Another letter arrived.

This one was postdated the 15th and made out to, once again, My Daughter.

Just as she had with all of the letters after the first, Shelby thought about not opening the envelope.  About leaving this letter unread.

Her resolve began to crack as she ran her fingers over its return address, Pell Asylum, written in what looked to be a child’s hand, with its crooked l’s and backward y.

Shelby’s mother, Anne, had been institutionalized for over ten years, but it had only been in the last three months that the letters had come.  At first Shelby was overjoyed at the thought that her mother had gotten well enough to correspond  with her, even if only by mail.

But then she read the first letter.

It made no sense to Shelby.  She read of things that she and her mother had never done; conversations that they had never had.  The first letter, in its choppy, almost nonsensical way, described a wonderful life of decadence and travel.  Of wishes fulfilled and fantastic dreams come true.

That had not been Shelby’s life.

Shelby remembered the last time she had seen her mother, before the state saw to Anne’s care.  During their last conversation, in a way to “cut away the bugs” from Shelby’s then fifteen-year-old arms and face, Anne had chased her through their house with a butcher knife, slicing and cutting.

Shelby still wore long-sleeved shirts to hide the worst of her scars.

To the daughter in her letters, this stranger so far as Shelby was concerned, Anne wrote in a far more loving, if not altogether lucid, tone than Shelby had ever known from her.

Anne’s doctor told Shelby not to read too much into it when she called him about the letters, saying that Anne wasn’t coherent on any actual level.  She was merely stringing words together, no more than nonsense, really.  He had let Anne start writing when the letters became the only thing that calmed her down from her fits.  Anne had lost the ability to communicate like normal people, the doctor said.

Shelby thought the doctor was terrible and decided she didn’t like him.

Shelby had called her dad in Oklahoma about hearing from her mother, but quickly regretted it.  He just made fun; laughing about Anne’s gibberish and told Shelby not to worry about it.

Her dad laughing made it worse.

Not long after the letters started, Shelby would get distracted by an awful thought.  She wondered if this other daughter, to whom the letters must have been intended, was a secret that Anne had never told anyone about.  Or that maybe she had, and that Shelby’s dad had known about her too, though he claimed that Anne never had another, once Shelby broke down and put the question to him.

She could tell he was lying.

She wondered who else was lying.  In the letters from Anne, mistakenly mailed to the wrong daughter,  Shelby had discovered a life that had been kept from her.  A secret.  As the years progressed, Anne had stopped being tender toward Shelby, and now Shelby knew why.

There had been a better daughter.  One who didn’t have bugs.

Shelby decided to open the letter.  Maybe this time it would be to her.  Maybe this time Anne would say she loved her.  She could forgive everything up until now, if she could just be acknowledged.  She could let it go, the hurt and jealousy, with one kind word from her mother.

Shelby ripped the envelope open, pulled out the single sheet of paper and read the simple message.

See, Here Ends Little Blue Yonder.  I Lost One Voice, Eternally.  Yet Our Uncommon Popularity Left Enough Answers.  So, Eventually Forget Our Routine.  Go, Instead, Vacationing Europe, Meeting Everyone.

Shelby couldn’t handle it.  Another message for the other daughter, the one Anne loved best.

Something let go inside of Shelby then, and she felt lighter.  At ease.  So her mother had forgotten her.  Shelby didn’t care.  Her dad had his family in Oklahoma and didn’t really think about her either.  That was okay, too.  With this new sense of lightness, Shelby felt like she could float away.  Just fly off into the blue yonder that Anne talked about.

Shelby wadded up Anne’s letter as, with a vacant smile, she noticed how high the roof of her apartment building was.

Advertisements