I returned from Ed’s funeral to a shopping bag full of mail. Our neighbor Nancy had picked it up at the post office and left it on the back deck. Bank statements, Christmas catalogues. I put it in the mudroom, curled up with the dogs.
The next morning I poured a second cup of coffee and, out of habit, divided the mail into two piles, his and hers, on the kitchen table. We had never opened each other’s mail. If one of us received something we both wanted to see, the other one would say, Open it! Open it! and stand next to the recipient until we knew what was inside. The most obvious junk mail lay on the table until the addressee threw it into the recycling bag.
In fact, there was nice mail here, lovely mail.: people sent condolence cards, or even letters they had written themselves. I opened each envelope carefully and read the notes slowly. I examined the cards and tried to imagine the person—the freelance graphic designer in San Diego, whom I had never met, Ed’s high school friend from Portsmouth that we exchanged Christmas cards with—driving to the mall, entering a card shop, choosing something to send me. The local library would buy a book in Ed’s memory. Perhaps something about the Hudson River, wrote the board president, since Ed loved to explore the flats in his kayak.
And a friend—someone I wished we saw more—typed out six lines from Eliot’s Four Quartets that he said had served him as an “emotional mantra” during “unutterably” difficult times. “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” I stared at that, unable even to imagine it. But that was his point, wasn’t it. Mantra. You asked for it. You prayed for it.
Then I opened Ed’s mail. Bills he would have paid, a confirmation of his order of a barn jacket—we didn’t have a barn, but as Dave said, Ed was something of a clothes pony—a paycheck I couldn’t cash, a pitch from the Democratic party that he support Bill Clinton. They must be after everybody; we were both enrolled as independents. I opened all the credit card offers, just to make sure they didn’t, by accident, contain some cash.
I saved for last a business-size envelope addressed by hand to Ed from a post office box in Truro, on Cape Cod. We had spent a week in Truro each summer for the past three years, but we hadn’t begun to talk about next year’s trip. Chloe was sitting in my lap by then; I turned over the envelope, let her sniff it. Finally I slit the side with Ed’s letter opener and pulled out a copy of a one-page contract for the rental of a house in Truro and a receipt for payment in full for a week’s rent. The receipt was made out to Ed. The contract was cosigned by Ed and the owner of the house. For the last week in July. Next year.
A week’s vacation. All planned, all paid for. I knew the house. We had rented it the summer before this past one. Three stories high, glass all around, it was like living in the tops of the trees—the most beautiful house I had ever stayed in, anywhere. This past summer the owner had caught on and raised the price to well above our budget, and we rented another house, nowhere near as nice. Next summer, I see, she’s holding steady at the new price.
That must be it. She’s confused the summer tenants, pulled Ed’s name out of her files, sent a receipt to the wrong person. Not that Ed’s last name, Tuczinksi, was a common one, but there had to be a mistake. I picked up the portable phone, which I now carried with me at all times, and called the number on the contract.
“No,” she said, “it’s not a mistake.” I remembered her voice as soon as I heard it—I was usually the one who made this kind of booking—and from it her small, energetic, efficient self. In the summer she lived in a cabin at the edge of the property, one room no larger than a potting shed. She cleaned the house herself between rentals. Got it as part of a divorce settlement, we figured.
“Your husband called me,” she said. “I’m so sorry, about his accident. So sorry. The contract I use says no refunds, but in this case, and since it’s so early in the season, I could make an exception.”
The money would support me for a month. “Can you make the check out to me?” I asked.
“—I guess so,” she said.
Again, so completely unlike him.
Yes, he could be manipulative with his surprises. Guess what! he would say, when I was exhausted or distracted, not ready for games. Don’t you notice anything different? he would ask about some miniscule change he had made in our house while I was out.
But to spend so much money without saying so, or, rather, without complaining about it, several times. To plan something like this without consulting me, much less even telling me.
Now a vacation waited out there in July. Paid for with money I had never seen. It might support me for a month, that money, but then I would just need more money, and there would be no prize, no rest, no splendid house in the trees, down the road in July.
“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll keep it. I’ll come.”
“It’s a big house,” she said. “You could share it with friends.”
She was right. I could see who else might show up.
Copyright © Debby Mayer