A Letter To A Niece During Difficulty

A spot of fiction, if you like.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This correspondence series begins with A Letter To A Niece During Difficulty, followed by Agatha’s Reply, and What’s Wrong With Aunt Astrid?

My Dearest Agatha,

Having received your most recent letter on a Friday morning it was then my treat to indulge in it throughout the weekend. I’m pleased to hear that a return home to your parents address in Connecticut is proving a comfortable and minimally frustrating way to spend this period of pestilence. Your absence from Manhattan is no doubt felt in sad ripples throughout the once-lively, if not unfortunately scented streets. I myself would rather dig a hole in the forrest and wait for a vaccine amongst the worms and moss than occupy my mother’s guest room indefinitely. I’ve no doubt her sentiments mirror mine.

In perhaps a moment of foresight, I installed myself in beautiful Brooklyn rooms last June, having left my dusty, attic-like prior residence for a space with reliable ventilation and the presence of a closet. My current building is new, with several modern conveniences the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed before, but if I’m being honest I selected the space for it’s view, which is not of an airshaft. A rarity and no doubt the greatest gift I’ve given myself in some years. I’ve since found it entirely possible to ride out a pandemic five floors above ground with nothing more than an eight-pound cat and several bookshelves of impulsively purchased nonfiction for company. I’ve looked into a few hobbies but nothing seems to stick. Things are quiet, for the most part. My days are uninterrupted apart from regular afternoon glass receptacle emptyings from our building’s kind caretaker. Overall it’s quite a comfortable, if not solitary place to shelter. The utilities are trustworthy and the bathtub clean.

I permit myself twice-weekly venturings out into the wild, my face covered but for the eyes and a pair of black gloves typically reserved for dying out one’s gray hairs in my pocket. I also keep a packet of disinfecting kerchiefs in my pocketbook, but if I’m being honest I’ve been doing that for years. One never knows when coming into contact with a questionable substance will occur. Each time I leave home, I remark on the life cycle of the trees in spring, and how terribly upset they must be at how few people are able to observe the show they’ve been preparing to perform all year. I do hope they’ll accept my regrets, I’d sit among them for hours picnicking with friends, were that an option. It’s an easy year for my allergies though, I’ll say that.

My outings last no longer then the thirty minute walk to the shop, the thirty minute walk back, and the fifteen minutes to takes me to silently gather fresh herbs, cheese of varying firmness, and pears, if they’re available. I have been exploring tinned items too of course, though I’ll sheepishly admit that I’m more drawn to their packaging than what happens to be imprisoned inside. I can’t stop buying tomato paste, there really are some talented artists out there. My only in-person contact is with the woman at the counter who abuses my apples. I don’t care for her but in these times one must take what limited interaction is available.

On the culinary front, things are prosperous. This abundance of free time lends itself well to baking projects full of rising and kneading, of course, but I also rather enjoy the freedom these apocalyptic days afford me to shed all rule and regulation in favor of exploration and experiment. I enjoy celery now, as an example. Dressed in lemon and olive oil and piled atop slices of toasted bread with blue cheese. In fact I’m finding most dietary curiosities are well-satisfied simply by placing things on toast. I intend to emerge from these strange times quite adept at both appetizers and boulangerie. There is some fear I’ll regress to a time of catering peasantry, full of cocktail sausages and the like. If I ever begin serving things on the end of toothpicks, call the authorities.

The trick, I’ve learned, is unique flavor combinations. Stocking your pantry and ice box with uplifting additives like scallions and flakes of red pepper will take previously comfortable recipes and turn them into friends to be discovered anew. Perhaps I’m just bored and looking to pass the time productively, but there are any number of interesting sauces and pastes about the house, and I do think they’re providing something in the way of education. Well anyway I put banana peppers on everything.

Regarding attire, I’ve taken to the robes. Long, sweeping garments that catch on every table corner and have lost all of their sashes for closure. In fact, these days you’ll catch me in nothing other than clothing that I can’t confirm is actually touching my body. It’s as if swaths of fabric were thrown up into the air and I dressed myself by letting them fall where I stand. There’s simply no sparing you this description when it’s become quite clear and accepted that soft fabrics free of encumbrances are the fashion of the day. Heaven help me if I must venture down to the lobby for a delivery of some kind. It’s a delicate balance of not wishing to be seen in my private clothes and not wanting to fully re-dress myself for the 60 seconds involved in such an errand.

Work is, fortunately, uninterrupted for all relevant purposes. Writers have the luxury of a workday unimpeded by leaving the house, and such has always been true even when there wasn’t sickness about. I’m quite fortunate in that way. I will admit to some level of discomfort brought on by fear of global demise, but there are ways of coping, most of them alcoholic. My capacity for work product varies day by day, each moment as likely to lead to brilliance as it is to a completely frozen intellect that can summon the will to do little more than gaze out a window while listening to the sound of one’s own breathing. Productivity is variable, but inspiration abounds, I’ll say that. I certainly never seem to have trouble writing to you on topics of the day.

What a pleasure it is to be your aunt. Having no children of one’s own affords a woman the unique opportunity to evaluate aunthood with a fabulously limited perspective. I never wanted to be a mother, having seen it carry far too many couples from being darlings in love to parents in permanent states of annoyance with one another, and far too swiftly. Did you know your parents used to frequent the parks at midnight? You father would carry a satchel stuffed with a bottle of champagne and a plaid blanket. Your mother kept flutes in her purse. They’d stay there until sunrise, discussing the future life they’d have together. The notion of you came up many times, I’m sure. Now, your mother writes to me thrice monthly to complain of his insufferable lavatory habits and his complete inability to make a decent cup of tea. I’m quite certain he’ll never stop grumbling about the charming sound of your mother’s house shoes on tile flooring. In fact, when I visit Connecticut I often tote along a hipflask to soothe myself when their acidic banter becomes too much to bear. They don’t paint quite the picture of marriage I have in mind for myself. Still, it’s nice to remember how they were at one time. As for me, I think it’s best that I first find a relationship before I contemplate how best to dismantle it. I assume it will have something to do with the cats.

You needn’t worry for me in my solitude however, dear Agatha. You need only to relax and imagine your aunt in her flat, planted into her sofa, alternating between sparking water and wine depending upon the hour and mood, sometimes mixing the two together for variety and sport. Whoever knows how long this distance shall last is keeping quiet, and perhaps we could all take that cue to indulge in silence and stillness of our own. Though, you should feel free to be as verbose in your letters as your heart desires, they are my greatest delight to receive, more cheerful than the newspapers and more intriguing than detective novels. I hang on every word and would wholeheartedly support your pursuit of the written arts as a profession, should that be of interest.

I trust you are in good health and that you’re sitting in the garden for no fewer than 15 minutes of sunshine a day. After I post this letter I’ll pace on my rooftop for a bit. Or perhaps not. Kiss my dear sister for me and tell her a letter of her own is not far behind, and tell my brother-in-law if he’s moved any of the pieces on our chess board prior to my next visit, I shall know. Stay well, my Agatha, and until our paths cross safely again, keep writing.

All my love,

Your Aunt

You might also enjoy Agatha’s Reply.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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