Dearest Charles:

I’m writing this missive, not precisely under duress although I don’t see how I could have refused the nice young man who made the request. After all, he was kind enough to bring me what he believed was a proper cup of tea, in a ceramic mug and though I might have preferred Earl Grey with real, not powdered milk, I would not begrudge such small kindnesses. The tea is warm, which is welcome in this somewhat chilly room. I have on the beige cardigan I knit last year for Eunice but ended up keeping because of the dropped stitch. It’s practical, although a little dull. My late husband always preferred to see me wear more color; he used to buy me the loveliest scarves. I must say although I am alone in this chilly room, I prefer writing to engaging in conversation with the young man’s partner, an ill-tempered, overbearing woman whose bullying was beginning to upset me. I’m afraid I began to insist I be allowed to get home. I didn’t wish to be obstreperous but I am a bit cranky, as I’ve missed lunch. I hope you can read this, by the way, as I am not using my favorite fountain pen. I always carry it in my handbag, which has been taken from me. You may recall admiring the pen at the book signing last month; in fact I was in the middle of recounting to you how it had come to me through my mother’s uncle back when we were all living in Tarrytown, when that disagreeable security guard practically pushed me out of the line. It was most discourteous, although I appreciate your calling out to me to take care.

One other thing, Charles: I asked that they call you, which they apparently did not do, explaining that you were otherwise occupied. I thought that perhaps your presence would help clear up this matter and I could get home to poor Octavius. I realize you are very busy and I wouldn’t dream of intruding, just as that wasn’t my intention when I arrived at your house this afternoon. It’s a lovely house, by the way. When I was a girl, we lived in a wonderful house by the river, until we had to relocate following the contretemps after I left a plate of supposedly tainted chocolate cookies for the wife of my favorite English professor.

Well, that’s in the past and I am not one to dwell on what the young people call ancient history. I was fortunate enough to secure a teaching position following college in Manhattan and even more fortunate to have met and married such a successful man, especially after the foolish over-reaction by one of the student’s parents to my interest in her daughter’s talent as a writer. Well, as my late husband, may he rest in peace, always used to emphasize, “let bygones be bygones. Not very original and he tended to overemphasize things, but I tried — I really tried — not to let his occasional tirades bother me and I daresay I almost succeeded.

It was in your fifth novel — or was it your fourth? — that your narrator propose that we sit and talk and open our hearts to those “whose very love and loyalty stand ever at the ready” (I may be paraphrasing), a suggestion I took to be an acknowledgement of those who have stood by you since the release of your first novel, who have walked with you as you traveled your unique path towards fame, fortune and critical acclaim. How proud and privileged I am to have been a part of that journey.

So that when I awoke on this glorious autumn day, I was overcome with joy and a desire to see you again in more contemplative surroundings than a mid-town bookstore. I was also looking forward to driving up the Saw Mill Parkway in the adorable little BMW convertible I “borrowed” from my landlord. Incidentally, it looks well in your particular neighborhood; I doubt you noticed it parked across the street all these months and I admit I hadn’t heretofore indicated my presence. I had thought a nice visit, timed to coincide with your afternoon writing break, would give us time to chat briefly about your new book. So you can understand that I was rather disturbed to discover your wife at home as she normally plays tennis Thursdays, part of her efforts to keep trim, although I don’t favor that sort of ropy look all too common in women of a certain age and social status. And yes, I was quite distraught to find your daughter in her room doing whatever pre-teenagers do, instead of rehearsing for “The Seagull,” which I think is a bit ambitious for a junior high school production, don’t you agree?

In fact, I had absolutely no idea you had scheduled an impromptu vacation at your cabin upstate; it was not in your date book, nor did your housekeeper know when we talked earlier this week. Really, Charles, you must let people know about changes to your schedule. I cannot emphasize enough how very distressing it is to have one’s plans turned upside down, torn to shreds, ripped and stomped and strewn about as if they were nothing more than flotsam and jetsam!

I regret that we were not able sit down together; they would not allow me to call to you as I was being led away. I hope you will forgive the disarray, but be assured that a solution of club soda and vinegar, followed by cold water, should remove the majority of the stains on the carpet and walls.

Ah, here’s my nice young man, without my purse, I’m afraid; but hopefully with one of the cookies I had baked in anticipation of our tea together. After my exertions, I find myself a bit peckish.

Ever your dearest friend and ardent fan,

Penelope

Nikki Stern is a writer who blogs regularly at www.1womansvu. Her new book “Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority,” was released in May and is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and also at Labyrinth Books in Princeton.

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