The Last Letter
The Last Letter
Marie arrived home after working her part time job as the receptionist at a local veterinary clinic. She walked into her house this evening, the same as every other, hungry and ready to change into comfortable clothes for the night. Being a Friday, she had one of the few luxuries this night, that a full time college student studying veterinary medicine could have. This luxury was the freedom to do nothing, except relax and look forward to a weekend off from school.
Marie lived in a modest home in Laval Quebec with her mother, father, and Grandmother. She grew up living with two brothers who were considerably older than she, and both had moved out on their own last year. As a family, there was nothing unusual about them, although Marie’s Grandmother was an unique woman who led a interesting life. She was born in Paris and lived there for most of her childhood. She had some horrible years living in France as a young girl during the German occupation of WW II. After the war, she got married and moved with her husband to Montreal Canada.
Marie sat down and ate dinner with the family that evening, and after helping her mother clean up the dishes, she returned to sit in their dining room at the table as everyone else stumbled off to their respective places throughout the house.
Her evening routine began as it always did, by checking facebook, as well as text messages from her many friends. Tonight however, the usual reply to from her boyfriend Phillip was delayed in arriving. He was away at school and they had not seen one another for months now.
Hours had passed before she finally heard the familiar tone assigned to his texts, and she opened it to find a lengthy series of paragraphs. It didn’t take long before his message became terribly clear. Marie realized that this poorly contrived and despicable message from her boyfriend of 2 years was a lengthy but clear message to discontinue their relationship. Even more upsetting to her, he had picked the cowardly method of writing it in a text of all things, instead of telling her face to face.
It had been written as one might drop a request to pick up milk, or send a reminder to show up at a dentist appointment. It’s true, that he was away at college, but even a phone call, a heartfelt shred of verbal remorse, or a two week delay until winter break, would have been a more acceptable than this. To add to the trauma of the entire event, this came as a complete shock to her as well.
It was difficult and painful for her to accept that he would terminate a relationship this meaningful in such a horrible way, and she felt shattered by the shock and initial pain of a broken heart. Reading his text that first day, she was astonished at how the words written seemed so unlike the person she loved, or could have ever loved. Her desperation during the moments that followed drove her to consider the most degrading of responses. “Should I beg him to stay with me?” she thought. “I must be able to do something to save what we have? Why is he doing this to me? What did I do?” Her mind was in turmoil. These questions flowed and cascaded like the tears that began streaming down her face. As thoughts raced in her head, the feelings of hopelessness were profound, and the dreams that were crushed by this simple note, became seemingly endless. The sun was just going down.
Running straight to her room, as though it offered sanctuary, she fell on her bed squeezing her phone in her hand as if it were the cause of this tragedy. Night was upon her, and with it came more questions. The questions drawn from the most enigmatic and darkest corners of her mind. Those distorted and self targeted arrows made with doubt in one’s self, that travel swift in the darkness, and wound deeply when ones armor becomes broken or torn. It was a whisper of that silent “other” in a person’s mind, usually in the background, but now heard clearly in the solitude. It was a voice compelling her to consider that she might not be worthy of love at all.
That night, her ability to sleep soundly was completely removed from possibility. The hours passed as a horror of turmoil and restless cat naps, and a half awake state reliving happy memories, were now turned to nightmares and regrets. She frequently lost any hope of sleep as a refuge from her pain, and at one point, she gave up trying to sleep entirely.
Marie sat up in her bed, blew her nose, and walked into the bathroom to turn on the light. As she looked into the mirror, her eyes squinting from the brightness, she saw a reflection of a face unknown to her. It was a face so void of the inner happiness it radiated earlier in the day. Her eyes were swollen and red, with blotches on her skin that seemed to be everywhere. Her eyes burned, and radiated a palpable heat as prominent as the painful lump in her throat. Placing a cold washcloth on her face, it brought a coolness that seemed to bring her some inner comfort. It cleared her mind enough to focus on a question that still seemed unanswerable. How would she respond to such calculated words of abandonment? “What do I say to a person who in almost every way is dead to me now? Living but dead.” She thought, “Yes, that’s exactly what it is!” finding comfort in the revelation, “I’m trying to come to terms with a person who to me, has tragically died, yet I might see them someday in the most common of places. At a car wash or the store, or walking down the street with someone else holding his hand. My god this is worse than watching them die.”
