You read it. You know you have. It was right there. White neatly tucked in a crisp envelope. No seal, no address. Only one word etched in black ink on the sheet.
Now you are sitting on the couch, the TV is turned off; its black screen creates a magnetic pool. You stare at the clock to your right, and then hunch your shoulders. For a moment, you think you are going to cry. But then you remember you never have.
It is late afternoon and the sun is no longer shining through your window. You open one eye, then the other. A sweet melodic tune comes from the apartment upstairs when you walk out of the bathroom. Your hair is brown with flecks of grey, and your eyes don’t dance like they used to. But you don’t care. All you can think about is that one word.
And then you think about that otherworldly voice that pierces your skull, especially during the night.
You are heartless. How did I ever raise such a heartless child!
And then the girl of your youth, the girl you used to be, sneers and almost in a mocking tone.
To raise a heartless child one must be heartless!
You knew and still know that you have hurt her but you didn’t care then so much, and now it is late…
So you sit in front of your laptop. The screen is blank just as you left it. You leave the window open and a gentle breeze comes to caress your cheek. You look at the clock once more. It’s your late grandmother’s old grandfather clock; dusty and old it sits in the corner.
Go to the station. Pack a suitcase and just go!
The internal dialogue (which every author is a part of) starts brewing inside of you.
But I cannot. I have to write. I have a deadline!
This is no life, Fred. You know what you must do! The voice tells you, and as if on command, you stand up and push your chair aside. You turn your head to the letter again; its white crisp tip emerges, from the other magazines and newspapers in the basket on the floor.
I need to go.
You go to the bathroom again; a familiar motion when you are caught in decision making. When you come outside again, beads of sweat are on your forehead and your heart is pounding. You look down at your legs and wince (from imaginary pain) as the first signs of puffiness are evident.
Stress can kill you.
You have a better answer to that you think as you move to pour yourself a drink; white wine chilled from the refrigerator. You take a swig, and then another one. You can feel the liquid moving against your insides, making them slow and drowsy. You close your eyes, and with one hand steady yourself against your desk.
Your telephone rings. You look at the computer screen, then your grandfather clock, and lastly the white crisp letter. Like a riddle that needs to be solved.
“Hello!” The voice on the other end is male. A kind, compassionate voice and you melt.
“Hello, Fred. Can you hear me?”
Just say it!
But then the heartless beast wakes up in you, and you find yourself speaking in a changed voice. Your voice is clipped and brief.
“We are wanted back to Valley. We have a new case”.
You know that Georgie will also be there, and she will bring along her sister, Grace. Then you feel a slight stab of jealousy.
“Grace will also be there”.
You listen to the awkward pause at the other end of the line and smirk. Good. You remember then that you relished the discomfort, which you would cause, to other people.
“I have to go now. I’ll be at the station by 9 pm”
You hang up the phone and look at your reflection in the grand mirror in the hallway. It is an inheritance from your mother. A memory tugs at your heart, but you are in awe of the woman looking back at you. You turn your head from side to side and gasp with delight. The little flecks of grey, which were there before, have gone.
The last thing you see, before turning off the light with your suitcase in hand, is the relentless, unblinking light from your computer screen…
You tell it to wait, and in turn, it reminds you of the single word you wrote.
It is five past nine when you reach the high, metal gates of the station. You wonder if being “fashionably late” is even in fashion anymore. The train to Valley is steeped with high, green trees, and rolling hills. You are alone on this voyage. He is not with you.
From another compartment, you can hear the crying of a baby, someone talking on their phone, and the sound of the pages of a book being turned. You sigh at the beauty of the view outside, passing by.
The hour passes, and the view has dimmed, the sky is greyer, and the trees are bare and gnarled.
The word comes to mind again.
Once outside the station, you rest your suitcase on the ground and stretch your arms and legs. You are thirsty, and you wonder for a moment if this trip is a good idea. You then feel the shape of the letter that is tucked away in your jacket pocket.
Far away in the distance, you can see the outline of a house, stretched like a cathedral, on a piece of land. You turn on your heels back to the station and come out again with a bottle of water in your hands. Despite the diminished strength of the sun, you are already sweaty. You move to remove your jacket but do not want to carry another weight.
The time is 12 when you start walking uphill. The road winds like a snake, your heart is heavy, but from the distance, you can hear the churning of water. A comforting thought.
You reach the high door of the house and knock. A woman with sharp edges and alabaster skin comes to the door.
“You’re early. The meeting isn’t until tomorrow morning”
You stay where you are. “You have to invite me in”