After her death, they found a surprising thing in her room: a stack of love letters, written in her childish hand and pressed between the pages of a heavy book. Each was addressed to a different name: Dear Anthony, Luke, Matt, Wayne. They weren’t the names of people she knew—those were so few. They weren’t the names of recognizable characters from books or movies or TV shows.
As they continued to search through her room, they found more and more letters. Folded as if a bookmark, tucked beneath the book cover, flattened underneath a stack. They had planned to donate the books, but now it seemed sacrilgeous, impossible. She seemed to be alive again, singing in the words on the page. Without you, my darling, she wrote, I would forget how to breath. Or: I spent all of Saturday inside, watching the rain and hoping that you, even so far away, are seeing the same. Her lovers always seemed to be distant, on the verge of disappearing, fading to gray. I miss you so terribly, she wrote, I fear that I’m going to lose my right hand, the one you once held and must have brought with you.
Alive, she had never been poetic. She spoke quickly and often, it seemed, harshly. She moved without grace, her limbs heavy with clumsiness. She was often avoided, though never actively hated. When she laughed her voice squeaked, and it was not a pretty sound. Her friends, if they could be called that, saw her because they were trapped in solitary worlds of their own, and needed at least the occasional illustration of companionship. Even her family, here, now, trifling through her possessions, could not say that they were devasted. It was a terrible shock, a terrible loss. They cried at the funeral and held each other tight. But mostly they were relieved that they had each other to hold, and were secretly glad that it had not been her sister instead.
But now the letters seemed to suggest something different. They smoothed out each sheet and piled them on her desk. They told a few close friends, in strange awed voices. One friend, a literary agent, perked up with her eyes wide. Could I see them, maybe? She asked. The family was grateful to oblige. She was, after all, a professional. They had not been sure what to do with the letters, where to keep them and what for.
The agent sifted the pages between her scarlett painted nails. Sometimes she paused at certain turns of phrases, the cadence of a line. The family watched her, nervous and eager. Finally, she turned to face them. Her lips apart and wet. It would make a brilliant book, she told them.
Oh! They exclaimed. But would it really?
It would really. There was a flurry of activity, then, of meetings with lawyers and publishers and marveling publicists. How extraordinary! They said. The original letters were sealed and protected, and copies made, distributed. The agent glowed when she spoke. The family whispered to each other, oh but who would have known, and what a tragedy. Soon there came questions, reporters hungry for interviesw. But the family knew nothing. They looked to the agent, hoping.
The agent, sympathetic, took their hands and said, of course I understand. She knew a writer, a brilliantly reviewed, exquisite one, who would take care of it, take care of the narrative the dead woman did not write. The brilliant writer met the family. The brilliant writer had beautiful hair and a lyrical voice. The family was enchanted. The brilliant writer asked the family about the dead woman, and the family felt their responses inadequate. They knew so little, aside from the occasional phone calls reporting the dead woman’ unremarkable life. But the brilliant writer was brilliant for a reason, and when she sent them the draft of the introduction, the foreword, it was touching and heartbreaking, poignant and yes, exquisite. The family cried when they read it. They felt a new love surge for the dead woman, a genius they never understood.
The book was a marvelous success. The brilliant writer became even more admired and respected. The dead woman’s name became a symbol on the lips of the well read, literati everywhere, and soon infiltrated elsewhere. Even in a dive bar with plastic plants for decor, the bartender leaned forward and spoke of the book, as an eager secret. The country was astir with a heightened sense of romance.
Only the dead woman’s ashes remained forgotten, crammed in a cardboard box with ten other urns, in the funeral home where she was burnt.
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