(this story was published by Foliate Oak, the on-line literary magazine of the University of Arkansas, Monticello in 2007)
Dover, July 30, 1942
It was a war, though not our own little war, that tore us apart. Right after we both left for our far-away-from-each-other destinations, I read the following in a radical paper that was handed to me on the street. I found it both consoling and disturbing.
…After all, who owns any war? The ones who declare it never appear in the muck and blood of the front lines. They remain clean, untarnished, in their shiny suits, speak from podiums to hushed, respectful crowds who don't dare question their motives, sleep at night (oh, how can they sleep at night) in comfortable beds in their comfortable homes. They may award me a purple heart, a gold cross, or even a medal of honor when all is said and done because my service to my country has drawn blood, my own blood, and the blood of the enemy I have been sent to vanquish…
Darling, the damned war doesn't matter. You matter. That's why I'm writing this letter. You said you could not wait for me if we went. I confess I am severely impatient. I wanted you and you alone, and I didn't give a damn what anyone thought. I was willing to risk the consequences, go abroad if need be, anything, anything, for you. I cannot help but think that this war has given you a convenient out, a way to avoid the prospect of us. Well, that may be cruel and cynical of me, but it's because I care so very deeply for you. I wanted to grow old with you. There. I've said everything I've always been afraid to say for fear of losing you. I will always be yours, no matter what.
All my love,
London, October 29, 1972
Believe me, I feel just as awkward writing this as you must feel reading it after thirty years in absentia. I am sitting here with my wife — yes, I got married. It was the only way I could heal my loneliness and emptiness and it was a too frank admission that I would never, ever have you. We had a son together. His name is Kip. Remember? You and I both loved Kipling. Kip is a Frost scholar at NYU in the states. His mother Martha and I work tirelessly at our jobs all week with little time to see each other.
On weekends in the summer, at our little cottage in Dover, we sit and drink our tea and read the Times. This is our quality time as they say, though our talk is insubstantial. We are dispassionate, reserved, controlled. This suits Martha. She feels safe in these innocuous conversations. I must admit I do feel protective of her. She has assuaged my loneliness for many years now. I ought to respect that at least. Martha and Kip have drifted apart over the years. After he finished college, she wanted so badly for him to meet a "nice girl". Settle down. Have children. You know how that goes. Kip flew across the pond a few years ago to introduce us to his partner Daniel. I thought it was very courageous of him to do so. Of course, after that, Martha stopped prodding Kip about finding a "nice girl".
Should you and I ever see each other again, I would hope that your feelings for me have not changed one iota. I can freely say that my love for you has never wavered. I just had to let you know that. I apologize for the intrusion, if , indeed, this is an intrusion.
December 20, 1993
My Dearest Arthur,
After a long and painful battle, Martha has succumbed to cancer. She was sick for nearly three years. I managed to provide home hospice care for her with help from an agency that Kip paid for. After Martha died, Kip invited me to move to New York and stay with him and Daniel. I protested that I would be a burden, but he insisted. I hope you like this picture of the three of us. I've been living here for six months now, on the west side of Manhattan. There's something consoling about the anonymous hustle and bustle of this city "that never sleeps". I take a long walk every day around noon in Central Park, except for during the harshest part of winter. During those bleak winter months, when I become quite depressed because of the absence of regular sunlight, I work on jigsaw puzzles for hours and hours at a time. Kip and Daniel have talked about adopting, but as yet, I have no grandchildren. Kip and Daniel are both away much of the time. I am so grateful for the care they have afforded me, though. A visiting nurse comes by every day to check on me. We've become quite good friends.
Winter makes me think of the end of my life, dear heart, the end of the possibility of us. However, I think I've finally begun to accept it. Ironic isn't it, that I can grow to accept something I've refused to accept all my life, living without you, and it makes me feel closer than ever to you.
John suffered massive cardiac arrest and died instantly two days shy of his seventy-seventh birthday. On the day of the wake, Kip was gathering his father's meager belongings, not sure what he would do with them. He decided to clean out the drawers of the corner desk that his father liked to use. There were the war medals that John kept in a cardboard box, his father's pipe, some old photographs of John with another soldier. He didn't recognize the other solder. He found an unfinished letter tucked into a corner of the blotter.
My Dearest Arthur,
I can hardly write. My motivation has always been your unbearable absence. Since you found me in Central Park yesterday, I am beyond words. Your return to my life is real isn't it? It's not a dream is it? If it is, please don't wake me! Let me dream.
Kip was beside himself when I returned home so late that night. My poor son was worried sick. He started ranting about getting me a cell phone. I hate those things. People everywhere talking out loud as if to themselves. There's no privacy anymore.
You being in Manhattan is simply too much to bear. It's just our luck (and such a great sign!) that both Kip and Daniel have tomorrow off and will be home. They're planning to take me to the opera. I think we should ask them straight away if we can both stay here until we get our own place. How soon can you get here from the hotel?
Kip tried to place this revelation into his memories of his parents' marriage which rolled through his mind like a video on fast forward. It was a film of sober sadness and fidelity. He considered his mother's estrangement. He looked again at the letter he held in his hands. His tears dropped on the page and smudged the ink. Daniel was already at the funeral parlor to meet the florist. Kip thought about calling him. He didn't. It was much too much to explain.
John's wake was attended almost exclusively by Kip and Dan's friends. John had one sister who was not well enough to travel to the states for the funeral. A couple of Martha's relatives sent cards. When the wake was about to end, a very dignified elderly gentleman arrived to pay his respects. He took off his fedora and carefully hung up his great coat and scarf as Kip and Daniel observed him from their end of the nearly empty funeral parlor. He walked toward them steadily with a straight, military bearing. His face wore an expression of recognition, familiarity. Kip and Daniel glanced at each other.
He reached them and extended a hand to Kip. He spoke with a British accent .
"Hello Kip. I feel I've known you for much of my life. My name is Arthur Longley."