THE BLANK LETTER

After all, almost everybody seems to be aware that this possibility is not just a hypothesis but the only true reality. Take for example the chess player, who contends that moves actually made have no sense without the potential moves, the ones which could have been played. And so on. Yet, Mike the Measure seems to know this best, and has known it for a long time. When somebody gets married and happily sires children on the basis of this blank, literally empty possibility, he cannot accept it in any other way but as the most immediate reality. Never mind that Mike accepts every possible reality easily and gladly, at the expense of all hypotheses, ideas, interpretations. He was 23 and about to graduate when he fell head over heels in love with a lassie, an extramural student, who studied and had a job, an independent, capable, clever creature in a nutshell, a true mate. So Mike, hardly knowing her name, fell in love. Be that as it may, every afternoon in the college library he swotted away until closing time, until eight, studied and said nothing, never said she was studying there too. Then one day he said:

Mishko, I must!

Must what, Mike?

I must, come what may!

This was the first time I had seen him slightly off his rocker, to my mind it was quite becoming: a vivacious, restive look, desire sparkling in his eyes. I got the impression that he could strangle me and her and himself and the whole world in a jiffy. Now or never!

I'll write a letter, I'll put it in her book and to hell with it! Who does she think she is, eh?

Sure, Mike, sure! I said. And what will you write in the letter?

Ah, well, that's what I was going to ask you. You were always better with words somehow. Come on, help me, be a pal, now or never!

So I started to help him, like: Distinguished Miss, it is my great privilege and I do not know what happy circumstances I should thank... or: Please, I beg you, do not misinterpret my clumsy suggestion... or: Watching you daily engrossed in your books, I cannot resist the feeling that happiness is possible... etc. Mike watched, watched me sweating and wearing out the paper. Perhaps this encouraged him, because he snatched the paper, crumpled it and threw it away.

Forget it, thanks, there's no need! he said resolutely.

What d'you mean?

Nothing. I'll give her a blank letter!

You kidding?

No, I was never more serious. I'll simply write Miss So-and-So...

Not even the sender?

Not even the sender. She'll know if she wants to know! He was still the old Mike. If it's to happen, it will without a single word, and if not, I'm done for, no matter what I write! he said clenching his jaw.

Guess what happened next. I was in the library that afternoon when Mike seized his chance and slid the letter into her book. She came back. Mike pretended he was studying, his head clasped between his hands, bent over the book, only his ears on fire. She felt there was something between the pages, felt with her finger, took out the letter, opened it, looked: a blank. Whether she was surprised or not I don't know, but she folded it and bent again over her book. Oh, Lord! I thought, what's going on? Wonders will never cease! I looked at Mike, then at her: both engrossed in their books, Mike's ears still aflame. Her ears I could not see, her hair hid them... Gosh, it was taking a long time. Everyone was studying except me, who had nothing to do with any of this but, torn by curiosity, kept on fidgeting.

At long last she stood up, took a comb out of her bag and ran it through her hair a couple of times. Then she took the letter and headed straight for Mike:

Excuse me...

Mike raised his head slowly and looked her straight in the eye. A moment passed.

I'm here, I'm not running away!

For an instant, she seemed at a loss but then continued with her questions: This is from you?

It is. I don't deny it.

But why a blank?

Because.

They fell silent. Mike's teeth were clenched. He changed colour.

At long last she ventured: Don't you have anything to write?

Mike did not reply, did not move. All of him was in that look fixed on the strange letter she was holding in her hand, there between the two of them.

She put it silently on Mike's desk. He darted a quick, sideways look up at her, but she continued to stand there. Then he quickly took the pencil and started to write something. She bent over him.

Give me the pencil! and she wrote something too.

Mike seemed to blossom. He broke out in a smile, even though he would have liked to remain serious, eyes full of a bliss he did not want her to see. He seemed to want to say something, or perhaps he did not want to say anything.

If...I'm not...we...

She smiled, nodded and returned to her desk. Who knew what they were thinking of then! The letter had been quite forgotten. It was left aside, already a memento, cherished, perhaps the dearest they would ever have, but now inadequate for all eternity, incapable of containing all the wishes and all the future a tiny symbol to which they had no time to refer.

I stood up and passing by Mike's desk, looked surreptitiously back. All that was written there was: Will you come to the movies with me tonight? and Why not?

Those were the magic words.

And so I was their best man. Sometimes we reminisce about the letter. To this day Mike's motto is: Without a single word, with the help of God!

 

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(From ESSAY ON GOD, translated by
Mary Popovi
)