Kindly desist from opening my mail. Look above this pigeon hole and you will clearly see the name of the person who these letters belong to. YOU are not Emma D’Arcy and last time I looked I most certainly was.
YOU have done it again. Please be more careful when collecting your post.
This is now the third time, so we can be sure that this is no accident. You have opened my letters on 2nd of March, 9th of March and now today. How selfish of you to tear them open and leave them in such a state. If YOU do not stop I will find out who you are and then you will be in big trouble.
What kind of person repeatedly opens someone else’s post? Was it an accident on the first occasion and then you felt such a guilty thrill from reading a letter from my sister about her new baby that you realised that you had found your vocation in life as a hopelessly addicted snooper? For snooper you are, and so snooper I shall call you. Mr Snooper has a certain ring to it, but I cannot be confident of your gender. Perhaps you are Mrs Snooper, with her 3 whippersnapper Snooper children, yet to embark on a career of sticking their noses into the business of undeserving victims such as myself.
Let me assure you that it is possible to break this wicked habit simply by leaving my mail alone. Listen to your conscience Mr/Mrs/Miss Snooper and let this be the last time I need to write to you.
Ah well. Hope springs eternal but I should have guessed that my hospital appointment letter would have posed a temptation too great. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it feels for me to become aware that a total stranger knows about my mental health? I guess you don’t, and I guess you aren’t. I mean you are not really a total stranger, are you? It is not like I need to introduce myself to you. You already know more about me than any other tenants in this block, in fact you probably already know more about me than my boss at work, she’s called Natasha – but you already knew that. Remember the letter on the 9th of March with the beige envelope that you tore open particularly brutally? I wonder if you agreed with her. Did you nod when you read that she thought I should take some time off to recover emotionally?
The Snoopee (as in someone who is snooped upon and not the cartoon dog)
How are you? Since you never reply I will imagine that you are fine having relieved your addiction itch. I offer my post as a sacrifice to appease your voracious snoopiness.
I have some news for you that you cannot get from my post. Today I became a snoop myself. Oh yes, your disease is spreading. The lady next door, at number 29, had an argument with her husband, Steve, on the phone. It got so heated that I could hear every threat and insult. I learnt things about their marriage, private things, secret things. At one point, I placed my ear to the wall and heard her accuse her husband of – Stop. Just Stop, Emma. Pigeon hole snooping may break envelopes but gossip can break lives, can’t it? But I have this powerful urge to tell someone. Will you be my confidant?
Here is how we will decide. If you open my next letter to you I will know that you have agreed to become my confidant and are a confident confidant that there is nothing immoral about me telling you what she said. If I find that letter unopened then you will have spoken as clearly as if you had said, “Emma, speak no more. The lady at number 29 deserves her privacy, no matter how fascinating the juicy revelations you overheard.” I shall trust your judgment. My conscience is in your hands.
How strange to be writing to you not knowing if you will ever read what I am about to tell you.
Three days ago I was watering my begonia’s when I heard shouting coming from next door. The woman from next door was pleading with someone to stop lying to her. She sounded at her wits end. I distinctly remember her saying, “So that’s it then, 15 years of marriage down the drain. She’s half my age and you’re old enough to be her dad. This is all so humiliating.” Then she started crying and wailing so loudly. I felt so sorry for her. But that was nothing compared to the next thing I heard her say.
The sobbing had quietened and I had assumed that she had hung up the phone, then she suddenly screamed as clearly as if she were in the room with me, “don’t you threaten me… do you think I care what you’ll do to me when you get back?” She said the word ‘care’ in such a careless way that at that very moment I believed that she was talking without regard for her own personal safety to a very dangerous man.
Then there was silence and the sobbing continued long enough for me to realise that the man on the other end of the phone was both a cheat and a monster.
So, dear Snooper, there you have it.
I wonder if you are experienced in these things and have encountered many letters from broken-hearted wives to their adulterous husbands. Perhaps you have a ‘Snoopers Code of Honour’ with strict rules not to intervene, no matter how great the peril a snoopee may be in. Perhaps, like all the great war reporters, you see your role as a sacred mission above the conflict and horror of this world. A duty to read but never to act. Like time travellers who are forced to watch as bystanders while a young Adolf sold off his paintbrushes to try his hand at homicidal megalomania. I once saw a documentary about his artwork and will be forever haunted by the world weary face of his Virgin Mary.
Unlike sensible time travellers you are not a bystander because you have become my confidant, a willing mind to bounce my ideas off and a silence that says ‘keep going’. So let us begin our ruminating with the facts.
