The Longest Love Letter

By Marta Pelrine-Bacon

June 29, 2015

Gregory Quinn loved Matilda Gray. He decided to write her the longest love letter in the world. He’d read of an Indian man who had the record—a letter 143 pages long to a girl who didn’t exist. Gregory could do better than that.

He came home every night thinking about what he would write. He stopped going to bars. He gave up playing Call of Duty for hours. When ideas came to him at work, he jotted them down. Gregory’s boss saw the list one afternoon. “You’re not harassing anyone here at the office, are you?” she asked.

He pulled a file folder over the notepad. “It’s just for something I’m writing.”

“Oh, are you a writer, Greg?”

He shook his head and set his coffee down on the file folder. “No, no, no.”

“Aww, we have a writer in the office. How fun is that?” She patted his shoulder before she walked away from his desk. “Be careful what scenes you write at the office, or we’ll have to fire you for misuse of company time.”

Gregory wrote less at work after that.

Despite the list, he didn’t know how to begin. How do you begin the longest love letter in the world?

Because Matilda had been his sister’s best friend, he knew more about her than she ever revealed to him herself. The girls hadn’t known how well he could hear through the walls of his boyhood room where he still lived. He used to call his sister, Angie, a few times a week to ask her to come over for dinner or join him for a movie. Sometimes she said, “Can I bring Matilda, too? She’s having her trouble with her boyfriend again.”

Things went on like this until his sister moved to the other side of the country. Gregory never understood her wish to leave.

Dear Matilda Gray. He didn’t think he should sound too intimate at first and he loved the whole of her name.

We met when you were five and I was eight. She might have forgotten, after all.

When you were six, I brought your lost dog home to you and you kissed me on the cheek. That wasn’t entirely true. She’d hugged him really hard. But perhaps she’d remember it this way if she saw the kiss in writing.

He didn’t mean to lie exactly, but what was a love letter without a kiss? And if you’ve already kissed once, surely it’s easier to do so again.

Gregory wrote about the day she was lost when she was thirteen, and the police were called only to find her asleep in the tree in his backyard. He’d seen the curve of her bare leg up in the branches but didn’t tell anyone. He liked to think of her dreaming up there.

He wrote about how she and his sister had asked him, when they were fourteen, if it was true you could get pregnant from kissing, and he’d told them yes. They’d called him a liar, but he saw the doubt in their eyes. He hadn’t wanted to lie; he’d hoped to keep them safe.

He knew about the night she kissed William Linsk—her first real kiss. Gregory listened to the girls giggle and whisper about the boy late into the night. He hadn’t really meant to hurt William the next day. It’s just that he was never that good at throwing a baseball, and William shouldn’t have ridden his bike that fast downhill. The boy was fine once the cast came off.

A love letter was the time to tell the truth, mostly.

Yes, she was right when she accused him of following her around, but he was only looking out for her. The world is full of dangerous men, as she soon learned. Hadn’t she been grateful when he punched that guy in the bar? She’d kissed him on the cheek then. He was sure of it.

Gregory was still not near 143 pages.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me. It broke his heart to hear through the wall about the night Colin Washington seduced her in her very own room. He understood. Colin was great with words. Everyone knew that.

And surely she’d been tired of waiting for him to work up his courage. But he’d wanted to wait until he had the right job and a place of his own. He had wanted to make an honest woman of her—not like Colin, who only wanted her picture to pass around to his friends.

I’d never ask you to pose for a picture like that, and if I had such a photo, I’d keep it all to myself. It’s a shame what had happened to Colin after graduation—his poorly maintained car, the dangerous curve.

Gregory added poems to the letter now. Happy love poems only. He wanted to lighten her mood. I don’t know how a girl like you could ever be sad.

He remembered how often she had looked over her shoulder and stayed locked in her house with the curtains drawn. He so missed the days she and her parents kept the windows open.

I’ve got everything ready for you. He had saved a lot of money to perfect the house now that his parents were gone.

He added bits of favorite stories too. Bluebeard had trouble finding a woman he could trust. That’s another beautiful thing about you, Matilda Gray. I could trust you not to open the locks if I gave you the key. Life teaches us time and time again how everything would end well if lovers kept their promises.

The pages added up. 98. 105. 132.

His sister never called. As far as he knew, Angie and Matilda were no longer friends.

Gregory wrote late into the night and into the next day. He looked up adjectives for love and devotion. On a few pages he sketched his dreams. He was sure Matilda was sophisticated enough to see they were art.

After an entire weekend spent at his desk, he reached page 143. With one more page to break the record, he became agitated. His hand shook. He got up and paced.

The ending had to be just right. The ending had to drive home his intentions. The ending had to stir her heart.

A desire to hurl the pages all over the room welled up in him. Gregory clenched his fist. No, I will not destroy something I value and worked hard on. That was what he would write. Matilda deserved to know. Surely when she saw the care he took with the angle and curve of every letter, the pristine condition of the paper, and the patience he showed in staying with his task, she would trust him again.

Gregory took out his ring of keys. It was time for Matilda to read.

 

Marta Pelrine-Bacon. Born and raised in central Florida, Marta received her MA from Kent State University in Ohio. Her work has been published in Cabinet des Fees, 50 to 1, and NPR's In Character series. Her novel, The Blue Jar, was published by Plum Tree Books/UK in 2014. She now lives in Texas and is working on her second novel.