​East Fork:

A Journal of the Arts​​

Dear Esther, Love Shelby 

By: Riley Courtney 

Ink stained the floor where Miriam Kildare’s desk once sat. The room remained vacant
for years following her passing, as the nearby buildings began remodeling, and the apartment
building prices soared. Only the upper floors had been retouched on her particular building, and minimally at that.
A complete deconstruction would be necessary to truly fix the apartment fixture, and the stubborn owner of the building remained insistent upon keeping it the same. To her, the building felt like history.

For lease, signs littered the building’s entrance and coated the exterior walls in the plastic
film-like material. In such a pleasant neighborhood, the type who could afford the rent wasn’t the
type attracted to Miriam’s former apartment.
A couple of people would tour it from time to time,
yet were never able to get past the piercing metallic odor and haunting sense they were greeted
upon stepping into Miriam’s room.

The room had been uninhabited for nearly 43 years before the owner thought it necessary to lower the price.
As the expenses of owning the complex continued to rise, she was losing
money by leaving it empty and cutting her losses.
Almost overnight, the signs surrounding the building doubled, announcing the room’s price drop, though she wasn’t flooded with desperate offers for it as she thought she would be. She only got one over the three-week period it was listed, and she was forced to accept the young girl’s offer.

Shelby Olive moved into Miriam’s old apartment at the young age of 17.
With her, she had only a single cardboard box, wrinkled from her time on the streets, and a backpack with
nothing more than a sleeping bag, a tattered sweater, and a waterlogged journal.
To the owner, offering her the apartment felt more like a charity case than a sale.

It didn’t take long for her to move in; she carried all her belongings in with her on her first visit to the apartment.
The room was on the first floor. The walls were coated with a thick layer of primer, in attempt to resemble the minimalistic modern look some of the other apartments had, but it was chipping away in multiple areas to reveal Miriam’s floral wallpaper. Shelby preferred the flowers to the sickly white paint and admired the small pieces that were showing. They were bright red carnations — the same type of flower she would give her past lover on special occasions. Never in large bunches, but she would discreetly hide one for her to find, leaving everyone else to wonder who it was from. Neither of them ever acknowledged the gesture, they never had time to.

She was left to her own devices, having the entire room to herself. For the first time in nearly a year, she had a roof over her head, running water, and an actual floor to sleep on. She wasn’t a religious person, but if she had been, she would have considered the apartment an act of God. She was safe.

Night fell, and because of the age and the extensive vacancy of her apartment, electricity
hadn’t been installed. The chill of night fell over her room as darkness swept away any warmth the sunlight offered. With only the moonlight as her guide, Shelby unpacked her sleeping bag into the closet in an attempt to preserve her body heat within an enclosed area.

Old crates and boxes sat at her feet throughout the entire night, holding remnants of Miriam’s time there, and she made a mental note to herself to explore those in the morning, hoping to find warmer clothing. Winter was approaching, and the sweater in her bag was her only remnant of last winter’s protection. She would also need a job to make the apartment payments, and her current garb wouldn’t let her past an interview at even the lowest entry-level jobs. Exhausted from the day’s excitement, and from built-up sleep deprivation, Shelby blacked out within seconds of getting into her sleeping bag and didn’t wake until late afternoon the following morning.

Miriam’s boxes were heavy and falling apart with age.
The cardboard felt so painfully dry, and the wooden crates threatened to splinter Shelby’s hands with their weight. She forages
around them, finding primarily tax papers, old family photographs, and a couple of letters between her family and her.
Situationally, the two of them were nearly identical. In the letters, there was never an expression of love, simply reminders that she wasn’t allowed back, and direct quotes from family gatherings expressing everyone’s hatred towards her.
It wasn’t clear what it was she did to deserve the treatment, but Shelby sought comfort in their similarities. She continued to dig, setting the letters off to the side. She hadn’t heard from her family since she had to leave, and while the letters weren’t anything near kind, she missed her mother’s contact and her father’s guidance. Small tears wet her under the eye, though her soft sobs remained silent as she riffled through the boxes.
There were a few sleeping gowns, and while they were thinner than anything that could bring her warmth, they appeared to be of real silk and it had been a while since she had gotten to own something so genuinely nice. There were a few pens at the bottom of one crate, with a filled notebook next to them. She set the pens aside, eager to pick back up on her journaling, and explores the notebook with increasing curiosity about Miriam’s life. Each page dates back nearly 62 years. Ink pools coat most pages, placing themselves in between words, resembling those staining the floor. Her handwriting is a soft, legible cursive, and every entry starts with some form of a greeting. Dear Esther, most read.

