Excerpt from The Month of The Leopard by James Harland, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Month of The Leopard

by James Harland

The Month of The Leopard
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    Jun 2002, 352 pages

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He spotted the letter as soon as he walked into the kitchen; a simple, plain white envelope with his name written upon it. He held it between his fingers for a moment, looking down at the firm script. With a knife from the draw, he slit the envelope open, and, sitting down on one of the wooden chairs around the table, started to read.

"My dearest Tom, This has been a painful letter for me to write, and only a very few of my emotions can be expressed in words. I have thought long and hard before making this choice, and have many times wondered what phrases or condolences I might choose, but now that I have finally put pen to paper, few of them seem to have any relevance. What can I say, other than that I am leaving and that I shall not return.

It is not something I have done lightly or casually. Were I a better woman, one more deserving of your love and affection, it is not something I would have done at all. That does not matter anymore. My path is chosen now, and I must make my own journey. It will take me away from you, and you from I. That is the way it must be. Do not try to question it.

Today I have left this house, never to return. I am with another man to whom my heart now belongs. Do not try to find me. It will only increase the pain this separation will cause for both of us. I can only say how grateful I am for all the love and kindness you have shown me over the past few years, and how guilty I feel at not having been able to find a better currency with which to repay you. Do not seek any more explanation than I have been able to offer in this letter. There is none.

I hope you may soon find the happiness you deserve with another.

With my love and regrets,

Tatyana."

From the movement of the single sheet of paper between his fingers, Tom could tell that his hand was shaking, but he felt as if he had lost all control of his senses. For that moment, he was convinced he could neither see, sense, hear nor touch; all contact with the outside world had suddenly shrivelled to nothing and only an inner, dark desolation remained. Somewhere he could feel his pulse racing as he glanced downwards once more, his eyes locking almost randomly on different words as he scanned the page again and again. He tried putting the words in a different order, re-arranging them, turning them inside out, breaking up the letters, hoping there might be some strange code there, something he could decipher, something that could give him some hope, but nothing made any difference. The meaning was always the same. She was gone.

He could feel the stiffness in his knees as he stood from the chair, placing the note carefully, face downwards, on the table. His shoulders were haunched, and he could hear a long sigh escaping from his lips. He glanced briefly around the kitchen, noting how everything, the pots and pans, tables and chairs and machines, were all in their place. Everything was as it should be. Except for the woman who inhabited the place, the woman for whom it had been created. Everything was in its familiar place. The sofa and two chairs were neatly arranged around the coffee table. A couple of books were lying open; the latest Grisham, and a nineteenth century travel book that had recently been re-issued in paperback. A coffee cup was sitting on the table, a smudge of lipstick still visible on its rim. Tom picked it up and examined it, a couple of lines from an old country song forcing their way into his mind. "Your lip-print on a half-filled cup of coffee/That you bought and didn't drink/But at least you thought you wanted it/That's so much more than I can say for me." The song disappeared, vanishing almost as quickly as it appeared, and his mind was empty again.

Who could this other man be, he thought to himself. There was no one Tatyana had spoken of, nor anyone among their mutual acquaintances who he could possibly imagine in the role. An image reared up in his mind, fierce and uncontrollable; of Tatyana lying beneath another man, her arms outstretched, her legs curled up in the air. He could see her clearly, the picture perfectly distinct, but the man he could not make out. It was impossible to put a face to him.

Copyright James Harland, all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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