Gillian’s Letter to Paul
by Lindy Chaffin Start
The happiest day of my life
It’s late for me, ten-thirty on a Friday night and I’m standing in my bedroom folding clothes. It’s warm out. There’s a salty breeze blowing off the water through the window. It feels like rain. I hate doing laundry. lots of laundry. I lift a turquoise T-shirt to my face to take in a deep, fragrant breath of Mountain Fresh detergent, hoping that the sunny scent might improve my enthusiasm for the task at hand.
The television is droning on in the background. A show about a team of paranormal investigators helping families rid themselves of unwanted spirits. I can’t help but laugh a little. I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it. To wish you away is unthinkable.
A static charge fills the air around my body. The delicate hairs on my right arm stand straight at attention as a bone-deep chill cuts through me. I hear a slight crackling but haven’t touched another piece of clothing in the basket. Maybe it’s the breeze shuffling the white linen paper on which I wrote to you. Maybe it’s not.
“I know you’re here.”
The chill intensifies.
“I’m not afraid of you. Just talk to me. Touch me,” a tear rolls down my cheek followed by a desperate plea, “hold me.”
I want to wrap my arms around my body in a warm, welcoming hug. Instead, I resume my laundry duties, ignoring my intuition. The silent chill lingers for another minute before the humid night air again fills the room.
“I miss you, Paul,” I whisper.
Eight years ago today, I awoke to the warm sun in my face and the sound of the waves crashing over the rocks along the shoreline outside our bedroom window, accompanied by the melodious sound of you playing the Steinway piano in the great room.
I didn’t want to get out of bed that morning but the temptation of you playing in only your pajama bottoms drew me up.
You played Rachmaninoff.
I sat in a formal barrel-back chair behind you, listening to the music, swinging my feet back and forth in midair to keep time. Where I would usually rehearse with you, I felt naked without my cello, but it made me so happy to watch you instead. the muscles in your back, shoulders and arms tensing with each movement, your strong arms easily stretching the length of the keys.
You always looked more like a body builder than a concert pianist.
When you finished, I took the rose from the bud vase on the table next to me, tore apart the petals and scattered them over you shouting, “Bravo. Bravo.” You laughed and called me a goofball.
I loved your laugh.
“Thank you, kind lady,” you said in a fake English accent, bowing.
“Getting ready for tonight?” I asked, as if playing a concert for a few thousand people was no big deal.
“What about you? Want to join me for a while?”
“Nah, my fingers are broke.”
Again you laughed at my silliness, “Can I kiss them all better?”
Feeling a bit feline, I slunk over to the piano bench and handed you my thin, nimble fingers. I couldn’t help but tremble as you kissed each one gently, teasing me, looking into my eyes as if to say “I want you” with each tender kiss. We wiled away the morning making love on that Steinway, convinced a rehearsal wasn’t necessary.
Finally finished with the laundry, I walk out onto the deck to look out over the Atlantic. The ocean is my backyard. It is the place we flew your handmade kite, played in the waves, and talked about our future together. I long to feel the sand between my toes, but since that night, I cannot bring myself to set foot among the shells.
That was the last time we walked here, that afternoon before the concert. Remember?
The biting electrical charge returns, lifting the hair on my right arm and sending shivers through me.
I took your hand, pulling you off the deck into the warm sand. Guiding you through the dunes down to where the water had washed all the way up to the sea grass during high tide making the sand hard, sturdier under our feet. The wind whipped down the beach taking with it a sheath of sand that bit at our ankles. But it was the perfect day to fly your cherished kite. To me, the wind and the waves exemplified raw power and reminded me of you at your fiercest, creating exquisite sounds, pounding passionately on ivories.
After a few minutes of traversing tidal pools, we stopped at the breakers. “It’s so beautiful here.”
“It’s perfect,” you said, unraveling the twine wound tightly around the red nylon kite. “And there’s more than enough wind. Great idea honey.”
“It’s never a bad idea to take an afternoon off.”
I laid on the sand watching you race down the beach pulling the kite behind you like a kid. The wind caught it and tugged it into the sky with great ease, spreading a smile across your face.
That was the happiest day of my life.
I never thought you were childish in your notion to hold onto some of the playthings you loved as a child. The rickety antique push car was a little closer to the junk heap than the others, but I loved your sense of nostalgia so much that I didn’t care. And when you spoke about how our children would one day enjoy the toys as much as you had, well, my heart soared at the thought.
That day marked our eighth year of marriage.
“It would be really neat, don’t you think,” putting my hand on your shoulder, “if we could bring our kids down here?”
