Stella pulled the letter from the narrow box in the lobby. The envelope was wrinkled and yellow. One corner, with a ragged semi-circle outlined in a thin faint gray, showed evidence of water damage.
After weeks of nothing but bills and slick, shiny promotional materials advertising pizza delivery, phone bundles, and cable deals, this thin missive looked like a pleasant diversion.
Miss S. Abrahamsonwas written in a boyish hand in the center. But the address was wrong. As her eyes travelled down the yellowed paper Stella realized that she didn’t recognize the name of the street, or the town. Both the address and the name of the town had been crossed out. Someone had handwritten “doesn’t live here” in pinched, crab-like letters.
There was no return address.
Stella knew enough about the post office to be fairly certain that, under normal circumstances what she held in her hands should have ended up where all the dead go—the round file.
But here it was.
The stamp was green. She looked carefully at it. It was worth thirteen cents and had an engraving of a tank on it. When was the last time stamps had their monetary values printed on them? And who ever heard of a thirteen-cent stamp? And a tank? Then she noticed the postmark, faded almost to extinction. Halifax, N.S. 1943.
Stella was twenty-seven. She was Miss S. Abrahamson—with both feet on the ground and no illusions about voices, or letters, communicating with her from the great beyond, or the far distant past.
She turned the letter over and gently eased back the flap. There was a single sheet of thin paper inside. The stationery, like the envelope, was wrinkled and yellowed.
A thousand thoughts twisted and turned through Stella’s mind. This obviously wasn’t her letter, despite the name on the envelope. Perhaps she had no business opening it. But it was now open so…
I have to get this into the bag right away. The convoy is about to sail and of course, they don’t tell us ordinaries where we’re going, when we might make port, or when we’re coming back.
I’m so sorry we didn’t have hardly any time together before I had to shove off. But I want you to know that you’re the only girl in the world for me and I love you, love you, love you. Don’t run off with anyone else while I’m gone.
Will write again as soon as I can.
God bless you and keep you safe for me,
Stella carefully folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and returned to her apartment. She went into her bedroom, slid open the closet door and pulled out an old suitcase that had belonged to her parents. It was stuffed with old photos and memorabilia that she had kept when the family home had been broken up and sold after her parents’ tragic car accident.
She rummaged through bits and pieces long forgotten. But there was one photo that had stitched itself into her memory. The letter had torn that memory loose and dragged it to the forefront of her mind. Finally she found it.
Her great-aunt, Stella Abrahamson.
In the photo, that Stella was standing in the apple orchard of the homestead that had once belonged to the family. Alongside her stood her brother, David, and his wife, Millie. In Millie’s arms was a baby, Max.
Max had named his daughter after his favourite aunt.
“She was an amazing woman. In those days all the girls got married, People thought you were somehow lacking if you didn’t. She never said why. But something broke her heart and it never healed so she bundled up the pieces as best she could, straightened her shoulders, and took on the world by herself. Always admired that in her.”
Where had the letter been all these years? How did it finally find its way to a Stella Abrahamson, even if it was the wrong one? Had the first Stella believed that Tommy had just sailed away from her to find another girl in another port?
Stella found the most important answer after a long night of research. Only two merchant ships were lost in 1943. Ordinary seaman, Tommy Scott, died when the Jasper Parkwas torpedoed in the Indian Ocean on the 6th of July.
Later that week, Stella leaned over the bedside of an elderly lady and whispered, “Auntie, Tommy loved only you to the end.”