Alene and I did know each other briefly in the late 1990s. She had an online friendship with someone I’d known most of my life — and he had a feeling we would really get along. So we did meet in person on a couple of occasions when she visited England. I used the internet a lot at work, but I didn’t have access at home, or a personal email account even, so our limited correspondence was via snail mail, which she addressed to a post office box I still had from a side project that was winding down. (I was not sure about having mail coming from her to my house — you know how it is.) The post office box account was expiring at the end of August and I made one last collection on August 31 — picking up the last letter Alene wrote to me.
I must have read her letter twenty times that evening. You know how some people like to describe the setting in which they are writing a letter to you? Like in MASH when Radar wrote home to his mother (or any of the company writing home, for that matter.) Anyway, Alene told me she was sitting in a Starbucks on Capitol Hill in Seattle, writing a last letter to me on a Psion-5 she’d recently bought. She described the trees in Volunteer Park and how one fancied they would uproot themselves and follow her out of the park. There were details of the dream I had a couple of weeks earlier while napping after dinner. It rather blew me away.
As I read and re-read the letter, I heard her voice speaking the words to me. I was still hearing her voice as I went to bed. When my wife came to bed, I rolled over and pretended to be asleep, but she was tired and dozed off right away without disturbing me. I lay staring out the window – watching the lights from vessels out on the North Sea. It was a beautiful summer night and a gentle breeze came in through the open window. And I heard Alene’s voice telling me things that had not been in the letter. She had had a very difficult summer.
I woke up the next morning feel wonderfully happy. My wife remarked that I looked better than I had all summer. We drove in to London together and I was excited to get to work. It was a busy day and I stayed late, letting my wife have the car to get home. I took a train and walked home from the station. At home, I found my wife happy in her sewing room, working on a project and and listening to the radio. There was dinner ready, but I wasn’t really hungry. Instead, I just put on the TV and settled into my reclining chair with my eyes closed and an open book face down on my chest. I dozed in and out of sleep, enjoying the sounds of crickets and cicadas — even though there are no cicadas in Essex.
I woke up in the middle of the night. And I was telling Alene how much happier I’d been since I got her letter. She told me she’d started it in a Starbucks in Seattle, but had finished it on the plane going home. Hadn’t I noticed the postmark from the usual place back east? Of course I hadn’t, I joked. I was just excited to see a letter from America — addressed in her handwriting.
She said she had started the fall semester and was teaching a class she hadn’t even had as an undergraduate, let alone taught before. But she was having fun with it — keeping ahead of the students. And she was preparing for a conference. Things had really calmed down since the terrors of the summer. We both remembered the day of the eclipse — but avoided talking about it.
Just before dawn I must have fallen asleep. I was woken by the sound of my wife starting the shower, and I realized I’d better think about getting ready for work too. There was no Alene in my head — and I assumed I had just dreamed the conversation. But I hoped that I would pick up the conversation in another dream that night.