Again, she began to weep, as she turned off the light and walked back to sit in her bed. Looking up with vision blurred by the remnants of tears left in her eyes, she could read the teal colored numbers on her alarm clock as 3:23 AM. Her phone sounded like a broken oven timer that buzzed again and again. She knew, it was friends who must have seen her seemingly vanish from the social network of life, yet she could do nothing to appease them, or herself. Whether it was the distraction of her phone, or the simple end of her minds endurance to continue, Marie fell asleep.
The following morning, the sun broke bright, shining through the trees that lined the yard of her house. Sun stippled reflections of the bare leafless branches of maple trees cast their shadows on the walls of her room. As her eyes fluttered and opened to see that lovely morning sun, there was a brief moment that passed like smoke in a swift breeze. For that fleeting time, she felt as though everything was as it was, and she felt the same peace she usually carried with her, but within moments, her conscious mind robbed her of that gift. She was robbed of something taken for granted by so many people so many days of their lives. Simple peace of mind.
The sad fact of what had happened the night before surrounded her again. Although still deeply sad, there had been some change that had occurred during the few hours of sleep she’d been blessed with. The crushing pain of betrayal and self doubt had been transformed into something new. She could feel the pain of her emotional wound, but the bleeding had stopped, and the permanent scar that would inevitably remain made her angry. So angry. She was angry he did this to her. Angry how he did it, and angry that she let herself become so vulnerable to being a victim. She felt like an oblivious fool wading through the clouded waters and hopeful fantasies of love blind girl. Regret and sadness from the night before became a commitment to guard herself, so this could never happen again.
Powered by some sort of inner determination now, she picked up her phone and began to read the urgent requests and heartfelt messages from friends who were trying to reach her. It was apparent that the untold tragedy in Marie’s love life from twelve hours ago had been as visible to the world as the sun shining in her window. Friends trying to help her and console her, offset the sickness in her gut she felt after reading the newly posted status of her boyfriend Phillip as, “single”. She began to feel tears welling up in her eyes again, but this time, fueled by anger, she clenched her fists and slammed her right hand down onto the bed. “No!” she growled, “I’ve shed enough tears for the likes of a person who could do that to me.” She sat there with teeth clenched, and her blood boiling. After thinking for a moment, she dropped her head and stared down at Philips name in her list of contacts. “I still don’t know what to say.” she mumbled. She instead chose to respond to the dozens of messages and requests of those concerned about her well being, her friends. It went on for hours throughout the day, mercifully consoling Marie from the agony, solitude and loneliness that still remained from the night before. “Friends can work miracles.” she thought, thankful to have one thing unchanged in her life.
Still having homework and tasks around the house, she made an attempt to go through some sort of routine in her weekend, although she decided that she would stay home instead of going out. She had this fear that she would see a couple holding hands, or hear a song that brought back memories, and that would be it. At least at home, she could control the things that surrounded her, at least that‘s what she’d hoped.
As the family sat down for dinner that evening, the four of them had their usual conversations that usually began with her father complaining about some project he was doing around the house. Sometimes, Marie would share stories about her job at the vet, but her Mother disliked hearing them, since some of the stories concerning the animals could be heart wrenching.
