“Letters Left Unanswered”: A short story

Selinna Tran, Print Managing Editor

I frequently enjoy visiting the local Barnes & Noble to have a nice, comforting place to study or catch up on some schoolwork. Oftentimes, I end up completing very little work but find myself occupying my time by observing the individuals around me. 

Across from me right now is an elderly woman, looking to be around the age of 65. She just crinkled up the bag that encased her Starbucks cookie and stuffed it into the plastic cup that had previously housed the Coke that she transferred from the bottle to a cup of ice. The other inhabitants of the table at which she sits are a book, a nondescript box and a card still enveloped in its cellophane packaging. 

Although the weather is upwards of seventy degrees and quite warm, she is wrapped in layers. She has been at the bookstore for about an hour — the first quarter spent perusing books, and the latter part spent simply sitting down at the Starbucks cafe. 

I am not quite sure why I do this, but my brain lends itself to weaving these melancholic — and often depressing — backstories for these individuals around me. For example, the lady across from me, let’s call her Donna (a name probably reminiscent of the song by The Lumineers). My mind fabricated this entire story that explains her solitude in the bookstore today. Perhaps it’s because all of those that she loves around her have passed. A husband that she used to have — one who would bring her her favorite cookie (when he remembered) after he got off of work. They met in college, and there wasn’t much intense passion like one thinks about in romantic novels, but they had a steady love, one that was dependable. 

She knew he would never hurt her, and he knew that she would always be by his side. And she was, for the forty years they were together. They gave birth to one son and their story was an American classic. They raised him with all the love they had and sent him off to a four-year university to do “whatever makes him happy”. 

Donna did not live with much excitement, but she didn’t need it. She had a life full of stability, and it was one that she did not look back on with many memories of immense depression or sadness — but also not immense happiness. 

For the past five years, life has been pretty much the same for Donna. Every morning, she wakes up and makes herself some coffee like she has done for most of her life. It’s probably not that good for her health, but it’s routine. She always seems to accidentally make a little bit too much because she tends to forget there’s not a second person to drink the rest. 

She stops by the local bookstore occasionally to see if there’s something to occupy her mind. Sometimes she stops by the stationary section to potentially grab a card to send to her son. The last twenty were unanswered. Perhaps there is something wrong with the postal service — life does move at a much faster pace nowadays than Donna is used to. 

Donna coughs, the Coke that she is drinking is a bit too bubbly and hits her throat in the wrong way. Still, she continues drinking. After a few pauses of looking around her, Donna gets up and looks at the children’s novels. She thinks for a moment, scanning her eyes over the jacket of the book. It is then that she remembers her son’s many (unsuccessful) attempts at bringing to life a grandchild for Donna. 

She closes the book and leaves the bookstore.