I wondered if I were hallucinating. I’ve heard tiredness can do that sometimes. I peered hard at the photo, trying to make myself see something else, see only someone who resembled me, a double, a trick of my eyes or of the light. Too much too think about, I gave up. I put the photos in a pile together, moved them away face-down on the table. I didn’t want to think about them, or look at them. Perhaps the letters would explain.
The faded ribbon was soft, held a trace of scent to it still. Tears came into my eyes and I had to blink them away, couldn’t see past them to undo the knot. The envelopes crinkled in my hands, rough and yellowed by age. I opened the first, unfolded the sheets of paper inside and began to read:
It’s very cold here now. They left last night and so now there’s only the three of us. They’ve told us that’s all we need. Cut-backs happening everywhere – what can we do? We’re told everyone is in the same position. I wish you were here with me, but the less selfish part of me is glad that you are out of it. I know you are fine – that you’re having a good time, because if there’s anyone who can make the most of a bad situation…”
I stopped reading to try to stifle a yawn, and shivered. The kitchen seemed to have grown very cold. I gave the tap a final wrench, decided to live with the drip until morning and gathered up the letters and photos to carry with me to bed. I could read them snuggled under the blankets in the warm, much better then freezing myself to the bone on a hard chair. There were a lot of them to get through after all. I climbed into bed and pulled the blankets up on my knees, propping a pillow against the headboard. I truly intended to keep reading, but I must have fallen asleep. It seemed only the next moment when I felt a gentle tugging at my hands.
There was a man. He stood beside my bed, leaning over slightly. His finger and thumb held the letter at one corner, caught in the act of slipping it out of my sleeping hands.
I stared at him, and he stared at me. The stillness lasted one heartbeat but time drew out, slow as honey dropping from a spoon. I had time to be scared, time to be amazed, time to notice my mouth was dry, time to wonder what the hell was happening and how he’d managed to get inside my room. Time to be afraid that he would hurt me, and time to think how I could hurt him back. My fingers closed tight on the letter. I blinked, and the long, long moment ended. He was gone, and all that remained in my hand was a scrap of yellowed paper.
That was when the doorbell rang.