The Letter

For James, A Written Account: Part 1 of 2 3 4 However Long It Takes, By Maryanne Cooper

24th of March 2011

James, I love you.

James, I have things I need to tell you, but I don’t know where to begin, and I’m already babbling, but,

I miss you. God, I hope you read this.


Stirring her coffee, Maryanne recalls the events of the past few years. She’s sitting at the kitchen table of her new rental in South Philadelphia, staring out of the window, allowing her vision to blur just long enough to see only the screen’s gray squares, but not the view beyond. It’s a sunny day, which seems worse than a rainy day. Rainy days justify her melancholy: an excuse for staying indoors, perhaps even in bed, all day, ignoring calls and trying to focus on the text of a book. Though most days, she stares only at the white spaces between lines.

            But on days like this, on these damn days filled with sunshine, when the birds sing and the clouds are high and fluffy and terribly picturesque, there is no excuse for Maryanne. Staying inside, admittedly, only amplifies her pathetic behavior. Her current state allows for little more than staring out of the window. Occasionally she has the energy to scan the room around her, though all this does is produce a mental checklist of everything wrong with it: the chipping ceiling paint, the vinyl flooring designed to look like tile curling at the edges, the stained table cloth, the 1970’s wallpaper. Wharton Street was full of homes like this, none of them having been refurbished for years. Her old home in Chestnut Hill, the one they had made their own, is now gone. Sold to a family of five. Maryanne remembers all too clearly the smiles on each of their faces when the deal was signed. A new home and a new life. A driveway and a picket fence. How nice for them. (The reader will please ignore Maryanne’s dripping sarcasm. She chides herself for being angry at the happiness of others.)           

            Before she details the events that led to her misery (if nothing else, the reader will please promise to bear with her) that she invariably, and with her entire heart, loved her husband. No, no, she loves him. She’s always loved him and, unfortunately for her wellbeing, she will probably always love him. But love is complicated, right? She’s done terrible things, it’s true (God, she knows it’s true) but we all make mistakes. He’s made mistakes, too, hasn’t he?

            She warned him from the beginning that she wasn’t perfect. Maryanne could go on with examples of this, but she suspects the reader is already aware of her self-deprecation. She will narrow her faults down to just a few: she drinks too much coffee and smokes too many Parliaments. She occasionally doesn’t finish books she starts and she hates to do laundry. Sometimes a bottle of wine only lasts one night instead of two or three, she can’t garden and sometimes she doesn’t recycle out of sheer laziness. She doesn’t pay attention to the Phillies, Eagles, or Flyers unless they’re winning.

            There is still, of course, another fault. (More of this later. She’s working up to it, slowly.)

            Here, the writer implores the reader to ignore the use of the third person, and instead asks him to understand that Maryanne’s own guilt is such that she is not mentally prepared to use “I” (she’s tried, as you can see, but knew she couldn’t admit all of the painful details).

            But she loves him. She loves, loves, loves him, and she never meant to hurt him, or anyone, and though it may seem to an outsider that she is now writing this for merely selfish reasons to clear her conscience (she suspects her impenetrable guilt will not lift even after this is sent) in fact, she has suffered for many, many days (one-thousand-two-hundred-and-forty to be exact) in order to be able to tell this story.  And she admits, albeit painfully, but since she is now in a state of unbearably honest admission, that the first few months after it happened, she could still not see through the fog of her own mistake.

            Maryanne will omit the details that would make this story more interesting — the stormy weather that kept the reader away that night, the atmospheric fire, the glasses of deep red wine — and move right into the cataclysmic sequence of events. Any details that she does give should be noted as points of obfuscation and general delay for the reader’s eyes (is he still even reading?). She really should just get to the point.

            She stirs her coffee again even though the sound of tinkling spoon on ceramic reverberates through the excruciatingly silent apartment, and it has grown cold in the long moments of contemplation and cursive (will the reader ever be able to decipher such incredibly bad handwriting?). She lights and inhales sharply another Parliament (though she is aware she should quit the damn things).

            But enough. Here we go.