Tonight, of all nights, her father chose to ask a question that he rarely if ever asked before. He asked, “I haven’t heard anything about Phillip lately. How’s he doing at school?” Marie felt as though someone had driven one of the table knives straight into her heart, and tears filled her eyes. Her father immediately asked what’s wrong followed by her mother. Wiping the tears with her napkin, Marie proceeded to tell them what had happened the night before. As she finished speaking, her father said, “I’m sorry Marie. I never would have asked that question if…”
Marie spoke immediately, “No, Papa, how could you ever know? Besides, you never thought too much of him anyway, did you?” Her father frowned sitting back in his chair and replied, “I’m your father little one. I don’t know if I could ever see enough in any man to be worthy of you. Don’t ever take my opinions for too much. You just be happy.” Marie got up from her chair, hugged her father and said, “Thank you Papa, Je’ taime” He returned her embrace and gave a kiss on her head. Her mother gently grasped her arm as she passed by. “So are you OK?” she asked. Marie sat back down in her chair at the table. She pulled her hair to one side and said, “Yes, I’m OK. I just wish there was something I could say to Phillip to make him.….I just wish I knew how to respond to his little “message”. Her mother nodded her head and said, “You’ll think of something. You owe him nothing at this point. You don’t have to tell him anything if you don’t want to.” Marie shook her head and stared down at food left on her plate. “Oh, but I do want to respond, I do.”
It was at that moment that she realized that her Grandmother was completely silent through this whole conversation. She was normally a bit on the reserved and dignified side, but her current silence through the conversation seemed more noticeable than usual. Marie paid no mind to it. “After all, she was getting older.” she thought. Her thoughts were broken by the hum of her phone. She saw it was her best friend, Rocklyn and said, “I’m heading back upstairs now ok?” Her father nodded and her mother said, “Sure sweetheart, if you need anything, you’ll tell me won’t you? Don’t worry, it will all work out.” Marie nodded and ran back up the stairs to her room.
As it turned out, her evening was becoming an extension of her day. Endless conversations from people saying that Phillip was no good for her were combined with the repetitive messages of how she will be better off on her own. The were sincere words of comfort, but hardly comfort to the feeling of abandonment and lost love that still burned inside of her. It was also no inspiration for how she would respond to him.
She had taken the last bit of wine from dinner up to her room and drank it down. She then began to think it would be best, to put down her phone and turn off the world for the evening to give her time to figure out things on her own. She laid back on her bed with some music playing softly in the background.
Suddenly, Marie had that feeling she wasn’t alone, and looked up to see her Grandmother, at the exact moment she knocked on the doorway. “Can I come in Marie?” she asked.
“Of course Grandma, What’s wrong?” Her Grandmother answered, “It would appear that there is much wrong in your life right now, yes?” Marie smiled and nodded. She could see that her Grandmother was holding a thick pile of letters that were yellowed and tied with a green ribbon. Without any pause or explanation, her Grandmother said, “Did you know that my Grandmother Marie, had a relationship with a young man back in her younger days? In fact she was even younger than you are now.”
Marie shook her head no. “She did!” her grandmother remarked strongly. “More than that, the bastard of a human broke her heart, much the same as Phillip did with you.”
Marie sat quietly not really knowing what to say. Her Grandmother moved to the edge of the bed to sit, and cursed in pain, “Damn these knees, I’m surprised they bend at all anymore!” With an exhalation, she settled onto the bed and asked, “Marie, what do you know about your Great Great Grandmother?” Marie had been told the usual facts about her over and over again to the point of monotony, and began to quote them. “Well, I know she was born in Calais France in the 1800’s and lived in Paris when she got older. I also know that her name was Marie, and that’s how I got my name. She got married and her husband, um pardon, or I should say your Grandfather, was from Belgium. His name was Cesar.”
Her Grandmother smiled and nodded her head seemingly pleased Marie knew their family history and said, “You forgot one very important thing.” As her Grandmother began to talk, Marie spoke at the same time in an sort of joking imitation, speaking the exact words in unison. “You both have the same eyes!”
Marie laughed, “Oh Mon Dieu! Grand Mama, how could I not know that? I‘ve heard it a million times.”
