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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Love Letter
The Love Letter
by George Rolph

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"My darling, Starman.

"Today I was thinking about you and missing you so much I had to write again.

"Your eyes stir something deep within me. Something primeval and ancient. Something that feels good, like a warm sun on a frosty morning. When I think of your eyes, I think of liquid love that runs and pours over me and makes me shudder with delight and an all-consuming excitement.

"Your eyes are the window to my soul..."

John stared at the letter in his hand in disbelief. He had found it on a train on the day he left his wife. It was tucked down between the cushions of his seat with one corner poking out invitingly. He had pulled it out and started reading it from sheer boredom. The letter had gripped his heart, but he did not know why. That was a week ago. This morning he had noticed the letter sitting on his desk top and he had started to read it again.

He read the last passage again letting the words penetrate his mind. "...I think of liquid love that runs and pours over me..."

There was a power in those words. "Liquid love." He tossed the phrase around in his mind, as if mentally tasting it. He saw the image of the words as clearly as he saw the clouds in the sky when he looked up through his window. 'Eyes that poured love all over her body. A love that made her shudder. A tangible love that had substance... like the wind,' John decided.

He shivered involuntarily as he read on.

"Your eyes are the window to my soul. When I look into your eyes I see you seeing me as if there were nowhere I could ever hide away. Yet I feel no threat within your gaze. Only tenderness. They search me. They uncover me and lay me bare. Then, oh my love, then they caress me. They place your gaze with such gentleness upon all my weaknesses and upon all my strengths. They alight so softly that the kiss of a butterfly could not be more gentle, and then your gaze moves on like a breeze and I am refreshed for its being there."

In spite of himself John was moved almost to tears by those beautiful words. He placed the letter on his desk and moved to the window. As if on cue a butterfly floated down onto the window box outside on the ledge and began to drink sweet nectar from the bright yellow flowers growing there. He lifted his coffee cup and drained it in one movement before turning back to the desk and the letter laying on top.

"Then there are your lips. So full and soft. Across them travel words that cause my ears to tingle and my heart to throb with desire, or excitement. Sometimes to thrill at the sound of your wisdom, or to laugh at your humour. Sometimes even, to cry at their beauty. When they part, your lips reveal your teeth. So perfect and white. Oh, how I tremble when I think of them biting me. Nipping at my flesh so gently with just a hint of pain. Then your tongue will touch the place your teeth have been and all pain vanishes beneath that wet caress. I love your mouth. The taste of it. The sound of it. To kiss your lips is to drink the wine of God."

'To kiss your lips is to drink the wine of God.' C'mon! Is this woman for real?

John threw the letter down in disgust.

'No one talks like that,' he thought. 'No one actually speaks words like that anymore. This is the millennium. The days when people said things like that are long gone!'

John could not explain why he was angry. He stalked the room picking things up and putting them down again. He switched on the TV and then turned it off before the picture even formed on the tube. He bit and chewed at his nails, anxiously. He finally poured another coffee and sat down to try and think.

He failed.

The letter was touching something deep inside of him. It was as if it were reaching down into some dark and long forgotten room. A place where softness and beauty hid waiting for the day it could be freed. Yet it was as if he struggled to hold on to the darkness within himself.

John stood up. He could not explain his restlessness. He just had to keep moving. He had to avoid being still. He lit a cigarette and moved back to the window. The butterfly was gone and for some strange reason that made him feel better. He decided to shower.

The hot water hit him hard and he leaned back against the shower wall and let it pour over his skin. He felt it running down his chest and thighs. John loved to shower. He loved to feel the water on his skin.

"Liquid love."

The thought annoyed him. He slammed a fist into the wall and winced as the pain ran from his knuckles to his shoulder. "Dammit!" he shouted.

He finished the shower quickly, as if all the pleasure in it had gone. As he dressed he decided to go out. He had to walk. To get away from his flat for a while. On his way out of the door, and without thinking, he lifted the letter and folded it neatly before slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket.

The park was empty. The wide ocean of green grass was broken here and there by trees that cast deep shadows in the afternoon sun. Beneath an ancient oak there was a wooden bench. It was to this bench that John often came to think. It was his haven in the city. His shelter from sun, or wind, or rain, and the constant noise of traffic and people.

