if I could write a letter

If I could write a letter.

I’d build a fort around my top bunk, sheets pinned to the ceiling and pillows piled up along the edges, and I’d crawl into the shadowy little fortress and turn on a flashlight and flip to the next empty page in my yellow notebook.

I would write to the most isolated soul on this spinning planet—some lonely person tucked into the farthest corner from the madness, living with no idea that the past twelve months even happened. Considering the height of the flames, it’s almost hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t smell the smoke, but humans, if nothing else, are good at hiding in unexpected places.

My favorite gray pen would pour the words onto the page in a smooth, pleasingly dark ink. The notebook paper would rustle.

We were all just collectively dragged through one absolutely infinite phase of existence, and now it’s the start of a new year. Past chaos is sorting itself out in our minds like sand in a restless river, and there’s nobody to tell about it who wasn’t there—except for you, person-who’s-been-living-under-a-rock. You, pal, are about to hear it for the first time.

This where I would freeze, and the pen would shift a little on the paper, and then my hand would slip and there would be a dark line of ink across the blue sheets.

The days and seconds and hours of the year would come crashing down around my shoulders like a house of cards, and I’d scramble to gather them together and stack them neatly, but they would refuse to stay straight in my hands. Every card I flipped over wouldn’t show me anything but a blurry holographic mirror. The words, stubbornly and subtly, would twist themselves into something entirely different from what I had hoped.

I would stare at the cards for a long time. The flashlight would roll away and become lodged halfway underneath a pillow, and its beam of hazy light would cut through the sheets as they moved in the breeze from the ceiling fan.

I would turn to a new page.

There was sunlight broken across the wall, and moonlight, when the nights lasted past two and then three and I tried not to trip over anything on my way to bed. I froze my hands on the night of the meteor shower and my brother laughed at me before he almost rode his bike through the fence. The bike was red, and so was his face in the cold, and the jacket on the back of the laundry room door.

The world was shaking itself dry after the rain. There were dead leaves scattered across the roof of the barn. Music cut through silence and guitar strings cut into aching fingertips and the first airplane in a month cut through the gray. Fog bled out of the trees and scattered the last light like a fist from the earth. We ran away and lost each other in the colorless blue until we weren’t lost anymore.

We couldn’t have really lost each other, not when we both knew the way back to the gate. But it felt good. To be lost, just for the sake of being found again. The kind of lost that’s really just a game of hide and seek, because you can always go back and have dinner by a warm window when you get tired of running.

If you’re lost, I hope it’s only the hide and seek kind, and that you know where the gate is. I hope it isn’t too long of a walk in the dark.

The flashlight’s batteries would die with a silent click, and my fortress would fall into gentle shadow. I’d fold the letter carefully in half, tuck it underneath my mattress, and climb down the ladder to go make some coffee.

The kitchen would be quiet, and the sky would be a late-evening blue. I’d remember why I never replied to any of those letters last summer, and then the water would be warm enough. I’d find my favorite mug in the cabinet and take my coffee outside and leave the house to its yellow quietness.

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