Douglas sits down at the rickety chair in front of the rickety desk, the legs of both threatening to fall off at any moment. But he was determined to use them till the very end, to be faithful to them like they had been to him. They had been his companions and the only ones who truly cared, and he wasn’t going to let them go that easily.
He takes a sturdy sheet from the stack of papers, the smell immediately reminding him of the thumping of small feet running towards the front door when the bell rang on a Sunday, and then fighting over who gets to carry the papers to Father.
Nicholas had always won, with the argument that he was older, and he always got to inhale the smell of each envelope, something that Douglas had always been jealous of.
Douglas smirks to himself, the wrinkles on his face moving to the right with the curve of his lips, as he pictures his dear brother, now resting peacefully under the dirt, thereby leaving the living child in peace to smell his paper without being shoved or kicked at.
He takes his trusty ink pen, filling it to the brim using the inkpot open on his desk, and rubs the bluish stain from his fingers on to his brown overall, adding to the colourful state of his clothes.
Placing his elbow and arm the way he had been taught to, the way that was almost reflex to him now, he starts writing, scratching the nib the way he liked, tilting the paper so that he didn’t break the delicate bones in his neck.
With a salutation of ‘Dear Barbara’, he asks about the family and children first, as expected. He requests to send a photograph along with her reply, ignoring the sting in his heart, ignoring the fact that this communication is only one-way, ignoring the fact that his own daughter thought of her own father as an old lunatic.
He reads over it again, chiding himself for the spelling mistakes that seem to be dotted all over the page. He corrects his past self, adding arrows and more words, slashes and cuts, bleeding the ink into the page, bleeding himself into the page.
He reads it again and is mildly satisfied. Folding the page in half, he takes an envelope from the stack of envelopes lying next to the stack of papers, and carefully pushes it inside.
Bringing his tongue to the edge, he runs it down the triangular fold, tasting paper and ink and pain and blood, and smoothens the fold, sealing the envelope without leaving any unnecessary creases or bulges.
He writes Barbara’s address and name, the words appearing like magic, and puts a stamp on the right corner, hitting his fist on it, prompting a loud thud and a creak from the table.
He moves on to his next letter, this one to his son Isaac, doing all of it the same way he had been doing since the time he had learned how to write.
He knows that there are easier ways to send messages and photographs, easier ways to communicate events and emotions. He had heard about the smartphones with their emails and their cameras. He had been given a comprehensive speech about the benefits of technology from his young grandson as soon as he had returned from college.
He had only nodded his head and displayed his toothy smile, feigning interest in his passionate rant. He never mentioned to his children and grandchildren that he had a box kept under his bed, where he had safely kept all the letters his father and brother had sent to him. He never shared the fact that on the anniversary of their deaths, he would take out their letters and read them again, laugh with them again and stain the yellowed pages with his tears filled with memories. He never brought up his late wife, who he had corresponded with for almost two years before her parents had allowed him to marry her. He just smiled with the teeth he had left, swallowing his past with his words.
If Kathleen had still been with him, she would have kissed his sunken cheeks and asked him to move with time, instead of being stuck in his own time forever. She would have shaken her head when he explained that he couldn’t do that and would have corrected his lie by saying that he didn’t want to.
But she is dead, and he is alone.
The people who had understood him were long gone. The people who smelled the paper and ink, ran their fingers down the page in reverence until the ink was imprinted on their fingers, they are all dead.
He is the only one left, trying to hold on to the only thing he knows how to do, the only thing he knows to do well.
He finishes the last letter, the one to his youngest daughter Julia, and keeps it on the stack.
He is suddenly exhausted, as he is every week. Pouring his heart out in ink on paper satisfies him, but also drains him. It pulls on every thread of his heart and sometimes, he wishes he could stop. But he knows that he’s not going to, not until his final breath.
He sits on the small bed in his rooms, interlocking his fingers and closing his eyes. He prays to the Almighty and he asks for His blessings, not just for himself, but for his entire family.
Douglas then proceeds to talk to his wife, tell him about his day, and laugh about his shortcomings and his tendency to live in a different time period. When she had passed, he had sent a letter to her along with his usual ones but had soon stopped once he realized that she couldn’t write back.
Then he resorted to talking to her, and he found that she may not be able to reply, but she sure can listen. And that was enough for him. That was more than enough.
He feels the marks on his hands, the scratches and the cuts, the blood and the ink, the feel of paper still lingering. He remembers his young days, his fights with his brother, his tumultuous relationship with his wife and children, and he smiles, though there is no one to smile back.
He lies down and sleeps soundly.
There isn’t anyone to wake him the next morning.