She opened her eyes and pulled the letter from the envelope. Her grandpa’s writing rose out and she felt a tear appear on one eye and then the other. She drew the letter out fully and let the envelope fall to the floor soundlessly. Then, she began to read:

 

Dear Mia,

 


_____________

Chris Castle is English but works in Greece. He has sent out his work in the past year and been accepted 100 times. His influences include Bill Murray, PT Anderson and Raymond Carver. He can be reached at chriscastle76@hotmail.com.


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