The oak towered above him as he sat. It seemed like a vibrant, living umbrella. John leaned back against the bench and looked up into the familiar branches. He had been here a thousand times and never looked at this towering tree. Oh he had looked up before, he had just never really "looked" before. In the past it had always been just a tree. Now, for the first time, he saw it as a living thing. He could almost feel the history that the tree had seen. He studied it for a long time. He noticed the deep green of the wrinkled leaves. Their serrated edges. He looked at the wrinkled brain of bark that clad the tree and almost felt its protection. He saw the shape and form of the tree. Twisting further on the bench he glanced down at the roots that thrust into the ground beneath him, like the grip of some giant's fingers in the deep brown earth.

"You are magnificent," he said, aloud.

A squirrel, startled by his voice, chattered nervously and darted upwards to disappear into the canopy above him. John almost laughed as he watched its bouncing, stuttering run up the trunk and along the branches, its tail waving like a grey, bushy flag behind it. At last his heart felt at peace again. He reached into his jacket pocket.

"Your hands are soft my darling. Soft like the hair that crowns your head. At night, whenever I am alone, I dream of your hands. Wakeful dreams that set my heart on fire. I dream of them on my skin. Touching me. Stroking me. Caressing me. Your slender fingers moving through my hair and lingering on my face. Pulling my mouth towards yours. The pads of your finger tips that skim across my skin like swallows dipping in a lake. Your hands, so strong and yet so gentle, moving against my muscles, freeing them from tired aches and pains. Resting in the small of my back as you lift me to your thrusts when we make love. I know those hands so well. The carefully cut nails and every scar on them remain in my memory like a tree growing in a forest."

John lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He began to feel nervous and edgy. He blew the smoke out fiercely and looked up. Now it was just a tree again. His movements became disjointed and twitchy. He stood and his cigarette caught the edge of the seat. The hot burning tobacco snapped from its end and fell between his fingers.

"Shit!" John flapped his hand wildly. "Shit! Ouch! Dammit!"

He pushed the side of two of his fingers into his mouth in a vain effort to cool the burning. Then he angrily stamped on the fallen cigarette and stormed out across the grass and away from the bench that used to be his haven.

On the crowded tube train he began to read again. He smoothed out the pages that were crumpled when he stuffed the letter into his trouser pocket after burning his fingers. He scanned the page looking for where he had stopped reading. Ah yes. Here it is: "The carefully cut nails and every scar remain in my memory like a tree growing in a forest. The hands of you are the highways of our love."

John paused. "The hands of you are the highways of our love."

'What the hell does that mean?' he thought. Irritated again.

"How does that work?" he snorted, and then, realising he had spoken out loud and loudly, he quickly glanced around. Opposite him a young woman watched him curiously.

"Can I trouble you a moment?" John asked her.

She looked at him carefully before raising an eyebrow and smiling.

"How can I help?" She asked.

"I am having trouble understanding a concept in this letter. Ah. As it was written by a woman, I wondered if you might..."

"Of course," she said and stretched across the gap to take the letter.

John pointed to the spot she should read. As she did so he looked at her, watching her face. Her eyes. He noticed that she read much more than the sentence he had indicated. As he studied her, he saw a bright red flush appear on her throat and he guessed which part she was reading now. He saw her hand move up to touch her neck and he realised that, just as he had been, she was immersed in the language of the letter. Transported to some place where she was the recipient of the letter. Where the words were written to her by some real or imagined lover. He guessed her heart would be hammering in her chest as his had. Yes. He could see a pulse in her temple beating wildly. Then she put the letter in her lap and took a long slow breath before speaking.

"It's so beautiful," she said. "You are a lucky man."

John did not correct her. Instead he asked, "What does she mean by 'the hands of you are the highways of our love?'"

The woman paused before she spoke. Her eyes seemed to be regarding him with kind pity. As if she felt sorry that he could not comprehend the meaning in those simple words.

Finally she said, "Give me your hand."

John leant across the gap between them and offered his left hand then changed his mind and gave her his right. He did not want her to touch his burned fingers.

"Make a fist."

John did as he was told.

"Good. Now imagine I have hurt you terribly in some way and you have just struck me with this fist."

John nodded.

"In that blow, this fist would become a highway of pain. My pain, in receiving the blow and your pain - the pain that drove you to deliver it. Do you see what I mean?"

John nodded again.

