Written in blue biro, landscape, across 7 sheets of A5, both sides – 14 aged brown pages, folded almost in half, with 2 cms of the longer side folded over again so the letter fits neatly into a small saffron yellow envelope. A cerulean blue stamp in the top right corner (6 1/2p) and ‘REMEMBER to use the POST CODE’ stamped black above the address and onto the Queen’s head:
10 ****** Street,
Sept 28, 1975
How are you?
I’ve just written to Little Les and Chrissie. And of course, I’m watching T.V. at the same time; a fatal mistake. Beryl Reid has just got into a taxi with 2 nuns and is feeling them up. It’s “The Killing of Sister George.”
How did your show go? What are you doing now? I haven’t phoned mainly because I’m trying to save money. They say the telephone has killed the art of letter writing – but in a way, letters aren’t really the same. Anyway, if you’re brought up on the telephone, oh shit – if you know what I mean.
Liz was saying she thinks you really enjoyed yourself the last time you were up. She said you were marvellous with Aimee and had endless patience with her. I tried not to be jealous.
I was over in Edinburgh 2 weeks ago. A pretty average time. Bob was out boozing all night. Woke up Aimee when he came in – asked me 40 times if I didn’t really love her? Yes Bob, I do, honestly – she is great.” Reassured him that he was terrific in a peevish, uptight voice. Well, at least I didn’t yell at him.
I bought a pair of denim culottes on Thursday. £10.45! They’re very nice. Hem falls half way between knee and ankle. Also bought a stripped pine chest with brass handles – £35! Charlie is going halfers with me on that – thank heavens. He said “We need to have at least one good thing amongst all the junk.” He’s right. Maybe the broken toilet seat and the kitchen ceiling will be easier to bear now.
Did you know Grandma had finally been moved into the nursing home? I told Chrissie. You probably already know anyway. It is kind of tragic when you start thinking about it. You probably can’t remember so much – going there for weekends or for the day, seeing Uncle Mike in his rocking bed with a cork in his throat! Playing the piano and singing. Arthur’s pancakes and Jones sausages – with maple syrup! Anne Marie and how grown up and sophisticated she was. Not all that many memories, I suppose. But it was nice to be able to have a grandmother who stayed in a big apartment on Park Avenue.
How’s the boyfriend situation – promiscuous Mikey Cuddihy? No, you aren’t promiscuous, however you spell it – it’s just that I was so virtuous – still am, no, not virtuous – well, you know, just different.
I find myself hating more people this past year. Am feeling they deserve to be hated! I was never really like that before.
Do you feel that not having had parents from an early age has affected you adversely? Pardon spelling mistakes please. I feel, for me, it was fortunate – at the age I was. Old enough to have felt their benefit – young enough to still be very selfish and still relatively unselfconscious so could recover quickly. Young enough also not to have been adversely affected by parents!
Well, I have tried. Sometimes I feel so sorry for you and Chrissie, especially. Not so much Sean. If you have any thoughts on the subject and even if it does sound kind of phoney to you.
Maybe I’ll use the typewriter the next time.
Charlie is still alive. We still like each other.
Your sister, in case you’ve forgotten
(And then on an extra sheet of paper, folded on it’s own with ‘Mikey’ written on the back):
Please, I hope you don’t find this letter embarrassing. Its only a kind of experiment – instead of how’s the weather. I’m not really getting old at 27.
My big sister and I had been writing to each other since we arrived on this island as children from the USA in 1962 after our parents died and we were sent to separate schools and separate lives – she and my older brother Bob to a boarding school in Scotland, my brothers Chris, Sean and I to Summerhill school in Suffolk. Cramped, friendly handwriting she had, leaving a heavy margin on the left hand side, so there were often several sheets of paper involved; sometimes she wrote on reporter’s notepad paper – just 4 or 5 words to a line, with the paper folded vertically – not quite in half, cramming them into long thin envelopes.
There were five of us, including my sister, six if you include my half sister on Long Island. We were scattered around now: Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, New York, San Francisco. We all phoned Deedee when we needed to talk. Even if one of us wasn’t speaking to the other, we were always on speaking terms with my sister. And she would give us news from one or the other. Or sort out a dispute between one or other of us. We all felt we were her favourite. Sometimes my sister sent me telephone stamps to help cover my phone bills, but she would often write a letter instead of making a lengthy phone call, to keep her own bills down.
‘Is that you Mikey?’
I’ve dialled the phone, wanting to speak to my sister. I hate phones, but I need to speak to her. A letter just won’t do!
‘Come on, spit it out!’
Like most people who stammer, I hate phone calls, and I would put off making them for days, or not at all. Finally getting up the courage to make a call, sometimes my recipient would hang up before I could get the words out, thinking I was a hoax caller. Answering the phone was equally traumatic; the ‘hello’ would get stuck in my throat, and they’d hang up on me, puzzled.
My sister was used to it.
‘Yes, hi – it’s me!’
(There, I’ve done it).
I can hear her lighting a cigarette, settling down for a chat.
She keeps the phone in her dark, square hallway on top of a big chest of drawers, with a lamp – always lit, and a reporter’s notebook with a pen beside it. The phone has a long cord, so for long conversations, she takes it into the kitchen, with the receiver nestled between her left shoulder and her ear, carrying the phone in her right hand, shutting the door behind her with her foot. Then she settles into a chair by an antique wooden trunk, with a pile of Hello magazines and newspapers on it, and her ashtray.
‘So how are things?’ (She takes a drag on her cigarette).