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The Letter Writer
by John Tarleton
The Letter Writer passed his days in a small, second-floor apartment in a provincial French city where he spent much of his time writing letters to close friends whom he had not seen in years and who lived a half-mile away or more. When he wasn't in his apartment, he was content to juggle for his own amusement in the courtyard behind the building, or to linger in the brightly-lit stairwell where he commiserated with his busy neighbors. They loved to stop and talk with him about the passing ups and downs in their lives. And, he found a sad, whimsical, occasionally cantankerous pleasure in writing letters that were an odd mixture of weighty discourse on the issues of the day and witty, entertaining observations on the random incidents that regularly cropped up around him.
The Letter Writer's neighbors invited him over for tea and coffee from time-to-time. But they were always too busy to talk with him for as long as they or he would have liked. So he returned to his letter writing, gazing out the kitchen window at the tall black spires of the nearby cathedral.
The Letter Writer's World
The Letter Writer liked the snug, tightly enclosed world he had created for himself in the years since he had retired from travelling around the world. The familiarity of a daily routine nourished a complacent sense of warmth and coziness, like what one feels when pulling a heavy wool blanket around oneself.
The Letter Writer spoke a precise, expert French as well as his native English. He lived close to the regional university and earned a modest income from doing translations and proofreading academic texts. Both his parents, who were retired, and his older sister lived back in England. After growing up in the United States, he had moved to England as a teenager when his father was transferred by the international engineering firm he worked for. Now 36, the Letter Writer was an astute observer of human foibles and follies. He had always found protesters and other fringe people to be more interesting than the Suits who only did what they were supposed to do. But, he could never be recruited into joining their causes.
"Mon ami," they would implore him, "you must come to the next big demonstration. We need everyone we can to attend in order to show the new government that we will not accept their neo-Fascist policies."
The Letter Writer would nod sympathetically but say nothing. He agreed with much of what the protesters said, but thought they were avoiding something that had become obvious in his mind many years before when he was hitchhiking across six continents: that everything was futile, hopeless; no matter where you were or what you did. So, he concluded, why not stay where you are and do nothing but watch with bemused interest the busy bustlings of the people around you?
After sunset, the Letter Writer preferred to write by candle. Framed against the darkness, his flowing reddish-brown hair and his long, monkish beard glowed in the flickering candlelight. He wrote in dark blue ink on 5x7 inch sheets of unlined white paper. His handwriting was small and neat but never cramped. In all the years he had been corresponding with the Letter Writer, Jean-Luc LePont had never once seen a crossed-out word.
The Letter Writer savored the craftsmanship that went into a good letter; the sense of hand and mind concentrating and working together as one as his ballpoint pen moved across the page, transforming fleeting thoughts into sentences and paragraphs that emerged as a uniquely individual piece of text. It was a moment of exquisite, solitary pleasure. And it never ceased to fill him with wonder. He had the sense of being present at the moment of creation.
His almond-colored eyes danced with delight when he read and reread a well-written letter, whether his own or someone else's. He contemplated not only the words and the thoughts behind them, but also the minutiae of how the envelope was addressed, the type of stamp and the smudged postmark that was stamped on top of it. After devouring and redevouring a letter, he filed it away in its proper place in a collection of unmarked shoeboxes that he kept in the back of the small closet in his bedroom.
The Letter Writer had removed his rotary telephone years before. He worked on an old, second-hand typewriter that he set aside when he turned to personal correspondence. He shuddered when he received a newsclipping about e-mail from an old friend in the States.
