Gary Moshimer’s stuff appears in PANK, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train, Bluestem, Necessary Fiction, and other places.
The old hotel on the hill above our town was scheduled for demolition. We were sad, my wife and I, because years ago we’d danced there and made love in many of the rooms, conceived our son in room 18, and admired many sunrises and sunsets from the balconies. She tossed me off one of the balconies, just fooling around, and broke my arm.
But before the razing happened, a funnel cloud came over the mountain and did the job. The tornado never touched down in town, thankfully, but the debris from the hotel rained upon us. Pieces of glass pierced the sides of our house. Wooden siding with peeled paint littered my roof. Decades of old newspapers were strewn about, some clinging to trees like posters for lost years. An old divan sat on our lawn. And something embarrassing: the love letters to my wife’s sister.
We had worked at the hotel when it was first built. Her name was Elizabeth, seventeen to my wife’s twenty-one. I hadn’t even met my wife yet. Her sister was my true love at the time. I wrote her a letter each day. Some I gave her and others I hid in the many secret panels which were built into the heavy woodwork. The idea was that they’d be discovered long after we were gone. Well, here they were, on my lawn and all over town, folded and intact. And of course my wife opened the first ones before I realized what was going on.
“Dear Elizabeth,” she read, sitting on the divan. “I will never love another. You have my heart forever...” She read on, all the sappy stuff I had believed so fiercely back then. Hearing the words about took the legs from under me. I fell next to her, but she kicked me onto the ground. She was much bigger and stronger than me, the reason I had married her, some weakness I hated in myself. I tried to laugh. I said, “Can you believe that?” but she told me to shut up and listen. She knew my handwriting; it hadn’t changed a bit over the years. The problem was I never wrote her anything like this. Her voice shook as she told me to shut up again.
She stomped around the yard and the street picking up letters. “Jesus. Where were these?”
She twisted my ear. She knew I could not lie to her.
“In the walls,” I said. “Secret places.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me about these places? All the time we spent there? Ray?”
“Only the workers knew. We were sworn.”
She slapped my face.
“Honey, that was before I knew you. Elizabeth was the only girl...”
“Oh, yeah, that’s obvious. She was the only girl.”
“Honey, I was so stupid...”
She opened some more and read them. “These are not stupid, Ray. My god.” A tear ran down her cheek, the first one I’d seen from her in twenty years.
“But then you came along...” I said.
This time she elbowed my chest, a popping sound.
She walked farther down the street, over other lawns, gathering all the papers. A few Elizabeth had written to me. My wife read as she walked away from me, into the strange pinkish light after the storm. “She sure loved you back. No wonder she’s the way she is. It’s your fault, Ray. Why’d you hurt her?”
“You came along, Honey.”
“Bullshit. You were afraid of me. I made you love me. You never wrote letters.”
“I was more mature for you. I knew what I wanted.”
She kept going. She found an empty box and stacked the letters in. “You know what? We’re going over to her place, and you’re going to read them to her.”
“That would be cruel. You know it.”
“Goddamn life is cruel. It’s cruel and it’s a lie.”
She threw me and the box into our car. She peeled out of the driveway and out of town, over hills and hollows to where Elizabeth stayed. We passed through pink and yellow fog and thumped over fallen black branches without slowing down. My wife’s great breasts heaved against the steering wheel. She loved her sister. Now she had something to blame her sister’s condition on: me.
It was a group home and Elizabeth had the pink room at the top of the stairs. They dressed her in pink, too. Today a big pink ribbon hung from her black hair. Lately her feet had started to turn in, and she walked funny down the stairs, like an old person. Her legs were unshaven, and that burned me up. I pictured her way back in her hotel maid uniform sliding next to the banister with her feather duster, how I waited at the bottom and when no one was around scooped her protectively into my arms. Even then there was something not right; it was starting. She was forgetting how to talk. I thought she was just dazed by my kisses. She’d pecked at my lips in silence, sad like she knew she was going somewhere. Where? I sensed it, too. Don’t go, I whispered into her ears while planting dry kisses all over them. I love you.
“Honey,” I said to my wife. “Don’t do this.”
“Why, Ray? She likes fires.”
Elizabeth clapped her hands. “Yay.”
She followed us to the back yard, the fire ring. My wife dumped the letters in. She handed one to Elizabeth to look at, but I took it right away. I slipped it into my pocket. My wife drew a lighter from her bosom and torched the pile. Elizabeth clapped. The flames changed colors: old tears on the paper.
My wife was mesmerized, so I crept up behind Elizabeth. I slid my arm around her waist. She leaned back into me and I gently touched her neck with my lips. She smelled the same as back then. Something wonderful and terrible ground to a halt inside me.
My wife snapped out of it. “Well,” she said, hands on hips. “That is that!”
But then she started to cry. She bear hugged the two of us and said she was so sorry. She shouldn’t have done that. It was a long time ago. She told me it was time to go. I wouldn’t let go of Elizabeth. I didn’t want to. I kept my face to her neck where I felt the strange cooing sound she made just short of a cry or a scream or a laugh. My wife had to rip me loose and put me in the car. She had me strapped in before I could say anything. I tried to turn around but she squeezed my head and said to only look forward, it wouldn’t do anyone any good.