I think this is as close as I'll ever get to W/X.
Willow loved stamps.
She didn’t always. Stamp collecting to her was the final geek frontier. It was bad enough being a member of the computer club and getting in touch with the softer side of Sears.
She smiled as she flipped the page in her binder and studied the cancelled stamp. This one was from Turkey. She got this one in June 2004. She didn’t need to see her spidery handwriting on the page to know this.
High school was ancient history and Queen C’s barbs no longer hurt, although the fact that Queen C—Cordelia—was no longer among the living probably had something to do with that. The funny bit, not funny ha-ha although Willow would be hard-pressed to say funny how, was that the slings and arrows of accusations scared her away from stamps.
She should’ve given in to the impulse sooner; certainly long before stamps were all she had left.
A flip of the page revealed all of Southeast Asia. Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia were arranged down the page like a well-worn path from the eastern border of India to Singapore in Malaysia’s southern tip.
It amazed her how much a stamp could tell you about a country. Choices of colors, the images that are used, the price, even the cancellation mark was a summary of what was important in that place and at that time. It was the soul of a nation captured on a small piece of paper that could sit comfortably on a fingertip.
Although what Sir Isaac Newton was doing on a stamp from Laos was anybody’s guess.
Her stamp collection was her map to the world and her window into history. It was all of her high school classes and college classes rolled into several binders, ranging from social studies to mathematics.
Easier to focus on what stamps could tell her about the world. Harder to focus on what the stamps told her about herself.
Lost opportunities. Miscommunications. Bad timing.
Yet somehow the thread wasn’t completely lost and here was her proof in the stamps that marched across pages, not arranged by geographic region, but by the wandering travels of the man who sent them.
And sent them he did.
She sometimes swore that he’d write her as soon as he crossed a border, even if he was only in a country long enough for a stop over. Some stamps came on a post card, others graced envelopes that had “Air Mail” and “Par Avignon” on them. All crowned Xander’s scrawled handwriting that whispered her name and address.
Given how bad his handwriting was, it was a wonder she got any letters at all. She wondered if there was some still floating around in an international dead letter office because someone somewhere couldn’t quite read the ink-smudged information.
She always wrote back, sometimes a quick line, sometimes a few hurried paragraphs, and sent it off by email. It was hard to tell where he was at any given time since he never seemed to stand still. Email was more convenient and was the only way she’d be sure he’d get the message: Got your letter today. Will answer you more in detail when I have time.
She now wondered if email was really enough. Email was ephemeral and once discarded left nothing behind to mark that the message once existed, not like stamps from other countries affixed to an envelope.
She had no idea why she kept the stamps beyond the ‘Oooo, pretty!’ instinct. She wasn’t obsessive about collecting and cataloging them all at the beginning. Although she did start organizing them before he…
That’s a very good word.
She’ll have to use it in a sentence very soon.
She hasn’t entered a new stamp in ten years. Not because she didn’t want to, but because there were no more new stamps to include.
She flipped to the back of the binder. A stamp from Algeria. The last stamp he ever sent her.
Her fingers nervously brushed over the page. She refused to look at the date, even though she knew it by heart. She knew the history behind it by heart.
No new stamp in ten years. It was hard for her to accept then and it’s hard for her to accept now.
Ten years is a lot of history. No new stamps is a hard tradition to follow.
Today it changes. Today she has a new stamp.
This one is a kaleidoscope of colors and if she squints she might see a shape, but it’s something indefinable and just beyond her ability to comprehend. There’s no price on it, no notation of what country it’s from. The cancellation mark looks like nothing she’s seen.
She carefully applies the hinge and puts it in her binder, right next to the stamp from Algeria like a question mark. Or maybe an exclamation point. Either way, it looks an awful lot like ‘the end,’ but she can’t see it as something that’s necessarily bad.
She’s read the newest letter in Xander’s bad handwriting. She’s put the stamp in its place.
She’s left a letter that puts her affairs in order.
She was very specific in her instructions about what she wanted done with her stamp collection. She doesn’t want to move on knowing that it’ll be broken up and sold. Dawn should have it. She’d appreciate all the history—impersonal and personal—that it contains.
It’s getting dark now, Willow realizes.
She gets into bed, wondering where she’ll be when she wakes. All she knows is that Xander will be waiting.
She wonders if he’ll have both eyes now. She wonders if he’ll look as old as he did—but too young, way too young—as when she last saw him, or will he look like he did in high school, or will he look like the little kid he was when they first played together in the sandbox.
It really doesn’t matter. The point is that she’ll see him again and this time there won’t be letters and stamps keeping them apart.
She can’t wait to use it in a sentence when she sees him.