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The Envelope by Desiree Coutinho

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She turned the envelope over in her hands. She had waited so long for this letter, but now she wasn’t sure she could bring herself to open it. Caitlyn slid the white rectangle across her palm, imagining years unraveled, her whole life undone by a few bits of paper.

They had been so young; they hadn’t a care, except for each other. It was fairy tale. It was epic romance. It was tragedy. He had remained, preserved in her memory, untouched. They shared a twin bed that entire year, just to be close to each other. She remembered his breath on her neck, the chill it sent through her entire body. How every morning, when he was still asleep she discovered new constellations in the freckles on his back. Yet, she had dismissed him so easily. If she hadn’t been the brazen, restless, naïve girl she was, maybe her life would have been different. Maybe love would have been different? Caitlyn turned the envelope, tracing its edge.

She slept alone now, married 15 years. Justin preferred his own bed, just across the hall. He stayed up late; she got up early. He went to work; she kept up the house. They negotiated details in between. They did these things well. Caitlyn looked around the house, imagining it burn down. She dreamt of an escape, another life unfolding. Cam was twelve, maybe she would understand? Maybe she would forgive her in time?

In bed one night, after a few glasses of wine, Caitlyn searched his name on her computer. His photo came up on a University webpage: Faculty. She felt sick and giddy. His smile unearthed relics of memory. She remembered his face when she told him she was bored, that things had gotten dull. She was twenty. She remembered tears on his cheek. This could be her last chance, the turn in her story.

Months went by. Caitlyn planned a family trip, to a small college beach town a few hours south. Justin and Cam wanted to go swimming.

“I’ll meet you later. I just have a couple of errands,” she said. She did pick up some groceries. She didn’t like to lie. Caitlyn kept his address tucked in the smallest pocket of her purse. She unfolded the white paper, and followed the directions to his house. Unsteady, Caitlyn got out of the car, feeling like a thief and a traitor. Trying to calm her shaking hands she placed the plain white envelope in his mailbox. She didn’t look around, didn’t wait to see if he came out, or his wife, if he had one. She didn’t want to know.

That was a month ago. Now, sitting in her living room, going through bills and catalogues, she found his letter. Caitlyn’s heart sped, his response in her trembling hands. It tasted bitter and familiar, the pangs of hope, of possibility. Her eyes were drawn down to the intricate pattern on the coffee table where she sorted the mail. Her and Justin had bought that table on their honeymoon in Naples. They had argued over the size. She had wanted something larger, something grand. He wanted something simple, something they could put their feet up on at the end of the day. It was the pattern they both liked and agreed upon: a golden labyrinth. There was a beginning, there was an end, and there was a center.

She closed her eyes, and clutching the envelope tight, and tighter, felt herself roaming in endless circles of love, and love lost. With sudden desperation and a stroke of will, she tore the envelope in shreds, and without looking back, threw it in the trash.


This story accomplished so much with so little. An entire lifetime of hope and tragedy is captured with close attention to the small details that ring true and left me emotional. – Dan Buck

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