"...So now people can't even write a letter without the help of a machine, eh?" He concluded at the end of a 6-page letter he fired off the very next morning. "I imagine that most of this so-called mail that is shooting back and forth between people at the speed of light is brief, forgettable and devoid of individual style. Speed and convenience are not everything. There's a difference between receiving a message and a letter. You will have to sit in front of your computer for a long time my friend before you receive anything that is as well thought out and individually crafted as the occasional letter that drops into one's mailbox. By the way, what does that "e" stand for...ephemeral?" Your Friend, N
Jean-Patrice the Mailman
The Letter Writer journeyed at 11:15 each morning from his apartment to the row of mailboxes at the base of the concrete stairs. He timed his descent to coincide with the usually punctual arrival of Jean-Patrice the mailman. Jean-Patrice was a compact, bow-legged man with a bald spot atop his head, who was coasting complacently through a contented middle age. He delivered mail on a bright yellow bicycle with saddlebags attached at both wheels and was in ruddy, good health. He rode home at noon every day for lunch with his family and returned to work at 2o'clock. He had only seven more years to go until he could retire with a full pension at age 60. And, he looked forward to playing in the park with his grandchildren and going fishing with his buddies whenever he felt like it.
Jean-Patrice's wife was in charge of sending out Christmas cards. He had never written a letter in his 33 years as a postal carrier. He was satisfied with the company of immediate family and friends. He found the Letter Writer's ways to be suspect, if only because they were so unusual. His far-flung friendships seemed exotic but empty. "And why," he asked himself over and over, "is he always writing letters to people he could walk over and see in less time?"
The Letter Writer looked forward to seeing Jean- Patrice though they only exchanged polite formalities. The mail that the Letter Writer received only temporarily abated his gnawing sense of longing for something more he couldn't articulate. Yet, he always looked forward to the next batch of mail. His personal rapport with Jean-Patrice had become stiff and awkward ever since a couple years before when he had declined the first and only invitation he had received to dine with Jean-Patrice and his family. Jean-Patrice had looked at the Letter Writer, expressionless and disbelieving, when he heard him mumble something to him in his precise French about needing to finish a long letter that he wanted to send in the morning.
"I suppose he can't help it," Jean-Patrice's wife had said later, trying to soothe her husband's anger. "The English-speaking peoples are just that way."
The Letter Writer now wished that Jean-Patrice would teasingly chide him about his quirky habit as he had done before. But no such thing was forthcoming.
"Bon jour!" The Letter Writer called out to Jean-Patrice one afternoon.
"Oui, ca va."
Jean-Patrice's face was rosy with wine and cheese. He was running late. But the Letter Writer made no mention on of this from where he sat at the bottom of the stairs jotting a quick note to an old friend who had long ago moved back to Morocco.
Jean-Patrice deposited the day's mail in each one of the first six small, polished wooden boxes that hung from a chipped, flaking whitewall by the entrance. He then handed a large pile of mail to his one-man audience.
The Letter Writer was briefly annoyed but said nothing. He knew that Jean-Patrice knew that he preferred to slowly sort through the mountain of debris that landed daily in his mailbox. For him, Jean-Patrice was a Santa Claus who appeared six times a week on a yellow bicycle. And the mild disappointment he felt was like that of someone who has received a present without the wrapping.
"You've got a lot there," Jean-Patrice said even-handedly. He was staring intently at the Letter Writer.
The Letter Writer nodded. He was absorbed in sifting through his mail. It was bills, journals and junk mail. Then, his face brightened at the sight of a hand-addressed red envelope. It was a letter from Jean-Luc, one of his oldest friends in town. He lived six blocks away on the edge of the Old Quarter, just down the other side of the cathedral. The Letter Writer had not heard from him for several weeks and had started to fear that he was going to fall out of touch with him and his family as he had with so many other old friends in town.
Just then, the landlady passed by briskly. The Letter Writer only glanced up for a moment as the rustling of her ankle-length skirts went by. Her colorless lips were pulled tight around her toothless gums. Her eyes were still red from crying. He remembered the screaming and the commotion out front of the building just before he had gone to bed the previous night, and he felt sorry for her. He hadn't seen her so upset since the time he was a week late with the rent money.
Jean-Patrice continued watching him with a grave, puzzled expression.
"Why do you go to so much trouble?" He finally asked.