Her Grandmother nodded, smiled and then began to fiddle with the letters in her hand. “I wanted you to see these letters Marie. I want you to see them for a reason. These are some personal letters that your Grandma Marie wrote and also received from the boy who broke her heart. I just thought that maybe if you look them over, you might find a way to tell Phillip what you want to say.”
Marie looked at her Grandmother and held out her hand, taking the letters. She gave her a hug and said, “OK Grandma, I will. Thank you for trying to help me. I just don’t know if a person who lived in the 1800’s could know what I’m going through.”
To Marie’s surprise, her Grandmother began to laugh quite loudly which was unusual for her to do. Smiling and looking in Marie’s eyes, she lifted a wrinkled hand that looked speckled and frail. The contrast of her hand against the smooth white porcelain like skin of Marie’s face made it look all the more drastic in its aged appearance.
“Child”, she said gently touching her cheek. “Times change like the wind and the weather, but people? They stay the same.” She let out a little grunt as she pushed herself back to her feet and walked toward the door. Just before she left the room she said, “I don’t know if these letters will give you anything except a headache. They’re written in French, but they are difficult to read and translate using the style of the present day. You be the judge.” Marie nodded her head and said, “I will. Thank you Grandma”.
“Your welcome Marie.”
Marie watched as her Grandmother labored slowly back down the creaky wooden hallway to her room. She then looked at the letters in her hand. She was touched that her Grandmother had gone to the trouble of doing this for her, but the logic in her mind about the absolute unusable nature of these letters was obvious to see. Looking at a date on one of the letters of November 6th 1884, she smiled.
She began to recall the intense love that she and Phillip had for one another once upon a time. They were each others first love, intimate in every way. They spoke of being married one day when they were older and done with school. As Marie began to recall those moments, the tears again flooded her eyes and drove her to that place she was trying desperately to escape from. With a smug opinion now forming to reject these letters, she thought, “How could there be any words in these letters that could compare with my life now, and the things I’ve lost. These people lived in another era. They probably held hands in a carriage on the way to church one Sunday!” She smirked thinking, “Such scandalous behavior for a Victorian woman of the day.”
Marie was about to carry the letters over to her desk and place them aside for the evening, but she caught a glimpse of a tattered fold of a letter in the middle of the stack. It displayed part of a sentence that showed the French words “souffle chaud sur ma nuque” which translates to English as “warm breath on my neck”. Marie focused on the letter closer to make sure she was interpreting the words the right way. A second inspection verified her translation to be correct. “Powerful words for Victorian voices.” she thought, and immediately removed the green ribbon from stack, separating that letter from the others.
Sitting down at her desk under the light, she began to read. Her grandmother was right about the challenge she faced translating the older version of French to the modern tongue, but as she did, Marie was astonished at what she saw. These were love letters. Real love letters, written either by her Great Grandma Marie or by her lover named Daniel. They were letters of heated passion, youthful hope and intense love, all horribly plagued by their fears of discovery.
They were some of the most tender of verses she had ever read. They were beautiful. In fact, the words were so lovely that it transported Marie to a place that made her forget her own pain and suffering, and she began to read the letters one by one from beginning to end. It seemed to her as though no time had passed, but in reality, Marie had been studying their antiquated beauty for hours on end. Finally she reached the second to the last letter in the sequence. It was a letter from Daniel to her Grandma Marie in which he suddenly, and without warning, declared his wish to discontinue his acquaintance with her. The words cut Marie very deeply and she ran to her door closing it tightly, turning up her music in an attempt to drown out her impending emotional collapse. She burst into tears, crying the hardest that she had up until that point at times sobbing uncontrollably. A tear from her face fell down upon the letter that lay open in her lap. The letters were frail already and this distracted her enough to have to presence of mind to take a Kleenex and dry the moisture from the letter.