"Well, in the same way, this hand could also give and feel love. She is saying that the touch of this hand is enough to both send and receive love. It is rather beautiful, don't you think?"

"Yes. It is. Thank you."

Before the women released his hand she looked down at his nails and a puzzled frown crossed her face. Then she looked up at John and said, "It's not your letter is it?"

John studied the broken edges of his well bitten nails before answering.

"No. I am afraid not."

He did not elaborate. Instead he thanked her again and began to read on.

"When you are not with me, my darling, there is a hole in my peace. A place so desolate and barren that nothing can grow there. No plant of consolation or memory of past laughter will take root there. Without you I am just one half of a stormy sky. You are not only my love, my breath, and my spirit; you are also the sunshine that brings warmth to my soul and life to my lonely heart. You are my peace, and without you there is no longer any stillness within me. Hurry back to me that I may walk again in the stillness your presence brings."

"Hurry back to me that I may walk again in the stillness your presence brings." John felt himself growing angry again. He folded the letter once more and placed it in his jacket pocket. 'What is it about her that is doing this to me?' he thought.

'Why does this letter disturb me so much?'

The woman opposite rose to leave the train at her stop. He glanced up and tried to smile a goodbye but failed, so he waved instead. She ignored him and left the train.

John sighed. 'London is such an impersonal place,' he thought. He tried to think of Cornwall where he had grown up. 'People there speak to each other. Even perfect strangers can stop and chat in the street. Here in London everybody tries hard not to speak to each other or, having once spoken, to get away as fast as possible.' He sighed again and settled down to wait for the train to reach his station.

Outside of the station he stood on the pavement blinking in the sunshine. He needed somewhere to sit and read. Somewhere he could think about the letter. John reached a small cafe and ordered a cup of tea. He took the tea to a small table in the window and sat watching the passers by a while before he opened the letter once more.

"Sometimes, in the morning, I imagine you are here my darling. I walk to the window and look down at the garden. As I watch the bees gathering pollen, or the birds feeding at their bird table, I imagine you walking there as you always do. I can almost see your footprints in the grass. It is so real that I cry when I remember your beauty."

John reached for his tea and drank deep. One of the cafe staff appeared at his side.

"Would you like something to eat?" she asked.

John looked up her uncomprehendingly. "Pardon?" he said.

The woman looked at him, suddenly embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry," she muttered and quickly vanished behind the counter. Only then did John realise he was crying. He stood quickly and left the cafe, dabbing at his eyes with his handkerchief.

He headed for the public toilets and washed his face. For a long time he stared at himself in the mirror. 'What's happening to me?' he thought. 'It's this damn letter!'

For a moment he considered ripping it up and flushing it down the toilet but he could not. Instead he felt compelled to finish it. To read until it ended. It was, he decided, as if he was on some sort of journey. The letter was his map and he had to follow it. He had to find out where it was taking him. He hurried into a stall and shut the door behind him. He sat down on the toilet and read again.

"You envelope me my darling. You sail on my senses like a kite in the wind. Like a powerful scent left drifting in the still air of a room. Like a falcon hanging in the sky. There is no part of me you do not touch and, with me or far away, we can never be parted. I feel your presence with me always. Here, in my heart. You are a ghost in my emotions until you come home again and materialise in all of your splendour and wonder in my arms. Oh how I long for you! How much I pine until I see you again..."

John lit another cigarette and smoked it nervously. 'How can anyone open themselves like this? How can she trust him so much she dares to speak these words to him? She is leaving herself open to be destroyed.'

"You silly bloody cow!"

The words escaped his lips and echoed around the empty lavatory.

John burst out of the stall and ran up the steps into the street. He looked first left and then right before he spotted a patch of green between some buildings nearby. He headed for it. Dodging traffic and people. He had to find somewhere he could settle. Somewhere he could read without panic. Without fear.

In the ornamental gardens he felt better. For a while he trod the paths between the flower beds and read the plaques describing the trees, bushes and plants. He gazed at the statues and the carved stone works of art, trying to focus his mind on something other than the letter and the way her words made him feel. Finally he stepped over a low fence and sat on the grass beside a chattering stream. He watched the tiny fish darting and in and out of the weeds below and fighting the current to move upstream. The fish reminded him of his life. Always fighting to get upstream for fear that if he relaxed, he would eventually be swept into some vast, exciting, brine filled ocean, only to find that he could not breath.