The Letter Writer looked up at him distractedly. He still held the unopened envelope in his outstretched right palm. It didn't occur to him at that moment to say that the real joy of writing letters lies in the giving not the receiving. His mind was elsewhere. He thought instead of what never ceased to be the pleasant surprise of finding a hand-addressed letter that has landed softly in one's mailbox and has nestled its way in among the clutter of computer-generated bills and glossy junk mail. And then he thought of the noisy, intrusive clanging of a telephone.
"Which would you rather get?" He asked. "A letter or a telephone call?"
Jean-Patrice glanced for only a second at the envelope. "Comme tu vous, monami" he said, letting the heavy wooden door slam shut behindhim as he disappeared back outside into the sharp, cool early March air.
The Letter Writer's Best Friend
Jean-Luc LePont was six years younger than the Letter Writer and was still filled with an earnest, boyish optimism that was occasionally tempered by crushing bouts of depression. He had befriended the Letter Writer years before when the latter had first mysteriously arrived in town. And even as the Letter Writer drew further back into his miniaturized reality, Jean-Luc made the effort to maintain what was by far the most unusual of his many friendships.
He was fascinated by the Letter Writer's stories from his past journeys around the world. Jean-Luc had married his sweetheart soon after they had both graduated from the regional university. While studying in medical school, he suddenly found himself the father of twin daughters. Only then did he realize that he was trapped. Tales of faraway places like Ecuador, El Salvador, Alaska, the Ivory Coast, Burma, Papua New Guinea, etc. seemed so much more enthralling than the provincial life into which he had settled.
Jean-Luc worked as a general practitioner in the public hospital. He had relinquished his dream of studying for additional years in medical school to be a heart surgeon in favor of a less glamorous career that would enable him to begin supporting his young family. Though confused at times, he was bolstered by the love he felt for his wife and daughters and that they in turn felt for him. And so he gamely stumbled along, as is the case with most people, doing the best he could and thinking all the while of his life as being difficult and bewildering but never futile.
His work in the hospital was a source of both despair and great strength. He had witnessed many deaths - from cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cirrhosis of the liver, AIDS, auto accidents, etc. -often which was accompanied by great suffering. Yet, he rarely encountered a patient who did not desperately want to go on living, in spite of it all.
"...Sometimes I think I have it hard," he had once written to the Letter Writer. "But after a stint at the hospital, I know I'm kidding myself. Suzanne has diagnosed me as suffering from occasional outbreaks of self-pity. I'd have to agree. Luckily, it's not contagious in this household."
While Jean-Luc continued corresponding with the Letter Writer, others in their circle had given up on humoring "l'excentrique". Like Jean-Patrice the mailman, they had become increasingly annoyed and then indifferent to what they perceived as the Letter Writer's aloofness. Jean-Luc saw through his friend's diffidence. It was only the front put up by a very shy man.
The Letter Writer opened Jean-Luc's letter eagerly. He had almost impulsively torn it open and read it on the stairs. But then stopping to think about it for a moment, he decided to savor the surprise a little longer and not look at the letter until he reached the messy hermitage that was his small apartment. When he finally tore open the letter, he read it several times from beginning to end.
