I am not in the habit of reprinting private correspondence in the newspaper, but a recent letter sent to me in care of The Gazette was so unusual that it leaves me no choice. Here it is, in full:

“Ed: Quite some time ago, someone wrote me an anonymous letter and mailed it to me at work cautioning me about my husband’s inappropriate behavior. As it turns out, the concerns were legitimate. I was wondering if the letter was from you.

“Thank you for your response.”

The letter was typed, and it was not signed. My name and address were also typed on a small piece of paper that was affixed to the envelope with clear packing tape. All of this indicates a serious effort to remain untraceable, or at least to create the impression that the sender wants very much to remain anonymous.

The letter could well have been sincere, but it could also be a hoax or a setup of some kind, sent by someone to confuse or confound me for reasons unknown.

Anonymous correspondents are a hazard of the job. One anonymous correspondent recently hounded me with an obscene barrage of invective, calling me a eyeglasses-wearing sodomite and a left-wing deviant ignoramus (though I have considerably cleaned up both descriptions).

A public good

I understand that kind of thing. In a weird way, I enjoy it. If I can perform no greater public service than allowing people to vent their spleen without actually harming anyone, so be it.

What baffled me about this most recent anonymous letter was this: How was I supposed to respond if I didn’t know who sent the letter? My editor, who has read more detective fiction than I, was able to clear that up. He pointed out that if I was in fact the person who tipped this woman off to her husband’s inappropriate behavior, then naturally I would know the letter-writer’s identity, and how to reach her again.

Aha. But speaking of detective fiction, I believe that when a letter shows up in that genre, it is meant to plant a seed of doubt, to instill a bit of fear or to lead one to question some supposedly established fact.

This anonymous letter only piqued my interest, nothing more. I would like to help, but what can I do?

But wait. Perhaps she was trying to plant a seed of doubt. Maybe I was supposed to be offended, or mortified, that anyone would think me capable of writing an anonymous tattletale letter.

If she was being sincere, I have another question: If I were capable of sending such a letter, what makes her think she was the only put-upon wife I wrote to? If I was inclined to tip off a spouse every time one of my male friends or acquaintances engaged in inappropriate behavior, there would never be an end to it.

Come out and say it

By the way, what’s with that “inappropriate behavior”? You’d think that in this context it would have to refer to illicit amorous dalliances, but if that were the case, why not come out and say it? Why would the writer of an anonymous letter feel obliged to use vague euphemisms?

The deeper I get, the more doubts I have. I wanted to write about this in part because there was no other way to reach my anonymous correspondent, but what if she doesn’t even read The Gazette? She may have written to me at work to avoid the possibility of my letting my wife know that I was supplying various other wives with salacious gossip.

So, if she’s not reading this, does it do any good to assure her that I have never sent anyone of any gender an anonymous letter warning him or her of inappropriate behavior on the part of his or her spouse?

No, wait one more time. I’m sorry. I do recall one instance, and one instance only, in which I wrote a letter like the one described above. It began:

“Dear Mrs. Sanford: I think you should know that your husband, the governor, is not ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail,’ as he told you and his aides, unless ‘hiking the Appalachian trail’ is a euphemism for you-know-what.

“He is, rather, as I have reason to believe, indulging in inappropriate behavior with a certain Argentinian firecracker whose name you don’t need to know.

“You, and South Carolina, deserve better.

“Yours, a concerned friend.”