My dearest Magnus,
Last night she came to me again. I knew it even before I properly awoke, could feel her little fingers stroke my cheeks and hair so gently. And Magnus, her hands are so cool and sweet, oh you wouldn’t believe how tender. Like the first breath of Spring. Always I feel that I am burning, the heat licking at me slow and inevitable, except when she soothes it away. Such a comfort to me, the sweet gentle thing.
Do you remember the day we ate blackberries, Magnus? How hot it was? Berries so hot and fat they burst, and the juice spilled everywhere, black and blue all over my hands and my dress—the pale green dress with the dusty pink flowers, surely you remember it—and how you sucked my fingers clean one by one?
When she took my hand I tried to pull her to my breast, but she would not go. You’re burning, Mama, she said. She was so worried. I could see it in her eyes, or the places where her eyes would be. Such a sweet, good girl to worry for her mother. Sometimes I ache to think how undeserving we are of such a child.
I followed her out to take the air. And Magnus darling before you berate me, I told her twice to find her shoes, but you must understand that she was so anxious and insistent. It seemed callous to scold the poor dear thing, and her little pink toes looked so beautiful against the snow, like seashells glimmering in sand.
So I let her small cold hand pull me over the lawn, past the kitchen house and the blackberry bushes. We walked together through the woods, though we did not cross on the dirt trail. Instead we followed the path the deer have trampled through the underbrush, and when we reached the river she pulled off her white nightgown and draped it over a boulder.
(Did you ever swim in a silver river, Magnus? I can’t remember if you have. There are so many things we have yet to speak of. Sometimes I wonder how we filled so many days and hours with so few words when every moment now seems to brim with urgent sentences.)
The really remarkable thing was how she slipped into the water without a ripple, her naked skin swallowed soundlessly beneath the mirrored surface. The moon was so bright and full that I could see every detail clear as day. And oh how I gasped in surprise and delight when she bobbed up again without warning, her face splitting and her black hair coiling around her like ink spilled over glass, and she called to me—Mama, Mama!—and beckoned for me to join her. The river never stills for me, but then I am unremarkable.
Can you recall the hypnotist we saw in the city? The one with the false eye and the three gold teeth? You told me to stay away unless I wanted my secrets laid bare. But Magnus, I wonder all the time what you really meant by that. Was it my secrets you were trying protect? Or were you afraid that if he pulled every last whisper from my mouth and unlocked every box hidden in my memory, that he would find no treasure there worth stealing?
But none of that matters anymore. She is the treasure, Magnus. I see that now. Our daughter with her twin rows of baby teeth and soft, reaching hands and your ears that stick out just a tiny bit too far from the perfect oval of her face, who floats lightly and crouches in the corner like a good, patient girl until the stars rise and the owls stir in the pines.
There are days when I suspect that she is the only thing real in this world. That you and the house and the blackberries are nothing more than dreams I invented while I was dozing in the kitchen house on a late summer’s afternoon. Even now as I write she is watching from the empty chair, the one where you liked to sit when you read from the Bible in the evening. Such a good girl. If you could only see her, darling, and the way the frost rests like baby’s breath in her hair. Soon it will be night, and I know that she will come again.
When will you return to me?
We wait here for you, my cherished husband.
With faithful love,