"...Hello My Friend, Please forgive me for not writing these past few weeks. The workload at the hospital seems to increase every day. And wouldn't you know it, the girls came down with chicken pox one after the other as well. And then Suzanne was hit with the flu. As usual, she wouldn't rest until she could barely move anymore. Luckily, I had a couple of helpers. When they got well, Rive and Rose-Marie decided they want to be doctors too. They would bring their mother a pot of herbal tea on the hour. Rive would listen closely to Susan's heartbeat with the toy stethoscope I gave her for Christmas. And Rose-Marie would say, "here, give me your hand so I can listen for your pulse." And to make sure she didn't get bored and sad, the girls would take turns trying to read her their favorite bedtime stories. They were so good until I made them leave the room. I didn't want them to get sick as well. But they didn't understand that. They would cry and cry until I would agree to read them their bedtime stories. I must have read La Carapace de Clementine and Arturo le Rhino a hundred times if I read them once. Suzanne was on her feet yesterday and is now almost fully recovered. We take the girls out whenever the weather permits. The worst thing about the winter isn't the cold but the absence of human contact. Spending too much time inside of four walls is hard on the spirit. The girls love the sights and sounds of the Old Quarter. When we walkthrough the narrow, cramped alley ways, they squeeze my hand extra tight and point at everything: the brightly-lit signs, the people sitting at tables in the café windows, the fresh produce that the Arab shopkeepers set in front of their stores, the tight-lipped expressions of the passing pedestrians lugging their full shopping bags and then the encampment of unemployed people who have been on strike all winter across from the main shopping mall. They are more interested in what there is to see than buying anything. They love to look at the big old seal that lives in a small pool in the City Park. They squeal with delight whenever he swims and splashes about. But, they always ask me if the seal is sad because he doesn't live in the ocean with the other seals. They are fascinated above all by the skateboarders and the jugglers who inhabit Place de La Victoire whenever the weather clears up for a couple of days. I pray that they never lose that probing, childlike sense of wonder. Rive wants to know if Santa Claus will bring her a skateboard next Christmas. She says she wants to be a doctor who rides to work on a skateboard. Rose-Marie says she wants to be the same. And Rive says that's not fair because she thought of the idea first. And how goes it with you, my friend? Have you finished proofreading that manuscript you were working on last month? What about translations? Anything new? By the way, some of our mutual friends over at Place de La Victoire have been asking about you. Do you still have your clubs and balls? Nobody could remember the last time they saw you juggling. "Well, we're having dinner at our place on Saturday night. And you are certainly invited. We really look forward to hearing how you are doing. Suzanne and I can't wait to hear the rest of your stories about the time you went hitchhiking around Latin America. That this letter finds you in good health and even more robust spirits. Your Friend, Jean-Luc..."
The Letter Writer took a pen out of his shirt pocket and started to write a brief, concise response right where he was standing. Then he thought better of it and tore up the letter, sending the scraps fluttering into the wastebasket. He wanted to simply say "yes". But he had stopped to listen to his meandering second and third thoughts. Inertia, by its nature, can always find ways to justify itself.
"Many interesting things are happening around the building," he thought to himself. "I'm content and cozy here. Why should I give that up to go running off in all directions? Besides, I've got a backlog of letters to catch up on."
What the Letter Writer didn't consciously acknowledge was that in spite, or because of his loneliness, he had come to prefer maintaining a physical distance from his friends that paradoxically allowed him to feel a stronger sense of intimacy when he wrote them. In his detached intellectual life, he thought of people as more interesting on paper than in the flesh. And the suspense of wandering when he would see someone next was at least as exciting as the actual encounter. So why not allow the suspense to keep on building?
He didn't try to compose his thoughts until he lit a pair of candles after his nightly meal of lentil soup. He sat at the kitchen table, his favorite spot, gazing at the cathedral spires bathed in a soft white light. Then, he bent his tall, stooped figure over the notepad in front of him and slowly composed a reply to the afternoon's mail.
"...Dear Jean-Luc, Oh amigo, I could tell you many tales from Latin America. But, a lot of bridges have gone under the water since I was there last, eh? And I imagine you would find my stories outdated and irrelevant. Anyhow, it's good to hear from you again. I had started to think we were going to lose track of each other. Dinner on Saturday night sounds like a wonderful idea, though I'm uncertain I'll be able to attend. I've finished proofreading that anthropology manuscript. And I don't have any translating assignments at the moment, though the chomeurs have been asking me to read over a strike manifesto they have been working on. Meanwhile, a whirlwind of troubles has swept through the building here in the past couple of days. Mdme. Blanche, a large woman who lives alone on the floor above me, just found out that her grown daughter tried to commit suicide over the weekend in Nantes. It turns out the distraught girl called the paramedics before taking a bottle of sleeping pills. They pumped the girls' stomach so it only turned out to be a scare. But Mdme. Blanche is still in shock. She walks by people without seeing them, absorbed in self- rebuke. Then, this afternoon the DuBois's, who live across from me, had their teen-age son suspended from school for a week for fighting. And to top it all off, the landlady's cat, Truffles, was run over last night in front of the building. Ahh, you wouldn't imagine the many things that happen here at 73 Rue St. Christophe. Well anyway, it somehow seems important for me to be here at this moment. Therefore, I may yet breakaway for dinner. On the other hand, I may not be able to do so, though I'm not exactly sure if that makes any sense. In either case, I'm sure you will understand my position, though I'm not actually sure what my position is. My regards to Suzanne and the kids. It's good to hear that they are doing well again. I just finished reading a treatise on the comparative advantages and disadvantages of a dozen different health care systems in North America, Europe, Japan as well as Third World countries. The authors' conclusions are strikingly similar to the ones you've long advanced: that health care needs to be more holistic in regard to the interrelated health of mind, body and spirit and that patients must be regarded as more than objects of costly technological intervention. You are to be warmly congratulated for fighting the good fight inside the hospital where you work. Let's Stay in Touch. Your Friend, N..."
