There are letters and then there are letters. This is a story of both types of letters, with a bit of love thrown into the mix of imagination, memory and music.
Sometimes, we don’t have much time. She’s away more than usual — busy life, busier work — and I get busy too. When that happens, I keep a part of my brain focused on us, to imagine my imaginings, to hold us close when time and space insists that we be apart.
In my imaginings, I write her words and sentences and paragraphs and pages, with lots and lots of doodles in the white space of the margins, making visible and known those invisible, silent mundane goings-on which catch my fancy and if done just right, can serve to ferry thoughts and feelings from me to her.
In my imaginings, I imagine that I’d create a letter to her every few hours. I imagine the words and images and how they might sound and feel to her and how she’d read them and what would pass through her eyes as she took what was on the paper into her mind and heart.
Sometimes she travels and I don’t see her for longer stretches of time. My imaginings change: instead of little letters every few hours I imagine writing one long, wide, tall letter each day, full of colour doodles that snake gently around key words. I imagine that when each one is finished, I’d roll it up like a scroll, tie it with a ribbon, place it in a burlap bag with all the other ones and give the bag full of scrolls to her upon her return to open, unroll and read at her leisure.
I imagine these things, but don’t do them.
One day when she was away, I imagined that I distilled all the word and image imaginings of that day into a single letter of the alphabet, like a glaze reduction: intense, dark, layered, rich. To be tasted and savoured. I liked the idea of that so I explored it more. I imagined the letter written out and the images in the margins and then closed my eyes to see what it became, what mystical alchemy would transform it all into one letter that contained everything; a single, solitary letter seemed more poetic or enigmatic, or Zen-like: a letter of the alphabet that held the sights and smells and feelings and longings of that day, a letter that would spark more words and wonderings to share.
I imagined creating these reductions but don’t do these either.
Thoughts of letters — the one that involves writing and images on paper and the one that involves the alphabet — were still with me when I took the dogs out and we walked about the streets one day not too long ago, enjoying the time and the sunshine and the sniffs in the air, heading for the dog park. Once inside the park I let the dogs off of their leash and ran with them, playing and teasing.
We reached the far side of the park, in an area nearest the high school’s football field and running track. There’s an ancient tree there and its roots are exposed, gnarled and textured and gorgeous, growing over the edge of a steep hill. Lots of earth and leaves and spaces for things to get lost. Walking toward the roots I saw something out-of-place: a small square of paper, bright white in marked contrast to the muted winter colours of the ground and the roots and dried leaves. An unnatural white for this place. I stopped. Picked it up to look at it. It was blank on one side, so I turned it over to see a single letter: e, lowercase, sans-serif typeface, possibly Helvetica or Arial. The dogs wanted to see what stopped me, so I showed it to them. They sniffed and sniffed again and showed their lack of interest by turning around to continue running up and down the hills.
I looked at the little piece of paper and imagined writing a letter full of words starting or ending with the letter e and then, oh then, didn’t a memory kick in:
In my ears, in the part of my brain that stores musical memories, next to the part that remembers letters of the alphabet emerged a warm alto voice, half singing my name and adding in singsong, “with an e, with an e, with an e?” and the memory is so full of feeling and sound that it makes me laugh out loud which makes the dogs stop and turn around to look to make sure that I’m okay.
“S’ok!” I call out to them. “Go: run!” And they do.
How did “with an e, with an e, with an e” start, anyway?
A bunch of papers were on the counter, some of them waiting for me to give my signature, my full name. She read out my name and pointed out the different letters that are repeated in each of them. We talked about cadence, chance and coincidence. And then she stood beside me, saying my name as if it was such a secret that even the dogs ought not to hear it and then added in that alto singsong, “with an e, with an e, with an e.”
I laughed. Letter games? Oh dear goddess, yes.
I looked around the roots of the big tree to see if there were other little white squares of bright white paper. There weren’t any. It was time to head back home. I slipped the little square carefully into my coat pocket and called the dogs to continue walking. As we made our way through the hills and the leaves of the park, I started thinking of the words that started with the letter e because I found a real, live letter and it’s sitting in my pocket, waiting to be woven into words, into something good. Like a love letter.