"Why did you become a writer?" asked George as he and Alfie stood in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil.
"I once found a book on the sidewalk. It was a journal of sorts I imagine, just a plain black book but someone had written 'If Found, Do Not Open' on the front of it.
I imagined all sorts of things were inside. Spy maps, secret codes, a portal to another world.
I was convinced that if I opened it I'd be stalked by a malevolent force that would draw me into their game. I loved it."
"So what was in it?"
"I don't know."
"You never looked?"
" I never wanted to," Alfie said shrugging. "It wasn't the book itself, it was the promise of the book that sparked something in me. I'm a writer because of a book I never read."
"I can understand that," said George, pouring out the tea. "I had a similar experience with a letter."
"During the war?" Alfie asked. George nodded.
"We were all struggling by then. Struggling just to get through another day without getting blown to bits or watching your mate get blasted out of his boots.
Letters from home were like pinpricks of light in the black night."
"Stars," said Alfie.
George nodded. "That's it exactly. But not all of them were good news as you can imagine.
You had to wonder why the girls back home couldn't wait until the war was done to tell the boys they were finished. Think of it.
All these fresh faces, who'd seen more than anyone should have to.
sitting there in the muck of a trench clinging to a letter from their sweetheart, only to open it and see that she no longer cared."
"I can't imagine it."
"With any luck you'll never have to," said George. "Anyway, it was the end of a brutal day. We'd returned to base camp and the mail was brought 'round. I got one too.
A pink envelope that smelled of perfume. All at once my hands began to shake. I couldn't open it. I couldn't take the chance. As long as it was closed I was safe."
"But hadn't it been opened? Screened?" asked Alfie.
George sipped at his tea. They moved to the table and George sat down heavily. "Sure," he continued, "but it was stuck down again. I could have easily lifted the flap.
But I got it into my head that as long as I kept it with me I'd be ok and that she'd be waiting for me."
"Like a talisman."
"Of sorts," said George. "I thought of it more like a life-raft."
"And when the war ended?" asked Alfie.
George chuckled. "I didn't look at it until the train was pulling into the station once we were sent home. When I saw her waiting for me on the platform, I had my answer so I didn't need to."
"You married her."
"I did," said George with a twinkle.
"She's gone now?"
"Been gone for awhile. But I've got the letter." He patted his pocket. "It's right here."
"And you've read it?" Alfie asked.
George winked. "Not yet," he said. "And the book?"
Alfie smiled, "It's on my desk."