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Short fiction prompted by a writing prompt on the Write On Edge blog to write a stand-alone scene, fiction or memoir, in 500 words or fewer, involving a handwritten letter:
Expecting the Worst
Marlena jerked the letter from under a catalog. She felt guilty for ignoring it, but was so sure it included a reproach, that she had elected to leave it unopened for more than a week.
She had always thought as she got older, reprimands would not upset her, but there she was in her fifties, afraid of being judged.
The letter was from her cousin Jonathan whom she didn’t much like, but barely knew. When her mother had died a few weeks earlier, Marlena had called other relatives, but with only a church address for Jon, a minister two thousand miles away, she had informed him in writing.
Jon responded with a chaotic, handwritten diatribe about how she should be comforted knowing that her mother was with the angels, singing in God’s choir, meeting Jesus, revisiting loved ones. He assured Marlena that none of us ever really die but experience eternal joy and that the Lord would comfort her in her grief. His letter, peppered with “as-you-know and “you-will-agree” phrases, as if he knew Marlena concurred with every word, then did an about-face, rambling on in four additional pages, about the wages of sin and concluding that her mother, a churchgoing woman, had most likely avoided hell. It reminded her of the fire and brimstone sermons she had been subjected to in childhood and from which she had cheerfully escaped as an adult.
She supposed the letter was meant to comfort, but it only angered her. She was vexed at Jon’s audacity in assuming that everyone believed as he did. She didn’t want to dismiss Jon’s beliefs nor offend him, only to motivate him to pause before making such assumptions. Carefully, she composed her response:
Thank you for your kind words regarding the passing of my mother. Even though I am not a follower of her religion, I understand that your beliefs reflect your understanding of our existence and afterlife.
My feelings and beliefs differ in that I cherish the memories and experiences and wisdom my mother passed on to me as a living legacy of her existence and her love for me.
I appreciate your kindness and thank you for your thoughts.
A week later, the second letter had arrived. From her childhood, Marlena was used to fist-shaking preachers berating those who disagreed with them. She was sure Jon had resorted to a stance of moral superiority, that he would pronounce her doomed to hellfire in another tirade.
Still raw with grief, she didn’t want to hear it again, but finally slid a blade under the envelope’s flap, releasing its contents.
No flames shot from the single sheet that fell to her desk. In Jon’s messy scrawl, she read:
Since I have lost touch with many family members, please send the addresses of our other cousins.
Marlena sighed with relief, reminding herself that she needed to cease wasting her energy by expecting the worst, even from her most sanctimonious relatives.