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Letters Never Sent

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In a suitcase tied with string…
Fits of madness, pools of grief,
Fevers of desire.
Letters never sent to you.

-Carly Simon


It is the third straight day of rain in London.

It is my sixth straight day without a case, any case.

It is the sixty-second day since I walked back into 221B after eighteen months of being gone. Of being Dead.

Sixty-two days.

And things are still not right. Right between us, I mean. John continues to treat me like an acquaintance. A friendly acquaintance, to be sure, but we are not the same as before.

Oh, life goes on. He comes on cases with me, we eat toast together in the mornings; he makes our tea in the afternoons. But not once has he called me brilliant or remarkable. Not once have we laughed together.

While I was gone I missed the laughter so much.

Sometimes it feels as if I never came back at all.


There had been a woman and everyone seemed to think that an engagement was not far off. But two weeks after my return the relationship ended. John never said more than “Mary won’t be coming around any more.” I had only nodded, restraining myself from saying the first thing that came to mind, “For the best, really.” She was never mentioned again by either of us.

Also: He had been working full time in a Casualty department while I was away. But very soon he left that job and now is doing locum work for a clinic, which leaves him time for the cases. For the important work.

Both of those things seem very significant to me.

Yet still he will not laugh with me. He will not sit with me on the divan while we eat our takeaway and I make fun of his television choices. Last week, when a fall bruised several ribs, he simply stood aside and let the ambulance crew treat me. That hurt worse than the ribs, frankly. My doctor no longer wanted to care for me.

The point is that his behavior seems contradictory.

I have spent most of this day just sitting at the window watching the rain come down in an unrelenting grey sheet, trying to understand why things are so wrong.

I am trying. This morning, while John finished getting ready for work, I took Mrs. Hudson’s flowered brolly from the stand and went out to summon a cab. When John reached the door, he tried to object, saying that the Tube was fine, but I only shoved the twenty-pound note into his hand and told him not to be ridiculous.

He just nodded, climbed into the cab, and vanished into the rainy city.

There were still at least four hours to endure before John would return. Then he would make tea and we would sit opposite one another. “No case, yet?” he would say.

I would sneer at the lack of criminal initiative in London.

The evening would pass.

And I would die a little more; ironic for a man who was supposed to have died once already. This time my death seemed to be approaching by inches rather than in one dramatic fall. I know which one is worse.

Abruptly, I could not bear to sit there for one more moment. An idea occurred.

Since my return I had not done a new study of John’s room.
Before, I had periodically conducted such investigations, because I wanted---needed--- to understand the bewildering being that was John Watson. I wanted to understand every molecule. That had been the goal anyway. It never happened, of course.

I climbed the stairs to his room.

Sometimes during my hiatus I imagined that John might have moved into my room. He’s sentimental that way.

At least I thought he was.

But instead he apparently just closed the door and left it.

I am not quite sure what to deduce from that.

His room was as tidy as ever; no clutter piled anywhere, hospital corners on the bed. It has always baffled me that a man so fond of tidiness will not even entertain the notion of a sock index.

Sometimes I wonder if he is deliberately so contradictory in order to frustrate me.

The bedside table held no surprises. Tissues. Cough drops. Several condoms. An unopened bottle of lube, but not the one he’d used with his girlfriends previously. A bad science fiction paperback. A photograph of John and myself from before. I remembered the occasion. Mrs. Hudson took the picture one night as we joined her for dinner. John was smiling at me as if I were brilliant. As if I were a surprise gift.

I tried [and failed] not to feel some pleasure in the fact that there was no picture of her.

He keeps this photograph by his bed and yet he will not laugh with me. The sound I made was a wordless exhalation of frustration.

I searched the rest of his room, but everything was as it had been. That is until I reached to the top of the wardrobe and lifted down the old black leather bag he kept there. It was the medical bag that had belonged to John’s great-grandfather and my friend loved it. Every time I had lifted it before, the bag had been empty, but now clearly it was not. I carried it over to the bed and sat down before opening it.



The bag held several thick stacks of letters held together with string. There was no postage on any of them. I untied one stack and pulled out a single envelope. SHERLOCK HOLMES was carefully printed on the front. Everyone one of the envelopes bore my name. Sometimes, as on the first, it was carefully printed. Sometimes it was an almost drunken scrawl. Occasionally all that appeared was a single large S.

There were a lot of letters. Not enough to account for every single day I was gone, but not far off.

This was undoubtedly the point at which I should stop violating John’s privacy. I should put the letters back inside, return the bag to its place on top of the wardrobe, and leave his bedroom. That would be the Good thing to do.


