The Letter: Part 2

Backyard behind a houseDid you want to start the series from the beginning? The Letter: Part 1

AUGUST 1948

“Mrs. Brennaman, you will need stay at a sanatorium. You could be there for 6 months to a year. Thankfully we caught it early. I’ve seen other patients who. . . .” His voice faded into the background as Alice stared through the window at her sons playing outside.

She had kicked them outside when the doctor arrived. Usually they would be gone until dusk, but when they saw the doctor they must have known something was up. They hadn’t left the front lawn and Sam kept looking up at the front window every now and then.

Right now, they were bent over an old pail they had found in the front garden. No doubt a creepy-crawly of something or other was trapped and they were inspecting it.

“Mrs. Brennaman?” a voice called her back to the living room and the man in front of her. Her eyes refocused. “Mrs. Brennaman, did you hear me?

“I’m sorry, I must have faded out a for a second. What did you say?”

“I asked if you had any questions?”

“No. I mean yes. I can’t, that is we can’t afford for me to—”

“Not to worry, Mrs. Brennaman. The sanitorium is run by a nonprofit organization. It’s free.”

“Oh,” she smiled for a moment, then frowned as another thought hit her. “What about my boys? Richard works a lot and he doesn’t especially know how to cook. I mean, he can cook eggs, I guess. But,” She twisted her fingers in her lap.

The doctor put his hand on her shoulder. “If you don’t go, then they’ll be without you for good. It’s in everyone’s best interest. You need to get well. And you don’t want to spread the infection to anyone else in your home, do you?”

Her eyes grew wide. “Could I have done that already?”

“We’ll need to test everyone in your home to be sure, but no one else is showing symptoms?”

She shook her head.

“No one has a cough that won’t go away? An unexplained fever?” the doctor asked.

“No,” she whispered. Her eyes welling up. “Just me.” She thought, “thank God, it’s just me that has to go.”

That evening, after the boys had gone to bed, Alice and Richard, her husband, sat in the living. She explained what the doctor had told her.

“How long will you be gone?” he asked, leaning forward.

“6 months, maybe a year,” she said.

“A year!” he sprang up from the chair.

“Quiet! You’ll wake the boys. I haven’t told them yet.”

“But-but-but” he sputtered, as he paced back and forth across the living room, almost gashing his shine on the coffee table. “You can’t leave. Who’s going to look after the boys?”

“The way the doctor put it, I can stay, but then I’ll die and you’ll all be without me for good,” She frowned, but tried to restrain the fear and panic she felt bubbling under the surface.

“Oh, of course no.” He looked at her aghast. “That’s not what I meant. I-I-I.” He ran his hands through his hair and sunk down into his chair. “Of course, whatever the doctor says. You need to get better. We can do this.” He reached for her hands.

“We can talk to your sister. I’m sure she’d be willing to help out while I’m away.”

“When do you leave?”

“As soon as a spot opens up,” she said, pulling her hands out of his grasp and hugging herself.

Part 3

The Letter: Part 1

Writing a letter

SEPTEMBER 2018

“What are you doing?” Susan asked, looking over at Barb who was supposed to be helping her pack. Instead, she was sitting in an armchair piled with clothes, engrossed in the contents of a letter she’d found. She had out her reading glasses and was lost in another world. Barb and Susan had been friends since high school, nearly 50 years and Barb had always been the easily distracted one.

They were in the spare room at Susan’s house surrounded by open, half-packed boxes, frames filled with pictures of kids and grandkids, and various knickknacks representing a lifetime of memories.

Scattered through the chaos were stacks of papers and books. Clothes from the closet spilled out over the floor and were strewn about the room. Moving was probably the only time Susan’s house ever looked like a disaster.

“Barb! Come on, we don’t have much time,” Susan said, as she pulled out the roll of tape to seal one of the boxes she’d just finished packing.

“Suzie, you don’t move for another 2 weeks. Half your house is already packed,” Barb said, not looking up from the letter. “Besides, I still don’t understand why you and Sam are moving in the first place? Your life is here. Do you really want to start all over again?”

“We won’t be starting over again. Our kids and grandkids are out there.” Susan walked over and swiped the paper from her hand.

“Hey!” Barb said, frowning.

“And I think what you meant to say was, only half the house is packed and we move in less than 2 weeks.” She started to fold the letter back up and was about to slip it into the envelope when she pulled it back out and started to skim the contents. “What is this?”

“A letter from Sam’s dad. It looks kind of old. It was just getting interesting when you yanked it out of my hand.” She stood up and leaned over Susan’s shoulder to read more of the letter.

Susan’s eyes skimmed the first paragraph, then rolled her eyes and folded the paper back up, stuffing it back in the envelope.

Down the hall, they heard the front door open and slam shut.

“Is someone here?” Barb asked.

“Probably just Victor and Sam coming in from packing the garage.”

“So, did Sam ever find out what Richard’s secret was?” Barb asked, getting back to the subject at hand. “Did he find the coins? How come I’ve never heard about this?”

Susan snorted. “You didn’t hear about it, because there was nothing to tell. Richard was poor as a church mouse and a bit confused at the end.”

“Richard was not confused at the end. He was batshit crazy right from the very beginning.” A voice said from the hall.

“Hi Victor,” Susan said as a towering man with a deep frown and bushy mustache came into the room. Behind him was Sam, her husband, a little shorter, a little balder, and slightly hunched over.

“We’re off. You’re not going to pack all night I hope,” Sam asked.

“We’ll see how far we get,” Susan said, kissing him on the cheek.

Barb slumped into the armchair again. “This is how far I get.”

“What was this about a letter from Richard?” Victor asked, still frowning.

“I found a letter from your dad.” Barb said. “Something about leaving you guys a bunch of coins he’d saved.”

“Those damn coins! That’s all the old man ever cared about. It was an obsession with him.” Suddenly, he whirled around and glared at Sam. “Wait a second. You kept the letter?

Sam looked abashed, but didn’t back down. “Yes. Where do you want to go for dinner?”

“I can’t believe you kept anything from that man! He was a terrible father. He—”

“Yes, I know. I was there, remember?” Sam said, frowning.

“So why—”

“Because he was our dad and you didn’t want it.”

“You should of burned the thing.” Victor grumbled, watching Susan hand the letter to Sam.

“Burgers at Bin 4?” Sam asked, still trying to change the subject.

“Sure.”

“We’ll see you after the game.” Sam leaned down to kiss Susan.

“I’ll walk out with you guys. I have to grab some more boxes from the garage,” Susan said.

“I’ll help you,” Sam said as the three of them left the room, leaving Barb behind. On his way out to the garage he set the letter on top of the fridge.

The collapsed boxes weren’t heavy, but they were awkward to carry. He bumped the wall a couple of times as he carried an armload from the garage back to the spare bedroom. Victor went out to start the car.

“Thanks, sweets,” Susan said, kissing him on the cheek. He left just as Susan started to tape the bottom of one of the boxes they’d brought in, when Barb came back in.

“Where were you?” Susan asked, looking up.

“I went to the bathroom, nosey,” Barb replied, before she started to help pack for the first time that night.

Susan stared at her for a second, then shrugged and continued to tape up the box.

Part 2