By Elinor Abbott

Dear Walt,

The snow’s almost melted now. The bones of the earth are showing again, the mesa to the west sheds its white coat for the last time, I hope. The fence is busted, wire came down from the weight of the snow. I worried the cow might wander off but she stays put, I guess even she knows there’s nowhere to go. Eli came out and looked at the fence with me yesterday, thinks we could patch it up with twine to keep the cow in. I was out working on it just now, but my fingers went numb from cold and I couldn’t tie the knots. I came in to warm my hands, but felt the urge to write you. I suppose I can’t stop wondering. The question of you takes up more room in my mind than scripture, though that will come as no surprise to you. I can’t pretend I was ever the holiest of women. I wish I could blow these words off the paper and send them out looking for you, like clouds or dust. The horizon is empty and flat as a blade. Except for the mesa, sticking up like a sore red tooth. I don’t think you’d come from that direction. When I look for you, I always skip the mesa. The mesa and I have a pact—I will not look toward it with hatred and it will not hide you from me. You went off east, anyhow. And it’s my reckoning you’ll return that way, though imagining you’ll return at all, after so long a sojourn, paints me as something of a fool.

I remain yours,

R.

 

 

Dear Walt,

I used to think you shut me up here with Eli so that I could protect him, and he me, that we were your greatest worldly treasures. Now, I wonder if you brought me here to remove us both from your view, like one might bury a blood stained pistol along side letters from a mistress. My vigil for you has become less sacrosanct, you may note. A long winter will do that to a woman, Walt, especially in the company of your brother. Do you want to hear how he fairs? Are you curious? He no longer composes or plays the piano, as he did in our first weeks here. Remember how he used to stay up all night, full of some devil spirit, running his hands up and down the ivory? He frightened me. Who could ever fear so pitiful a creature? But I did not know Eli then, I only saw him as a different sort of man than you. Maybe you were the one that should’ve scared me all along. Eli subsists on nothing but the coffee grounds we brought when we first came. He keeps them and reboils them, they are now so weak as to barely stain the water. He doesn’t sleep, but sits on the bench in the kitchen all night long and talks to the stove. He is very frail, I could carry him in my arms if I wished and in fact, soon may have to. His last great exertion was taking a hammer to the piano keys. I tried to get him to stop but he kept insisting the piano was smiling at him. The smile was so bright, he said, that he could see it even with his eyes closed. ‘Eli is prone to fits of fancy’—your words when first you told me of him. Your eyes were so dark and shiny when you spoke of him. I thought love made them shine but now I wonder.

I remain yours,

R.

 

 

Dear Walt,

I worried after my last letter, you may believe I am letting Eli starve to death. Well, it isn’t so. As much as he exhausts and troubles me, he is my only company in this lonely place. Without Eli, there would only be me and the mesa. The mesa is not so far away and not so tall that I couldn’t climb it if I had a mind to. If Eli did not fill my ears with his chatter, then I could hear the mesa call to me. But never mind that. Our supplies are low and as you know, since you rode off upon it, we have no horse. A widow and her son who came walking past before the snows posted a letter from me to the general store. I received a reply but the shopkeep will not be able to bring supplies till May. I have promised the shopkeep my necklace with the emerald, the one you brought me from San Francisco in happier days. I have nowhere to wear it now and an invalid to feed. I make stock with the bones of the quails I killed in the fall. If I am reduced to tears, sometimes Eli will drink it. At times, I think he might love me, though the thought disgusts me. His fever bright eyes in his emaciated skull. I used to think he looked like you, but no longer. Today, he was especially vexing, standing on a chair in his bedroom peeling the wallpaper off. I convinced him to go take the air. He has been out back in the garden for many hours now, digging holes. For what purpose I cannot guess. But I am happy for his distraction, as it gave me time to visit the mesquite tree and the grave of our little daughter. I can’t go when Eli is in the house, as he always watches me out the window, and it fills me with shame. The yellow ribbon I tied to the branch in place of her headstone is still there! Though weather has faded it some.

