Message in a Sealed Letter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by HJFURL

Picture by Ava Sol on Unsplash. 1,200 words.

She sits in an old armchair, sits in the quiet of her living room in this modest house. The letter rests on the table next to its ripped-open envelope. The man from the pit delivered it - embarrassed, stern-faced - then departed with subdued and unheard words; glad to escape without further ado.

Her thoughts are jagged; do not cohere. She is consumed by memories - those densely-woven paths which led to that first meeting.

She had been a clever girl, top of her class in the village school, though that was not to say much, the pit village was small and remote. She’d passed the entrance exam for the grammar - the teacher had recommended it; her ambitious parents had urged her on - and was daily bussed there, back and forth, while her primary classmates trudged to the local comp.

Not just academically gifted, she was personable and good at games too. Some had thought her a candidate for head girl but that fate was undermined by her rebellious streak. That’s what they called it but not how she saw it. Her visceral instincts for justice and compassion formed her values: she would not compromise with the mealy-mouthed hypocrisy she saw everywhere. And as for boys - if you’re going to change the world, you don’t find much of interest in the macho young wannabes, strong of arm and empty of brain, strutting the local towns.

At university she studied literature and history, had many affairs - none of which lasted - and became a committed feminist. And then she returned home. Her village was slowly gentrifying but that wasn’t it. Her father was ill but that was not the root cause either. She could not have explained it to herself, but back she came, to work in the library and organise a Women's Committee: in her opinion there was plenty for it to do.

She had been chairing a meeting one evening in the library. Half a dozen women around a thin-topped table, the focus of aisles of books. They had discussed Equal Pay, were moving on to A Woman’s Right To Choose when there was a diffident tapping at the door. Discussion stopped as she went to investigate; eyes turned as she escorted back the slim young man who asked to address the meeting.

He was an official from the Mineworkers’ Union with a favour to ask. Perhaps her committee might be interested in linking up with Women Against Pit Closures - the Government was making threats again - and the local colliery was not very profitable: too hard to work, too unstable.

When, at his request, she took a drink with him in the local pub later that night, she found that his union had awarded him a scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford. He had only recently graduated, moving here to work in the regional branch.

“What did you study?” she challenged, expecting labour legislation, trade union law.

“Victorian poetry,” he said gently, “Tennyson, Hardy, Arnold.”

With so much to unite them, their romance was whirlwind. Soon married, they found adjustment taxing. Silences were icy, resentments strong, their infrequent reconciliations passionate. Yet in her heart of hearts she failed to grasp the essence of attachment. Her feminist causes she understood, they touched her very heart - but people? They came with vexing needs which never truly tracked her own.

It has been days now since the accident. Days in which the rescue gear had unaccountably failed or hit unforeseen snags. It was known that conditions were worsening and that the men could not hold out forever. The airshaft, all 2,000 constricted feet of it, was too narrow for rescue.

And now there was the letter.


Two thousand feet of fractured rock above.
I do not know if rescue comes our way.
One of my futures lies before your deep blue eyes
This message saying all that I can say.

Where do our thoughts go in these empty hours?
We eke out battery light, what’s there to see?
This black damp rock, encircling close, has no appeal
Nor does the water, slowly rising like the sea.

We are advised to huddle, blankets close.
Preserve the air, and so I choose to recollect.
Ransack my memories for the happiest times
And from my life the brightest jewels select.

Do you recall that night in our first flat?
That couch which faced the flickering fire’s display?
Intense desire which overtook us both?
Commitment we had not yet dared to say.

And then there was that bright lit afternoon
In our new house when you'd returned from play.
Your netball skirt was very short as you lay on the bed...
Your nervous, happy smile sufficed to consummate the day...

It's colder now but that's just me, I guess.
It's been a while since news and food and drink.
We understand their complications: sure, it’s hard.
And here, our bodies cold and wet, our spirits sink.

Do you recall that freezing northern shore?
That moonlit field where we made camp at end of day?
The wind was gusting, sputtering rain; the tent was like a kite!
We fought it down, secured our place to stay.

