Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 13, Number 1
Copyright © 2018
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Lynn C. Miller
Your mother tells you secrets have to be earned, but sometimes
you look down at your feet and see one lying in plain sight.
When you’re ten years old, you rush home from school and
collect the mail from the floor in the hallway by the front door. You
love the sound of letters spilling on the wood floor––at four o’clock
they enter the life of the house, sliding from the chapped hands of the
postman into the brass slot in the front door. Then, at five-thirty each
afternoon your father comes home from work, takes the mail off the
hall table, and sorts it into piles.
On most days, he goes upstairs and takes off his jacket and tie,
puts on a sweater or a t-shirt in the summer. He comes back
downstairs, takes the newspaper into the living room, sits in the big
brown upholstered chair, and slips off his slippers––you wonder why
he bothers changing out of his dress shoes upstairs when he’s just
going to take the shoes off again. Then he hides his face in the paper.
But on this day you notice that he picks up one letter and slips it
into his coat pocket. It doesn’t go into any of the piles. You noticed
that letter earlier in the day, a blue envelope written in a child’s block
printing, the letters slanting to the left so the words are hard to read.
Your own writing looks a little like it––maybe the person who wrote
the letter is a girl who is the same age as you are. She has honey-
colored hair, too, just like you. You see her small face grow serious
as she licks the envelope and carries it to a post box on the corner of
her street. She looks to the left and right, reaches out and pulls open
the mail drawer––she’s just a little bit taller than the mailbox––and
drops it in.
When you ask your father who sent the letter, he looks at you
with his steady gray eyes. “Just someone,” he says. “Someone I
used to know.”
That can’t be true. It’s not just someone he used to know––he
still knows this person or he wouldn’t be getting a letter. The
envelopes are always light blue and small, and very thin––you suspect
they contain a single sheet of paper. Your fingers itch to open one.
What if this girl somewhere is a girl just like you, stuck in a small town,
waiting for her father to come back? Because your father goes away
too and you kind of hold your breath until he comes back. It seems
to you that every time your father receives one of these letters, he
leaves for two, three, four days, and once a whole week. Each time
you are afraid he’ll never return.
And then the thing you’re afraid of does happen. Your father
goes away for a week but then he doesn’t come home. You ask your
mother: “When is he coming back?”
Your mother’s name is April, like springtime. She has dark
brown hair with a streak of gray at the crown. She is in the kitchen
making a chicken stew; in her hand is a large spoon. She stirs
something in the pot in front of her and then she stops. “What did
You sit on the high stool at the counter in the kitchen so you can
watch her cook. “When is he coming back?”
She sighs and sets the spoon on a shallow yellow plate next to
the stove. “I don’t know where he is.”
You squirm on the stool. You hold on to the counter and count
to ten. When you speak your voice sounds a little high and breathy,
but you can still talk. “That can’t be true. He goes away, he says
because of business, every month. You must know where he goes.”
Your mom looks at you but she seems far away, like someone
else’s mom named April. Her blue eyes are flat and watery. “He
travels for work. He just tells me the name of the city.”
You slump forward on the counter. Your eyes feel watery too
and you rub the skin under them to wipe away the damp. “What
“Chicago,” she says very quietly. She puts her hand on the
counter and takes hold of your wrist. Her hand is soft and smooth; it
brings her closer. She is your mom, not someone else. You take a
deep breath and touch her hand with a fingertip. She smiles at you
and her mouth twists a little. Her face with its broad cheekbones is
very dear, a face you trust.
“I love you, Marcy,” she says. “Don’t ever forget that.”
She seems sad and you wonder if she has a secret too. You
think back to the pale blue envelopes; you try to remember the return
address. Was it Chicago? You’ve never been there but you’ve seen
it on a map. You live in southern Indiana, not so far away. “Can we
go to the library?”
The library is one of your favorite places, five blocks from your
house. Sometimes you go by yourself but this time your mother takes
you. Shadows from the oak trees that line the streets fall onto the
sidewalk like tiny hands. It’s fall and the leaves glow orange and red,
so bright that you imagine that if it were dark, the leaves would still
burn the air. A squirrel runs in front of you and leaps with a crooked
hop into a tree. You skip for a few steps and feel light and free like
You and your mom cross the five streets, then walk up the three
steps into the library. She turns right into the fiction section, and you
go left to wander around the reference room, the shelves stacked
almost to the ceiling. Lucky for you, you find the book you need on
one of the lower shelves, about architecture in Chicago, and you read
that some of the greatest architects in the world lived there once,
people like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. You study the
photographs of their buildings and think their shapes and styles are
different from anything you’ve ever seen. Sullivan was the father of
the modern skyscraper and built the Auditorium Building where the
Chicago Symphony first played. It was grand and solid, the largest
building at the time in the whole country. Wright’s houses don’t reach
upward like Sullivan’s do. They hug the earth, spreading out low and
flat and wide.
