The Letter

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Gerry,

I love you.

There. It's out, in the open between us. After all my soul searching it was easy to say. Especially easy as there is no chance that you will ever receive this letter.

Nevertheless, I imagine your face as you read this. Your eyes, warm as melted chocolate, widening in surprise, your narrow lips pursed in confusion. Will you read this all the way through or simply flip it over, right now, to see whose name is at the bottom of the page?

Will you remember me? Smile tolerantly as you read these words, feel perhaps a little smug that you were right all along?

Or will you toss this away in bewildered disgust, rejecting a stranger's rambling thoughts.

I will never know, but I can hope for kindness.

I remember the first time we met, how could I not? You were wearing red jeans and a yellow shirt, standing out from all the other academics in their dark trousers and jackets with fake leather elbow patches, like an exotic bird in a flock of crows. Me in my grey suit, delivering an after dinner lecture on Papua. Old scholar returns from wilderness, studying primitive tribes no white person has ever seen.

I remember, you were the only listener, or maybe it was just that I couldn't take my eyes off you. Though I pretended to be looking elsewhere. I remember, you came up to me afterwards, to ask me to sit with you and have a drink. I remember the way you touched my shoulder and smiled. Foolishly I accepted, telling myself what harm could it do? Just a drink with a handsome young man. In public. Safe, hurting no one. Except myself.

You may be interested to know, I'm here again. In Papua, but this time on a tiny island no-one has ever heard of. Studying the remains of an early settlement, long since deserted. There is no one else here alive on the island, but there are plenty of graves, or what passes for graves. Bones.

I came here deliberately, to be alone, to think, the study was just an excuse. My midlife crisis, my sister Julia calls it, dismissively, and it's true I suppose. I've just turned fifty and all of a sudden I want to know, what am I doing with my life, where am I going? It's such a cliché, pathetic. On the surface everything is fine, better than fine, the house is paid off, we have two cars in the garage and best of all two beautiful children. What have I got to complain about? Nothing, nothing at all.

It's morning again and I'm having trouble getting motivated to continue my research. Who am I kidding? I haven't even started any research, at least nothing that deserves the name. Just some walking around, taking photos, poking and prodding, setting up camp. Waiting for the ferry to come back at the end of the week and pick me up. Looking for distractions.

Last night I was going to toss this on the fire, but I thought, why leave it there? Finish the damn thing. Still a coward.

Where was I? That's right, remembering the first time we met.

Sitting next to you, talking into the early hours, our knees gravitating towards each other, very, very slowly. Touching.

All I can tell you is the truth. I panicked.

I remember your astonishment when I blurted out that I was married, with two children. I could see the shutter come down over your face, the immediate withdrawal, the scornful twist of your brows. Who are you trying to kid, you thought. You saw me better than I saw myself.

I've never believed in destiny, or God for that matter, but afterwards, it seemed as if I was the victim of a mischievous fate. I kept running into you. If I went into the staff room you were there. Outside, I'd see you crossing the courtyard ahead of me or entering the building where I was about to go. I stalked you online, following your tutorials, watching what I could see of you on facebook. Always from a distance, never having the courage to meet you face to face.

In my defence, I made my choice years ago and I've stuck to it. I've always been faithful, at least physically.

But now, out here totally alone, I wonder what if? What if I wrote to you and told you that I love you?

Alistair

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