Well, for one thing, John had to know that eventually I would be searching his room again and would find the letters. Unless he thought my time away had transformed my essential nature, which seemed unlikely. He knows me.

For another thing, these letters might help me understand what was happening in this flat and why John was no longer…John.


The letters certainly did that.

I thought I might well be ill from knowing the truth.

When I rested against the headboard and started reading there was no way of knowing that everything would be so different in such a short time.

There was no chronological order to the letters, although when some had been written was obvious from the context. For example, the one that was scribbled the morning after my Death, scribbled so brutally that the pen had torn through the paper in several places.

//Sherlock. Oh, god. How could you? You bastard, you fucking bastard, how could you? Why? Oh, Sherlock, what am I supposed to do now?//

I could hardly breathe.

The letters varied in mood and content as they stripped bare the life of a man barely hanging on.

Some were trite and chatty.

//Bought milk today. And some of those ginger biscuits you like. Liked. I forgot. And then I came home and pulled the biscuits out of the bag and it was like you had just died all over again. I sat on the floor in the kitchen and cried and ate ginger biscuits until I threw up.
Worked a double shift today. Saved two lives, which should have meant something, but since I couldn’t save the most important life it hardly matters.
Tonight would have been a good night to chase a criminal through the streets of London. We would have caught him, I know. Instead I walked home alone at dawn.
I miss you.//

Some of the letters tried to analyse what had happened on that last day.

//Mycroft told me the facts about why you jumped.
Damn you. We could have figured something out. I knew you were lying to me.
Sherlock, you still haven’t told me what I’m supposed to do now.
Mycroft said you died because you cared. Is that supposed to make me feel better? Well, just for your information, it doesn’t. Not at all.
Please don’t be dead. Just for me.//

Sometimes the ink was smeared as if drops of moisture had fallen onto the page.

//One letter explained the matter of my bedroom.
I cannot decide whether to close your bedroom door or leave it open. If it is closed, then I can imagine you are inside, resting or thinking, and so you might appear at any moment. If I leave it open, every time I walk by, I see your things and I think of you. God, this is pathetic. I used to be a soldier. Now I sit outside a bedroom trying to decide whether to open or close a door. Fuck you. I miss you.//

Another letter was folded up very small.

//I don’t care for her as much as I should. She deserves someone who isn’t in love with a dead man. But she is kind and if I can’t have my life with you it doesn’t matter who I am with. I never knew I was such a bastard. She says it will just take time for me to feel better and she is willing to wait. Oh, I just said I loved you. I do.//

I shoved the letter away.


John’s absence never kept me from speaking to him and it didn’t this time either. “I’m here now,” I said. “ Isn’t that what you wanted?

One more letter and then I would have to put them away and get out of his room or risk John finding me stretched out on his bed. I picked up a final envelope.

//Dear Sherlock,
I must stop this or it might well drive me mad. Madder. But this has to be the last letter I write. Because this is the last letter, there are things I must say. I love you. I never said the words to you because I knew you did not want to hear them. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. I wanted…I wanted to make love to you. It didn’t matter that I was determined not to be gay. I wanted you as I had never wanted anyone. More than I will ever want anyone. But it is too late. Sherlock, I have to say goodbye, like you said goodbye to me. This is truly breaking my heart. Love, John//

Knowing why John was acting the way he was did not help.

He loved me and I had broken his heart. No wonder he could not forgive me. How could he be sure I wouldn’t leave him again?

I sat very still, knowing what I had to do. It was nothing I had planned, but it was necessary to save two lives.

After replacing the letters in the satchel and putting it back on top of the wardrobe, I straightened the bedding and went to my own room. Under the bed was a battered knapsack that had travelled the world with me. It was empty now save for one item: a bundle of letters that had never been sent. There were fewer than had been in the satchel but then my circumstances had not always been conducive to correspondence.

That wasn’t important at the moment.

Each envelope had his name on the front. JOHN H. WATSON.

They had been written in the jungle. In Siberia. In dingy hotel rooms on several continents. The especially sloppy ones had been written during long coach trips through third world countries. Several had my blood on them.

And they told the truth, the truth that I had lacked the courage to shout down from the rooftop.


I carried the letters back to John’s room and set them carefully in the middle of his bed.

He deserved the same privacy I’d had, so I wrapped myself up for the weather, but I could not just leave the flat with no word.. I never did that anymore because it was not fair to him. So I wrote a note.

An errand. I will be back soon.

And then I left.