DEAREST LOVE • by Kyle Hildebrandt

You may never know my name, but I have yours tattooed across my shoulders.

I have tried to accept what divides us; however, I am helplessly pulled toward your half-turned-away face. Your downcast eyes ignore the jeers of the crowd. Your upright posture repels the scorn of the clergymen’s shouts. Holding yourself above all this degradation, you bear an emblazoned mark of shame as if it were a corsage from God.

Although some may say this image framed upon my desk is nothing more than an etching based upon a description of you from a novel, your presence in my life has been more real than any other influence. Your words and actions have inspired me to become a better man, to follow more closely in God’s footsteps.

You see, before I met you, I had a different idea of what doing God’s work meant.

Reaching early adulthood in Dorchester in the 1980s, I had suffered from neglect and abuse. I sought to save those younger souls who were in danger of experiencing similar horrors. So, I took a vow and donned a frock and preached the virtues of unconditional love.

I soon realized my audience was not listening. I had to speak their language. So, after the sun set behind the skyline and the street lights flickered on, I would stuff a backpack with cans of spray paint and in the witching hours, I graffitied the gospel on the walls of the city. My tags became whispered about and the pews began to fill.

Then, the dealers realized all of this churchgoing was cutting into their profits and they planned an attack. One night, I had foolishly brought a few young congregants with me. Glinting in the passing car lights, a pistol whipped into the face of a member of my flock. I snatched the gun from the assailant, turned it on him, and pulled the trigger.

In prison, on a cart with a squeaky wheel, among stacks of yellowed books, I happened to pluck a title that bore your mark of shame. It must have been sent to me at this moment, knowing that your example would bring me back from the agonizing guilt and into the Lord’s tender embrace. When my sentence finally came to an end, I received a letter informing me that I had been defrocked. I could no longer serve my sheep.

Instead of giving up, I had your name etched in flowing black ink across my flesh with your words as a caption underneath: “She had returned, therefore, and resumed – of her own free will… resumed the symbol.” As you worked with needle and thread from your cottage on the outskirts of Boston to help clothe those who had gone astray and help them feel worthy, I also helped on the fringes of society. I no longer sprayed murals or preached from a pulpit. Instead, I painted portraits for those in my underground ministry so they could see themselves as I thought God might see them — with more color, more boldness, and a stroke of passion.

A hospital notice rests near your picture on my desk. It pairs my name with the words “terminal diagnosis.” I pray for guidance. My phone buzzes an interruption. A news notification claims a new particle collider has produced empirical evidence supporting the concept of the multiverse. It is not just another distraction after all. It is an answer to my prayer — a sign pointing me toward my final mission.

I will roll this paper and drop it into a bottle and walk to the edge of choppy waters. I will stand upon the precipice of the breakwater for a while, caressing the glass, blessing the sentiments inside, then reel back and toss it end over end. It will glitter and plunk into Massachusetts Bay. I will watch it bob up and down until it becomes a part of the hazy gray between the sky and the sea. I will send an unholy prayer that will push it into the depths where it will seek out a hidden underwater aperture, slide through, and jolt back in time three hundred and eighty-two years and swirl into your world. And there you will see it tinkling among stones where your pale hand will grasp it and save it from breaking. And there you will sit and read and know.

Dearest Pearl,

My daughter, I have a confession to make. It does not relate to the infamous sin that brought you into this world. It is a transgression that I recklessly began, but never saw to its end. After your father’s death upon the scaffold, I doubted that there was a place that was safe for us to live. I led you to the edge of the water and began putting stones in our pockets with the intention that we would walk into the Bay until the numbing waves covered us forever. As I reached for another stone, I found a bottle floating by with a letter inside.

At first, I could not believe what I read; yet, as I pored over every word again and again, it was undeniable. Its essence was true. Despite my fall, aware of all my flaws, a man from another world loved me as dearly as I love you.

I wiped away my tears and emptied our pockets.

I took your hand and we walked back to our home.

Always Your Mother,
Hester Prynne

Kyle Hildebrandt lives in Ohio with his beautiful wife, twenty seven plants, five children, and one passionate desire to light up the world through inspiring storytelling.

If you want to keep EDF around, Patreon is the answer.

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