Denyse Woods | January 16, 2023
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The letters kept coming. She wrote of Bormio, of winter-white hills and Alpine ridges hanging from the skies, of streets busy with get-there skiers and lithe ski instructors in sausage-skin suits. She described the brittle night air so well that you could smell it off the crinkly stationery. Airmail Light. A traditionalist, then, sending missives in the old style, as though there was no way to communicate other than organizing thoughts into sentences and lives into paragraphs. She had fetched up in Bormio, she explained, a resort huddled in a saucer-like basin with thermal springs, baby slopes and a come-again, go-again population. As a chalet chef, she was learning to deliver tajines that soothed aching limbs and desserts that sweetened the pain of spectacular bruises. She fully intended to be as seasonal as her guests, to move on – or move home? – before the hikers came, and the botanists. Not for her, she insisted, the fresh mountain springs or cow-bell summers.

And yet, soon enough, letters came full of wildflowers and walkers. In summertime, you could loll about in the terme without icicles forming on your nose, she joked, and the mirror-eyed ski instructors were replaced by leather-skinned climbers … But still no lover, for her, although a kind of hope wafted about the pages like the smell of thyme drifting around Bormio’s trails. Only passing mention was made of yearning and loneliness, but a wistful eye was sometimes cast back – back to this studio apartment, with its too narrow bench-bed, high on the wall, and its backyard view of urban grit.

All this, in a neat hand. A good hand, easily read, one side only.

` Marsha came to crave each new delivery – the bulky envelope with Lombardy stamp and, within, the simple, affectionate greeting, ‘Dear You,’ the ‘xx’ in parting. It was like having a subscription to a monthly travel mag; and it was soap opera too, with chalet romances and sunburn and tantrums, and change – changing faces, languages, allergies – but the mountains, huddled around her and scratched with ski runs, deep with snow or grey with lack of it, these, she wrote, were ever a wall, encircling.

Marsha pinned each letter to the walls – a scripted wallpaper, encircling, ceiling to floor, door to corner. Words surrounded her, parading stories and trip-tripping across

the studio like a caravan across the desert. Within this whirl of writing, she ate and slept, suffered and dreamed, and re-read whichever letter best suited her mood. On a hard day, she liked to wander Bormio’s old town in springtime, steeples overhead, cobblestones underfoot, unwinding; a giddy day and she took to the snow, sliding between the conifers on the lonely tracks that had taken perilous tumbles to master. This was what kept her there – in the studio and in Bormio: the inky drift through another person’s perspective.

She never wrote back. Sometimes, not often, she wondered who the letters were from and for whom they were intended.

Denyse Woods