"How much I pine until I see you again! Until I see your lovely form and hear your breath. Until my ears feel your voice, so soft and so warm. Oh the joy that crowds my heart when I see objects that you have touched and moved, here, in our rooms. Things placed where I have not placed them and, by their moving, signal that you are with me once again. Come home soon my darling. My arms long for you and my heart bursts with a heady love that only you can drink. Bring your loveliness to me and make my spirit whole once more. Still these stormy skies with the sunshine of your soul and lift me up into your strong arms. Come home soon my darling. I miss you, always.


John placed the letter on the grass next to him and closed his eyes. "Starchild," he said.

He repeated the name over and over out load. "Starchild. Starchild. Starchild."

'Who was she? Who was this man that she was writing to? This man that held such a sway on her mind that she poured out her love onto paper in such an open, trusting way. Her words were heavy with love, like a honeycomb is heavy with honey,' he thought. 'She seemed to be so strong and yet so vulnerable also. Did he, the man the letter was addressed to, did he feel the same? Was he some magnificent godlike figure who strode the world as if he owned it; or was he ordinary and nondescript like me?' John wondered.

"...My heart bursts with a heady love that only you can drink."

'What does such a love feel like?' he considered for a while. 'It must be like a sweet agony that hurts and heals at the same time,' John decided. He found himself both envying and distrusting it.

He opened his eyes and watched a pair of twittering sparrows in a bush on the other side of the stream. They were puffing up their feathers until they looked like little balls of brown fluff. He smiled and shifted his gaze onto a burst of colour created by a clutch of crocus that were thrusting out of the leaf litter beneath the bush the sparrows played in. Purple, green, red and yellow combined in such a palette that they took his breath away. Swollen flowers that seemed to beckon his senses and caress his eyes. John was astonished. He thought he had never noticed such beauty before, until he remembered the tree, with the squirrel.

Then it happened!

All at once the entire scene in which he sat flooded into his mind like a piercing ray of multicoloured light. The stream that flashed and bubbled by became a dancing thread of light and shadow that teemed with life and radiated joy with every splash and trickle. The penetrating green of the grass, broken here and there by patches of dark shadow beneath the bushes, seemed to massage his tired mind and fill him with peace. Even the trees seemed to reach into his heart and caress every doubt and fear he had ever known into a sweet oblivion. The air itself was heavy with the scent and bustle of life and the warm breeze caressed his skin like a lover's touch. To John, it felt as if his eyes had opened for the first time. Like a new born baby whose birth came not in some coldly decorated room at a hospital, but in an open field or crowded wood, and who was staggered by the wonder of all it saw.

A new love, something much more powerful than anything he had ever experienced before, had broken through his bitter, angry barriers like a velvet battering ram. Every chain of rage and door of iron clad self-pity was shattered into infinite nothingness. Life, it seemed to John, was no longer something that happened to him at the whim of others. Instead, it was something he was a part of. Not just the lives of others around him, but all life. The life of every creature everywhere. Everything that had ever been conceived and born, or had grown and bore fruit. 'As if,' he thought in awe, 'I am the universe and the universe is me.'

John felt as if he had been washed somehow. Washed in something powerful and cleansing. Something that had reached into every dark corner of his heart and mind and flushed it of all that had ever wounded him. Something warm and almost wet had flowed through him. Healing him. 'It is like...' his mind struggled to find the right description, 'it is like... like liquid love,' he thought.

He realised, suddenly, that no man can never truly love another until he has first loved life itself.

"That is what I have been missing!" he said aloud.

"I have missed the love of life. I have missed all this wonder and beauty."

He laughed softly the laugh of a man who has found his path and cannot contain his joy.

"I love my life!" he cried. "I am the Starman!"

John went to the little window in the mainline station and bought a ticket for Cornwall.

"Are you going on holiday sir?" the clerk had asked him.

"No," John had replied softly. "I am going home."

As he sat on the train watching the landscape flash by the window, he did not notice the letter fall from his pocket and nestle down between the cushion covers. When he left the train, he did not see the broken hearted woman find the letter and start to read.

He arrived at his wife's house and knocked the door. When the door was opened by his wife his new love rushed out of him and burst upon her heart like a floodlight in the darkness.

"Oh John!"

She was crying.

"I have missed you. Welcome home."

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