You study the pictures and you make a decision. You think the
little girl who wrote the letters lives in a house like the Wright
houses––she sits at a long oak table in front of a huge stone fireplace.
She has a blue pad of paper and matching envelopes. She writes to
your father with a black pen and tears off the top sheet of the pad
when she’s done and puts it into the envelope. Her face is round and
earnest; she bites her bottom lip with tiny white teeth.
You sit down at a table in the library and take out your
notebook. You start writing a letter to your father. “Dear Dad, I
wish you’d come home. Mom misses you. I miss you. I went into
your bedroom when Mom was gone and looked at your clothes.
You know that nice brown suit you have with the tiny red stripes, the
one you always wear with a red tie? That suit is gone. And so is
your gray cardigan sweater, the one that’s kind of shaggy and
sometimes snags my fingernails so that the threads pucker. I think at
least two pairs of your shoes are missing. Did you pack a big bag?
“Will you send me a letter and tell me that you’re all right and
when you’re coming back? I have a set of new paints, blue and
orange and red and I’m drawing something special. Let me know if
you’d like me to send it to you.”
But then you realize you don’t know the address to put on the
letter. You seal it up in a blue envelope you took from your mother’s
desk and brought with you. Then, you begin to write in big block
letters that slant backward. You print your father’s name: Frank
Jacobs. Then you write: Chicago. Then you put the letter under a
pile of books. You need to figure out how your father can get this
message from you.
You pick up your stack of books and the letter and go into a
small room in the library with big cushiony chairs. The walls are
wood paneled and a painting of a man in a black suit and round
glasses leans out from the wall. On one wall is a plaque that says:
Reading Room. You sit down in a red chair that feels like corduroy
and you put your books and your envelope on the small table next to
You squeeze your eyes shut and imagine you’re walking through
a doorway and then another one. You glide down a hall like in a
dream toward a third doorway. This one opens onto a street in
Chicago. You walk up to a remarkable house in the center of the
block, a Frank Lloyd Wright house, long with a flat roof and windows
that have lead designs in them. By the front door is a number: 534.
As you stand there, you can see inside that house but nobody can see
The other little girl is sitting at her kitchen table, bending over a
pad of paper. The walls in the room are yellow. You sneak down the
hallway to the dining room and peer into the living room. You like the
fireplace that takes up almost one wall. You have to tear yourself
away from exploring the house to return to the kitchen where the little
girl is. After lunch, the girl walks out the front door and past the sign
that says 534 to the street corner to mail her letter. The street sign at
the corner says Sayre Ave.
The girl on the street starts to shrink like when you’re looking out
the wrong end of a telescope, and you open your eyes to find you’re
back in the red chair in the library. You wonder if the red chair was a
magic chair that took you where you needed to go and then brought
You take your envelope out from under the stack of books and
you write on the line after your father’s name: 534 Sayre Avenue.
And on the next line, you print: Chicago, Illinois. On the way home
from the library, you mail the letter in the corner mailbox near your
Your mom smiles and asks, “Who are you writing to?”
“It’s a secret,” you say.
In a few days you’re sure the envelope will arrive in Chicago.
A postman will put your letter into his bag and walk down the streets
that are his special route. Your letter will slide through a slot in the
front door on Sayre Avenue and land on the hall floor. And in the
afternoon, when he comes into the house, your father will find a blue
envelope that has special printing on it, and he’ll put it into his pocket.
Someone might ask him who sent it, but he won’t tell. “No one you
know,” he’ll say. But he knows who wrote the letter. He’ll read it
and maybe then he’ll have to go away for three days, or four, or a
week, to visit his other little girl.
Lynn C. Miller is the author of three novels. The third, The Day
After Death, was named a 2017 Lambda Literary Award finalist.
Miller’s short plays and stories have appeared in North Dakota
Quarterly, Hawaii Review, Phoebe, Text and Performance
Quarterly, Writer’s Forum, and Chautauqua Journal. She is the
editor of the literary journal bosque and the co-author, with Lisa
Lenard-Cook, of Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir from the
University of Wisconsin Press.
◄ Previous page Apple Valley Review, Spring 2018 Next page ►