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The Letter in the Desk: Before the Novel

Posted on the 27 December 2012 by Steph's Scribe @stephverni

PLATE_29.tifAt National University, when I had decided to write BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE as the novel for my thesis, we wrote short exercises that would help prompt us and get the creative juices flowing. Many students got ideas from the prompts for novellas or short stories.

Because my novel revolved around love, and more specifically, forgiveness, between Michael and Annabelle that spans about 15 years, I chose an exercise about writing letters in particular because the story takes place in the 1980s, long before cellular phones, texting, and e-mail. People still wrote letters, and parts of this story revolve around letters. And while I hadn’t written this scene for the novel at the time, I had been looking for a way for the “big apology” to unfold. This was the scene before it was perfected (as I liked it) in the novel. It changed and morphed and evolved, as writing should when you are working towards an end product.

Writing prompts can be very helpful in producing a final work of art, so today, we take a  behind-the-scenes look at prompt writing and where it can take you…

The Letter in the Desk

Mr. Contelli escorted me into the library, a place I hadn’t been in years. It looked the same, though shelves that had previously been empty were now fully stacked with hardback books. I always loved this place; the way the light came streaming through the enormous picture windows that overlooked the Severn River made it a pleasant place to work. The crystal chandelier centered over the desk added a touch of femininity to a mostly masculine room. It had always been Michael’s favorite.

“Let me tell him you are here, Annabelle. I think he was just going in the shower,” Mr. Contelli said to me, trying not to feel awkward.

His dislike for me still seemed apparent, and I tried not to let that dissuade me from pursuing Michael’s forgiveness. When I had asked him yesterday at the foot of the driveway if he would attend Christmas Eve mass with me, I caught him off-guard. This had been a tradition of ours. Until yesterday, we had not spoken in ten years, and now I was standing in the library of his parents’ lovely home, about to ask him to forgive me for what I did those many years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Contelli poked their heads in the door. “Michael will be down in ten minutes. Make yourself comfortable. We are heading out now and hope to see you there,” Mrs. Contelli said.

“Thank you. See you there.”

I heard the front door shut, then the car start.

There was a drawer in the desk where Michael used to keep all of our work—his sketches, my poetry, our letters. I wondered if it were still in there. It was always known as “Michael’s drawer,” and others were asked to “keep out.” I fashioned myself in the seat of the desk, and slowly opened the drawer. Deep in the back of it, behind a small box of rubber bands, staples, and Elmer’s glue, was a shallow box. I could still hear the shower water running, so I pulled it out.

It was just as I remembered it. I felt ridiculous, like a bad detective or novice spy. I noticed all the letters were opened, and I started to peruse them. The first letter was from Michael to me when he had first been accepted at NYU. It read, “Dear Annabelle, Can you believe it? I am so excited. I have always wanted to live in New York. I can’t wait for you to visit!” The second one I saw was from me to him; my bad poetry was something that belonged shoved in a box in the back of a desk. It pained me to read it.

And then I came across an unopened letter addressed to me from London. There was postage on it, but it had not been mailed. My hand was shaking and I grabbed the letter opener. I gently opened it, unfolded the letter.

Dear Annabelle,

It’s been three months since you left me waiting for you at the airport and I’m still hoping you’ll explain it to me. I’m in London now. I have a job at The London Times editing copy, and am pursuing my master’s degree at The University of London. I am moving along without you, though it doesn’t feel the same. What were originally our plans are now just mine, and I feel empty and lonely without you.

I hope this letter reaches you at a time when you are able to think about what happened and can explain why you chose not to marry me. Any communication from you would be welcomed. I always assumed we meant more to each other than what has become of us.

I love you…always,


I stared at it, tears rolling down my face, ashamed, even after all this time, at what a coward I had been.

“Okay,” he said cheerfully as he opened the door. “Let’s get this Christmas Eve mass underway. This will be interesting.”

He caught a glimpse of me standing there crying as I held the letter. I collapsed into the chair. “I’m so sorry,” I said, barely getting the words out through tears. “I’m so sorry.”

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