Three months have passed like they had never arrived. After a lengthy and much-publicized trial, my brother has been condemned to life imprisonment. There seems to be no way out for him. It is done; he is sealed up for good.
The neighbors are still a bit wary of me. Even the local shopkeepers look at me with cautious eyes. After all, a murderer was caught when he was with me. It takes a while for people to become warm again. The little gestures have started. I am getting a few nods in greeting as I walk by, and some of the women have again started smiling at me.
It was quite another experience to see the media perform at close quarters during the trial. There were countless times when I had mikes thrown into my face, asking me to comment on this or that. After every new finding, they would come back to me to ask gorier details. Looking at them in action, I was reminded of a cluster of feckless vultures swooping down upon a dying prey.
But their prodding did not get them any closer to me. Their questions made no impact on me. At least all of them didn’t, for there was one question that made me stop in my tracks.
The question was asked by a red-haired woman who hadn’t quite managed to get the mike as much in front of my face as she would have liked. “Do you know anything about the letter?” she asked.
“What letter?” I turned and snapped at the reporter.
“The letter that was found in his pocket,” she snapped back.
I knew about the letter. It was in his pocket all the while he killed her. But I chose not to share my knowledge.
During our incarceration, during the very brief time that we were together, I came to know that Edmund had had the letter on him. The letter was now in custody of the police department as was the case with everything else that was on his person when he was arrested. It had just a sentence on it written at the center of the page:
The payment is due.
The moment I realized he had the letter, everything fell into perspective. There was something quite unholy about the letter. I had first heard about it when I was just ten, when I once overheard Mom and Dad speak about Uncle Dustin’s sudden death.
“How did he die, all of a sudden?” Mom asked.
“There are some things that cannot be explained,” my father told her. “We must let those things be.” The way he said that made it sound quite ominous. I was eavesdropping through a crack in the door, and could only see their silhouettes on the far wall cast by the light of the single chandelier that hung in the middle of the room.
“What do you mean?” Mom persisted.
“There’s something you need to know about,” Dad said. “Our family is cursed by a letter. I had not thought much about it till now, till Dusty’s death, but Eva told me he was reading a letter the other day and his expressions suddenly changed. I at once understood it was the same letter.”
“What is this letter?”
“I do not know the details,” Dad elaborated. “I never asked my father about it, God rest his soul, though he tried telling me. He told me the letter appears and disappears, and the person who gets it, his life falls into turmoil. There is some ancient story in our family of someone turning into priesthood and then doing unspeakable things with a mentally unstable boy, and the boy’s family putting a hex on the priest. I do not know what, why, when, but I do know they sent the offender some letter—this same mysterious letter—and he read it and went all blue in the face and fell stump-dead right at that spot.”
It was understandable why Dad was so flustered. Uncle Dustin had been the healthiest in our family, the Granges. He was always moving about, involved in sports, advising others about what to eat and what not. He was the only one who did not have an insurance policy and no one pestered him to have one because his constitution did not allow anyone to think anything untoward could happen to him. But, he was the one who was snuffed out at 32, inexplicably so.
“Where is that letter now?” Mom whispered, clearly in complete awe of what she was hearing.
“Eva could not find it last night. She wanted to read it, find out what was in it, but he must have kept it away somewhere after reading it. You know how fastidious he was about keeping things in their proper place. It’s all for the better that she did not lay her hands on it. Who knows what might have happened if she had done so?”
“If there is such a thing, we must destroy it at once,” Mom said. My Mom was many good things, but the one bad thing in her was that she was gullible. If anyone told her eating raw pork was good for longevity, she would be the first to go to the charcuterie.
But then the realism of Uncle Dustin’s death encompassed all of us and we went to the funeral dressed appropriately in black and mourned and forgot all about the letter.
But adolescent minds do not forget things so easily. One day, when Edmund had been mollycoddled by our parents for his srellar singing at a school performance, much to my annoyance, I felt the devil of envy rearing its head within me again. I cornered him in the dressing room behind the stage itself. I caught him in a vulnerable half-naked position.
“What are you doing here?” he snapped, hiding his modesty as quickly as he could.
“There’s something I know,” I teased, “and you don’t.”
“About a letter.”
And I told him everything I had overheard. His teen eyes grew wide in amazement, and I received immense satisfaction in unleashing this special information on him.
“Who told you this?” he asked me when I had told the tale, fabricating it a bit to make it sound more interesting.
“Dad told me,” I lied, and felt the pleasure of the lie coursing through my veins, “and Mom was there too.”
“They didn’t tell me,” he said, and I could hear the complaint in his tone.
“No they didn’t,” I grinned. “Make sure you don’t let them know you know.” And I left his puzzled half-naked self and moved out of the green room.