The Slow-Cooked Sentence

A story brought to you by the letter H

Rachael Conlin Levy

He was bent over young weeds and almost missed the woman crossing the street, registering without thought the figure’s slightness, the plastic grocery bag in either hand, the heaviness of the stride. She was halfway across the street when he noticed the letter H written on the back of the jacket. Two thick vertical lines ran down either side of the back, while the connecting line made a sloppy cut through the middle. As he stood there wondering whether the letter was taped or painted onto the coat, thinking of the care that Hester Prynne had taken into sewing the scarlet letter A onto her dresses, he softly sang a tune from his son’s Leapster radio: “The letter H is here to say huh like in hippo or harlot or harangue.”

For a second he considered jogging down the street, closing in on the heavy bags, the worn shoes, the tan jacket, all which he believed might be able to explain the letter H if he could only study them for long enough. Hurried, harlequin, happy. But the figure did not look happy with her curved back and bent head. Maybe helpful? Seattle had real, live superheros after all, people who dressed in costumes and patrolled the streets to keep them safe from thief and thug. There was one, he could not remember his name, who had gotten into trouble with the law because he had used something like pepper spray to breakup a fight. And what had happened? Had he sprayed the wrong people? Or had he hurt the assailants, who were now pressing their own charges of assault? Anyway, it had been in the paper and his identity was exposed. Maybe this was the helpful superhero, assisting the home-bound senior citizen, although a superhero who delivered groceries was dull. Humdrum, hidden, hairbrained, hoodwinked. Perhaps the woman did not know there was an H on her back, placed there by another passenger during a crowded bus ride, someone armed with duct tape and an intent to attach the letters of the alphabet to the backs of strangers. The paper had just carried a story about an old woman who had retired and chosen the goal of walking every street within Seattle’s border — a healthy endeavor, yet not as interesting as the goal of alphabet dispersion, of letters on the loose, wandering the streets of Seattle and inciting puzzlement.

As he wavered, the figure, the jacket, the letter all disappeared down the street. If he ran right now, he could look into the woman’s face and know what the H stood for. Of this he was certain. But for a second more he waited — hesitated, hovered, hemmed and hawed — and he felt the muscles in his legs relax. The decision to sprint or not had been made, and turning on his heels toward the house he brought the entire line of thought to a halt.

3 responses to “A story brought to you by the letter H”

  1. Joe C says:

    I enjoyed this story and I am sad he didn’t run after and make contact

  2. Sometimes our imaginations are better than reality.

  3. Beth says:

    What a wonderful story, Rachael- with wonderful wordplay.

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