I closed my eyes and let it soak in. Then I read the
letter again. I was about to read it for the third time when
the annoying little voice that lives rent-free inside my
head told me to put the fucking letter away now.
I try not to argue with the voice. I extricated myself
from the sagging green chair as gracefully as one can
extricate 180 pounds from anything.
I walked over to Joanie's dressing table, and picked up the double-sided silver picture frame she gave me for our first anniversary. On the left side of the frame was our wedding picture with her handwritten inscription below. "To my darling Mike, We've only just begun. Love, Joanie" On the opposite side was the identical picture, but through the miracle of Photoshop, Joanie had digitally aged us fifty years. My hair was silver and thinning, but at least she gave me hair. I was thirty pounds heavier, and my face was lined with crags and crevices.
Joanie was even harder on herself, thickening out her middle, bluing her beautiful strawberry blonde hair, and adding liberal amounts of wrinkles and liver spots to her glowing skin. But she didn't change her eyes. There were crow's feet on the outside, but inside they were still the color I told her was Cavu Blue. My father flies a Piper Warrior on the weekends, and CAVU is pilot talk for a sky that has Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited.' To me nothing is bluer.
"I resent the fact that you think I can't function without Rosa cleaning up after me," I said to the left side of the frame. "For your information, I was recently honored by Good Housekeeping as one of the only men on the planet who has actually mastered the art of picking up his own dirty socks and underwear. And you thought I couldn't live without you."
Andre paddled in. Andre, just for the record, is a sixyear- old black Standard French Poodle. Not the kind of dog you'd expect to be living with a cop. But this dog has instincts like Sherlock Holmes and better communication skills than a kennel full of movie Lassies.
He cocked his big curly head and gave me his most serious man-to-man look, which I clearly understood to say, "Hey, Lomax, I heard you talking, and now I see that it's just you and the picture of your dead wife. I'm starting to worry about you, pal."
I half-put the frame back down on the dressing table, then pulled it back to my lips, pressed my face to the glass, and set it back down. Andre, realizing that this was a private moment and that there was nothing edible in it for him, toddled off back to the living room.
The phone rang. It was my partner, Terry Biggs. "Hey, Mike, we got a live one." A live one' was Terry's standard lame joke for a homicide victim.
"Ask me if the vic was a man or a woman," he said. Terry is a wannabe stand-up comic, but he's never sure he's going to get the straight line, so he helps you serve it up to him. I was in no mood to resist.
"Okay, Terry, who bought it? A man or a woman?" "A rabbit," he answered, hoping to get a bigger reaction from me than I was capable of giving. "Actually a guy in a Rambo Rabbit suit. It happened out at Lamaar's Familyland."
"Familyland?" I said. "Is no place sacred?"
"I guess the scumbags are branching out. More work for you and me," Terry said. "I'll pick you up in fifteen." I hung up. The letter was still in my other hand. There was a wooden box on top of Joanie's dressing table. I had found it gift wrapped at the bottom of my shirt drawer a few days after the funeral.
A brass plaque on top was engraved Mike and Joan till death us do part. That's where I found the letters. I put Number Six back in the box. There were still three more to be opened.
Copyright Marshall Karp 2006. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Macadam Cage.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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