And inside, safe, the bed inflated, all goods stowed
We rested, canvas billowing around.
You looked at me, the shadows flicked across your face.
We moved as one, dark energies unbound

There was no talk, no words, no dialogue,
With urgent haste our clothes flew to the floor
You left your tee-shirt on despite it all
The cold which climbs our limbs and wants it all.

I wanted to outlive you, hold your hand
As you passed on, beyond the end of days.
But fate has chosen me to be the selfish one,
Leaving you abandoned at the parting of our ways.

I'm thinking of you now as I write this
Your eyes so quick to glare and melt and shine
Flirtatious fingers curled around my own
Your eager lips caressing gently mine.

But time will bleach your memories, they’ll recede
The world needs your response - and people too.
Embrace it all, as we agreed, and put me to one side
And sitting here, in peace, I’ll see things through.


She finished rereading it. What was she feeling?

Not grief.

Her world had not turned upside down. She did not feel abandoned, or lonely in desolation, or any of those things.

She felt instead astonished. Astonished that he had felt this way. This is what he thought their relationship had been? This had been the extent of his misapprehension, this shallow sentimentality?

Shock that at the last he had been impelled to write such shoddy, superficial poetry.

She felt disappointed in him. Shame that she had overestimated his worth. Not that she cared what people thought, of course. But had they believed she deserved better?

And now, steps on the path. The door opens, her visitor enters the room. Dry-eyed, they exchange glances, her mother still puffing from her hasty arrival, staring expectantly at her daughter. Her mother who had privately mocked the too-earnest and so-serious young man. Her mother who had been proven so right. Well, never again.

What does she really feel?

She feels free.

Submitted: January 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 AdamCarlton. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



This is sensational Adam, and I love the emphasis in your poem - excellent prose so expertly interwoven with telling poetry to create an intensely satisfying whole.

Sun, January 24th, 2021 12:57pm


Thank you, HJ. I struggled long to understand my heroine; at last I felt the slightest tug, unveiling aspects of her truth...

Sun, January 24th, 2021 5:26am


What a perfectly drawn character you gave us here, Adam. Beautiful writing as always.

Sun, January 24th, 2021 7:01pm


Thanks, Hully. I spent quite a bit of time trying to 'inhabit' both parties here. Also to try to make each an 'unreliable narrator' - an exercise in self-deception and error for both of them.

My New Year's Resolution: get to know my characters better!

Sun, January 24th, 2021 11:17am


I find a lot of the time that not the finished written product to be the most satisfying, but the actual writing of it that moves me along. Creating the characters, getting to know them. I am by their side in their struggles and joy and pain. Once the tale is told It is satisfying, but time to move on and make friends with a new character. The creative process is a passionate creature that keeps bringing us back time, and time again.
You have woven a living breathing, complex character and given us a peek into their life. And as always done with passion and sensual sensibility.
Wonderful work as usual.

Mon, January 25th, 2021 10:22am


Thank you. And that richly visualised depiction of the writing process is warmly familiar - including the desire to escape, to move on to a new character, a new dilemma.

Mon, January 25th, 2021 7:26am

88 fingers

Exceptionally well written.

Mon, January 25th, 2021 11:49pm


Thank you for reading and for your kind comment.

Tue, January 26th, 2021 1:07am

Ann Sepino

I'm so glad I clicked on this story. We don't 'see' hide nor hair of the other half of this story's lead, but we know him well through the poem and the MC's thoughts. The characterization of each party is beautiful, as is the way that they contrast. :)

Tue, January 26th, 2021 2:00pm


Thanks. That's exactly what I was trying to achieve. Glad you liked it. As for me, let's say I still struggle to understand my life...

Tue, January 26th, 2021 7:17am



Mon, February 15th, 2021 11:13am


Thank you. It was really rather heart-felt, but I suspect we've all been there.

Mon, February 15th, 2021 7:23am

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