space letters

Space Letters

Sia Gupta | Art by Hannah Liaw

    Two months and the rain has persisted. Wind attacks each house, forcing people inside. It is a small town, with just one supermarket, one small hospital, one park. The one post office in the town is a long walk up grassy hills and concrete roads.
    In the post office a woman. Her skin is dark and rich like the ocean, waves crinkling by the sides of her eyes. She is like fall; red patterns on her clothes accented with pins, gold jewelry akin to amber. While her gray hair eludes sophistication, she maintains a comforting demeanor. She sits by a grand brown desk, organizing letters and wrapped packages amassed on shelves that are routinely brought in and taken out for passage to their respective homes. On the desk sits a simple frame, in it smiles a youthful self, and a son. It holds the remnants of conversations that used to exist.
    The bell of the post office cuts through her focus. A short little boy, looking about 8, enters huffing steam into the air. His little feet patter like raindrops as he approaches the desk and slides the letter onto it. A tuft of his brown hair and two curious eyes just barely poke out from behind the desk. The envelope is encased with fragments of material- glitter, stamps, stickers, doodles- holding colors like painted glass.
    “Sure you don’t want to add more?” She chuckles, her voice bold and clear as water as she picks it up. Her words dance in front of him. She flips it over.
    “Hey, love, you forgot an address.”
    He blinked.
    “Address?” She points to the printed lines. The boy tilts his head.
    “Here,” The lady pats a rolling stool beside her. From her seat, she can see his brown hair bouncing as he navigates around the desk. Cautiously, he clutches the stool with both hands and skates his feet along its legs to climb up, then adjusts and slouches in the seat with small pink hands folded in his lap. A bright red scarf wraps around his neck and tucks into a green quilted puffer. Boisterous hair covers his head like icing, and under it are two rose-red cheeks.
    “Where do you want to send it? Spell it out for me.”
    She grabs a blue ballpoint pen and awaits instruction.
    The boy tilts his head and narrows his eyebrows. He sits in silence, thinking, calculating a response. S, he says. His voice is soft and feathery.
    She hurriedly scratches an S as the paper crinkles underneath like the crack of a sugar coating. He continues as she writes.
                            S P A C E
    Her eyes study the word.
    “Love, I don’t know if you can…” She trails off. His eyes gaze back at her, expectantly. He is light, quiet, but has the assistance of imagination, fickle as she is, to trickle ideas in through his ears. At once, he slides off the chair and bumbles out the door, before she can remind him of the forgotten letter on the desk.

    As work commences again, the townspeople as averse as the clouds to retirement, the boy returns each day. Each day he brings a freshly decorated letter, with unique exhibitions of color, and each day he grows more familiar with his path, pacing around the desk and claiming sovereignty on his seat.
She keeps the pile of letters that collects on the shelves out of sight. As she sorts mail, she ponders ideas to his request. Each delivery paralyzes her heart a little more.
    On a night of stormy weather, a night of ceaseless thunder, a night of late working, she clicks on a lamp by her desk and grabs the pile off the shelf, letting kaleidoscopic colors scatter across wood. She whiffs her hand over them and picks one at random.
    With a slice of a gold letter opener, it reads,

Dear Dad,
Are you nervous? Me and Mom will miss you wile while you are gone. She said we can’t see you because you are getting ready. Tell me how it is to see the Earth from above!
Love, Lincoln

    She was beaming. A warm feeling settles over her like a heavy quilt as she opens another.

Dear Dad,
Did you get my last letter? Mom said they wont sent it to you because you will be too far away. Can you still write me one?
Love, Lincoln

   Then another.

Dear Dad,
Good luck! Mom says I cant watch you one on the televison becuse I have school in the morning. If you throw the letter from space, will it float down to us?
Love, Lincoln

    She places the letter down. The cruel parts of growing up had yet to touch him; and she thinks back to the nostalgia of her childhood. Freedom, safety, happiness and its tenacious grasp on her thoughts. With each hollow breath she longs for innocent wonder like electricity through her lungs. It was her responsibility now.

    She jolts her chair back and pulls open a drawer. She rips out paper and a pen and begins-

Dear Lincoln,
I miss you! I’ m sorry I haven’t been able to see you, but I promise to write to you. If I write a letter in space and throw it down, Earth’s gravity will drop it right down to you. I’m glad your mother is making sure you go to school. I know you want to see the liftoff, but if you study well, you can go up there one day, okay?
Love, Dad

    The next morning, the boy comes to the post office, bundled in several layers of sweaters, and she hands him the letter. “It’s from your dad,” she smiles. “It’s for you.” 

    Reluctantly, he grabs it. His eyes twinkle as he flips over the letter, again and again. A small smile forms on his face as he holds it close to his chest.
    “Thank you.” His voice is barely audible; she is surprised to hear him speak at all. Hastily, he runs out the door. The next morning he slides the usual letter onto her desk. This time, though, the address has already been scribbled on.
    Night by night she crafts caring, with extreme precision. Day by day the boy leaves with the very same letters and irrepressible smiles. Each warm feeling in her heart fuels her double life. She shelters him as he was her own son, as a second try. Over the days her work is left unfinished; letters and packages remain unsorted, collecting dust in boxes.

Dear Dad,
What is space like? Can you see other planets, or stars? Can you see us from there?Mom told me not to write you anymore, she said you won’t respond, but I know you will. She got a call yesterday, and she talked till very late at night. I felt lonely. Do you feel lonely if you are not around other people?
Love, Lincoln

    She begins to write, as she does every letter, shoving aside old packaged lunches and coffee mugs that now litter her desk. Her head begins to hurt the way her heart does. Customers become strangers, words turn into mumbles.

Dear Lincoln,
Space is cooler than what you see on the television. The stars and planets go on endlessly and the galaxies look like swirls of paint and glitter. Sometimes it can get lonely because everyone you love is on Earth. But it’s not too bad, love. I get to travel around the world and watch the sun never set. I am happy to know you are
waiting for me.
Love, Dad

Dear Dad,
As you know, it’s my birthday! I wish you were here. Auntie took me out to get ice cream because she told me mom isn’t feeling well. Sometimes I see her crying, and sometimes she curses on the phone. I miss you.

Dear Lincoln,
Happy Birthday! I wish I was there with you. Why is your mom crying?

    The next letter came a week later. The little boy slides it onto the desk and walks over to her. This time, he remains standing.
    “You can open it.” He mumbles. She looks at him, confused. But he just gazes quietly at the ground. She grabs the letter opener and slices it open, like she had done so many times.

Dear Dad,
Everything is okay. Mom finally talked to me. She told me about the accident during training. I’m sorry you never got to see the stars. I’ll go up there and see them for you one day.
Love, Lincoln

    SILENCE. There was only silence in the room. Blood rushes to her cheeks in shame, in guilt. Tears swell near her eyes and overflow, dripping down her cheeks and blurring her vision. Her lungs feel hollow; her breath is dry and heavy. She looks at the boy. She looks at his tears and sees the manifestation of her failed actions. Stars in his eyes are gone. His red cheeks are dull and gray.
    It’s okay, he tells her. This letter won’t go to space. This one will stay here.
    Quietly, she places the letter next to the frame.