Letters

By Kelle Grace Gaddis

Kelle Grace Gaddis is the author of two books My Myths published (Yellow Chair Review) and When I’m Not Myself (Cyberwit). Her work has appeared in BlazeVOX, Chicken Soup For The Soul, Rhetoric Askew, Dispatches Editions, Vending Machine Press, Entropy, DoveTales, and elsewhere. She was a 4Culture “Poetry on the Buses” winner in 2015 and 2017 and a National Fiction War prize winner in 2020.

If I could hold a pen, I’d write a letter. One of my colleagues might compare it to the end of The Ice Man Cometh although the analogy is off. My situation might be closer to Jack London’s, “To Build a Fire” crossed with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Well, sort of, but that’s not quite it either. London’s main character had matches and Beckett’s had hope albeit ill-founded hope. None of this matters. All I cannot say is not literature, it’s life. Or, if no one finds me soon, the end of it.

North Dakota was never on my radar, least of all this drafty old place, but Dell had to sort out her mother’s house after she passed, and, I wanted to be with Dell. Now all I want is to feel my fingers and hear the car coming down the drive.

Maybe my brain is turning to ice because I can’t stop thinking of snow-laden literature, Into The Wild, The Revenant, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, all books written by men with grit enough to withstand extremes. I imagined myself akin to those writers but, now, I’d give up literature for a one-way ticket to Florida.

If I were to write a letter few would understood the literary references anyway. Dell could follow it. She reads nearly as much as I do. Where did she go? It’s been three days. She wouldn’t just leave me here.

Dell’s mother’s cat, Coal, died this morning. He might have made it if Dell hadn’t purged the house of matches. She’s wanted me to quit smoking forever. Poor little guy, no matter how tight he curled himself into a ball, he didn’t stand a chance in temperatures this low. Dell claimed the match-purge was for my benefit but it was for her. She says our clothes stink but I never noticed it.

Dell also liked to say, “Cigarettes will be the death of you.” Looks like she was wrong about that. I would set the sofa on fire to not end up like the cat but if I had a damn match.

My dad doesn’t know where I am. He only knows I went to North Dakota with Dell. The town of Fleckton isn’t even on a map. I told him I’d be back in the Keys in spring which is over a month away.

If Dell didn’t take my car I would have left when the generator died. There’s no fixing it. I’m more bookworm than boy scout. What I don’t understand is why Dell didn’t wake me.

If she went to buy a new generator she’d be back by now. Nobody can survive in subzero temperatures for very long. She must know that. She’ll have to come back soon.

Early on the second day, I realized her suitcase was gone. I walked to a house a few miles away but it was abandoned. I should have stayed here and written a letters to Dad and Dell because now the cold is deep in my bones.

I must have fallen in the snow two dozen times walking back to this place. I started shaking so badly I’m surprised I made it. My jeans won’t thaw and my nose and toes are turning as black as Coal’s fur. I’m no frostbite expert, but I know I’m in trouble.

Before my trek I was sick. Hung-over really, and because of that I didn’t realize the house door wasn’t secured. When I got back the door was blown wide open and the wind had created  a snow drift in the living room. I feels like a morgue. In an effort to warm up, I drank the rest of the vodka. My shivering stopped, so I tried to write a letter but everything hurts too much.

I found a letter from Dell’s ex-husband Mike. It was tucked in her drawer the night before she left. Mike said, “I was happy to get your letter,” and, “I want you to come home.”

How sweet. I’ve been with Dell for months in this ice hole. We had difficult moments but I never thought she would write to Mike.

Letters aren’t common in the 21st century. If this were the 1800’s and Dell was The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne, it would make more sense but this is 2022. Dell has an iPhone, iPad, and laptop, all of which outperform traditional mail, yet, suddenly she’s writing letters. My dear colloquial dad would have said, “It makes as much sense as Dutch to a dog.”

Dell and I have to drive to town to use our phones because there’s no WIFI out here but that is faster than using the post office which is thirty miles away. I was going to ask her, “Why letters?” but she was gone before I got the chance.

I’m the writer, not Dell. I wrote a limited edition epistolary novel which is nothing but letters. Dell came to see me read from it at the university. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that Dell and I met because of letters.

A week before the reading, she was sitting at the end of the bar in the Alligator Grill in Key West reading the House of Leaves, a book with so many letters in it that they form a novel within the novel. If she wasn’t reading that book I never would have had the courage to talk to her. I never have anything to say but could talk about Mark Z. Danielewski’s work for days.

The only thing I love more than literature is my dad. When I was nine he read classics to me instead of children’s stories. I’d fall asleep to his voice reading Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Faulkner’s and As I Lay Dying. It was nice.

Thinking back, I wonder if the love of women isn’t in our DNA. We were good at reading, literature; we’re men of letters. But dad didn’t deserve a Dear John letter without so much as a kiss goodbye.

Dad never read the letter to me. I could tell it was bad from his face. I asked if she mentioned me. Dad just shook his head.

Mom left during a southern summer that dad claimed was “Hot enough to scald a lizard.” When he finished reading her letter, he said, “I’m sorry buddy, she left us out in the cold,”

Behind closed eyes, I can see Dad and I sitting on our porch laughing. Then, suddenly, it’s later and we’re in my room. He’s sitting on the edge of my bed reading Allistar MacLean’s novel Lawrence of Arabia. In it, one character says, “Everything is written.” Dad and I had laughed at the idea. We never believed in destiny but, right now, I can sense it.

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