They have done what I feared most. They found us, and I am being forced to leave.
All my family has been notified, and I am left with nowhere to go. Tonight is my last night here, and I write this in secret for fear they will take this too from me. If this somehow returns to you, know that you are not the reason I left. You were always my reason to stay, but now I have no choice.
We will meet again in another life, my love, and in that life, we will be infinitely accepted. Now, I must get to packing or they won’t let me take anything.
Miriam Kildare

Tears flood helplessly from Shelby’s eyes. Over the past year, she has been careful not to cry. She has been careful to keep her story to herself. She has been careful to keep her guard up, but now she sits alone in her new apartment building with no one around to hurt her and lets the past year’s worth of grief fill the pages of Miriam’s notebook. Her mind races though remains empty at the same time. All she can think about is Eden, left alone with no explanation, no goodbye. Eden was her Esther, whoever that was to Miriam, and she has silently ached in her absence since the day she was forced to leave. She flips a few pages forward, moving years forward into Miriam’s life. She spent her time on the streets, begging for food, money, and any hospitality people could offer before she
found an apartment willing to let her stay. Situationally, Miriam and Shelby were identical. The initial entries comprised a single line, letting Esther know where she was that day, how she was doing, or simply a reminder of her love for her. Outside of the journal, Miriam never mentioned Esther. She tells her frequently how she wishes she could shout her name in the streets and find pride in their love the way her male counterparts do their wives. Dear Esther, Shelby flips between the longer entries, the exhaustion from the day’s emotions already tugging her back to sleep, but insistent on finding more. She had met others like her before, most of the other teens she met on the streets were homeless for similar reasons, but she made it a point to keep her secret to herself.

I wish to marry, and I wish to marry you. If I die, I want you there by my side. I want you to be the last thing I see, and I want you to be here with me now. There is an apartment for sale in the city, I can afford it working as a secretary at the local realtors firm, but it doesn’t feel right to settle. We are old enough now, we could find each other and our families can’t have a say. I will find you, Esther. I promise you, I will. We will live together in my new apartment, and all I own
will soon be yours too. There isn’t a thing that could stand between us anymore, darling. These are the days we have waited for.

The tears had stopped out of necessity; there wasn’t anything left to cry. Every sleepless night, her only comfort had been the thought of an eventual reunion with Eden. At the moment, this journal felt more like a prophetic retelling of her experiences so far. She needed to find her— she needed Miriam to find her.

Dear Esther,
Today I’m taking a sick day. I don’t have many left, but need to return home. I’m heading towards our hometown for the first time since I left. My parents have passed, and my brother invited me to the funeral. A lot of me feels like I should be sad, but they are the cause for so much of my misery. They are the reason we were forced apart. I know what we were doing was wrong; we were the town’s biggest sin, and I prayed every day for us to be cured, but after a certain point we must accept our damnation. As must those around us. I’m afraid of how they will treat me when I return. I’ll be back before dark, so the meeting won’t be too prolonged. I know you won’t be there, but part of me is praying for your presence. I grieved the loss of my parents the moment they asked me to leave, and I am simply returning for my brother’s sake. Today will be a hard day, and I wish you could be here with me.
With Love,
Miriam K.

Dark was once again approaching, casting its ever-deepening shadow across the apartment. Daylight diminishes, and the strain to read the entries increased the longer she tried. Desperate to continue, Shelby rummaged around through the crates until she found a candle and two matches. Only one was completely intact. She delicately presses the first head against the striker, letting it erupt into a short-lived, smokey flame. Her body shakes with urgency, as she attempts to light the wick of the candle, but the flame dissipates before the wick even resembles a flame. With the remaining match, she holds the candle in one hand, the match in the other, and the striker between her knees. The tip of the wick rests in her shaky, nimble grasp, as close as she can get it to the striker. When this flame lights, Shelby lets out a soft sigh of relief, expelling both the nerves from the candle and what she’s about to discover. The more she reads, the more she’s convinced she is reading her life play out on paper.

Dear Miriam,
It was all for nothing. The entry dates are just a few days from the last. I saw her, Not ‘you’. Standing, watching the burial from a safe distance; out of my family's sight. She had aged, she was much taller than she was when we were younger, and even from a distance, I could see the way the world had shaped her physique. She was looking for me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. When she spotted me, it wasn’t a look of eagerness. It wasn’t the longing temptation we once held in private. It wasn’t anything but remorse. Her body fell with a sudden disappointment. I found her after. She lingered, waiting for me despite her apparent lack of interest. Tears welled in my eyes, but it felt repelling to be around her. Any attraction, any connection we once shared, had vanished. She yelled at me, sobbing, screaming my name. I had ruined her and left her to pick up the pieces. I ruined her life in the way my parents ruined mine; she told me.

The ink runs off the page and pools up in small watery bolts on the paper, making it increasingly more difficult to read. Shelby studies Esther’s words as if they were Eden’s, letting each one of them strike her over and over. She hated me as much as I loved her. She set the notebook down, not being able to take any more, and blew the candle out. It laid open, with only a couple of pages left, as she shoved her belongings back into her box and bag. With a sudden sense of urgency, she knew she had to go. She had to find Eden. Taking that month’s rent, she left behind the journal, letters, and ink-stained floors, and headed
towards the bus. She was going home; she was going to Eden.

Dear Esther,

Read the last entry,

In another lifetime, my love.

Burnt red taints this page, laying open on the cold apartment floor as she heads towards Esther in her other lifetime.