This story is drawn from my own experience. Back when my husband was getting his business started I did indeed accompany him to one of his bids in Oakland at this beautiful old house. And I did go snooping through every drawer and closet, eventually happening upon these letters in the exact spot described. As of this moment I have not read them because they are in French and I can neither read nor speak the language. In addition, I do not know anyone who can and even if I did I have no idea where they have been put. I tend to do this thing of hiding certain items to “keep them safe” and in the end just keep them from myself.
A Year of Writing Prompts by Brian A. Klems and Zachary Petit
“She’d Pass him the note years ago, when he was studying abroad. He’d never had it translated. Until now.”
The house sat on the edge of a hill, built somewhere at the turn of the century, with a mission style theme. Over the years in the wet Oakland weather it slowly but surely began to sink. Many attempts were made to level it, but none were successful. Eventually it was purchased by a modern family who raised a family in it and began decorating it to change with the times. Somewhere in the 60’s dark brown wood paneling was placed over the fireplace, which had begun to crack due to sinking, and curtains were hung between rooms to give them more definition. The drapes were thick cotton, with swirling patterns embroidered from seam to seam, and dyed a wretched pea soup green.
Soon the family began to age. The boys went off to college and the husband doted ever more on his wife. She had begun to grow weak and making it up the four steps to their bedroom was becoming a bothersome chore. Before long she just slept on the couch. Her husband sitting in the chair next to her. The position kinked his back (and would be thecause of his later hunch) but he would have been nowhere else.
Finally the man and wife died only moments apart. They left the house to their sons who couldn’t find the time to go in and sort out their things. Nor could they be bothered to make the payments. The house fell into the hands of the bank, who sent in men to clean out the house. These day hires stormed every inch of the home and rid it of any sign it had ever been lived in. Once the real estate agent in charge of the property signed off on their clean-up they sent in the contractor.
“So the job is all the way in Oakland?” Josh asked.
“Yeah, both of them.”
The two men sat in the white pick-up truck, towing a trailer they had rented from U-Haul. Their two dogs, Klause and Sadie, a german shepard and a lachschund, panted excitedly in the small space behind the bench seat.
“If I get these jobs then it could open up a whole new world for Cline Home Improvement.”
Josh looked at his boyfriend, his eyes wide and his mouth stretched into an uncomfortable smile.
The two had spent the last couple years trying to get the company up off the ground. This was a whole new world. And with the pending jobs it would mean that they would be a real business.
They pulled in front of this sinking house, as the sun was setting behind it into the sea. They walked inside and Josh was taken by the view that stretched out before him.
“You can almost see San Francisco from here,” Josh exclaimed.
The dogs scurried excitedly through the house, sniffing every crevasse.
Charlie stepped next to him.
“It sure is gorgeous.” He paused. “God I’d love to live in the bay area.”
“In this house!”
“I wouldn’t go that far.”
Charlie began his inspection, making notes on a yellow legal pad. Josh on the other hand went snooping through the house for lost or forgotten treasures with the dogs.
“What’re you doing,” Charlie called, “Come here.”
Josh scrambled up the narrow staircase that lad to a room downstairs.
He emerged into the entry hallway and turned to look into the living room with the view.
“Help me remove this,” Charlie said, pointing to the wooden casing around the fire.
“Why do we need to do that?”
Josh stepped to the other side of the fireplace and waited, while charlie used a crowbar to pry it away from the wall.
“There is foundation damage and the realtor told me she thinks that it might have caused some structure damage. So I want to make sure the fireplace is okay.”
Charlie dropped the crowbar to the hardwood floor, it landed with a hallow thud.
“Just pull and lower it slowly. With me.”
The two men heaved and lowered it gently, but on the way the mirror that had been placed in it cracked.
“That’s not good,” josh said, looking at it.
Charlie examined the fireplace on either side and in the hearth. He made a note on the pad and turned to continue his inspection.
Josh on the other hand looked into the alcove that had been put above the fireplace. It was even equipped with a socket. He went up and touched the shelf and found a worn stac of letters, tied with a silk pink bow.
“Oh my god, Charlie,” Josh said, “I found some old letters.”
Josh turned the bundle around to find a date. The penmanship was exquisite with sharp loops, all squashed together. Up in the right corner of one of the letters was the date written in French with the year 1920.
“You’re not going to believe how old these are.”
Josh rushed over to charlie and showed him the year.
Josh ignored his lack of enthusiasm and instead focused only on the letters.
“I wonder what they say. Do we know anyone who speaks French?”
Josh pulled out his phone and facebooked a status explaining his incredible find, asking for anyone that could read it. Within minutes it got four “likes,” but no offers to help.
The boy groaned and turned the letters over and over in his hand.
“I wonder why they put them here. This would make a great story.”
“Well why don’t you write it. You say you’re a writer.”
“I don’t know what I would say about it.”
Charlie finished his inspection and the two men, with their dogs, piled into their truck and headed for the next job site.
That night Josh’s cousin posted a comment on the thread with an offer to read the letters and translate. As luck would have it, she happened to live in the Bay Area.
“We have to go!” Josh said excitedly.
Leaving the dogs behind at the vacant house, the two men drove across two bridges into San Francisco to meet Josh’s cousin Alis at Vesuvio’s for a drink.
Veusvio’s was an old two-story dive. The likes of Jack Kerouac could have been found here back in the day. Some say he even wrote a few of his stories in the bar.
“Hey cousin,” Alis said, as she rushed in for a hug.
“No time to waste.” Josh said, excited. He produced the letters from the front pouch of his pull-over hoody.
“Someone’s excited,” she said.
“Are you kidding? How many times does someone find something extroadinary like this?”
Alis laughed and smacked a kiss on her cousin’s cheek, leaving a pair of ruby red lip prints.
The three climbed the narrow stairs to the second floor and took up a table by the window, above the entrance. While Alis read, her lips moving with her eyes, the two watched the people pass on the sidewalk.
“This place is great,” charlie said. “If we lived in the city would this be the place you came to write?”
Josh looked around at the growing number of hipster patrons and rolled his eyes.
“This is beautiful,” Alis said.
She lowered the letters to the table and pressed them flat with her hands.
“These are letters to a woman named Emily, from a man named Rene. They had met in Paris while she was travelling abroad and he was supposed to come over on the Titanic to meet her.”
“Are you kidding me?” Josh bounced in his seat.
“Yes,” Alis said.
“That’s not very nice.”
“It’s great.” Charlie said with a wicked grin.
“Really,” Josh leaned forward, “What does it say?”
Alis glanced over the letters once more.
“They’re letters from family. The woman they are addressed to is named Emily. Rene is her father, or at least that is what I gather. He is pleading with her to forgive him for what he had said in their fight.
“He begs her to come home. With each letter he pleads even more until the last one where he wishes her the best.”
“That’s fantastic!” Josh said, “Sad, but fantastic.”
“You should try and find the family that owned them.” Alis said.
“And give these up? Hell no.” josh said, “I may use them in a story one day.”