Challenge: You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.
*Author’s note: This story is a fictional rendering of a true event.
The Note in the Lilacs
I knocked on the door of the unfamiliar white house. Standing in the shade of the covered porch, I look around for signs of the missing girl. Faded tulips line the front walk. The lawn is perfectly manicured, minus two dandelions interrupting the idyllic setting.
The door clicks and moves slowly from its resting spot. Silver hair frames the smooth skin of the woman’s face. Blue eyes appear tired, maybe at one time they were bright, but are now dulled by her recent loss. She is wearing a pink sweater with a golden framed necklace, inside a photo of a teenage girl with long brown hair and a beautiful smile.
She invites me to sit on the furniture, a collection of three palm-leaf cushioned wicker seats. I choose the chair on the end of the porch. She immediately excuses herself to go back inside. My palms are sweaty. I rub them on my legs, nervous for the conversation with this person I don’t know.
She returns with a tray of lemonade and pink flowered glasses. Setting them down on the low table she comments about how nice the weather has been lately. She sits to my left on the wicker love seat that is backed against the house. Pouring the glasses of lemonade, she hands me one and I immediately thank her and take a drink.
“I want to apologize”, I begin to say, “for reading the letter you wrote to your daughter. Actually, my daughter found it. We took a walk to the school one night and she wanted to roll down the grassy hill, so I let her. As she was playing, I was smelling the lilacs.”
“How old is she?” the lady interrupted.
“Six”, I answer with a slight smile.
“Oh, what a good age that is. Julie liked to play with dolls when she was six.”, her face swept into a happy memory, but the grief wore itself as if stained onto the fabric of her skin. “Oh, but go on. I want to hear your story.”
“OK. Aileen was playing on the hill and I left the lilac bushes to go to the top of the hill to watch her. I sat down to give her time to play. I pulled out my phone to take pictures, but realized someone had left a message. I was listening to the message when Aileen came up to me with a note in her hand.”
The woman’s face remained calm, patient.
“So I read it.” I didn’t know how she would react when I told her this. Will she be angry I was telling her this? Is she going to make me leave?
“It’s OK,” she says forgivingly. “I didn’t hide it very well. Lilacs were Julie’s favorite flowers, so I put the note there where I knew she’d find it.”
“I’m really very sorry ma’am. I didn’t mean to read your letter, and I’m sorry about your loss. I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through.”
“No, you can’t imagine. The hell it is to lose your daughter at 16. I won’t see her playing with her friends, or laughing, or going to dances. I’ll never see her get married, or have children…”
I let her continue, offering my hand to hers. Tears pool in her eyes, and like a concentrated drip of life, a single tear runs down the curve of her upper cheek. She doesn’t wipe it away, as if she knows the attempt would be futile at removing her grief.
“You have your daughter”, she says finally. “Enjoy her. Squeeze her. Love her. Every chance you get tell her she’s the most important person in the world to you. You never know what can happen in this mean world.”
I nod my head in agreement, my tear-filled eyes watching her face for a hint of finality.
“And,” she says, “tell her she’s beautiful.”
“I will,” I say as my eyes eventually overflow, wiping the tear from my cheek with the pad of my hand.
Standing to leave, I straighten my skirt. Wiping my eyes one more time, I thank her for the lemonade and for letting me come to meet her. When she stands, we instinctively move toward each other to offer not only our first, but also our final, hug.
I walk away slowly past the faded tulips. The lightness of the afternoon air carries the fragrance of lilacs, and I hold a mother’s note in my heart.