The Long Lost Letter | Daily Prompt: Your Days are Numbered

It’s January 26. Write a post in which the number 26 plays a role.

——————-

Today was Friday, and Jason hated Fridays. They meant there was two days ahead of him with no work and nothing better to entertain himself with. Another weekend of sheer boredom and a complete lack of social life.

On the way up to his flat  he stopped at the mailboxes and, after fighting with the stubborn lock on his box, grabbed out the handful of envelopes. He then stormed up to the cramped flat and began flipping through the glossy mail, tossing them into little piles on the kitchen table. Bill, bill, advert, garbage, advert, bill, letter…

Wait, he never got letters, not since Aunt Maggie died two years ago.

Frowning, Jason squinted at the envelope. It was aged and worn, the paper yellowed and one corner torn. The address was written in a cramped script and smudged ink, addressed to Eleanor Matthews. It took him a minute to realise that the number on the address had been smeared; what looked like a three was actually a two.

“Incompetent,” Jason grumbled irritably. For a minute he considered just tossing it in the trash and leaving it, but his hand hesitated above the bin. The letter was clearly very old. It must’ve been lost at the post office a while and just discovered. He felt the envelope – there was a distinct rustle of paper but there was also something else inside the envelope, something small and much thicker.

With an annoyed huff, he threw the rest of the adverts and grocery coupons on the table and let himself out of the flat. It was easier not to wait for the lift so he jogged down the stairs to the second floor and then checked the numbers beside the doors. Twenty-eight, twenty-seven… Ah, twenty-six. Jason tried to wedge the letter beneath the door but it wouldn’t fit through the narrow gap. Resigned, Jason knocked.

It took a minute before the lock on the door clicked and it opened. The woman beyond the door had to have been at least in her seventies, with closely cropped white curls and clusters of wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. She blinked up at him pleasantly with pale blue eyes and adjusted the collar of her floral dress. “Hello, young man, can I help you?”

“Yes, sorry, it’s just the postman gave me a letter and I think it was meant for you,” Jason explained. “You’re Eleanor Matthews?”

She giggled, a sound almost too girly for a woman of her age. “Oh I haven’t been Matthews for a long time,” she said. “That was my maiden name.”

“Well this is for you then,” I said, handing the envelope to her.

Eleanor accepted the envelope, glanced at the return address, and a startled sob escaped her. With a thumb she slit the top open and glanced inside. She immediately put a hand over her heart and Jason was surprised to see that her eyes had welled with tears. “Ma’am, you okay?” Jason asked uncertainly.

“I just – I never expected to get a letter from him again,” she said.

The hand clutching the envelope was shaking and Jason watched her pale face hesitantly. “Ma’am, do you need to sit down?” Jason asked. Eleanor had her free hand pressed against her mouth and she nodded. Jason took her arm and led her into the living room of her flat, easing her down into an armchair. He hovered awkwardly for a moment before sitting down on the sofa opposite her. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, it’s fine. You’re such a dear,” Eleanor said, finally looking up from the envelope to meet his gaze. Her eyes had reddened and there was a tear sneaking down her cheek. “It’s just – this letter came fifty years too late. And still, I’m am so, so glad it arrived.” She reached into the envelope and pulled out the bulkier object; a slim, silver ring with a little square diamond.

“Is that-?” Jason stopped, wondering if he was going too far in asking, but Eleanor smiled at him.

“Would you like to hear a story, young man?” she asked, and when Jason nodded, she began to spin a tale. It was a story of a passionate romance; a young girl, just turned eighteen,  met a brave soldier. They shared a wild summer of love then he got the papers, he’d been called to return to service. He flew to Vietnam at the beginning of the autumn with a promise that he would return home and marry her and give her the perfect life.

“For three months I received letters, and then one day the letters just stopped,” she said. “I waited for months and months but nothing new ever arrived. I thought that he had grown tired of me, the silly little girl that was completely enamoured with him. I thought he must’ve gotten bored with me or found himself someone better.

“I was heartbroken, of course, but with time I got over it. The war ended, I married a carpenter from my hometown, and we had a wonderful life. It wasn’t until I was a grandmother that I finally found out the truth. My Freddie had died after four months in Vietnam, in a firefight in the jungle. That was why he’d never written, why he’d never come home to me.”

She admired the modest ring in her hand, her eyes watering. She slipped it carefully onto her finger above the gold band that already sat there. Then she pulled out the letter and unfolded it, her eyes narrowed as she squinted down at the faded ink. “I can’t read this,” she said, “I need my reading glasses. Or, could you, love?”

“Oh, sure,” Jason said, taking the paper as she offered it out to him. He smoothed out the paper and cleared his throat. “My dearest Ellie. I miss you more than ever and I count down the days until my tour is over and I can come home to you. Until then, I want you to wear this for me. I found it in a shop here in Hanoi. I promised you that one day I would return and marry you and give you the life you deserve. This is my first step in that. Love always, your Freddie.”

Eleanor sniffled, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue she’d pulled from her pocket. “Oh Freddie,” she said. She twisted the ring around her finger and then sat up. Her eyes were still red but she was smiling. “He was such a lovely man.” She tucked her tissue back into the pocket of her dress and then leaned over to pat Jason’s knee. “Would you like some dinner? I have a casserole in the freezer that I was going to warm up.”

“I’d love to,” Jason said with a smile.

And that was how he earned himself a weekly invitation to Eleanor’s flat for dinner, and how Fridays became his favourite day of the week.

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