Today, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. A day to reflect on the brevity of life and a day to celebrate romantic love. I thought it would be fitting to share something from a story of mine that captures the spirit of this day.
My short play To Whom It May Concern was performed back in May of 2015 by the Words Players Theatre in Rochester, MN as part of their 10th Annual Thornton Wilder Play Festival. It was an incredible experience writing, casting and directing what became a deeply personal and powerful work of art.
The play opens with newlyweds Penny and Ted getting moved into their first house. While unpacking, Penny discovers a stack of letters from her deceased husband, Howard. The letters are addressed “to whom it may concern”, and Penny realizes they are for Ted.
I’m planning on talking more about this play and the profound impact it had on my life in another post, but for now, I want to share an excerpt from the novelization of it that I’m working on.
Happy Valentine’s Day, hope Lent gets off to a good start for you!
Photo credit: Joel Kuhlmann
Jordan had absolutely insisted that Ted come to the party. Ted would have much rather stayed home, read a book, and gone to bed at 9:30. But Jordan said he would not be moving again for forty years, at least, and Ted owed it to him to come and warm his house with everyone else. So Ted found himself getting out of a taxi on a picturesque suburban street in front of a shabby but quaint little house. Jordan was getting married in a few months and planned to work on improving the place before the wedding. It began to rain as Ted walked up the steps, and he was greeted noisily by Jordan who was already tipsy. Jordan promptly introduced Ted to twelve people who greeted him politely and proceeded to ignore him for the rest of the evening. They were all dressed as though this were a formal affair and Ted regretted having worn his favorite sweater, keenly aware of the small hole in the left sleeve. He knew one other person, Ralph, the fellow who played the piano the entire night, but Ralph was not much of a talker.
There was a woman there who stood out to Ted because, though she was not the center of attention, people seemed to gravitate towards her anyway. She was a woman in her late twenties who dressed and styled her hair simply but elegantly. She didn’t say much, but she laughed loudly and appreciatively at everyone who spoke to her.
Jordan tried to get everyone to play parlor games for an hour and finally, they urged Ralph to play them a slow one and paired off to dance around the piano.
So Ted, feeling underdressed and out of place, had gotten himself a glass of scotch and handful of oyster crackers and went out to the back porch. He found he was not alone — the woman who laughed loudly was sitting on the steps, watching the rain, swirling her champagne around in its glass.
“Oh, hello,” she said, startled as Ted came out the back door.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry,” Ted said, staring at her and taking a step back. “Am I…”
“No, no, please, come on out,” she replied. “There’s all the wrong kind of noise in there right now, I know,”
“Ah, yes,” Ted laughed nervously and walked till he stood at the top of the steps, glancing nervously down at the top of her auburn head. He noticed she had her shoes off and was resting her feet in the puddle forming at the bottom of the steps.
“So, uh, how do you know Jordan?” he asked.
“I’m good friends with Cynthia,”
A distant clap of thunder could be heard echoing over the trees and houses.
“Go on, sit down,” she invited, patting the space beside her on the step.
Hesitantly, Ted sat down beside her, stealing a look at her out of the corner of his eye. She was so beautiful in a soft, easygoing way but something about the crinkles on the corners of her eyes revealed a deep sadness in her heart, somewhere.
He looked away and cleared his throat. “You know, Jordan is the first of my friends to get married,”
She nodded absentmindedly. “Mm. I was the first of mine,”
“Oh,” Ted was surprised how crestfallen he felt at hearing this. “Is your husband here tonight?”
She glanced at him and smiled so sadly it melted his heart. “No. I haven’t got a husband anymore. He died,”
Ted raised his eyebrows. “I’m sorry,”
“Don’t be. It was years ago,”
Ted didn’t know what to say, but she changed the subject anyway. “They’ll have a nice backyard,” she observed. “Once Jordan cleans it up a bit.”
“That tree would be perfect for a tree house.”
She laughed. “You’re right.”
“And I think Cynthia was talking about putting in a garden.”
She sighed heavily, a contented sigh. “I like rain.”
“Mm. I like it during the day, but not when it’s dark out like this.”
“Mm, yes. I wish it would clear up so we could see the stars,” She looked upward at the curtain of raindrops coming down out of the inky night sky.
“Do you know how to find the constellations?” Ted asked her.
She looked at him. “No! Do you?”
“Most of them,” Ted said, smiling nervously at her.
“I lived in the city for so long, I got used to not bothering to try and see the stars,”
They fell silent for a while, listening to the rain in front of them and the merry sounds of the party behind them. They sat, soaking in the quiet between them, a quiet that was comfortable and full, like a body after a good meal.
Ted looked at the woman, at her feet wet in the puddle, at her not caring that the hem of her dress was also getting wet, and back again to her face. He took in the imperfections and the colors in the dim, warm light of the porch lamp. In that moment, her softness made him brave, and he scooted slightly closer to her.
To his delight and surprise, she reciprocated the scoot.
“Do you live around here?” he asked her.
“No, I live downtown,”
“Really? So do I,” Ted said. “I have a little studio apartment,”
“What do you do?” she asked.
“I’m an editor — or, I’m becoming one,” Ted replied. “I’m up for a job with a small publishing company,”
“Really? That sounds wonderful. Do you edit books, newspapers?”
“So you like to read,” she said with a smile.
He nodded. “I love it,”
“What do you read?”
“Mainly mystery novels,”
She laughed that loud, pretty laugh. “I don’t know much about mystery stories. What are the good ones?”
“The classics are always good — Sherlock Holmes and all that,” Ted replied.
“I should read more,” she said softly.
They were quiet for a while. She drew her feet up out of the puddle and shivered a little.
“Here,” Ted took off his jacket and placed it over his shoulders. He started to take his hand away, but she caught it, holding it on her shoulder. She turned and looked at him, smiling warmly.
He smiled back bashfully, but she scooted closer and so did he.
Now here’s a real woman, Ted remembered thinking. Nothing fake or put on about her. She had a genuine sincerity that matched his, something he hadn’t encountered before. By the end of the night he got her number, and, from then on, he had eyes for no one else.
Thank you for reading, God bless!
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