A Traveler Who Doesn't Go Anywhere
The Letter Writer's letter went out with Jean-Patrice the next morning. Jean-Luc and Suzanne read it in the evening after he came home from work. Suzanne frowned as she read along, only faintly smiling at the end of the letter. She was a no-nonsense woman of medium height, with straight, long black hair and a quick, bouncy gait. She had worked as a school teacher while her husband was in a medical school, before electing to stay at home and raise the twins in their early years. She supplemented the family income by working as an English tutor. She thought it quite like the Letter Writer to conclude with a discourse about a matter that he had no direct relation to and that was of no immediate importance to his own well-being or happiness; thus turning something that actually was quite important into something to be debated with a cold passion from any one of several points of view. He had only recently written a six-page letter that was mainly concerned with the relative merits of traditional vs. alternative methods of education. She was impressed by the amount of information that he was able to retain. "But," she thought to herself, "What's the point of it all?" He was fond of talking about how hopeless the world was, which made it easier to justify his own apathy. Yet, he was always willing to take an intense intellectual interest in any number of things. It seemed to her there was a void in the center of his existence that he was continuously circling around. By now, she could barely remember what he looked like.
"So what kind of traveler would you say he is?" She asked her husband, setting the letter down on the kitchen table.
He ran his hand through his short blond hair and thought for a moment. He had already read the letter and could hear the sound of his daughters laughing and bouncing on one of the springy beds in their room.
"He's the kind of traveler who doesn't go anywhere."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know. He's had some harsh travels. Maybe he's resting up for another big journey."
"Do you think that journey will pass through our kitchen?"
"Probably not this week."
Jean-Luc admired the Letter Writer's efforts. In a harried, increasingly depersonalized world, finding a hand-written letter had the same miraculous portents as a flower that had pushed its way through the cracks in a concrete sidewalk. However, he also thought that the Letter Writer had lost all balance between having a rich inner life and a rich outer life. He was lost inside the maze of his own overactive mind, wandering through a labyrinth of solitude. When they first met, Jean-Luc had encouraged him to distill his experiences into writing fiction.
"You're carrying a bestseller around between your ears," he enthused.
The Letter Writer self-effacingly deflected the compliment. He had kept detailed travel journals. But he could never quite imagine himself as a "real" writer. That seemed such a distant, unreachable goal. After all his travels, he wasn't ready to make the spiritual journey necessary for putting himself completely in the thoughts and feelings of the people he wished to write about. So to him, his half-hearted efforts at following up on Jean-Luc's suggestion all seemed boring and artless. He assumed he had reached an endpoint when he was only at the starting line. He instead found work as a proofreader and a translator of other peoples's works and settled into his sedentary existence. As is the case with most people, he had made the mistake of underestimating his ability.
Suzanne went to give the girls a bath and get them ready for bed. Jean-Luc sighed and quickly composed another, shorter letter. It was Tuesday night, and he had to work in the morning.