Our first fact is that the lady at 29 is called Audrey McBride. I know that from a letter in her pigeon hole. I had no problem at all gently lifting out of its place, glancing at the name and then placing into exactly the same spot that it was before unmolested. How my self control must be a marvel to you.
Our second fact is that she is married. To be precise, she has been married for 15 years to a man called ‘Steve’ who may be a ‘Stephen’ or a ‘Steven’ or simply have the misfortune of being named ‘Steve’ by his lazy parents at birth.
Our third fact is that her husband is an adulterer.
Our fourth fact is that we know that Steve is cheating with a lady who is approximately half Audrey’s age. She may also have a dad the same age as Steve or that may just be an expression. She may not even have a dad any more.
Our fifth and final fact is that Steve has threatened her. I wonder what the threat was. If we knew, it would help a lot in leading us to an appropriate course of action, wouldn’t it Snooper?
That’s enough for now. I will write again when I have further information.
Your Snoopee Emma
How strange of you, how out of character. I really thought you were a creature of habit, so imagine my surprise to find that the letter I left in my pigeon hole yesterday was missing. I thought your modus operandi was to lustily open my mail then leave it violated where you found it. I wonder what led you to keep this letter? Did I say something worth treasuring? A special Snooper souvenir to go above your mantlepiece or in some creepy box beneath your floor boards.
Perhaps you could return it to me when you are done with it.
How strangely reassuring it was to find my last letter opened and placed back with the others when I left for work this morning. You can keep the one before. How weird that we find comfort in a predictable world even with its abuses.
As I reached the top of the stairs this evening, guess who I bumped into? And yes, I mean literally bumped into, knocking her sideways into the wall as I grabbed the handrail to stop myself falling back. Audrey, in a rush for some reason. Is her husband due to return imminently? Is she planning to leave the city? Perhaps even leave the country?
Should I have stopped her and advised her to go to the police? Surely I should be doing something.
I have time after work tomorrow. I really should tidy the house but instead I will focus on a plan of action.
Aren’t library’s wonderful? So much human creativity and knowledge neatly stored on shelves for anyone to read and benefit from. And how incredible that the most knowledgeable place in the city should be the quietest. There’s a lesson for all of us in this, isn’t there, Snooper? You are the most silent person I know so you may just be the most knowledgeable.
You must be wondering why I am writing to you about libraries. As I was walking home I was irresistibly drawn to go into my local library. I think, with all the dramas of the last few days, I just needed a place to reflect. I sat down in one of those vast Victorian leather chairs made for vast Victorian bottoms covered in hefty dresses, and did my breathing exercises. The ones for when I have anxiety or my emotions overwhelm me. I was very much in the moment and jammed full of mindfulness when I noticed a book on the shelf in front of me. ‘Towards healthy marital relationships’ it was called. It’s an excellent book, Snooper. It explained so much. Apparently, married couples argue all the time and they often say things to each other, really cruel things, which are self defence mechanisms. They are not healthy and the writer was very much opposed to us using these techniques, but the important thing is that threats like this are the ‘impulsive exaggerations used by an ashamed spouse as a self defence mechanism’ and are very rarely ever carried out. Do you understand what I am writing, Snooper? They are not to be taken literally.
Steve is only threatening Audrey as he feels ashamed for cheating on her. I wish I could reach out to Audrey and comfort her with my new knowledge. Should I rent out the book and somehow get it to her?
I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT’S HAPPENED. I only just found out about an hour ago. She’s dead. Audrey’s dead, Snooper. I was coming home from work and saw the police outside the building. They wouldn’t let me in at first. They asked me all kinds of questions when they realised that I was her neighbour. They’ve asked me to come down to the police station tomorrow morning. I’ll have to take the day off work but Natasha will be pleased because she wants me to take a holiday. ‘Take a break, you’re starting to scare the customers’ or some such nonsense.
Snooper, should I tell the police about the conversation I overheard? Should I tell them about YOU?
I have so much to tell you today, I am sure I shall forget something. First, there was the police interview. It was approximately ninety minutes long and so frustrating that I had a panic attack just as I was leaving the station. I think I coped with it quite well, I started to feel it coming in the usual way as my heart started beating faster and my breath became tiny rapid gulps and suddenly it’s as if I am drowning in a goldfish bowl with distorted faces staring at every angle. I tried to hide it for a few seconds then walked out and sat on the pavement hugging my knees and breathing in 1 2 3 4 breathing out 5 6 7 8 9 10.
