PROMPT: Write for fifteen minutes using the following phrase as your first line. “After the door shuts and the footsteps die…”
After the door shuts and the footsteps die, I take out The Book. It is hidden in a shiny cover that advertises a mystery novel; a genre I know he will never touch. Carrying it wrapped in my arms, I climb onto my bed, cross my legs, and open it.
Pages 20 through 343 are missing, hollowed out to make room for my most treasured belongings. I reach inside the space, pushing past a necklace and a hundred dollar bill to get to my jackpot: the letter. Just seeing the yellowed paper folded into four and wrapped in a thin purple ribbon brings tears to my eyes. I look away, out the window at the gray apartment building across the street. All the windows blur as I try not to cry.
I force myself to return to the task at hand, to take out the letter. It is light in my fingers, so light I am afraid moving it will break it. That’s silly, I admonish myself. It may only be one page, but one page can hold its own in the world.
I hold the letter with both hands for a long moment, just staring at it. The purple ribbon antiquates it, makes it look like it was written in a century when pen and paper was all anyone could communicate with and when they would spout sonnets at any instant just to express their love. I added it when I was seven. It’s easier to pretend that’s the century I live in, than to own up to the fact that she could use the phone or email or facebook or twitter and just say three words instead of a 14-line poem to say “I love you.” Because the fact of the matter is, she never has.
Taking a deep breath, I set the letter on my knee and untie the bow. The folds of the paper spring up, as if the letter just started breathing after years of drowning. But I don’t open it yet.
Down the hall, I hear him turn on the stereo. Barry White. He wouldn’t play that if he were really angry. If he were really mad, he’d be playing Metallica or Slayer. Barry White just means that he’s pretending to be mad at me to teach me a lesson. Like when I called Principal Stevenson an arrogant chauvinist in fourth grade and he’d grounded me even though he told me he was proud of me for having such a good vocabulary. So if he’s playing Barry White, this can’t be that big a deal.
I look back at the letter. There isn’t much use in it, anyway. She wrote it when I was two. Even if she had stayed in the same place over the past ten years, she probably didn’t say where that is in the letter because she knew he would look at it. She might even have thought he would read it to me. So what was the point in me reading it?
Over Barry White, he calls to me, “You want tuna or ham on your sandwich?”
I stare at the letter. Maybe it says those words I want to hear.
“What? The silence treatment? All right, I’ll make you one of each!”
But why would I want to know she had written it out when I know he’ll say it every day?
I put the letter back in The Book. His footsteps approach my door and I rush to slide the “mystery” back onto the shelf. I survey my bed, the scene of the crime.
All that remains is a thin purple ribbon.