This one is rated PG-13 for mild language and graphic imagery.
Hello, my darling.
I hope you are doing well. I think of you all the time. I have a tiny lantern here, something they bring us from the surface. They breed generations of fireflies on the way down to these mines, because it's too dangerous to have any sparks or fires. I look at your picture, your beautiful face, now lit in green by these fireflies, now darkened, as I write this letter.
The work is grueling. I don't yet do any swimming in the marshes, but I will eventually; for now, I sort through what they bring back. Every object makes me angry or disgusted, and I'm not the only one. The diggers (that's my group) and the dredgers (swimmers) often get into fights because we hate them for being such assholes and bringing us this stuff. The dredgers must get tired of it; it's not their fault, I know, but we all wish that we could just leave it alone.
Now, if I were to just tell you what comes up, you would probably think it's funny that we get so bent out of shape by such mundane things. I can't explain it, but it's the way they get into you, somehow, and they are covered in the most disgusting layers of dirt and muck and slime.
Maybe if I give an example it will make more sense. The other day a dredger, the little bastard, brought back this bike, one of those faster ones. It was all bent and covered in this black slime that made tears come to my eyes and a slaver to my lips as I tried to clean it off. And as I cleaned it, I thought of you, broken and covered in slime, staring at me with huge, empty eye sockets. I had you there, with me, after all these years, and yet you were gone, dead or parted from your body. I'm ashamed to say I wanted to slap that body, in my anger I thought it might bring you back to me. Please forgive me.
Imagine hour after hour, day after day of that. The objects that come up are always different: spindles, telephones, magazines, brochures, spotlights, terraces, and on and on, but they all cause these reactions. It's so extremely tiring, and most of the time during my rest period I just stare at your picture because I don't have any power to do anything else.
Once in a while we diggers and dredgers get together to try to heal our anger and shake off work. The dredgers make a disgusting drink distilled from the sludge of the marshes. They mix it with caraway seeds and rosemary to make it palatable, and though I said it is disgusting, it really is passable. Because it's distilled, it's even more toxic than the plain slime, but somehow, sharing the dismay of that stuff with your coworkers makes it easy to look them in the eye and celebrate their pain with yours. Still, the first time I drank it I couldn't understand why they would want to mix the torture of work with the exhaustion of rest. But the real reward of the drink is the dreams.
The drink, after all the shared pain at our celebrations, gives the most restful sleep, full of dreams of joy and restoration. Sometimes we gather in one of the communal areas and place all our lamps together in the middle, and then sit and talk about the dreams we have. Some of the younger folk, born down here, dream of the free air up above, of chasing fireflies in the real rain, and falling with lovers in the grass. A guy around my age dreams of being in his kitchen again, frying up bitter gourd flowers and serving them to groups of people, clamoring behind a darkness he can't penetrate with his eyes, but that accepts the glowing flowers gladly. An older man finds peace in not dreaming at all.
But I dream of only one thing, every time. I dream of you coming to the door at my knock, limping and with your cane, and I see you and know that I am forgiven. You lead me to the kitchen, and we eat like new lovers, and hold each other, and I forget the bicycles and the sludge. I wake up rested and whole another day.
I'm sorry I came here, you know that. It was my choice, but I had to come. I've asked your forgiveness, looking at your green face, so many times. But I can't go back now, and you know that, too. I don't know when I'll get out, so I can't even count the days. But I'm thinking of you every minute, that's how I keep track of time and create my calendar. And I know you'll be there when I get back.
I love you.