She found his letters in a black chest in the attic, the morning after his funeral.
Her eldest told her to be careful, but as soon as she found out her husband had left her something, no rickety stairs or cobwebs could deter her. She sat cross-legged in front of the chest and unlocked it. The old thing swung open with surprising ease.
The sight of the content almost overwhelmed her – it was all the things she’d thought were lost. Here was his old football jersey. A faded pink tie. Postcards from their travels… She gasped when her hand found a copy of Wuthering Heights. Their favourite book.
“Oh, Frank,” she whispered to the musty air, torn between delight at this newfound gift and the grief that still loomed like thunderstorm over her. This painful, ruthless grief. She remembered scolding him for collecting rubbish, but sitting here now, she was grateful for his stubbornness.
She went through the knick-knacks, relishing each memory, until she found the leather-bound box with her and his initials embossed. This was it, his last words. Her hands trembled as she opened the box, emotions flooding the world out.
There was only her, and there were these letters she held.
The first piece was a ripped page from a university newspaper, dated 2 December 1958. The headline read ‘Campus Football Star Finally Proposes to High School Sweetheart’. She didn’t have to look at the picture to know that it showed a group of grinning boys from the university football team holding a huge banner with her name, marry me and a question mark with little hearts. In front of them, a young man on his knees was captured mid-action opening a ring box.
The ring that still sat around her wrinkled finger, sixty-one years later.
She smiled and unfolded the first letter. The first of sixty-one others, all written on the day of their anniversary, paragraphs upon paragraphs of his neat cursive.
My Dearest Lenny, the letter opened. I hope you’re reading this many years later, which means we’ve both kept our promise of forever. This morning we made our vows, until death do us part. I don’t know which of us will be the first to leave, though if you’re reading this, I might have left. I’m sorry. That’s all I can say. I don’t want you to mourn, my love, I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life in misery. Honor me by moving on. Whenever you feel the urge to cry and shut the whole world out, remember us instead. Remember all the memories we’ll have made, the good life we’ll have built. If you’re young still, find someone else and fall in love again. Be happy.
From this day, I will write you a letter every year, even until it takes me two hours to find a pen and two more to remember how to write. But I will remember that I’m writing this for you.
Anyway, enough about death. It’s weird writing about dying when I’m barely 22…
And the first letter went on.
She choked back her tears, forcing a smile despite her pain. Classic Frank, leaving her surprises when she least expected it.
She read the next one, and the next, and the next. The letters varied. Some were many pages long, others short and sweet, while the last few bore only her name,three simple words and a poorly drawn signature.
She wanted nothing more than to stay up there and read all his letters, devour them like it would bring him back, bury herself among his words and presence. But that was exactly what he wanted least for her.
So she forced herself to close the letters and took a deep breath.
From the house, she heard footsteps and boyish laughter. That would be her child and their boys. She struggled to stand to her feet, knees shaking with effort, but she felt herself smile when she finally closed the chest. This time it wasn’t forced.
Clutching the box of letters close to her heart, Lenny walked out of the attic.