Hello Dear Reader
Over the past few years, I have found a passion in my writing. I have been very lucky to have a couple of pieces published and completed my own first book. A novel is in the works, (80,000 words to edit is not a simple task), as well as a poem and short story book. Alongside my writing, I have added photography as a passion. Combine the two and you do get the best of both worlds.
This blog I offer an old short story, one which I enjoyed writing. I hope you enjoy the emotional ride.
(With thanks to Keele Creative Writing)
The Forgotten Letter from Prague
I placed the scarf around my neck. It was an odd thing to do but felt right. The loft smelt musty and it was the one room in the house I rarely visited. There were a number of boxes around me, each holding the oddest memories: a black and white picture, a ripped t-shirt, the past.
One of the dusty boxes had fallen open. I could barely look at the contents. There before me was an old briefcase; it had two neat circular holes, numerous scuff marks, and no handle. I could just make out three faded letters: ‘L.J.K’. I reached, expecting it to snap open and rip at my hand.
I started shaking; memories were surfacing, good and bad.
As I gripped the case, dust swirled creating a mist. I took a breath, trying to remember what I had left inside this forgotten world. Opening the briefcase, there was a hint of perfume. The dim light made it difficult to see the contents. I touched something soft: a sinuous strip of silken cloth – a white scarf with traces of rusty autumnal colour dotted in the centre. I knew the stain was her blood.
I lifted the scarf to my face, closing my eyes, trying to smell what was left of her scent. There was nothing. It was lost like the rest.
I took out a large brown folder sealed with a red ribbon, the letters ‘L.J.K’ scribbled on the front. There was a handwritten note in one corner. It read, ‘Last contact unknown, runner eliminated, property lost. Forget Prague’. The handwriting was mine. Deep within the faded ink, I could see pain in the rushed, jagged edges of the writing. I held the folder for what seemed like hours. I closed my eyes and let the memories surface.
It was a late evening in London when the old man handed me the folder. He looked tired and drawn. Clearly, he knew more than he wanted to say.
I hear his voice: ‘She is gone. Don’t look inside it. Dispose of it, best if this was lost.’
Why had I kept these last vestiges of her? I opened my eyes and gazed at the sealed top. I nervously ripped open the folder, nearly dropping it in panic.
I watched the past explode, papers and pictures scattered over the dust-covered floor. There was her face, her beautiful face, so soft, so innocent, so very long ago. The picture was black and white. I must have taken it. She was smiling her quirky smile. Her eyes smiled too, her face always told what she thought. I moved the picture to one side, and I picked up a white envelope. It was hers, I could tell, it was the goodbye letter we all had to write. With a delicate touch, I peeled the envelope open and took out her letter. The paper felt old, textured against the pads of my fingers. It was from another time…another world.
Dare I read it? What harm would it do now after all these years? My hands trembled as I held the piece of history, a relic. Why had I kept this, what earthly good would it do?
Memories continued to appear. The 60s: no internet; no flash contact; no time for regret. We were too young to understand the consequences. They never explained what really could happen. Each of us was recruited from our cosy university life. We joined to fight for our country and what we were told was right.
We were introduced to all this by our professor, someone we trusted. He saw something different in how we related to the world. He taught us part of the game. We had to make notes on our fellow students for fun. That was what the professor said it was, just fun. Then there was the turning point: I was told to eavesdrop on two visiting students. As I listened, nothing they said made sense to me. When I told the professor what I heard, he studied my face for a moment. Smiling, he said it meant everything to him.
Little did we know, he was the link between our simple world and the rough exterior of real life.
After that, he took us to see his friend, the older man who smelt of cigarettes and whiskey. He taught us more of the game. It was exciting at first, a dare to beat the oppressors, grab the prize and escape. Like a game, but not played on a board. It soon became all too real: the first one of us lost. We held a ceremony, everyone said nice words over an empty coffin. That hit home, that hurt. Now you had to win, the stakes were higher each time, the dangers just a little closer. Our gang of many became a group of few. She and I, we just got too close, too comfortable in our ways; that was our downfall.
I glanced at her picture on the floor. We knew the risks; it was our job, our fight to keep freedom alive. What was the cost? My chest tightened again. I felt trapped. The letter was dragging me back. A flash, her naked body against mine as we lay in bed. Her soft laughter, the sweet smell as she slept in my arms.
I recalled that last hour before we parted, we exchanged information, the last list of names. Then she gave me the letter. Don’t open it, wait for me, she said. She held my hands like never before like she knew it was the end.
My heart sank a little, thinking of what might have happened to her. The state police would not have been kind. We knew the sort of things they would do with the wrong person. Beatings, torture, sickening methods to make her talk. If she was in their hands it would only be a matter of time.
I waited, of course, and waited too long. The knock at the door was not a friendly one. Shouts, dog barks, the deep thud as a foot crashed through the paper thin-flimsy door. I was sweating, breathing deep, stuck for a moment and unable to move. She must have told them, they would not have stopped until they knew everything. The aggressive noise made me panic and I fled. All of my training failed me. This was not some acting class anymore. They wanted whatever I had, it was their secret and we had stolen it. Scared for my life, I never looked back. I ran for five days until I found safety back in London with the old man.
He was understanding to a point, not like his military bosses who were as brutal as the opposition. There was a time when I wondered which side I was really working for.
What felt like a few weeks later, unsure because I lost track of time, the old man came to me with both my letter and this envelope.
I was finished with them. They looked at me as a washed out, broken toy never to be used again. I asked if we had news of her, he told me to take the folder, destroy it and forget.
Forget her? Him? The others? Everything?
I was given cash, a new name, a job and was discarded onto the pile of failures. ‘Oh, what a circus we have,’ the old man said as he left. I felt cold and disconnected.
That was the past, the old man gone, the others possibly lost. Enough time had passed, I was stronger now… or so I had thought. I opened her letter, wishing to hear her voice in my head as I read.
My dearest one,
I told you not to open this. I am gone, never to return. While it remained sealed, you had hope. Our love is broken. It will hurt you more than you know.
This is the most difficult letter to write and for you to read. You understand as you have written the same. We are told it is just operational and not to be concerned. This is going to be my last memory to you: death.
We had a job to do, and we did it well my love. Never show them we were beaten. Savour the time we spent, those glorious moments locked together.
Think of when we spent those lazy afternoons, enjoying the rain beating on the windows, watching the clouds pass by. Those moments kept me strong. Make sure they keep you warm.
I feel refreshed as I write. My feelings were sometimes too private, I kept you out at the wrong moments. Don’t regret what we have done and please don’t regret anything for my sake.
Be brave as you must.
I am rambling now, not thinking straight, but that’s what a letter is for I guess, my sweet.
I have to finish, they say its time.
Be safe. You have to forget me one day.
My hands dropped as the letter floated down into the dust. Every muscle screamed inside me. As I looked at the scattered papers I saw another picture; it was a disfigured face, bloodied and battered. Her’s. A tear ran down my cheek and dropped onto the picture. I had ignored the old man, I had searched for her a couple of times, always hoping she had been spared. I never knew what became of it all, until now.
I sat looking at the pictures and papers.
I could not read the rest; it would be too hard, too emotional.
I vowed to bury it all, to have closure in my life.
Later that evening, I stood over a small mound of fresh earth and silently said a prayer. I walked to the house, my heart cold, my happy life broken… again.