When we moved into this house, I gave R a box of old story ideas and letters I asked him to put somewhere safe. That was more than 10 years ago. I know I've outgrown the story ideas. I'd find them laborious, the characters too hesitant. Even so, I wanted to see what was in the box.
Our house, like many old houses built in the days when people had fewer clothes, and could fit what they did have in armoires, has few closets. It shouldn't be so hard to find a box in this house. But for the last few months that we've been looking--on and off, not a diligent search--we couldn't find it. The other day R was up on a ladder and saw a box on a high shelf in a cupboard.
I haven't yet looked at the old story ideas. Brittle Hilroy paper in dog-eared folders. Faded typing in 10-pt font.
I'm more interested in the bundles of letters that date back to 1980. Friends who sent letters to American Express when I was travelling in Europe. Letters with umlauts from Austrian cousins. Friends who wrote me in Montreal after I'd left Toronto. Friends who aren't friends anymore. Birthday cards and postcards. Letters from a Jewish man describing his stay in Auschwitz. He was my mother's second cousin. My mother had never mentioned him. My Viennese aunt told me about him and gave me his address. For a while we wrote to each other, but then I think he passed away because the letters stopped and I didn't know how to reach his children.
When R and I met, I lived in Toronto and he in Quebec City. Long-distance phone calls cost too much, so we wrote letters. His were often abstract. He was going through a phase of reading Bertrand Russell and Balzac. Somehow I got past the convoluted language of his letters to the fact of the letters which always began "Dear Alice", and I realized I liked him and he liked me. (Although one letter began: "Dear Alice, So what about Otto Rank?")
Later R gave me sketches, some of which I found in the box. A drawing of the view outside our hotel window in Cordoba. A still life of apples from a picnic lunch. A drawing of me reading.
I look at the one of me reading and can feel that the pose is mine. That's how I sit--though it's been years since I can get into that tight, curled-up pose with a book. My bones and joints just won't do it anymore.