“Reading the Letter” by Thomas Benjamin Kennington
Henry folded the letter and slipped it back into envelope. He would share it with Hannah tomorrow. How lovely Alice had been to him all those years knowing what she knew. He settled into bed feeling a peace he had never known, and he realized too, that Alice was finally at peace. He no longer felt her hovering presence. “She is really gone,” he thought.
Shades of warm of amber streamed into Hannah’s room gently rousing her as morning broke. She freshened up and dressed before going into the kitchen to start breakfast. To her surprise, Henry was standing at the stove stirring pot of something delicious. The aroma of toasting bread wafted from the oven and coffee was percolating on the stove.
“Good morning Hannah. I hope you’re hungry.”
“I’m sorry. Did I oversleep?”
“No, no, not at all. I was up early, craving coffee. Once I got here, I decided to start breakfast. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not. I take it you slept well then?”
“Yes ma’am, I did. Now take a seat. I’ll bring you some coffee. I have something to show you.”
“Really, it’s not necessary for you to serve me Henry.”
“Sit!” Henry ordered playfully.
Hannah sat down at the small kitchen table nearby and watched him pour coffee. “What has gotten into him?” she wondered.
Henry set the cup on the table in front of her and reached into his pocket, removing a folded envelope. He leaned over kissing her gently on the top of her head as he handed it to her.
“This is for you, Hannah.”
Hannah crinkled her brow and flashed a questioning scowl toward Henry.
He smiled, “Drink your coffee and read it Hannah.”
“But…where…who is it from? I don’t recall a postal delivery this week.”
“That’s because it didn’t come by post.” Henry was clearly enjoying this. “It’s from Alice…”he paused to allow what he had just said to sink in, “…to you Hannah.”
“What? I don’t think I heard you correctly. Did you say the letter is from Alice? Your Alice?”
“I did indeed. I know it sounds crazy, and I wouldn’t believe it myself if it hadn’t happened to me, but I saw her in my room last night Hannah. I saw Alice. We talked, just like we are talking now. She told me about the letter. Told me where to find it. Please read it Hanna, while I finish making our breakfast. It will all make sense to you when you do.”
“I’m not sure about that. Nothing makes sense to me this morning.”
“You do trust me, don’t you Hannah?”
“Well…that toast smells a bit overly toasty…” Hannah grinned mischievously.
“Oh good god!” Henry rushed to the oven removing the toast in the nick of time.
Hannah burst into laughter, took a sip of coffee, and settled into her chair as she opened the envelope, removing the hand-written letter.
You and I have not had the good fortune to meet, but I know you. If you are reading this, then I am certain that our beloved Henry is the common cord that binds our hearts. As impossible as it may sound, I sensed that my time in this life would be short, but I was comforted by the fact that you and he would find each other one day
Hannah looked up at Henry who was busy at the stove, his back to her. She returned to the letter.
I’m sure you must be wondering how I could possibly know you; know about you. Please let me explain. Over my years with Henry, there were little signs. Now you mustn’t think that I ever wanted for anything or felt unloved as his wife. Henry was a wonderful husband in every way. But he suffered from the most distressing dreams. As I lay next to him night after night, I would listen to him calling out for you. He promised to find you again. Sometimes he cried over his inability to save you.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that you were real somewhere. It was the only thing that made sense. I truly believe that you and Henry have been together in another lifetime. I don’t know if you believe in such a thing, I didn’t either. But the details Henry shared as he spoke in his sleep were so vivid; so heartbreaking. I gathered that there had been a flood and that you had been mortally injured. It always ended the same way, with you slipping away from him as he expressed his eternal love for you, crying out, “I will always love you.”
Hannah’s heart raced causing her face to flush. Tears welled in her eyes. How could Alice know this? She read on.
When we were first married, I felt jealous of you. But as the years passed I became accustomed to your presence in Henry’s dreams and occasionally, in deja-vu moments that would sweep him away to another place and time.
When I became ill, I knew I needed to write this letter to you to let you know that I am so happy that Henry has finally found you. I am convinced that you and he have traveled through eternity to find each other.
Be happy my dear. Trust your instincts. Love Henry with all your heart and with my blessings. He has dreamed of you for a lifetime.
The room grew silent. Henry had finished plating breakfast and turned to see Hannah clutching the letter, tears running down her cheeks. “Are you alright Hanna?”he asked softly.
“Oh Henry, this whole thing seems unbelievable and yet, a part of me knows that this…” she held the letter up, “…that all of this is true. It gives me hope that maybe I’m not crazy after all,” she sighed, “or maybe I am!”
“You’re not crazy Hannah. I had no idea Alice knew all of this, or even that she wrote the letter, until last night. When our conversation turned to my brother and Alice at dinner lat night a wave of guilt overtook me. That is why I left so abruptly. I was thinking about the past and about Alice. Please forgive me. The truth is, I love you Hannah and I believe I have loved you, and you have love me too, for a very long time.”
“I do Henry. I love you too.”
“But Hannah, the most important question at the moment is this: do you love me enough to eat my cooking?” Henry chuckled, placing a plate in front of her.
“Well, I’m afraid I may have to think about that…” Hannah burst into uproarious laughter, joined by Henry whose chuckle swelled into full snorting guffaws as he wrapped his arms around her.
From the entranceway a familiar, bellowing voice interrupted their gaiety. “Well now, what is this I’m hearing? Am I in the wrong house?”
Staring wide-eyed, in each others arms, at their uninvited guest as she bounded into the kitchen, Henry and Hannah blushed as they exclaimed in unison, “Helen!”
This is installment 22 of an ongoing series. To read previous chapters click HERE and scroll to the series called Seasoning. Thanks as always to Jane Dougherty for the initial inspiration for this story.