"...Hello Again My Friend, We still look forward to seeing you on Saturday evening. Suzanne's voice is still a bit raspy, but otherwise she is fully recovered. I took the girls out again this evening. Near the cathedral, we met a blind accordion player who isn't an accordion player. He sits on a bench with a sign draped around his neck saying that his accordion has been stolen. Quite a character! The old fellow has been out there for years with that sign. And now he has been joined by a flautist who isn't a flautist. He is a youngish fellow who has a broken arm (or at least an arm in a sling). He improvises by whistling aloud the tunes he had intended to play on his flute. The older man talked our ears off about his misfortunes, including the unexpected arrival of his new companion. Everyone, except Rive and Rose-Marie, believes he isn't blind either. Well, who's to say?... We were going to visit the seal as well. But, dark clouds suddenly blew in over the mountains and cold, heavy raindrops started to splatter on the sidewalk. So we hurried back home. Maybe we will be more fortunate tomorrow. The girls have been asking me if the tall man is really coming on Saturday night, and if he still juggles. What should I tell them? Your Friend, Jean-Luc..."
The Letter Writer Strikes Again
Jean Luc's second letter arrived at 73 Rue St. Christophe in Jean-Patrice's satchel the following day. The Letter Writer waited until after dinner to read it in the candlelight. He knew what he wanted to say but instead wrote another letter.
"...Dear Jean-Luc, I'm still resolved to come over on Saturday evening, if I can breakaway from here. Mdme. Blanche took a day off to go visit her hospitalized daughter in Nantes. She should be back tomorrow. I saw her at the bakery around the corner early this morning before she left. Her daughter was on her mind. She talked of nothing else, not even the lottery. She looked worn-out. She was about to buy a dozen pain auchocolat to take with her for the trip. "Oh Monique will love this," she said. "They were always her favorite." The landlady is still in mourning for Truffles the Cat. And now she's erected a small shrine downstairs by the mailboxes. Inside, there's a crucifix, some freshcut flowers and a framed picture of Truffles. Meanwhile, the DuBois's son, Frederic, is making the most of his time off from school. He dropped off some information from the Strike of the Unemployed when he came by to borrow some juggling clubs. He practices for hours over at the city park, despite the cold weather. "I don't want to be like everyone else," he says, "swimming around and around in circles for no apparent reason, like that stupid seal." He stared at me in disbelief when I asked him if he might want to become a copy editor when he grows up. "Fouvesses!" He said. "La vie c’est ailleurs." His dream these days is to become a chomeur the day he turns 25 and is eligible to go on the dole. So how are things at the hospital and with the kids? In regards to my last letter, I've been reading some academic journals of late that discuss the relative merit of cost-containment procedures in European single-payer health care systems vs. the American system that is largely managed by private insurance companies. Keeping costs under control is an essential goal of any rational system. Yet, high quality health care is a matter of vital importance as well. What after all is a health care system for if not to heal those who are suffering? And what has money to do with that? All in all, it's a very critical issue that will continue to be hotly debated for years to come. I also would like to tack on an addendum to a previous letter in which I addressed the state of public education. Frederic's plight has gotten me to thinking some more on this issue. But I'll have to save that for another day as my last candle has burned down to a sputtering nub. Well, we'll certainly have much to talk about whenever we finally have the time to get together. For now, things remain uncertain over here. Above all, let's stay in touch. Your Friend, N..."
A Knock at the Door
It had rained intermittently all day Wednesday and the downpour intensified as the Letter Writer fell asleep that night to the sound of rain blowing against his bedroom window. The dark, heavy storm clouds settled low over the city and it rained hard on Thursday and Friday. Jean-Patrice came at his regular hour but brought no mail. Mdme. Blanche still had not returned from Nantes. And the last he had seen of Frederic, the boy was splashing through the torrents of water that ran along the curb sides, before going off to join his friends at the encampment on the Central Plaza. The Letter Writer started to write an old friend in Latin America but couldn't get past "Dear Amigo," without feeling bored and distracted. Finally, he put on his raincoat and scampered around the corner to the bakery, even though he had several loaves of bread in his refrigerator. Going out the door, he heard the television blaring on the other side of the wall in the landlady's apartment. The cold, cleansing rain lashed his face. He felt as if loneliness was growing over his heart like wild grass. And he quickly suppressed the image of an abandoned graveyard that flashed in his mind."Maybe a pain au chocolat will make me feel better too," he thought to himself.
