The letter, which had come across his desk on the previous day, left him aghast, shaking his head in some emotion similar to disgust but also tinged with disbelief and anger. He attempted, with dubious success, to reign in his own reaction and paused, taking a deep breath. His eyes moved, again, slowly to the head of the letter and he began to read, carefully picking out and mentally underlining each inflammatory phrase but, also, trying and failing to conceptualise something tangible or concrete of the fragile psyche of the writer.

Perhaps - he thought - that is truly the point; this deplorable content says much of the writer and their issues, real or imagined but, it has little or nothing to do with the actions or failures of the intended recipient.

He sighed heavily, replacing the letter gingerly on the desk with the studied intensity of one relieving themselves of a loaded gun. He leaned back in his chair and it complained loudly, faced with his shifting balance. He flexed his arms, interleaved his fingers across the back of his head and stared at the ceiling. There, above, his eyes sought order in the random, decorative swirls of the stucco. Internally, his mind and what intelligence he could call to bear, sought meaning and cohesiveness in the bilic invective of the letter's content.

There must - he asserted to himself, still watching the ceiling - be some way to understand how one arrives to such an extreme of unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour but, in spite of myself, I cannot ever imagine spilling such vituperation in anyone's direction even in the conceit of internally fabricated offense. What would be, if any, plausible, positive or constructive, outcome?

His mind churned over the words and phrases just read and found, slowly squeezed from the unformed mass, too many indications of a person grown, surely through a combination of internal and external forces, to an alarming state of emotional instability.

The aggressive tone of the phrasing stood in marked contrast to the implied submissiveness of the supposed actions of the writer. Yes, the writer was self-portrayed as a victim: imagined 'victimisation' at the hands of another could - he considered - justify all manner of unreasoned and violent reaction, yet, the letter also implied degradation; vicious and unspeakable acts designed to subjugated and debase.

He looked askance at the document lying, poisonously still, on the top of his desk and then, shuddering, returned his gaze, his expression growing reflective, to the ceiling.

The overall argument, where discernible - he continued to ply at the writhing, snake-like threads that exuded from his ball of thought – seemed to imply a treacherous and deceitful relationship where, unfortunately, he failed to conceive that there ever could have been one.

How – he wondered in awe – could someone become so misguided in the context of their own emotions to have such outrageous expectations? Truly, the emotional recursion, is of far more concern – when an adult begins, irregardless of education or past history, to lash out blindly, like a spoilt and vindictive child, at anyone within range of their spite and aggression.

He thought, in that moment, that he might have achieved a sort of evanescent epiphany; a brief glimpse of understanding or, worse, the alcoholic's 'moment of clarity'.

Where – he knew with some degree of certainty – a relationship is entered with expectations that are both unreasoned and completely inappropriate for the context of that relationship, then disappointment must, necessarily, follow but, it is not the fault of those, upon whom, the expectations have been placed. Rather, all of us need have the sensibility and awareness to perceive what is appropriate within a current context – even with the proviso that context will change in situations of further positive or negative feedback on the strength or weakness of the relationship. Some, however – he also knew – will never arrive to the point of such emotional well-being to even be aware of these things; they will be, emotionally, as untutored as an infant all their lives.

He nodded, satisfied with himself, but conscious of the fact that it would not last long.

He retrieved a manila envelope from the bottom drawer of his desk and splayed it open to retrieve the deplored letter. Stripping off the wax paper on the tongue, he sealed the enveloped and scrawled his initials with a gold-tipped, fountain pen over the closure. He pressed the intercom button on the phone and spoke.

“Catharine, could I see you for a moment, please?”

“Yes, Mr. Stickman,” came the efficient and courteous reply. Seconds later, the young assistant appeared before his desk, poised professionally and awaiting his directive.

“Could you, please, see that this arrives to the incinerator – with priority? It is not to be recycled.” Standing, he passed the sealed envelope across the desk.

“Yes, sir, of course,” she answered, sobered from her practiced and cheerful demeanour by the tone of his voice. “Is there anything else that you require?”

“No – thank you,” he answered, feigning chagrin and smiling slightly in jest, “it looks like I have my work cut out for me today.” He gestured vaguely toward the stacks of files still waiting his attention and consideration.

Catharine nodded and turned. The click of her heels across the floor was quickly truncated by the whispered closure of the door.

He sat again and the chair squeaked, painfully, in exasperation. He scanned the multi-coloured files splayed out in neat, carefully organised, rows. He knew that many more of them contained letters, similarly over-wrought and weighty with misplaced emotion but, he was also certain, few could leave such a bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth.

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