The Last Letter
She walked in the cold surf and felt the sand between her toes. And smelled the ocean air—inhaling deeply—so she could take it with her, remembering it. On the beach, she watched the wind carry away the sand she sifted in her hands, thinking how fragile and fleeting life and everything else is.
She walked the coast where storms have carved away the land leaving only raw, jagged cliffs. She visited the cemeteries. First the Canadian. Then the British. And the American, where she walked aimlessly the sea of white granite crosses and Stars of David—standing proud and tall in endless rows stretching across the rolling meadows. She stood in awe and listened to their silence. And to the wind in the trees. And to her heart pounding.
She drove inland, getting lost eventually. At a fork in the road, she got out of her rental and looked at the map. But didn’t find the names—whether of the roads or towns—posted on the road signs.
She walked around the car, looking about. Leaned against it and began reading a letter she retrieved from her purse.
My Dearest Sarah, it said. We’re somewhere in France, in the country. It’s a charming place. We could build our home here. Lush trees. Tall grass. Stoney brook zips through the field. The sky—crystal blue. Tomorrow we advance over the ridge. It’s a long way to Berlin. Love Emma’s photograph. I wish I could be with you both. My sweet Love, take care. I love you! Don’t have a rose so I’m sending you poppy petals—they grow here in the valley. Forever yours, Benny.
Emma folds the crumpled and yellowed letter stained with her mother’s tears. And her own. And puts it back into its tattered envelope. It came in the mail—on her tenth birthday—nine years after the war. It’s the last letter her father sent before listed MIA.
She looks at the sky. It’s overcast—not crystal blue. A white dove cuts low overhead, catching her attention. She follows it, driving fast, until she sees it no more. As she passes over a wooden bridge, wind snatches the letter from under the windshield. “No!” She slams the brakes as dry petals rain out of the envelope across a dirt road. In a field, she stumbles over stones to find the letter. When she does, Emma realizes it’s a dry river bed and follows it. The ravine turns into a valley carpeted with the red poppies—waltzing in the evening breeze. She walks about, climbs to the ridge and squints—hand over eyes—to spy a roadside monument in the distance.
Her high school French has withered away like the time itself, and she finds the monument’s dedication impossible to understand. She walks around it, looking at the engraved names on its sides. The Canadian. The British. The American. At the top of one of the name columns, Benjamin Goldstein stands out in her watery crystal blue eyes.
At fifty-five, Emma found her father she never knew.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Art, which we create, often competes for attention and appreciation with the “perfect” beauty of nature, which we most of the time simply take for granted. I find beauty in anything that exhibits harmony and rhythm in its design or arrangement. In the arts, for me, beauty is the soul and essence of the artwork.
The specific beauty of our work reflects who we are as artists, and, more importantly, as humans. Its creation is a free-flowing process which cannot always be anticipated. In many ways, it’s a twisted journey of discovery, sometimes of groping in darkness. I believe that beauty comes from deep within our souls—the very nucleus—where our passions, not only joys but also our sorrows, reside.
Writing my stories mostly at night, I’m acutely aware of just how busy, with no time to spare, we all are these days. This fact always haunts me even when doing other things like painting or photography. Because of it, I strive hard for my stories to have a soul whose beauty touches the reader. Not necessarily to change readers’ lives but rather to have them walk away with food for thought. It’s my way of saying “thank you” for allowing me into their lives, even if only for a precious few minutes.
Though beauty will always be subjective, life without it would be utterly depressing, if not suicidal. That’s why I believe beauty is so abundant in nature. And why we who are in the arts try to learn from it and, in our own humble ways, endeavor to expand on it, hoping to better the man-made world. And ourselves.
Joseph Baran is a New Jersey-based fiction writer and poet, industrial designer by profession. His current work in progress is a Holocaust story inspired by his family member’s recollections. His flash fiction, “Charade,” has appeared in People Holding.