It was then she saw them. Up until then they went unnoticed, but the shape of her tear drop on the letter in her lap made the pattern surrounding it become clear. The letter had the same dried impressions of tear drops on the page. They were her Grandmothers tears frozen in time at the moment she too had her heart broken. A legacy to the pain of a young girl 150 years in the past. Marie was awestruck. The wisdom of a century now clicked the tumblers into place within her young mind, and she felt so fortunate to see this amazing vision. She felt connected and alive. She now moved as someone entranced, touching the paper as if the tactile sensation could bring her closer to the young girl who’s name she shared. After a while, she gently folded the letter and placed it back on the stack.
She knew that she still had one letter left in her hand. It was her Grandmother’s response to Daniel. Her farewell words, to the living dead. Marie’s heart raced in anticipation of the message written on the page, yet a part of her was somewhat afraid to read it. She was afraid it would be a frail plea to reconsider his decision to end their relationship, or maybe in harsh contrast it was a lengthy rant of hatred and pointless words fired upon a man in full armor. Protected from her words being the first to draw the sword. A curse for the cursed.
Marie took a deep breath and unfolded the letter. Her eyes were first drawn to the surprisingly brief and almost sparse words on the page. She was then drawn to the title line, so businesslike and stripped of any emotion. The letter read as follows;
I acknowledge the receipt of your last letter, which now lies before me, and in which you convey the intimation, that the position which, for some time past we have regarded each other, must henceforth be abandoned. Until the receipt of this letter, I had regarded you in the light of my future husband; you were, therefore, as you have reason to know, so completely the possessor of my affections, that I looked with indifference upon every other suitor. The remembrance of you never failed to give a fresh zest to the pleasures of life, and you were in my thoughts at the very moment in which I received your last letter.
But deem me not so devoid of proper pride as to wish you to revoke your determination, from which I will not attempt to dissuade you, whether you may have made it in lengthy deliberation, or in precipitate haste. Sir, I shall endeavor to banish you from my affections, as readily and completely as you have banished me; and all that I shall now require from you is this, that you will return to me whatever letters you may have of mine, and which I may have written under a foolish confidence in your attachment.
Yours, as once was,
As Marie finished reading the last impersonal close of the correspondence, she began to feel a smile curl on her face. The direct purpose and dignity in this masterpiece of writing, evoked Marie to speak silently to herself in admiration of the author. “That’s perfect.” she said. “So perfect.” She knew at that moment the words that she herself wanted to say. They were the words of the person who had cried the same tears, suffered the same pain and possessed the same blood in her veins.
It was then that Marie composed her response to Phillip. Other than modernizing the style of the writing slightly, she kept almost every word of her Grandmothers letter in tact with the exception of her request to return her letters. There had never been any paper correspondence between she and Phillip. Marie did ask him to have enough respect for her to delete all of her text messages and correspondence he had archived.
She decided that she would honor her grandmother in one more way and keep a similar legacy of this moment in her life. Her last letter to Phillip was mailed in writing directly to his dorm along with some of his belongings and keepsakes that she had no intention of ever touching again. She also kept a copy of the letter she’d sent, carefully folded and placed along side the priceless stack of her Grandma Marie’s collection. She carefully tied them all together again with the green ribbon and returned them to her Grandmother with the most heartfelt thanks that she could ever give.
That night, Marie was able to sleep in complete peace and woke the following morning feeling much the same as she had before this ordeal took place. As she left her house that day to mail the letter, she made one stop in the living room before walking out the door. She stopped to look upon the tintype photograph of her Grandma Marie that hung on the living room wall amidst countless faces from history. As she stared into the eyes of that stoic face that had always seemed so distant and removed from what was real, Marie saw something that she had never really noticed until then.
With a smile that radiated from somewhere deep within her soul, she said the words. “We both have the same eyes.”
Notes from the author: Thank you for taking to time to read “The Last Letter”. I hope that the people and experiences touched your emotions in some way. If you would like to read any of my other stories or poetry, please explore the rest of my website.
Comments are also welcome at; [email protected]