This post is my second foray into the Wordle Writing Challenge, where we are encouraged to write a short story or poem that includes all of the words in a specific box. Each Sunday we receive a new box — the work of Brenda Warren over at “The Sunday Whirl.” So if you’re interested in taking part, hop over there and get started. My story’s below the box.
He stuffed the letters back into the manila envelope he kept them in. Since they’d arrived last week, he’d read every one of them at least a dozen times. He wasn’t sure why, except that he hoped reading them would help give him the courage he needed to make the trip.
He laid the envelope on top of his desk and sat down with a weary sigh. Thrumming his fingers on the desktop, he let his mind drift back to those days nine years ago. The minutes turned into hours as he sat there, but it didn’t matter. He was caught once again in that heavy flow of traffic, the chill of the icy winter weather soaking into him as he waited for his 20-year old Buick’s heater to kick in.
He’d put off making that trip to the store that night, but he was completely out of milk and bread both, and since he hated cooking, the lack of those two essentials left him hungry. Even the ham and peanut butter that he often existed on couldn’t do him much good without the bread, and he certainly couldn’t face his cereal in the morning with no milk. So bundling up as well as possible against the 10° weather, he’d risked the icy side roads and made it to the main highway.
He’d spotted her blue car pulled off on the shoulder while he was still almost a mile away. Ordinarily, he never stopped for strangers, but that day he felt such a unique urge to pull over and offer help. He pulled in behind her car as carefully as possible, and by the time he had walked to her door, she had powered down her window. The first thing that struck him was how cold she looked, but that thought was immediately replaced by the warmth in her beautiful green eyes when she smiled at him.
• • •
He stirred himself in his desk chair, sighing deeply, and pulling himself out of his reverie. Another heavy sigh escaped him, and he looked around the room, trying to make the final transition from nine years ago back to the present moment. They’d been together — happily, he thought — for seventeen months, and, then suddenly, she had packed her bags and walked out the door. Her only explanation was that she just couldn’t handle being tied down in one place. That’s why she’d never agreed to a legal marriage between them. She’d insisted she had to feel free.
He picked up the envelope of letters again. Everyone of them had been dated on the same day of the year, beginning the year after they had separated, but they’d arrived at his door packed together in a small box — each letter in an envelope — each envelope stamped — but not one of them postmarked.
He pulled out the cover letter that had come with the others: “I know you’ll be surprised at this package,” she had written. “But by the time you read this note, I’ll be gone from this earth, and I felt it was right to let you know the truth. I wrote each one of these letters, fully intending to mail them the day they were written, but then I lost my courage to do so. Now, however, I have no choice, and I think it’s important that you know you have a son. You’ll find all the details in these unmailed letters. The only thing I can add is that I’m sorry I couldn’t become what you wanted me to be.”
He picked up the last of the individual letters from the stack. She had included her parents’ home address and their phone number. She and the boy had been living with them during the past year. She had written that letter on his birthday — as she had all the others — and on the date of the last letter, the child had turned eight years old.
A kind of rage surged through him, and he crushed the letter in his hand. How could she! How could she do such a thing to him — and to the child? But the rage soon gave place to tears. He’d run through that gamut of emotions several times since first opening that package of letters. Part of him wanted to burn them and forget it all so that he didn’t have any more hurt and pain. But the other part of him handled them with trembling fingers, treasuring them because they were his only link to his son.
Suddenly, he rose from his chair, stuffing the letters back into the manila envelope once again. He walked to his bedroom, took his suitcase out of the closet, and started to pack. He made a quick job of it, then tossed the envelope of letters on top of his clothes and snapped the case shut. Taking a deep breath, he carried the case to the front door, where he picked up his coat, stepped outside, and locked the door behind him. Once outside, with his suitcase in hand, he felt his courage getting stronger. He had made the first step now, and the momentum would carry him through.
He was a father. And it was worth risking everything to be able to know and love his son. ~