The look on your face was telling—furrowed brow, the corner of your mouth curled up into a knowing grin. It was easy for me to confirm your suspicion.
“I love you with all my heart, Paul, and…”
“Gilly! You’re pregnant?”
Remember how I jumped into your arms? Your kite almost got away.
I held a tiny brown Atlantic auger shell between my thumb and forefinger. “She’s about this big.”
“He. She. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Standing in the grand foyer of the opera house that night, we fought the urge to hug. We received accolades from every passerby leaving the concert. Our conductor and friend Adair Gutierez joined us, paying profuse compliments giving us almost all of the credit for the event’s success.
“You both are simply amazing!” he lauded. “Can you hear the crowd? You are all they are talking about.”
“Adair, the entire orchestra did an amazing job,” I countered.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Adair agreed waving his hand, then pulled you off to the side, as he usually did after a performance.
I saw you roll your eyes.
Then all of a sudden you were gone and I was left surrounded by people I admired and couldn’t escape. I felt an odd sense of disconnect, like finding you was the most important task for me at that moment.
I excused myself only to be stopped once again by Mom and Dad, who blessedly offered to help me carry my cello to the car.
“Honey, you and Paul were amazing tonight,” Mom cooed. “You carried the entire performance.”
“She’s right, Gillian,” Dad agreed. “You two were the highlight of the entire show.”
As much as I appreciated the compliments, I was so uncomfortable. You were all I could think about.
Emerging through the side door of the Opera House, I finally found you. You were standing next to the car in the alley where we parked earlier that evening. Dad offered to carry my heavy instrument down to the Cherokee, but you had already ascended the stairs to take it.
It was obvious by the look on your face that you wanted to tell them right then. Instead, you took the cello from Dad’s hands then carefully walked back down the stairs carrying the large black case.
I’ve never seen my mother at a loss for words. Stunned to silence, she watched a car turn the corner and come barreling down the alley.
You never saw it coming.
Shifting my gaze to track hers, I watched paralyzed as the car careened toward you. Seconds passed in slow motion as you slammed the rear hatch and stepped around to the driver’s side. The speeding car sideswiped the Jeep tossing your body up into the air. You came to rest on the curb in front of the Jeep with a loud thud and an odd splitting crack, your once smiling face bloodied by the impact.
I don’t remember how I got to you.
I knelt down next to you. You were so weak and broken I was afraid to touch you for fear of doing further damage. Your breathing was erratic, uncontrollable. I lay down on the ground next to you and rested my head next to yours on the curb. I put my hand on your chest, desperate to feel you breathe. There was an overwhelming smell of blood and asphalt that made my stomach churn.
“Hold on. Please, hold on.”
Every word was somehow calculated to reassure you that everything would be all right.
But you weren’t all right, were you?
“I love you so much,” I whispered, as the police and ambulance, sirens blaring, arrived.
Your eyes sparkled in recognition, then, all at once, they grew dim, lifeless, glassed over like a china doll. Your balled up fist relaxed as your body fell prey to darkness and in it was a dainty gold chain with the tiny brown auger shell. Not even thinking, I took it from your hand and put it on.
“Mom?” a small voice draws my attention back to the present.
Sliding a scroll-like letter written on white linen paper into an ancient beer bottle along with my shell necklace, I turn to see Paul bounding down the deck stairs toward me in his Transformers pajamas.
“You are supposed to be in bed.”
“I was. What are you doing?”
“Sending a note to Daddy.”
“Did you tell him how big I’m getting?”
“I did. Want to do the honors?”
Paul takes the brown bottle from my hand, swings the hinged cap over the opening, locks it in place, then stares at the bottle in silence. Moments pass before he looks up at me and says, “Is this the last one?”
“It’s bound to be,” I respond with a smile, knowing by the electric charge surrounding me that there will be more.
Running across the sand, Paul pitches the bottle at the sea. It sails through the air with ease reminiscent of a bright red, handmade kite that glided just as easily over the ocean. A faint splash signals the amber glass is on its way to you. We watch in silence as it drifts away.
Lindy Chaffin Start became unstoppable the moment she started writing. Only one of her many passions, Ms. Start also loves to cook, create anything with her hands, play with her daughter, apple orchards and a good ghost story. Emerging better in her new normal.
Well if that didn’t make you get out the tissues, I don’t know what would. What a great story.
Tomorrow, just for a change of pace, we’ll have (ahem!) moi (Linsey Lanier). I’m offering the next installment of The Clever Detective series, A Clever Season for your reading pleasure. I know it’s Christmas Day, but I hope you’ll stop by for a smile.