In the dark of the morning, she studied its form. It sat where she had placed it, in the center of the round of the table. Three and a half inches by five did it measure; smooth and reflecting the light of the lamp, it glistened and twinkled as though constructed by the substance of stars.
No ordinary envelope, it was colored of gold with a material heavier and smoother than paper. She knew not from where it came. There was no return address, and no addressee. The words on it were engraved in cursive, not written or typed and only two words appeared on the face of the envelope:
How did it find its way to her? Was it in error? Did some boy or girl mistake her house for another?
Who would be sending or placing chain letters on such obviously expensive stationery, engraved in cursive? This was certainly not the work of a child or prankster teens!
She stared down the envelope as it dared her to open it. But she couldn’t.
Perhaps it was a mistake. Maybe a neighbor was its intended recipient? It might be a game through a women’s club or a church group. But it couldn’t be for her. She wasn’t into those kinds of games. Chain letters were for children: “Don’t break the chain!” she remembered from written taunts on notebook paper from her school-aged past.
“Don’t break the chain”.
Such superstition. Really, why did she even pick it up off the ground? It was laying at the base of her mailbox but still . . . could it not have blown out of the mailman’s satchel to where she found it?
(But there was no addressee . . .)
She remembered the feel of it when she stooped to pick it up that afternoon. She remembered the yield of the material under her thumb and fingers. She watched the gold particles move under the pressure of her touch, as though a wake in gold-covered liquid. Mesmerizing was it’s movement and warm to the touch. The gold particles picked up the light and refracted in multiple colors and the texture made her. . .
. . . That someone would send her such a beautifully covered letter, engraved in elegant calligraphy and worthy of wealthiest of ladies or statesmen . . .
But there was no addressee.
Just the two words
A chain letter. It just couldn’t be. It had to be trick: Sent by someone with a cruel sense of humor to raise the hopes of a naive and lonely woman. And what would she do if she opened this letter? She could not afford such grossly extravagant stationery and even if she could, who would she sent it to?
Who would not believe she was crazy for participating in such long-forgotten games of idleness?
She stared at the envelope. Never had she seen such a quality even in a wedding invitation, had she ever received one. This envelope as not just token of vanity or extravagance; this envelope was beautiful. It was elegant. Even the corners were slightly rounded, not sharp. It wasn’t made of paper, it just couldn’t have been!
What manner of instruction could possibly be contained in such an exquisite vessel of delivery?
Suppose the chain letter were valuable! What if the chain letter were actually a treasure map? What if each recipient in the chain came together with their clues to share in such a treasure!
She imagined each recipient had a letter, and the letters became a word, but in what order?
She imagined the shuffle of people and how they would commune, strategize and commiserate. Such a wonderful feeling came over her as she thought upon the linking of people and purpose.
She imagined each letter brought together to form words which would become sentences. Sentences would become paragraphs and paragraphs would become chapters, chapters would become books, and they could write the story they wanted, from just one letter . . . just one . . . letter . . . in a chain of letters.
She thought hard of the people she did know, who would she send one to?
Then she thought, what “letter” would she send? Who sent the letter she received? Was it even hers? How is it that she was even chosen to be a recipient?
What if people thought she was crazy? Would they laugh at her and rip up the beautiful envelope engraved in elegant cursive letters?
As the dark became glow and the glow became light through her kitchen window, the wood of the chair sent dull presses of pain into her hips. She had been sitting there a long time.
In the light of the day, the envelope didn’t seem so impressive. It lay where it had all night, 3 ½ by 5, gold engraved in cursive the words “Chain Letter”.
“Don’t break the chain”.
She was surprised to find a tear sliding down her right cheek.
Once upon a time, she may have opened with joy such a gift; not caring who thought what about her. She wouldn’t care about being called foolish or gullible because Joy would burn those insults to cinders before they ever became a threat.
She reached across the table and picked up the envelope. She ran the tip of her index finger across the engraved, cursive letters.
She pulled the envelope to her heart and hugged it with all her might. She closed her eyes.
Behind the grey of her covered eyes, she could see the glistening gold moving as individual particles under the stroke of her thumbs. The warmth returned as did her smile.
She couldn’t explain it, but she knew what was in the letter before she opened it; and she knew what she was supposed to do with it.
She stood up and took the envelope and walked from the kitchen into the living room and she smiled. She was not about the break the chain . . .
“What an odd woman”, said the man behind the pharmacy counter to himself. His shift had just started and already five people clamored for their pills and lotions.
As he straightened up the counter from the display of watch batteries that had been knocked askew, a quick glint of light caught his eye.
Under the tip of the box of refrigerator magnets was a piece of paper. He pulled it out with the tip of his thumbnail to keep from knocking over yet another box.
“That’s strange” he said softly as he lifted the piece of paper. It must have belonged to that strange woman that came in . . . the one with the quiet smile.
He turned the piece of paper over and realized it was not just a piece of paper but an envelope. His thumb moved over the material as he watched it come to life. The material was a glistening gold color, but the texture!
He turned the envelope over again and his eyes widened.
Across the envelope, engraved, not written or typed, in elegant cursive writing were the words . . .
(Don’t break the chain!)