By Abbie Leeson
Edited by Hannah Laker
It’s funny how your mind gives a face to a voice, isn’t it? How do you imagine me? Do you imagine me plain? Am I detailed? Have you read my name and assigned a character to me? This letter is for you. You, specifically. It’s not often nowadays that we get to write these to one another. I know for certain that I’ll wake to thirty emails in the morning, but definitely no letters. Perhaps a postal bank statement, at best. They’ve become so rare now, those bleeding pages, the image of hungry hands, scrawling lines. I think of the clean, clinical letters I receive through the post: bleach-white, folded with mechanical accuracy.
Is it nice to be addressed so personally? I used to send letters like this to my friends in childhood. They weren’t fancy – chunks of crumpled printer paper, smattered with glitter and crayon wax. I’d write to them about my week, mostly. I used to relay every second of my day to them, used to condense time into words somehow. I remember sitting cross-legged on a duvet, the paper resting on an old children’s encyclopedia book, balanced between my knees. I’d write on both sides, often so hard that it’d sink through the page and indent the cover beneath it.
We’d send presents too, crayon drawings, scribbled onto the backs of sweet wrappers.Curl pipe cleaners into love hearts. Fill paper pockets with glitter and label them ‘fairy dust’. Now, our letters to each other are traded out for Saturday drinks. We share stories over expensive cocktails, blurt things into existence, drink enough to forget them by morning.
Keats seemed to believe that there was a sort of immortality birthed through writing. I think he was right, in a way. I like to think there are two stages of life on Earth. Firstly, we live as humans. Later, we live as remains. We leave (and discover) traces of ourselves everywhere. We tuck pieces of ourselves into scrapbooks; into shop receipts; into lists. We leave paper trails, digital footprints. We collect pieces of those we’ve lost, treasure things they’ve touched. In the end, our trail is all that is left of us.
To me, my Great Aunt is a single birthday card, scrawled in long, slanting lettering. My Grandad is an old army certificate, still marked by his signature, a lifetime after his death. I leave traces of myself everywhere. I leave a remnant behind in diary entries; in late-night work emails. I leave a piece of myself here, for your collection. Ask any back-pack-wearing, gap-year-taker what they found in their treks to the mountains, and they’ll so often say: ‘myself’. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? People speak of ‘finding yourself’ like you were left someday in an old coat pocket, mid-childhood. But, somehow, they’re always right in the end. Someday, that’s exactly where we’ll be found.
I think of the letters my friends once sent to me, those tiny pockets of time, still stuffed into decade-old envelopes. My 10-year-old friend lives inside those pages, not as she is now, but as she was then. As I write this, I think of a quote by Amal El-Mohtar:
“There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there? I imagine you laughing at my small joke; I imagine you groaning; I imagine you throwing my words away. Do I have you still? Do I address empty air and the flies that will eat this carcass? You could leave me for five years, you could return never—and I have to write the rest of this not knowing.”Amal El- Mohtar, This is How You Lose the Time War
I have to write the rest of this not knowing if you’re even reading it. ‘Hi reader’, I want to say. You’ve found a piece of me, some proof of who I was; that I existed. You’re here reading this, and I’m here writing it, and time seems to evaporate between us. Do I have you still?
What remnants have you left behind? How many birthday cards have you signed with a name and a kiss? How many emails have you sent? How many passive-aggressive post-it note reminders have you left on colleagues’ desks?
Here at The Letters Page, we collect these remnants. Have a look at our submission guidelines here and send us some of yours. Leave a piece of yourself between our pages. You never know who might pick it up.
The Letters Page team are back in the office, and ready to read your real letters again. We publish stories, essays, poems, memoir, reportage, criticism, recipes, travelogue, and any hybrid forms, so long as they come to us in the form of a letter. We are looking for writers of all nationalities and ages, both established and emerging.
Your letter must be sent in the post, to :
The Letters Page, School of English, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.
See our submissions page for more information.
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