I remain yours,

R.

 

 

Dear Walt,

Eli says someone is coming. He says God told him. I asked if God said it was you and he said we are not to question the word of God. The horizon remains sheer like the edge of a cliff, nothing mars its surface except the mesa. I wonder if that’s what the edge of the mesa would look like, were you up upon it. It is hard for me to imagine anyone walking toward us, that this house is a destination upon the earth that a person might choose to visit or stumble upon. The idea makes me laugh. Sometimes I try and will the horizon to change, to imagine my eyes in the body of another and see this house as a speck far off. In those moments I know I am alone as an arrow lodged in a breast, that I have pierced something I may never be pulled from without blood and death. Eli maintains his holes and covers them with leaves and branches. He says they’re a trap, though they are hardly inconspicuous. And I suppose I am happy to get him out of the house, even if he’s demolished the garden. Do you remember how I begged you to take me with you? You said such trials weren’t meant for women. But I had survived the miscarriage, hadn’t I? What trial could be greater? Why do men suppose their bodies can do anything more miraculous than that? I always hated in novels when women beg to be brought along. What turkeys. Don’t they know how pathetic they sound? I wonder, do you think you’re the hero in a fiction, Walt? But wait, there’s a sound! It’s like so many feet, running all at once, brushing the house! Are they coyotes? It’s too dark out the window to see. Oh Walt! How I wish you were here! Where are you! Eli has taken your Winchester off the wall and was in here shouting about killing coyotes. I must go and save him before he shoots a hole clean through his foot.

In haste,

R.

 

 

Dear Walt,

Eli went for a walk this morning and has not returned. The noise has come every night since last I wrote, though we can find no source, not even coyote prints. Eli said he saw something off toward the mesa. I should have watched him more carefully! He is so weak, I did not think he could venture far. The weather is still very cold, and his coat hangs from the hook in the hall, and his hat as well. I have walked as far as I dare from the house and called and called him but have seen no sign of him and heard no noise but the wind. I wonder if the thing we hear at night has dragged him off. Oh God! I fear for his life and I fear for my own.

R.

 

 

Dear Walt,

A rider appeared on the horizon the morning after Eli disappeared. He came from the west, around the mesa. At first I thought it was you, but now I’m not sure. He walks aside his horse, this man. I thought he would be here yesterday evening but he stopped and made camp. He’s still there, I can see him standing next to the camp, looking in my direction. I waved and even screamed but he does nothing, only looks. I cannot make him out beyond his very great height, which makes me think he is not you. I brought the lantern out onto the porch so I could watch him. I lit every candle in the house to make sure he could see it. Why doesn’t he come? Why does he wait? Does he have Eli? I have no ransom to give him, save my necklace, which I already promised to the shopkeep. I never thought I would see anyone walk over that horizon ever again, not even the shopkeep, with all his assurances. I both desire and dread the rider’s arrival. What will he think when he finds me here? I brushed my hair and washed my face. What if it is you? What if I have been away from you so long that I cannot remember you right? I fear that it is you, and that you came back only for Eli and will soon depart again! Oh please, Walt, please take me with you. Please. Don’t forget me. Don’t leave me here! Not again! Perhaps you make camp and come no closer to see if I will walk to you. Perhaps you are testing me. Oh my love. Perhaps you and Eli are waiting for me. It’s dusk now but the sky is clear, if I put on my boots and started off, I could be to your camp in two hours time. I do not fear what has been running around the house at night, nor snake hole, nor mountain lion, not if you are waiting for me. Not if you have come back to me at long last and are only looking for me to make one last journey of faith, out toward the mesa and into your arms.

I remain yours,

R.

Elinor Abbott is an American writer living in South Holland. She is the author of Is This The Most Romantic Moment of My Life?, a chapbook of short essays from Banango Editions. She has been published by The Hairpin, Human Parts, Bright Wall/ Dark Room and other publications. Find her on Twitter @little_thousand.