The Closely Cramped Letters of Your Finely Tuned Words
by Becky Schwartz
Fernando and Claudia have been writing letters to each other for some time. They stopped for about a year and then began corresponding with each other again. These are their first interactions in a year. This is about three weeks worth of letters.

Dear Claudia,

The sun has risen and set so many times since we last spoke that I no longer know what you know of me nor what I know of you. I'm sure we've both been so many people in between the time we met and our silent, muffled goodbye and they all jumble before me, a wreck of lost memories and forbidden promises. I think of you frequently, of Andrew and the way his little hands reach out for comfort in the dark. I wonder, does he cry at night like I so frequently do when the memories of a lonely youth flood into the empty blackness of evening? Do his big blue eyes bulge with tears and terror of all the things that may lurk there where he can't see? I wonder how your husband moves through the house, if he still stomps solemnly his bulging belly bouncing before him. Do you roll over away from him at night? Does he sneak in late and slip into bed beside you, quietly, carefully?

Do you think I am asking too much? Should I keep these things hidden in the shroud of time that you have pushed me under? Am I being presumptuous to send you this letter out of nowhere? Have you fallen into the way things are? Does your husband still keep you steady beneath his thumb?

Do you care to know what I do now? If I knew perhaps I could tell you. Yesterday I stumbled drunk through the streets of Berlin with words I'd once written raging through my skull and falling accidentally, incoherently off my lips. I look at my hazy reflection in store windows sometimes and I watch my shaky eyes stutter. I see you there, behind the glass, the girl at the counter. I see you through my own dim form and you are whole and real and made of flesh. I remember the way your plush and gentle hands touched my face, the warmth of them and how they seemed so steady, so solid. I look at my own hands and I can see almost through them. They are caked with dirt and the wrinkles reveal my age.

Funny, though, I imagine you still shining with the vigor of youth, still skipping down sidewalks with your child in tow. I am but a frail and fading fraction of who I was when I was with you and in all the empty days that pass me by I cannot find a substitute for your maternal touch or your childlike kisses. I've spent years stuck here in the shadow of your smile, mired in the memory of those few magic moments we had together. I wonder if your husband knows the worth of what he has or if he still leaves early and comes home late.

I've searched for you in the most unlikely places and I've seen you everywhere I look. You are the winged woman in the fountain, your hands holding a seashell which spouts out sprays of water. You are every woman who crosses the street with a baby carriage, heading steadily somewhere I'll never know. You are each sip of wine I take which puts me to sleep at night and your breasts are the pillows I lay my head upon. I hear your voice in the bird-songs which wake me up at dawn so that I can see you in the brilliant yellows and reds of the sunrise as the colors break through the clouds. I think of us often in the fall when the leaves crisp and crunch beneath my feet. We were as brief as one falling leaf carried by the wind. I always try to catch them but I never can.
Could you remember me as I remember you?



Could I remember you as you remember me? And how is that, my friend? As some vague idealized image, the edges fading in and out, the gaps blocked in with the tints of your romantic imagination? My Andrewís eyes are neither big nor blue, but deep, dark muddy smudges flashing out of squinted slits in his little face. And however did you conjure that notion of a stomping, bulgy husband out of narrow, nervous Jacob with his health food and his morning jogs and his maddening, skittering energy? But how like you to bury the truth beneath a blurry buzz of bís. How like you to betray memory for the call of a literary flourish.

What color are my eyes, Fernando? How long was my hair when you saw me last? Am I left-handed? Which cheek is my mole on? Do I even have a mole or am I just fucking with you? Your eyes are brown but not dark. They are lit from within by a pale yellow light. I remember how steadily you held them on me when I spoke as if you could read some other meaning in the motions of my mouth. I remember the patterns you traced in the air with your long, light-fingered hands whenever you were describing something. I remember the wincing way you bent your body and the bold tilt of your head held high on your neck.

Youíve always asked too much and have always been afraid to know the answers. Youíve snatched roughly, rudely through my life. Youíve crashed callously through the quietest corners of my home. Youíve doubted what should be taken for granted and stared when you should have averted your eyes and shouted when you should have nodded your head in respectful silence. But for all your brash curiosity, for all your childlike questioning, still you know nothing of what my life is. Still you hold nothing in your mind but some sculpted symbol of woman and home. Still you simply use me to lay your false yearnings before.

Will you ever grow up, my dear, or will you always peer into the world through your own hazy reflection?



Do I see things shakily through a hazy reflection? Am I haunted by that vague and distant image in the mirror? Was it not my literary flourish which caught your eyes and ears and which pressed your breath into my own? Shall I fill another letter full of questions or shall I actually say something this time? You are the epitome of each sculpted symbol because what you mean to me can only be understood with lines and curves and not with petty, silly words which I can barely use and which only cause you pain. If you could see things through my hazy reflection, even for just one moment you might be able to muster up some faint bit of understanding, of pity.

But, I donít ask for pity. I only wonder how you could be so cold, so calculated. And how am I to know what Jacob looks like? I can only dig his image from the dullest corners of my imagination and try to turn him into something real, something I can sink my teeth into. Sometimes this letter writing is the closest I can come to literature, so please understand that it is not only you, that you are not the sole recipient of my often ill-conceived and always over emotional yearnings. It is simply that I cannot muster up the passion required to write without some direction, without some place to put it.

