Even From Beyond

First, he sold the chairs. The patinated pair with the buttons and embroidery. After that, the artwork. The Tintoretto he’d bought in Milan. The bronze statue of the Siren with the dove. The one he’d commissioned done. Eventually, he hired the kitchen emptied, the carriage sold, and the books sorted and donated to the city library.

Within the week, the house was empty. Only what he needed remained. The staff would gather the rest after he’d gone. It mattered little to him then.

That evening, he packed a bag—a single one, with everything he’d need.

When he’d finished, he came to the greatest task, the most difficult one. The one that, with each passing year, he’d considered and then abandoned. The thing he never truly wanted done.

Finding himself in the empty study, every movement of every drawer of the oak desk echoing against the vacant bookcases and curtainless windows, he retrieved the letters.

Though his vision was poor, and his spectacles dusty, a single candle sitting on the desk lit the area well enough. With his forearms resting on the desk, he held the bundle of beautiful, precisely scripted letters that only she could have written. Taking him back to the years before, and the ones of their youth. The day they’d met by the lake in spring. The softness of her voice in the morning. The final words she’d said as he held her hand for the last time, three years before, almost to the day.

His beard was mostly grey, faded, and worn like the words in the letters and the memories within them. Still, one by one, he read them. Not aloud, not quickly. But with care, and in time, with tears also.

As he finished each of them, he paused for a moment, looking either out the window into the night or to the walls of the empty room. They offered him nothing, and so, one at a time, he held each letter’s corner to the candle’s flame, letting the orange glow slowly reach for the paper edges, turning them to brown, to black, to nothing.

The words of sweetness and care drifting away as he set the smoldering papers in a silver tin on the desk. By the time he’d reached the end of the stack, his vision was blurred and wetness collected in the weathered creases of his firm but aged hands.

Then, he looked down. Down to the last letter, the only one he’d never read, its crisp corners still square. Unbroken.

For after, the front of it said.

He set the letter down on the desk, far from the candle’s flame and the smoldering tin, then stood up. Opening the double windows with the brass latch at the center. He let the room fill with the cool, night air while wisps of smoke drifted around him and out into the courtyard.

He’d tried many times to open the letter. The only words he’d ever have left of her. But always, he’d stopped, placing it and the lot of them back in the drawer, carefully wrapped in the velvet ribbon he’d given her before she’d become ill.

This evening, however, was not like the others; The time had come.

With the fresh air restoring some of his constitution, he returned to the desk—to the unsteady wooden chair, to the hollow room, to the letter.

My Dearest Cardon, it said.

My hands are weaker now than they were. Thus, I write these words knowing they could be the last I might offer you. Instead of dwelling on such things, I will attempt to impart to you what I know you would have gifted me, should our fates have played out in reverse.

To begin, I might speak of your grief. Such talk is presumptive of me, of course, and yet if it emerges even in part of what I feel now, I could never, not address it.

It was destined, you know—this moment. The time when the two of us would have to part. I knew it even from the start, from the first time I caught your eye that day in the heat of summer. I always loved your exuberant optimism, your unfailing ability to take everything in, to ignore the costs. But years later, in a thousand quiet moments, when I’d watched you dress, when your hands were in my hair, when we’d laugh at a party, I would think of what I knew you would not… of this moment, when tears would be shed. When goodbyes would be spoken.

Further down, of course, farther away. In ten years, twenty perhaps—never now. Yet, here we find ourselves, at the brink of separation. And so, I offer you this letter. And I pray it to be of some consolation. To me, it was at least.

Where does one begin with a message such as this? Should I give an account of our best memories? I think not, as they are yours also, and thus remembered. Do I remind you of why I chose you, all those years back, and again for each one after? This, too, I think a waste. For we both know the reasons.

I’ll grant you our imperfections, of course. (Mostly yours, naturally.) One could not be taken seriously, otherwise. But our frustrations pale in comparison to the kindness and generosity we have shown each other with the passing of our time together. For it is not only the memories that are fond but the whole experience of it. We are not the same now, you and I, as we once were—hardly shadows of where we began. And still, we grew together when we could have grown apart, as so many do.

And so, as I thought of what to write, knowing this letter will have an end, after all—I finally came to it. To what I needed most to say. All of it, everything we had, comes really only to this:

For the countless hours in which you listened, the flowers on a rainy day—sent for no reason at all. For your willingness to endure my occasional miserableness and your ability to appreciate even my most egregious of flaws. For your support of my intellectualism in a world that didn’t want it. For the way you touched me, the way you saw me.

Thank you.

Yours, even from beyond, Anna.

When he’d finished, he read it again. Then a third time. His chest tightening, then loosening and tightening again as he went.

Through the panes of wetness in his eyes, he took the words in as best he could, cherishing each of them as they passed by, knowing what had to be done. What he came there to do.

And so, with a shaking hand, he held the letter to the flame.

The room was still. Not even the old chair let out a creak. The smoldering paper crackled softly.

When the flames had spent themselves, and when the smoke was gone, he blew out the candle and sat in the dark for a moment. Letting his eyes adjust to the room, filled only by the faint glow of the city’s lanterns.

Then, he stood, picked up his bag from the corner, and walked out. He traveled down the hall, past the spot where the floorboards creaked, into the foyer, and out the front door.

A woman sat on a bench in the courtyard, the brown and grey tones of her hair matching his almost perfectly. She stood, adjusting her dress, picking up the bag that had sat beside her.

“Are you ready, my love,” she said.

He smiled.

“I am.”