The interview took quite a while to get going. Two middle aged women that asked questions like mums chatting outside the school gates seemed overly keen to find out basic information about me that could hardly have been relevant. Some of it was weird, such as asking me to write the words ‘mystery shopper’ on a blank sheet of paper and asking if I knew anyone in the press. They managed to come across as both bored and friendly at the same time. It was very much a good cop, good cop experience. I waited until they were satisfied that they had all the information that they wanted, then gave them the full conversation between Audrey and Steve in even more detail than I had described to you. They didn’t seem surprised by any of it. How would they already know? Do you think that other residents besides me had heard? Could Steve already be well known to them? Did they not know but not care, such was their world weariness? Did they look at each other after I left and mutter, ‘We’ve heard worse things from the mums outside St George’s Primary, haven’t we Karen?’
I asked if they had arrested Steve but decided against showing them the note. I felt sure that they would have kept it and advised me to leave town for a few days. `Did I tell you about the note? I really should, the panic attack would make more sense then. As I was leaving for work this morning I found a note on the floor. It must have been slipped under my door during the night. There were three neatly penned lines of handwriting.
“I beg you to keep what you heard a secret.
I could not bear the shame.
I will explain everything to you tonight if you promise not to tell anyone.”
I shuddered when I read it. Steve knew. But how could he? Did I mention the conversation when talking to the police last night? I am sure I didn’t. More importantly, was Steve really planning to confess to me this evening or was he intending to kill me the same way that he murdered his wife?
Actually, I don’t know how he killed her. For some reason neither the newspapers nor police have provided any of the Cluedo details. I don’t mean to be flippant but tonight I may be the first person to discover that it was Steve in the bedroom with the candlestick. I guess I don’t just say ‘inappropriate’ things at work. My mind is engorged on all the gory possibilities. I am genuinely both excited and afraid in equal measure and am resolved to spend the evening waiting for Steve while perched attentively on my sofa with a glass of wine in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other.
Tomorrow, if I am still alive, I shall tell you all.
Your faithful confidant
Well, that was a bit of a let down. I waited all evening and Steve didn’t show.
Still no sign of Steve. He probably bottled out of confessing. Realised that I would go straight to the police.
Or maybe something terrible has happened to Steve. If so, surely he deserves it.
I now know everything.
The police concluded their enquiries and phoned me to explain.
I know who killed Audrey, what they used and why they did it.
According to the detective, on the morning of the 28th of April, Audrey’s husband Stephen, a highly respected businessman, had returned from a work trip to find his wife unresponsive in bed. By her side were an empty bottle of pain medication and a letter. The ambulance found no pulse and she was declared dead. Her distraught husband read the letter expecting to find some kind of explanation as to why she had taken her own life. What shocked him was that the letter was not addressed to him. Nor was it written by Audrey at all. Police said the writing was scrawled and difficult to decipher but they could make out that it was addressed to someone called either ‘Shooper’ or ‘Snooper’ and were filled with what they rather insultingly called ‘ramblings about a neighbour with an adulterous husband’.
The police know about you and me, Snooper.
They had put two and two together during my interview but decided not to reveal the circumstances of Audrey’s death until they had an opportunity to check my handwriting and interview Stephen. They are satisfied that Audrey committed suicide when she discovered her neighbour knew about her failed marriage and was writing to what she guessed was a reporter in order for her marriage to be publicly exposed to ridicule in the local press. The inspector explained that there was a real concern that I was in regular correspondence with a newspaper reporter until my GP was contacted about my mental health and in discussions with him it was concluded that I was probably writing to an imaginary friend similar to Natasha. Apparently, I have a history of this since the nervous breakdown and I lost my job. I don’t think Natasha would agree with that. The inspector finished the call by remarking what a pity it was that she had not simply knocked on your door and asked to talk to me.
It was then that I realised that she did contact me, didn’t she, Snooper? She slid a note under my door the day before she died. I really do need to tidy my flat.
I feel bad for blaming you for keeping one of our letters when all along I just should have been more careful to put it in the right pigeon hole. They all look the same and number 29, and 30 are so close to each other. You come here regularly, you know it is true. I am surprised you haven’t opened someone else’s mail by mistake. I mean someone else’s besides mine.
Ever since the inspector hung up I have been thinking about Audrey’s suicide. I think the police came to the wrong conclusions. She would never have committed suicide if she had not read my letter to you. I wrote the letter that caused a death. But I wrote it because you showed me it was ok. I would never have carried on writing if you had not urged me. My conscience was in your hands. My conscience is clear.
Surely, if anyone is guilty of Audrey’s death it is YOU.
YOU are my confidant.
You keep my secrets.
And now I am YOUR confidant.
I will keep YOUR secret.
Lots of love