One bitter cold morning a few years ago, the kind of morning the snot freezes in your nose, I was running with a group from my yoga studio. (Our runs would start and end at the yoga studio in downtown Cincinnati.) One of the runners looked over at a table at a bar just as the run started and found a letter. He grabbed the letter, showed the group, and we talked about it as we ran. Immediately, I wanted to read the letter. I wanted to know what it said. I riffed about how it may have wound up on a table at a bar in 15 degree weather. The possibilities were endless. We did not stop running. We did not read the letter. We finished the run.
I talked with the owner of the yoga studio after the run. We told her the letter had been found at the bar on the corner. The intrigue around the letter built as she shared the story of the bar. The bar has a reputation for being a pretty rough place. Even the cops stay away. Most of its patrons have done hard time. The bar tender drives a Maserati. The letter was found outside the bar on a table in the dead of winter. How did it get there? Who left it? The situation begged explanation. I wanted to know the characters, back story, and conflict.
I read the letter when I got home.
The letter starts with a timeline including the death of the author’s parents when he was very young. His father was a WWII veteran and college professor. He doesn’t describe his mother other than to say she died in 1965. The author then requests the letter be given to the President of the Scripps Corporation (a large communications corporation headquartered in Cincinnati), and tells the story of assaulting his girl friend during a blackout, waking up in jail, and going to court. The letter devolves into a twisting tale of the FBI, truth serum, and hypodermic needles and quickly fades away with the author’s drunken body being kidnapped.
After I read the letter, I wondered about the truth the letter contained. The facts were bigger than life. The handwriting was choppy, and the words seemed to fade in and out of lucidness. The sadness was familiar. The plot was part James Bond, part CSI, and part Cops. I felt compelled to keep the letter that day. Perhaps I kept the letter because of the earnestness of the author, or the improbability of the letter being found, or the shear drama of the story itself.
I have done nothing with the letter since I found it that morning. I have not sent it to the President of Scripps as the author requested. I have not written the fictional back story. I have not fleshed out the characters and plot. I have not taken the story any further. I have simply kept the letter in my desk drawer. As a writer, it would be fun to explore where the story leads, much like I do in my imagination when I am people watching at an airport or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. Being found by that letter was an invitation to explore a story I did not know, to create from the part of my brain that is not bound by my own reality and experience, and to consider how and why this letter wound up in my hands that frigid morning.