In the lounge room of his parents’ house, embers glowed in the fireplace. Adam balled up some newspaper and dropped it into the grate, along with some twigs. A log sat at the back, a charcoal crescent in its centre. He watched the fire take hold, flames blue at their heart, the yellow edges licked and danced.
His father was still at the funeral home selecting a casket. He had been bowed with grief, his features grey.
‘Please, I need you to go through her papers and find her will. It should be in her desk drawers somewhere.’
The air in the study was chilled and dust-laden. Adam turned on the heater and sat at her desk chair, the leather smooth under his fingertips. He opened one drawer, then another, aimless. His sight blurred with sudden tears and he withdrew a manila envelope. Glancing inside he saw only insurance forms. Another folder contained scrunched up receipts. He pulled out the bottom drawer. A Turkish box, inlaid with wood and mother of pearl was half-concealed beneath some magazines.
He wasn’t sure why, but his heart thudded as he reached down and picked it up. Inside was a blue velvet insert. He prised it out and saw dozens of envelopes. Letters. He hesitated. Letters were not what he was looking for, they weren’t his business. But they called to him, urged him to read and understand.
The first one was brief, the handwriting sloping and spiked, as if written in a hurry.
The weeks between your letters stretch out arid and blank. I wait for your words to quench me. I arrived in Rangoon yesterday and I keep reliving our meeting, your hair in my fingers, your soft cheek. This posting will be for another three months, then I will return and see you again.
All my love,
Adam’s mouth went dry. His hands shook as he read one letter after another, each one more impassioned than the last. He could feel the trajectory of the affair, see its mountains and valleys, its emotional landscape. The enormity and depth of feeling. A diplomat, also married.
He imagined his mother’s words in response. Did they echo his, as she dashed them off before serving their father his chops and mashed potato? He remembered his parents standing at the door in the mornings. His mother would brush down his father’s lapels and kiss him goodbye, her full lips painted red.
Adam had spent his youth observing the great love his father had for his mother, his eyes never leaving her. She was his centre point, the magnet in his compass. In her absence he was quiet and withdrawn. Adam wondered if it was oppressive, to be loved in this way. If she could breathe beneath it.
He held the letters in his hands, inhaled their musty scent. They seemed innocuous, yet had the power to crush, to wound.
Adam left the study and walked back to the lounge room. The fire roared and crackled, its orange flames leapt. He stood for a while, embraced by the heat.
In a quick movement he tossed the letters into its mouth, where they were consumed in an instant.