Warnings (highlight to view): character death
due South Flashfiction challenge: documentation
Caroline Hunter had never known her grandfather Fraser, but she felt as though she had. He died the year she was born, in 2037, but unlike many elderly relatives whose memory faded from consciousness as quickly as a summer blizzard, this man would be remembered in hundreds of stories passed down by all who knew him.
In her eighteenth year, spurred by a need to know directly, without the mediation of another mind or the pleasant haze of memory, she opened the trunk.
The standard forms were there--commendations from the RCMP, retirement papers, pension details. Copies of tax returns. A marriage certificate, dated February 2004. Adoption papers for her mother, 2005, and her uncle, 2006. Records of vaccinations: mumps, rubella, measles, DPTP, West Nile.
Her finger trembled as she traced the outline of her mother's footprint.
Margaret, six weeks.
The letters were bound with old, thin silk ribbon, like the kind her grandmother Hunter used to embroider parkas. She hesitated over the untying of the knot, although it was not difficult once the decision was made. Unlike the other papers, held together with disintegrating rubber bands or stored in carefully-marked envelopes, this binding was a lock rather than merely a convenient way to keep like memories together.
The paper was soft to the touch.
May 12, 1999
You wanted me to write to you, so I'm writing. Nobody mails letters anymore, you know that? No, you probably don't. You're the only one who could get me to do this. No, that's a lie, my seventh grade English teacher had me writing like crazy. But then she was a knockout.
I'm trying to figure out what you want to hear. I want to give you that. Wanted--goddamnit. Not enough. Too much.
Language, Ray. Yeah.
There's not enough room on this paper. Not enough room on the whole fucking planet.
Who am I kidding? I'll never mail this.
Caroline returned the letter to its envelope, studied the yellowing stamp still clinging tenaciously to the surface.
US. A flag, waving in a long-dead breeze.
She pulled the next out of its hiding place.
June 6, 1999
You expected that letter to make me feel better? You forgive me? You fucking forgive me? Bet it was a lot easier to do on paper, a thousand miles away.
You didn't forgive me at the airport, when I ran so fast I left rubber on the asphalt. Your voice, your face, your goddamned eyes didn't forgive me then. So why is it so easy now, huh?
Oh, my God. You found someone, didn't you?
I want to call you. I can't. It's too fast. These letters are perfect for the way I've felt since I came back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the...whatever.
I feel like I'm walking through molasses. Frozen molasses.
Jesus, I can hear you. "You can't walk through frozen molasses, Ray."
Did you? Did you find someone? Would you tell me if you had?
I don't want us to be strangers. I don't want to wake up in five years with no memory of your voice. Your hands. The way you--
Shit. This isn't fair to you. I know that. I know. I won't send this one, I'll edit it, sanitize it for your protection.
Or maybe not. Maybe I don't want to protect you.
Maybe I don't want to protect me.
There was only one other letter, this one on different, heavier lined paper, and quite worn around the edges. Caroline unfolded it with care.
August 27, 1999
I've been carrying your last letter around next to my skin for three weeks now. I've been trying to figure out where to put it. Where to keep it. Right now there doesn't seem to be any other place for it to go.
I threw it away eight times. There's a soy sauce stain on the envelope from last night's takeout. The takeout that reminded me of you, which is both the reason why it ended up in the garbage and the reason why I fished it out again.
And I thought, I can't eat takeout alone. Not anymore.
And just like that, it made sense.
I'm coming. Fair warning. If you don't want to see me, you can leave a message, leave town, go out on the tundra and run with the caribou or something for a couple of days. I'll get it, and I'll go back home, no questions asked, no explanations needed. Because I know I hurt you. I know that. And I'm so fucking sorry, Frase, you have no idea.
Or maybe you do. You always did.
Don't call. It's too fast, still.
Did you know? Did you plan this all along? Because I needed this slowness to make me understand. I should be back to my regular speed by the time you get this. By the time I get there, I'll be a fucking juggernaut.
You like that word, huh? I knew you would.
Caroline read and reread the letter until a dull tingling throb in her calves told her they'd fallen asleep.
She reunited the letter with its fellows and carefully retied the knot in the thin silk ribbon, then kneaded her abused muscles until the blood flowed freely.
Rising on unsteady legs, Caroline went in search of her Grandfather Kowalski's trunk.
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