The Last Elegy
by Matthew Cheney

I received a letter from Grete. I hadn’t heard from her in at least a decade, since before the war. After Andrea’s death, I didn’t want to stay in contact with anyone who knew her, or anyone who had known Anders, because I didn’t know any other way to escape my sadness than to erase all the memories of what had happened, the memories of the cabarets and theatres, the cafés and galleries, the late nights that became early mornings as we talked about politics and poetry and philosophy, the hopes we had. Hope has always been a source of sadness, because it makes me vulnerable to fantasies and delusions, and it took me many years to see that time with Anders and Grete as anything other than the most awful delusion of my life.

In her letter, Grete tells me she is ill, and she would like to see me again before she dies. She asks if I ever finished the elegy for Anders. She still lives in the apartment she shared with him, though it is different now, having been damaged in the war. She says she got married again, but her husband is no longer alive, and now she is alone, but she has wonderful friends. She still paints occasionally, though she says materials are sometimes hard to come by. She says she has missed me all these years.

I lie awake and stare at the rusted tin ceiling of my little bedroom. Perhaps I, too, am ill; perhaps I am dying. Perhaps the elegy I should write is for myself. Self-pity is my strongest talent. But I am not to blame for what happened. I may have been a fool, but I was a brave fool to risk so much, to feel so much, to lose so much. (I tell myself this, just as I have for many years now, even though after all this time, the sadness remains.)

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