The Letter by Eleanor Matthews

A light spray buffeted as Evie bobbed along the beachfront, and hair sketched charcoal outlines around her face. Her fingers caught in its salty nooses and she raked it aside in one wind-whipped mass. Clenched in her left hand was a freshly sealed and smartly stamped letter, crisp for the post box.

Pausing against the rough concrete of the sea wall, Evie looked out across the bay. Grainy sand and shards of dark rock jutted into a choppy grey swell. She leaned out, pushing off from the promenade into the abrupt seascape. The wall asserted a cold pressure on her stomach. After
balancing a moment, she resumed her walk with a light step.

As she passed Conroy’s Amusements, which emitted a feverish glow beneath the freshly-aired day, the wind cut inland through the buildings. It surged up, throwing Evie’s voluminous lemon skirt around her head and displaying her starch white legs. Skittering along the promenade, tangled in petulant swathes of cloth, she struggled to wrest back control. Not until she was smoothing her garments in a doorway did Evie realise she had dropped the letter.

It was flapping limply three metres away, buffeted against the seawall. Evie gathered her skirts and ran towards it with shuffling steps. Stumbling forwards like a broken-winged bird, she grasped blindly from behind a fine net of hair. Another gust broke against the sea defence, sweeping the letter up and onto the beach. Evie let dignity go and hoisted herself over the wall, landing with a wet thump on the litter-strewn sand below.

The letter, meanwhile, bounced gaily end on end along the beach. She snatched off her shoes and broke into a breathless run. Caught by a final gale blast, the letter paused for a moment – a blank stamp on the sky – then flung itself into the sea. She watched as its sharp white form was
subsumed by waves.

The breeze died. Deflated, Evie sank down into her skirt, soiling it with damp sand. Folded grey gulls inscribed the sky as the cold soaked through to her skin. The beetling black dots of day-tripping families and secretaries scuttling work wards, punctuating the promenade, but their noises were drowned by the rhythm of waves. Only the odd gurgle of laughter bubbled up to
escape. Near the horizon, the stiff origami folds of sails receded into blue.

Evie eventually rose, brushing crusted beach from her clothes. She walked with sinking steps, feeling her calves pull and feet splay as the ground shifted. From this side, the wall was too high to scale. She followed the trail of spumy detritus, empty bottles and shattered polystyrene that shored up its base. With a pebble in her throat, and a heavier stone pinioning her chest, she
returned home.

In her single room, Evie pushed back the curtains and negotiated a small crack in the small top window. Glancing habitually at her plastic wall clock – which said 3.38, as it had for many months – she sat down at the aging bureau. Evie extracted two fresh leaves of paper, one envelope and a fountain pen, its plastic cracked slightly above the grip from over-tightening.

The memory of the letter thrown into the sea, receding and disintegrating, played over in her head. She tried to summon the sentences she had used, prepared to hear them ring a little less true upon regurgitation. But her mind was utterly blank, a blackboard wiped clean with a damp cloth. She could find neither words nor sentiments, original or remembered.

Silhouetted against the square window, her rigid figure dissected the opaque clouds behind. She tapped her pen, put it down and then snatched it up again, running her finger along the hairline crack. Exerting a pressure on her mind, Evie scratched out a date and address.

Her hand paused, waiting for the words. She willed them to come, but instead felt hot frustration rise up in her eyes. The letter dissolved and her tears spilt over onto the page, leaching the colour from its scribed formalities.

On the beach, ink-stained waves ebbed and fell, leaving only their rippled inverse upon the sand to signify an absence.

 

Eleanor Matthews lives in a large, ramshackle house in London with more people than the
architect intended. She writes sparse and succinct copy for her day job, but has a secret
predilection for obscure words and small fictions.
Twitter: @efmatthews

Photograph courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

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