by Dianne Rees

Does she write letters to you, your wife? Does she cast salutations or swear words on a torn-out piece of notebook paper, to scorch your fingers when you find it tucked in your briefcase? Do her missives make you blush? Does she write the forbidden words—love, love, love? Does she write words even she won’t send, words that make her mad and hopeless and bereft? Letters crumpled, one after another, as she writes to bring you to her, to make you speak her name before all others.

***

Mom’s writing another letter. She tells me that it’s homework for her college class, but I don’t think homework starts “Dear One” or ends “Love, love, love.” I think it’s gross, to be so out-there for “Dear One.” I wonder if he’s someone who’s come to the house or if he’s the one she calls, twisting her hair like my sister does when she gets all moony over her latest heartthrob.

Sometimes I pick up letters she thinks she’s shoved far down enough into the garbage to be invisible. But I find them. They’re interesting after all—it’s like contemplating a scab you’ve pulled off your knee. Sometimes the words are smudged, but sometimes, here and there, some things come across, like “please come back” or “I’d give up anything.” I want to ask her if I’m anything. But it’s like Aunt Sarah says, don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.

***

He’s gotten another letter. It’s disguised with scent, as if it’s personal, but it’s not from another one of his floozies. I know that. He’d never date anyone who wouldn’t take the time to buy stationary. This one’s written in code, on a piece of torn-out notebook paper. The words are filled with portents. Like the last one, “Dear One, please come back.” It’s clearly an encrypted message. He’s in the spy business, my Dear One. He works in The Blue Cube. Everyone says it’s just an army base but I know otherwise. Harry says he’s a supplier—he ships goods overseas. But I know what that means. There are lots of different kinds of goods. And all words have hidden meaning, don’t they? “I need you” just means there’s a job that takes him away again. And “love, love, love” – it’s the universal code for “surrender.” Ask any woman. Harry reads the letter quickly, then folds it away as if it burns him. He turns away from me, won’t meet my eyes, gets all military on me, all “need to know.” He tells me I’m imagining things. But he’ll put this imaginary letter away in a box in the garage, with all the other ones that don’t mean anything, but which collectively spell ruin for a lot of innocent people out there. Not just me. No, not just me. Maybe I’ll go look, after he’s gone, just to torture myself. Maybe I’ll imagine myself lighting a match, and watching all those secrets burn.