I apologize if my memory fails me and my over romanticized daydreams take over the pen that I press to the paper. Should I lose your address? I didnít honestly expect you to react so harshly. Really, I only wanted to know, how are you? Are you the same as you were when your eyes fell downward more often than they looked upward? Do they still drop a bit at the sides, matching your mouth? I know you smiled when you looked at Andrew but I donít remember you grinning at much else. Was it me?

Perhaps, like you once did, you will tell me something of your life. Maybe we can speak of other things and I will try my best not to interject the maddening ramblings of a lost lover who is more imagined than he is my self. Itís just the idea I find romantic, Claudia: the forbidden love, the distance between us, and the whispered promises I used to lick your ears with. Just play along, Darling, itís only a game.

With open arms,


Itís just that which I find so infuriating. That you are playing games with my life, with everything that I take seriously. You throw the harshest light on the darkest, most sacred things. You laugh lightly over everything I apprehend in the most solemn silence. You flip through the figures of my life quickly, considering them in bold, colorful strokes like the pictures on a pack of cards. Perhaps you can live as many lives as you can write; but I have just this one. I donít like to have you rolling it idly about between your fingertips like a brightly colored marble whenever you are bored or restless. Donít use me to escape your own unsatisfactory existence.

What do you want to know about me? Those small, revelatory moments: my husband slipping quietly into bed beside me, my back to him and the inches that separate us while I pretend to sleep, my sonís cries in the night, his reaching hands and questioning eyes, all my quiet frustration. God, it makes me so angry that you think you can turn my entire life into literary lyricism. That you do that with your own life is why you can never bring yourself to actually live it. If you could ever see what was actually happening around you, then you might be able to act in response and not merely spin out sentences in the sanctuary of your distant brain.

Do you really want to know? Or do you just want to imagine? If you want to know, Jacob and I are no longer together. I have an MBA and a job with a local non-profit. I live with Andrew in a two bedroom apartment. I try to make sure he never comes back from school to an empty home. He tells me stories about his day. He is very straightforward and articulate. We make dinner and do his homework. He goes to sleep and I read a book. He spends the weekends with Jacob who always plans some great adventure (sailing, fishing, hunting, camping) and executes it by the book. I spend the weekends shopping, cleaning, working. At night I read or I sit over a glass of wine at a bar and watch peopleís faces. Itís all pretty boring.

And as for my eyes, mostly I see them blurrily in the foggy mirror by the grey morning light and the only thing I can tell about them is that Iím sleepy. I donít have anyone to tell me what they look like; but I look into my sonís clear sparkling gaze and I know that mine is muddled with worry and surrounded by little lines. I feel my expression from beneath my skin and I know that it is flat and distant. And then you send me some skipping song about someone I donít think I ever even was and I just donít know what to say. I donít know who I am to you or why you think itís ok to force me to pretend along with you. I donít have time for games, Fernando, and Iím not interested in being a pawn in yours.


Oh Claudia,

I read your words again and again. Itís not easy; but I force myself to stand and face the relentless, bullying assault of your sentences. Your phrases ring in my ears. You speak of ďfalse yearningsĒ. There is nothing false about my yearnings, dear. I am nothing but a stretched out longing, the reverberating echo of a hopeful cry. And you who sit and wait so patiently, weaving your words of logic and resignation, what are you waiting for? The wind blows and time passes, Claudia. The full moon shakes its light into the soft gray clouds as it rolls across the sky and sinks into the engulfing light of day. And the color of the sky changes every instant. I try to clamp it between my teeth, to grip it firmly against the palms of my hands. But the more I see and feel the more I weep for everything that passes unheeded before inattentive eyes. Donít chide me with what Iíve forgotten, love. Once, the sun fell through the window and set your hair alight; your skin glowed golden and you looked straight at me with your eyes more green than hazel and Iíll remember it until I die.



I search in between your sentences, in between the closely cramped letters of your finely tuned words, all the while looking for nothing but the faintest image of myself there, hiding behind exaggerated descriptions and weighty, moody phrases. I never hear even an echo of my muffled cries, so suffocated they are by your heavy handed praises. What do you want from me, Fernando? Justification for your own inabilities? Am I some sort of God to you, something you pray to so that you donít have to endure the sting of the all-encompassing knowledge that each of us will die alone? Who am I to you but a fleeting, fading memory of something you wish you could have had?

I am nothing but a lingering recollection stretched out too thin across too long a time, and too far a distance. How like you to try to hold the moon in your mouth, press it between your palms. You think you can hand me the ocean in a paper cup. I donít wait patiently, Fernando; I just wait. And how long will have to wait before youíll understand?



What do I want from you, Claudia?

Only a kind word, my dear, only a soft touch. I just want the quietest whisper of sympathy. Donít you know what it means to me, that you might possibly understand? That you might read my words and know something of what I am when all that I have written lies in a bleak pile un-looked on and all that I will never write hangs heavily from my heels. You try to tell me that I must die alone. Donít you know that what I want is never to die? I want to be read, Claudia. When my cold, stiff, form is flung into the earth, I want my words to shake the air. I want weary eyes to glance up from what Iíve written and see the world skew to be viewed as I have viewed it. And then my consciousness will outlive my senses.

Whatís wrong with being a sculpted symbol, love? Only let me know you and Iíll chip out your features so finely that you, too, will never die.

Posted by: Becky Schwartz

Prose (January 3rd, 2006)