Back at the apartment, he paced the kitchen floor and wondered why he had not heard from Jean-Luc. Were he and Suzanne disenchanted with him as he suspected might be the case with so many of his other old friends?
The Letter Writer was still chewing over that question when he fell asleep late on Friday night. Sometime after, he awoke with a sudden start. It was pitch black and the street below was silent. He thought for a moment that he had just awoken from a nightmare. Then, he looked over and saw that the storm's last powerful gust of wind had blown open the creaky bedroom window. A small puddle of water had formed beneath the sill. The chilly night air blew against the fluttering curtains. With a pang of regret, he latched and slammed the window shut and descended back into a fitful sleep.
To his surprise, the sun was shining brightly when he awoke the next morning. The now deep blue sky had cleared and the air had that fresh, fragrant smell that follows on the first sunny day after a raging storm. The last of the rain water had disappeared into the storm system and a warm, dry, southerly breeze was blowing. Though not precisely in accordance with the calendar, it was the first day of spring. People everywhere were out in the streets, heading to the corner bakery, to the Saturday morning market or to grab a bench in the city park. There, they could watch the still- bare tree branches for the first blossoms of the season. The Letter Writer looked out and saw Frederic bragging about something to his friends from school.
He thought of Jean-Luc and Suzanne and wondered what he had to do next. Contemplating the cathedral spires, he nervously munched an apple. At last, he wrote a short letter politely declining the dinner invitation. It seemed like the best thing to do under the circumstances. How could he simply go over to someone's place when he wasn't even sure that he was still wanted? He started another letter to his same friend in Latin America describing the arrival of springtime. Then, bored once again, he stopped and gazed out the kitchen window. Life was alive and breathing again. And it wanted to pry open his windows. With a fresh idea in mind, he started to write again and then stopped just as abruptly. he sensed that everything was receding before him, that he was stranded on the shores of a 500 sq. foot desert island watching the tide rush out to sea. Lost in thought, he recalled faraway times and places when everything had seemed so much more real and vivid, when he had been happily swimming and splashing in the wide-open ocean of life. However, he quickly suppressed these feelings. If he dwelt on them too long, he would have to do something decisive about his present inertia. He instead became convinced again of life's futility and meaninglessness. "C'est imposible," he muttered. And then he added to re- assure himself: "I'm happy enough right where I am."
Wishing to distract himself, the Letter Writer busily looked around for an envelope for the first letter. Just as he was about to take the letter downstairs to put atop his mailbox, he heard an unfamiliar sound: someone was knocking at the door.
"Nestor, are you in there?" It was Jean-Luc. "We were on the way to the park and thought you might want to join us."
Jean-Luc had read the Letter Writer's last letter on Thursday evening. Though by then annoyed and confused, he was too polite and accommodating to do anything other than start to draft a short reply. He had written the first line when his wife tapped him on the shoulder.
"Enough of this," she said softly but firmly. "You're going to become as crazy as he is. I want to see the face behind the jumble of ideas and impressions that come raining down into our mailbox day after day."
The Letter Writer hesitated when he heard Jean-Luc's voice. It would be rude to not answer the door. And more than anything, he wanted to walkthrough that doorway. Still, he sat inert at the kitchen table looking down at the unfinished letter in front of him.
"Nestor Parsons, we're not leaving without you." It was Suzanne. "Even if you're determined to spend the rest of your life inside that dingy apartment writing letters."
Nestor Parsons nodded his head slowly and smiled when he heard a couple of other distinct, high-pitched voices.
"Is he going to juggle?"
"Is he really going to juggle?"
He pushed aside the papers in front of him, gathered his juggling equipment and joined his friends. He was blinking his eyes as he walked out into the warm spring sunshine.
*Disclaimer: All persons, places, events and incidents described in this story are the product's of the author's imagination and are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, events and incidents is coincidental.
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