A new short story: Love Letters

I’ve had some great enthusiastic comments and support recently from Nic Wilkinson. For those who don’t know her, she’s a letterer in the world of comics and also one of the editorial team for indie publisher Markosia. The reason I mention Nic is that she asked when there would be more stories to read on my blog. That prompted me to, well, to write a story. About a letterer of comics. Who is not Nic. Just inspired by her.

Read on for the full story:

Love Letters

“So, Julia, what do you do?”

“I’m a letterer.” He gives me a blank look. “For comics. I do the lettering for comics.”

“You write comics then?”

“No. I don’t write them. I add in the words. Speech. Captions. ‘Later that day’… That sort of thing.”

He laughs. Swallows it. Laughs again.

“Really? That’s a job?”

That was speed dating. I won’t be going again.

It was the Garamond that took me by surprise. I’ve always had a soft spot for Garamond. The word rolls round in your mouth like a caramel. It makes me think of duelling French noblemen. The high planes of Spain. A vaudeville magician. Garamond. Say it. It conjures up stories like so many doves and rabbits stuffed up sleeves.

It’s not a particularly special font. It wasn’t on my Mac until I put it there. But it’s interesting to me. Unexpected. Appealing.

The email came through late one afternoon as the grey of the day faded to the darker grey of the evening. You spend a long time looking at grey in this job, staring out of the window, allowing yourself to daydream, visualising where you’re going to place each speech balloon, how you’re going to stress each word, how you’ll make the story flow across the page, through time.

The email arrived with its nothing header. Possible Opportunity, it said. Nothing like downplaying what you’re about to say, I thought. I was ready to hit delete but thought I’d do it the justice of scrolling down.

It was the Garamond that took me by surprise.

I very much wish to meet you, it said. I am a great admirer of your work and believe that it would be mutually interesting to talk. I shall meet you at 10 o’clock on Friday morning at the coffee shop opposite Canterbury station. I know you go there a great deal and that you will feel safe there. Please be assured, I am not a stalker, nor a threat to you in any way. I just wish to speak with you about your work. My name is Oscar.

When I was seven, I followed a cat that had appeared in our garden. I climbed fences, crawled through hedges, ran across roads. A policeman sweating in blue found me standing at the foot of an oak tree in the park, staring up at the branches. Asked me where I lived. Took me home. I’d been following the cat for three hours and was miles away from home.

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend, older. He went away to college. Missing him one day, I packed a bag and hit the road. It took me sixteen hours, equal parts thumb outstretched in the rain and sitting in a stranger’s front seat, a can of hairspray poking out of the top of my bag as some sort of deterrent to potential rapists and murderers. The boyfriend wasn’t expecting me. I found him in the union bar, his arms wrapped around a second year Philosophy student with a stud in her tongue and a rose tattooed on her wrist. There was no policeman to take me home this time. It took me eighteen hours, crying all the way.

You can tell from these things that if there’s something to follow, I’ll follow it. If there’s someone to meet, I’ll meet them. If there’s a Possible Opportunity, then it’s my door that will be knocked.

Friday morning, and I walked to the coffee shop. Posters in shop windows, billboards, bus shelters: all lent me their fonts for reassurance. A smile of Arial at the cornershop. An irritation of Comic Sans in the butcher’s. A classy nod of Times New Roman in the window of the vet’s. A poster on the church noticeboard explored a new circle of WordArt hell. Once you start to live in a world of fonts, it’s hard to switch them off.

I settled in with a latte from a Bodega Sans list. Oscar arrived just after I’d spooned froth from the coffee glass into my mouth; I tried to smile, put the spoon down, stand up and shake his hand all at the same time. Something had to give; I dropped the spoon, fussed at it on the table. Oscar muttered something about a napkin, came back with one and a black coffee for himself. We sat and sipped in silence for a minute or two.

“So…” I offered.

“So.” Oscar replied.

More silence. I went back to my coffee, thought about the pages waiting back at home for me, suspended in silence too.

“You’re just as I imagined you.” Oscar said.

More silence was the best way to handle that one. I was beginning to question my feelings about Garamond. Maybe it was the font of freaks and charlatans. Maybe it was the font of daily disappointments. Of dropped spoons and lost cats and boyfriends wrapped round second year Philosophy students with studs in their tongues. Maybe Garamond had let me down.

“Julia, I have a proposition for you.”

OK, this was getting weirder. I looked up over the poppy seed muffins, caught the eye of a black-shirted barista who smiled nervously in return.

Oscar blew across the top of his coffee, took a sip, grimaced. “Not good.”

I shrugged. “The proposition?”

“Indeed. I wish to present you with a task.” I was starting to think that Oscar spoke in Garamond as well as writing in it. Duelling Frenchmen and music hall musicians danced behind my eyes. “I have fallen deeply in love with a beautiful young lady.”

