Dear Mrs. Hinkley,
I’m sorry that I never called on you that last time. You remember how you asked me to? How when I told you I was no longer going to clean Mr. Orland’s apartment complex for you, you asked me to “stop by” just one more time?
That was quite a job you had: finding and managing tenants, scheduling gardeners, plumbers, electricians, finessing turnovers. “There are a couple of vacancies,” you would say over the phone, then when I got there, you’d ask if I had time to “take a look” at your apartment at the back of the eight-unit complex. Yours never needed cleaning though, only the mouthpiece of the phone receiver which would be sticky and yellow from you smoking while talking. Managing that complex was a lot of work, and for a woman of your age! Those young couples always splitting up and moving, the students. But you kept that place nice, kept those apartments clean, those lollypop trees neat. No disappointing Mr. Orland, no sir. You showed me how a pumice stone could get at those nasty stains on the underlip of toilet bowls, pointed out how mops just can’t get at the corners the way a handheld sponge can. “Can’t beat hands and knees,” you would say, standing over me, “elbow grease!”
And then there were those times you paid me to go out to lunch with you at that fancy little sandwich shop. Was that on Mr. Orland’s dime, I wonder? And you used to give me those random gifts. The beige corduroy armchair pillow, those antique photo frames, that bird of lace. Do you remember? You treated me like a favorite granddaughter, and like a good granddaughter, I never confided in you who I really was. Never told you about my woman lover, or that I smoked pot, or that you and Mr. Orland would be scandalized by my political views. I was sure you’d fire me—and I needed the money.
But I will tell you, it’s hard to hold yourself back all the time. It takes effort. And that effort can turn into resentment. So by the time I finally quit all those years ago—thirty-five is it now?—I never wanted to even look at one of Mr. Orland’s toilets again. But then you asked me to come by just one more time. “Not to work,” you said, “just a quick stop.” You didn’t tell me why, and I didn’t ask. I believe at the time of that phone call, I planned to drop by, I did, then just couldn’t make myself climb back into the skin I’d finally had the courage to shed.
I assume by now you’ve left this world, taking with you the secret agenda of that last meeting. Every time I drive by Mr. Orland’s complex, I think about it, think about you too. Wonder what it was that you wanted with me. For all I know, you wanted me to join you in burning Mr. Orland’s effigy. Or had some young man you wanted to introduce me to. Maybe you were grooming me for a grandson. Or you were going to come out as a lesbian yourself. Guess I’ll never know.
So that’s it. I apologize. You didn’t deserve being ghosted. Hope Heaven is treating you well. Or Hell. I hope it’s not hell.
Ps: Bizarre artwork from the book Your Manners are Showing, by Betty Betz
Mmmmm. Yes. Moments of regret. They propagate like mycelium in moist soil. Evocative writing. This will leave me wondering as if somehow it has transformed into my own regret.
It did me good to write the letter and post it to the universe. I might try some more too. Thanks for checking in, Michelle.
Omgosh. You caught me in a state of regret over Auntie Vic and Uncle Charlie who often invited my mother and father to spend the weekend at their homemade squatters’s cabin on Crow Island off Long Island in NY. Decades later, I learned they had retired very near where Lainie and I lived in Florida. If only I had known before we moved, before they died, I could have thanked them for my love of the sea, of being on the water, of all the ways that opportunity helped make me who I turned out to be here on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Hey Lee! Nice to hear from you. Sounds like your aunt and uncle were important people in your life. Maybe you need to post them a letter too. We could start an epistolary anthology of regret.
Ah regrets….. Don’t get me started. Forgiveness and compassion for our ignorance and youth. Beautiful letter, Clifford. So GOOD to read you again.
Thanks, Deo. So nice to hear from you. Hope you and your loved ones are well.
I don’t know maybe she liked you and just wanted to say goodbye
like you said you will never know.
Since she gave you gifts maybe she had a special something to give you so that you would remember her.
We never know what is inside someones mind and heart without asking
So, not knowing is also a practice.
The skin you had to shed… I get that
Thanks for checking in Tara. Yeah, so much we will never know.