Your lover reads his old love letters. He keeps them where he hopes you will not find them: in an old candy box in the back of the closet, in the bottom drawer of his dresser, a cabinet in the basement. Do not hunt for them.
If he were to dump the contents of this tin in front of you in an act of complete confession, do not read them. Do not look at their quantity, because it will fill you with grief if they are too many or too few. Too many and you wonder why he kept every one. Too few, and you wonder why these are the important ones, the ones he felt the need to keep. Do not study the varieties of paper; those notes written on loose-leaf are the most threatening, prized despite their cheap stationary. Do not look at their age, especially if
they look as if they have been read a dozen times over. You will wonder when your lover folded that note last, and when he will unfold it next. You will wish they were still stiff at the folds, as if they’d never been open, discarded. You do not want to see the hearts outlined in red by someone else’s hand.
They are historical documents. Maps of an unfamiliar terrain, with you as the X. These pages were written by someone with whom he was folded and bent together in sleep and private conversation, bent like these notes.
Do not imagine how he reads these letters. Maybe he goes through them indiscriminately, grabbing at random. Or he may go downstairs while you are reading a book, to visit someone’s kind words. Sometimes he is driven down those steps by a memory that appeared while folding laundry. He could retrace the letters of the writer’s name with his hand, wonder where she is.
When you are old, will you pretend that he is beside you in bed when you are alone, the phantom weight of his arm in the convex of your hip? One day will he pretend that the body next to him is you, or worse yet, that you are someone else? Right now the nights spent going through that tin are not worth sleeping alone. It may be, one day. Insure against the uncertainty of love.
You must outnumber these love letters. Your importance will be measured in these romantic souvenirs. Make him discard others to make room for yours. Without these letters you are a series of moments you can not control. Memory is a poor judge, especially when it comes to love. Write specifics. Write about how he kissed the top of your head, hand on your waist as you stood in the kitchen cutting onions, your eyes watering. Write about these times that memory threatens.
Love letters are not for your children to find after the funeral. They are company that you hope you never have to call on, but company all the same. You want to remember you were loved, that intimacy passed between you and another. Your love letters are tucked into a book you never read, pages torn out to make room for your own fat stack. You will try to forget that they are there, to rediscover.
Write dirty notes. Lust is less fickle than love. Be his pornography, on the nights he is alone. Despite the breed of your stationary, these letters are sure to be tucked into that hiding place he hopes only he knows. Be descriptive, but not crude. Use terms of endearment, pet names. Do not take pictures, because imagination is more fertile. While he is reading he will imagine you in his favourite shirt, on that mattress on the floor you spent so many nights on together, with the ripped sheet and warm blanket. Tell him how it felt, his hands on you. And in his aftermath, he will think of you fondly.