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A Thousand Letters(5)
Author: Staci Hart

The proposal devolved into an argument as his pain twisted him until he was angry. But he wanted me to leave everything. He wanted to burn the plan and fly off instinct. And I wanted time, that was all. But it was more than he could give.

He said if I loved him, I'd go.

Time, I begged.

Now, he pleaded.

And in the end, it was over, his anger sending the shrapnel of his pain into my heart, shredding it to ribbons.

The wounds never healed. I was acutely aware of every rip, every tear, as I watched him from the shadows of the room.

Sophie and Wade both stood after a while, and so did I. Wade turned for the door, his eyes passing over me like I was invisible. Sophie reached for my hand.

"Will you stay with Dad while we meet with the social worker?" she asked quietly.

I squeezed her fingers. "Of course I will. Go."

She closed her eyes, bowing her head slightly in thanks, and then she turned to leave, following Wade out the door.

He took my heart with him when he left. It had been his, always — he'd possessed it since the beginning — and being near that atrophied piece of me after so long had the broken muscle thumping in my chest, erratic, beating again for the first time.

I took Wade's place by his father's side, resting my hand on his.

"Glad," he mumbled, pausing, "you're here."

"I'm always here for you, Rick."

He blinked back tears, eyes moving to the door. "Wade …" He didn't finish.

I didn't speak.

His eyes found mine again. "You okay?"

I smiled. "Only you would be worried about me right now."

Half his face lifted just enough to soften it. "You okay?" he pressed.

"I'm okay. You think he's okay?"


I pulled in a slow breath and let it out. "It's been a long time."

"Too long."

"He was surprised to see me. He didn't know … I should have waited to come."

"No," he said, squeezing my hand. "Needed you."

I wondered for a fleeting moment whether he meant himself or Wade.

I reached into my bag for my book, eliciting half a smile from him when he saw the cover. He couldn't read, but he recognized the book.

"Whitman," he said.

I nodded, pleased that he was pleased. "I thought you might like me to read to you."

"Please," he said and closed his eyes, and I turned to "Song of Myself," one of his favorites, and I began to read.

Rick was part of the reason I studied literature at NYU — he'd cultivated my hobby of writing poetry, turning it into an adoration of literature, putting books of poetry in my hand, prompting discussions after school that rolled into dinner with me and his children. They were used to it, consequences of having a father who was a Lit professor at Columbia, but I wasn't — those moments fed my soul.

I kept my voice steady and smooth, though I could feel the heat in my cheeks from the emotion, knowing he knew every word by heart, though he couldn't speak them, could never read them again, and a tear slipped from the corner of his eye as I read on.

* * *

The last scud of day holds back for me,

It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,

It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

* * *

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,

I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

* * *

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

* * *

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,

And filter and fibre your blood.

* * *

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,

I stop somewhere waiting for you.

* * *

I took a breath, overcome for a moment, unable to continue as my tears fell fresh. And he opened his eyes, the man who had been one of the constants in my life, the man who believed in me when no one else did, the man who would depart as air in just a matter of days, slipping away from me forever.

"Don't cry." He reached for my face, and I leaned forward for him to cup my cheek.

"I can't help it. What will we do without you?"

And to that, he only had one answer, and he gave it to me with strength his body no longer possessed, but his soul always would.



The meeting was one of the hardest of my life.

I sat next to my sister, back rigid, listening to the options, the choices we had. Care plans and insurance and needing nurses every day. Transporting him home, readying the room for his hospital bed, the equipment, the space he would need as his body betrayed him.

There were plans to be made, a million things to do when all I wanted was to sit with him in that room and beg him to stay with us as long as he could.

Sophie cried silently through the conversation, and I took the lead gladly, finding comfort at least in that. In being a doer. In being a fixer. But frustration twisted through me at the futility of it all. There was plenty to do. There was nothing to fix.

So I put on the mask I wore, the mask I'd perfected over seven years, the one that buffered me against war, against Elliot, and now against this.

But as the meeting wore on, I considered the fact that Elliot was sitting in the hospital room just down the hall. She was older — it seemed impossible. The vision of her when I'd last seen her was a part of me, a part of my mind and soul. I could still hear her say goodbye, still feel her slipping away from me.

Although she was older, she was otherwise unchanged. Smaller, maybe. Quieter. But she was still so beautiful, her eyes so dark. Bottomless. Infinite.

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