“Well, I’m flattered, but…”

“Please, Julia, try not to embarrass yourself.” He dabbed at the table with his forefinger, picked up a rogue speck of sugar, blew it away onto the floor. “As I said, I am in love. I wish to communicate with the young lady in question, but I am afraid that she will not be responsive to my advances.”

It was all getting a bit Jane Austen, the writer not the font. I smiled at Oscar.

“The task that I am passing to you is the task of creating a font. I will write to the young lady using your font. She will, as a result, fall in love with me.”

I smirked, tried to turn it into a cough, failed.

“You are skeptical, yes? You don’t think that a font can do this? That it can make one person fall in love with another?”

He had me there. If fonts can make you happy, angry, sympathetic, blue, then why couldn’t a font make you fall in love? And if people can fall in love with eyes, gestures, smiles, then why couldn’t they fall in love with words?

I looked straight into Oscar’s black, black eyes.

“Give me a week.”

It was a quiet week. I ignored the voices that were supposed to fill my days: the superhero, the laughing villain, the disillusioned cop. I ignored the artists, the editors. I ignored email, phone calls, Twitter, food, sleep, the world. Everything that I had was dedicated to Oscar. I worked the words each day, messed with them, stretched them, squashed them, blended them like chemical compounds. I was chasing the elusive, the cat in the garden, the boyfriend in the bar.

It was done by Wednesday night.

Oscar refused to meet me sooner than Friday. It might not be ready, he said in a Garamond note. I might wish to reflect, to ruminate. I paced the flat for two days.

Friday morning, I showered. It seemed only fair to make the effort for Oscar. I packed up my laptop, half-ran to the coffee shop, ordered a poppy seed muffin this time to see how Oscar would respond to the little bits of black that would scatter across the table between us.

He was late, laborious. He spent an age taking off his overcoat, folding it and refolding it across his chair. He refused to speak until his coffee had cooled enough to sip. He gestured at the laptop.

“It is ready?”

“It is ready.” Even I couldn’t resist a bit of melodrama. I opened up the laptop, sparked up a file. The document sprang to life. Fourteen lines of Shakespeare’s finest; a sonnet of love to showcase the new creation. Oscar looked at it like he was scrutinising a pig at a country show, a mixture of expertise and discomfort. I wondered how he would know if it was right. Briefly, I wondered if it might make him fall in love with me. And if it was a failure if he didn’t.

“This will suffice.” He handed me a memory stick. “The file, please. And a condition. You will delete all copies of this from your laptop, your back up and your external hard drive.”

He waited.

“And the copy that you have on your own memory stick.”

“You sure you’re not a stalker?”

“Just a very thorough man, Julia. A very thorough man.”

I handed the memory stick back, the font now lodged in its brain.

“Thank you, Julia.” He held on to my hand as he took the memory stick. “I would like to express my gratitude for all your efforts on this… unusual task. Here.”

He handed me an envelope, manila, the word Julia printed in Garamond on a label and stuck on the front. It was heavy in my hands; I opened it and saw a sheaf of paper. Even if they were ten pound notes, it was a lot of money, a couple of months’ rent maybe, or the new Cintiq. By the time I looked up to thank him, Oscar had gone.

A week later, the letters started.

A week after that, the chaos.

Maybe I was the only one who didn’t get a letter. Maybe I wasn’t.

Janet at the hairdressers got a letter. And Tammi the Saturday girl at the comic store. Louise from college. Kim, my cousin. I watched it spread like a plague on Facebook, heard the chat in the shops, in the pub.

Every woman, every single one, had fallen in love.

They were joyous, they were giddy, they were laughing and dancing and floating. They dressed smarter, put their make-up on with more precision, started ignoring their boyfriends, their husbands, talked in hushed tones on the phone to their friends.

Relationships shattered like dropped glasses. They packed their bags, they left. Letterboxes started to fill up with divorce papers, like the unwashed dishes left beside sinks, the piles of laundry growing in the heartache.

I emailed Oscar. I wanted to meet. The reply was automatic. Arial.

Thank you for your message. My current research project is taking me across the country and I will not be responding to email for some time.

That was six months ago. Life moves on. The women: they live in hope, waiting for the day they will meet the man of their dreams. Waiting for Oscar.

I hear stories sometimes, whispers on the wind, of women who meet the man who wrote to them. He waits for them, hidden, a very private man. Usually he is standing at the front gate when she comes home. If she doesn’t believe who he is, he hands her his business card. I’ll bet you all the money in that envelope the card isn’t printed in Garamond. He shows up at night and by morning he is gone. Stories crawl through the ether; women in love one day, heartbroken the next.

Life moves on. The men are starting to recover, to rebuild. They look around and wonder: who’s the next girl for me? Who’s single? Who might show an interest?

In a world full of single men, a world of infinite choice, I’ve just finished a new project. I spotted what Oscar would call a possible opportunity. And like I said: I won’t be going speed dating again.

copyright, Lizzie Boyle, July 2012 🙂

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