Excerpt from Dear Joseph

by Elizabeth Moreau, Learner, Writing Workshops

She wasn’t expecting a photograph. So when it tumbles out of the envelope into her lap, for a moment she thinks the letter is from someone else. But there is the familiar deliberate script, blue ballpoint ink filling every line and both sides of the drugstore notepaper. Five, maybe six sheets this time. She sets the letter and the photograph on the coffee table and pauses, breathing deeply. Realizing she still has her coat on and keys in her hand, she stands and heads slowly to the closet.

Since the first letter more than six months ago, neither had suggested exchanging photos. He had not asked about her appearance, or she his, though from time to time she imagined what he might look like. Then she would tell herself it didn’t matter. There were images, though. How he put on shorts to go for a run in the yard. How he wrote his letters to her while sitting on his bunk. How he got down on his knees on the concrete floor to pray.

The newspaper clipping he sent with the third letter had no picture, but the headline quoted the presiding judge’s regret at not being able to deliver anything harsher than a life sentence. If I could, the judge had said, I would pull the switch myself.

She hangs up her coat, returns to the couch and picks up the photo. Four people—one man laughing and holding a small child, another crouching, a women with her arms around a teenaged boy. Mother and son, she imagines. She flips over the photo, but there is only a date: July 1986. Her first thought is how relaxed they look, except for crouching man, who stares straight into the camera with an intensity that almost makes her want to look away. Almost. It looks like any other family photo, but for the bars on the window behind them. She doesn’t need to read the letter to know which one is Joseph, but later she finds the reference in his letter.

I am enclosing a picture of me and a friend taken recently when his family was visiting. That’s me in front with the black boots. I’ll get a better one done soon.


Elizabeth’s short story excerpt was written for Ann Ireland’s online short fiction writing course: ‘Short Fiction Writing – Level I’ (CWWR 410).

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