I tried to picture him writing it, sitting at a large metal desk in the middle of a barracks, like something I might have seen in Life. I pictured him stooped over, with a reader's concentration, digging the pen into the regulation paper in the way he would have, if we were talking face-to-face, stressed a word. I saw him in civilian clothes, in the dress pants he wore every Easter. The same ones, as far as I could tell -- a light gray wool, each year hitched up a little higher and now, leg crossed across one knee, entirely ill-fitting, the RBP far above the ankle. He might have, from time to time, put the pen down and leaned back to think of a particular description, fingering those initials he had stitched in red. It was clear to me even then that he had worked on the letter like a boy who wants to be a writer. Certain words broke his true voice, were tried on, tested for fit. They were a hat too big for him -- the Randall I knew interrupted again and again by the Randall Randall might have become. The Hell, as I have mentioned. A line from some dead poet -- I would think of a thousand things, lovely and durable, and taste them slowly -- I had heard him recite in his room a hundred times, and other words I recognized as words still left to learn. It seemed he wanted to cram everything in.
Still, it is a beautiful letter. I have saved it for years. It finds its way into my hands at the oddest times, and when it does I always hold it for a while. Teddy shouts Carry on!, and I curse him. All of them. Then I pull out the paper, one creased sheath, and unfold it as slowly as I would a gift I'd never opened. My fear is that somehow in my absence, his words have come undone, been shaken loose, rearranged; the letters shuffled into indecipherable forms.
But there! My name in salutation, the sweetness of the attendant Dear. I'm again as I was, as he may have pictured me when -- writing at that desk beneath the window, the metal newly polished, the air fresh, eucalyptus-scented, the sea lions barking -- he signed Love, Randall, and underlined it with a flourish as elegant as a bow.
Copyright © 2001 by Kate Walbert
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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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