The letter he wrote to her sat on the upper level of his desk like an accusation.
Blake shook his head in irritation. Who was he kidding? He wrote the letter ten years ago on January 1st. The New Year had unexpectedly filled his heart with optimism. He guessed he had picked up the envelope at least twice a day, almost every day, in the interim. For the first month, he opened the envelope carefully and read the letter out loud. Afterward, there was no longer any need. The words were etched in his heart. The outside of the envelope had no address. It merely said, “Karen” in his best block writing.
Everyone laments the things not done, the words not spoken, and the embraces not ventured. Few people have to experience the agony of knowing they’ve taken people and circumstances for granted. That agony could find no worse residence than in his heart. Though the calendar marked the passing of each day, Karen lingered on the fringes of his mind. As a writer, her memory plagued him.
For ten years, he brought a fresh cup of bitter coffee into his private office on the far side of the large house. He sat down in his swivel chair each morning to touch the envelope. Often, he found himself tracing the name Karen with an index finger. His Siamese cat heard him whisper the name Karen so frequently that he sometimes mistook it for a request for him to stretch and jump up into Blake’s lap. Blake was oblivious to the fact that he often said her name like a prayer.
Afterward, he would spend anywhere from an hour to six hours writing the pages his publisher requested. When he finished, he stood up, touched the envelope lightly, and left the room. His next-door neighbor Cassandra, the eccentric lady who cleaned for him, knew to leave the envelope untouched. She asked him about the letter once. Blake shook his head and said, “I can’t talk about her, Cassandra. I just can’t.” She must have noted the melancholy in his voice because she never ventured another inquiry. Cassandra was wealthy in her own right. Blake had no idea why she offered to clean his house twice a week.
Today, Blake sat in his chair, happy that he had avoided the pull of invitations to celebrate the New Year. He picked up the letter, and though he hadn’t done so in a long time, he gave voice to the words contained therein:
I know we were just children when we fell in love. I am so sorry that I didn’t recognize the light you brought to my life. I am writing this letter to you on New Year’s Day because I’m tired of living a life where I forgot to tell you that I still love you. This poor heart has no right to ask that you find a way to ask yourself if you would like a life of appreciation and wonder. I don’t know what your life holds. I hope you are happy and loved. If not, I will wait as long as you need, even if the day stretches into a lifetime. I’ll take the possibility as a gift more generous than the certainty of mediocre love. Love, Blake.
The urge to see the words gripped him. He couldn’t remember the last time he opened the wrinkled envelope. As he pulled the page out, he knew something was wrong. The folded page inside the envelope was a blank sheet of linen paper taken from his box by the dusty typewriter. For a full minute, he sat dumbfounded and stared blankly. “Cassandra!” he thought.
Blake forgot his cup of coffee as he left the private office. He found a jacket in the closet in the expansive mudroom and exited the side door near the large garage. The front door was irrelevant to him. It didn’t occur to him to call Cassandra, not even as he walked across the broad lawn between the houses and knocked on his neighbor’s solid oak door. He then rang the doorbell to the right. Inside, the chime echoed in the tall vestibule. Cassandra’s house was both beautiful and empty. She spent most of her waking hours reading. Blake had no idea that he was her favorite author.
A few moments later, Cassandra opened the door. “Come in!” she said as if Blake made it a habit to knock on her door at 6 a.m. on each New Year’s Day.
Ignoring her politeness, he said, “Where is it?” His voice was surprisingly aggressive.
Instead of asking what he meant, Cassandra simply replied, “I mailed it three years ago, Blake. To Karen.” She smiled.
“You mailed it? How do you know who Karen is? What gives you the right?” Blake’s voice went up another octave.
“I read the letter five years ago, Blake. I was about to stop cleaning your house and figured, ‘What the hell.’ I mailed it three years ago and have been waiting to see what happens.” Cassandra laughed as she said it. “I shouldn’t have done it, I know. But imagine if she had read it and came to you? My, wouldn’t that be a story?”
For an instant, Blake’s mind went blank at the idea of Karen reading the letter he wrote all those years ago. He fought the urge to lash out at Cassandra as he shouted, “Go to hell!” He walked out her front door, leaving it open to the cold January wind.
Blake returned to his kitchen to make another cup of coffee. He absently petted the cat as he stood next to the island, wondering what had possessed Cassandra to invade his privacy. Deciding he couldn’t find an answer, he went back to his office to write.
He sat at his desk for five hours, ignoring the grandfather clock’s chimes as it announced each hour. Both cups of cold coffee sat to his right, ignored, and forgotten. Even the cat gave up hours ago. It was now curled against the heat vent across the room.
As the clock chimed noon, Blake looked up at the envelope holding the blank sheet of paper. From the other side of the house, he heard the doorbell for the side entrance ring. Only Cassandra used that door. Good. He expected some sort of apology. That is what happens when you hire a rich person to be your housekeeper.
Blake took his time walking down the long hallway and through the kitchen. Without bothering to put on his houseshoes, he flung open the door to give Cassandra another piece of his mind. Instead, Cassandra was walking away from him hurriedly, her head braced against the light wind. “Cassandra!” he shouted. She turned and bowed slightly. She then extended her right arm as if beckoning someone.
Cassandra waved goodbye as she continued back to her own house. She laughed loudly.
Blake found himself unable to breathe. Her hair was the same, with more grey. Her face was lit with a smile. She wore a pair of blue glasses. Karen. Walking toward him.
He stood immobile as she walked to him. She wrapped her arms around him and put her head against his chest.
As he looked down slightly, Karen tilted her head to meet his. “Yes,” she said as she kissed him lightly on the lips.
After a moment that defies measure, Karen took Blake’s right hand and led him inside and out of the cold. Forever.