He had sat at his desk with intent to write to her. And he had not. He had sat and let his mind wander. He wanted to write if only to capture something of her he had yet to capture. It was as though by trying to find words to describe her everyday self he discovered it was often extraordinary, and it filled him with more tenderness that he could reasonably deal with. The other day he had written her a letter. It was rather ordinary, full of unplanned thoughts and descriptions, a day-to-day letter, but he had written it by hand, taking care with the curl and mark of his pen on the little sheets of laser-copier paper he felt suited him best. Once he wrote expansively (though never to her) on large sheets of thick, fine paper with a calligraphic pen and Indian ink. Now he felt more comfortable with a fine roller-ball nib and a light touch, on paper of a dimension and quality that seemed appropriate to the size of his script.
Today, as he thought about the letter he might write, he had imagined her finding his most recent letter as she came home, a letter with his careful handwriting on the envelope. It would be lying on the doormat with the brown envelopes, the circulars, the bank statement and one of the many journals she subscribed to. There was a letter too from her ‘pen friend’, someone who had invited her to correspond having been so touched to find a late relative’s letters full of the minutiae of life, but properly described and not the ad hoc jottings of what now passes for communication on social media. So this friend, who was not then a friend but an acquaintance, had set out to recruit a group of like-minded people she might write to properly, in proper sentences – and had, it seemed, fixed on her. He had been a little jealous at first that she should write, and write properly to this ‘friend’ she hardly knew, and since then she had so very rarely written to him. He had so wanted her words, on paper and not just her end-of-the-day thoughts on the telephone. But he had soon got over this jealousy realising how valuable this letter, written once a fortnight, would be for her. An opportunity no less, of the kind and value he could no longer provide.
It had changed the way he had continued to write to her. He stopped the hand-written caress of a letter on paper and took up what he called the Ten-Minute Letter composed at the computer. Not an e-mail, but a proper letter as an attachment she could print out. Written each day just before he stopped for lunch, he set an alarm on his phone and wrote for ten minutes only until the sampled chimes of Big Ben struck. It was a challenge, and to meet it he would prepare his ‘daily subject’ in those transient moments between the demands of work and other people’s needs, as he walked to work or cooked supper. He felt that by doing this he would eradicate that falling into passionate contemplation, the downloading of his memory’s thoughts, his often-intense feelings and emotions. He thought she would prefer such brevity, as she now had so little time for reflection, except when travelling.
In imagining that picking up of his letter he sought to imagine further. Would she open it straight away? Would she put it at the bottom of the stairs on a pile of things to take up to her bedroom, and read before bed? Occasionally there was a little time stolen during the day when, before the necessity to go at her desk and ‘get on’, she would sit on her bed with her cats and be conscious of her physical self. She would think of him beside her, kneeling on the floor in one of those occasional preludes to their passionate moments she knew he so loved, when he was full of tenderness, and he would kiss and stroke her, their quiet voices caressing each other in the lamplight. He thought of her carefully pulling the envelope flap open without a tear (whereas he could hardly contain himself, when a letter did arrive, from pulling the envelope apart). And she would read his careful writing, his late afternoon thoughts written after a long day’s work, before returning to more time at his desk.
She would read quickly, rather impatiently sometimes. She had to ‘get on’, attack the list, get things done. But just occasionally he surprised her. He would catch her attention. There was some phrase, some reflection that made her feel warm and loved. He would make an observation about her, and she would feel treasured and honoured by his words and be grateful for the time he had put aside to write them. And then the letter would be returned to its envelope, placed on the bookshelf beside her bed, and she would feel secure that she was loved, and could then put all that away for now and ‘get on’. But just once in a while she would recall the pit-in-the-stomach thrill of his first letters, as letter by letter he declared himself, saying what he thought of her, what he felt for her. She was often overcome with his play of words and would touch herself to sustain those rich feelings that would gradually envelop her; that someone could care about her that much. And for a while she was transformed . . .
Today, as he continued to hold his pen away from composing that first sentence, he had wanted to return to writing of her and for her. It was his small gift, his almost once a day gift. With words he knew he was on safer ground. He struggled somewhat in his *******; he worried that he disappointed her with his awkwardness and never being sure if he was doing the right thing at the right time in the right way. Perhaps in reading his thoughts rather than responding to the messages of his physical self, she felt safer too. He wanted her to know something of the intensity that she brought to his ‘being aliveness’. He remembered a recent phone call when for once he seemed able to say pretty much what he meant. ‘I hope I don’t presume in saying,’ he had said, overtly formal as so often, ‘ that one of the reasons I think we are the companions we are is that we have so much in common; we love the same things, we share the same joys and pleasures.’ And she had agreed. He felt this was true, and he wanted to celebrate this somehow; but they were apart, being on the phone, and he could not. There was less and less time for the joy of coming together, of that celebration of being-together that had once seemed beyond magic and the stuff of dreams and fantasy. There was now the ever-present awareness of the clock, of having to do this, needing to do that, and at a certain time. Their life together was changing and he needed to rise to the challenge that this change would bring, no matter how busy and preoccupied she became. He would write, he thought, and tell her that he knew this would be so, that she should never be concerned for him if there wasn’t time. Hadn’t she said she loved him, this young woman who had once been so diffident about speaking such endearments? She had already given him so much that he never imagined he would ever receive. Perhaps not for always, he was so much older than her, but for a long time to come. He must acknowledge the receipt of such gifts, and let her know he loved her all the more for her industry, her ambition, her preoccupation, and the beautiful, gracious person she was.