Then came forth a voice, “It is time, let the curtains fall!”
But he just raised his hand, “No, not yet, Love conquers all!”
After an extended day at the office, I returned to my apartment late in the evening. Before I could get in, Mrs. Wills, my neighbor, came out and told me that a young gentleman had been looking for me.
“Oh, dear! He looked like he had not had a bath in a long time,” she said.
I chuckled. “Did he leave a message?”
“Oh, yes. Come to Poor Clare Nursing Home. It’s about Donna – that’s the message.”
“Hm-Mm. Look for Mr. Webb, he said.”
I frowned. My sister died two years ago. I had no idea what the nursing home wanted to talk to me about my sister.
“Thank you, Mrs. Wills.
That night, I took out the key that my sister had given me before she died. ‘I‘m sorry, Dean -‘ was all she had said.
What the key was for remained a puzzle. Her last words didn’t make sense to me at that time. But I had the feeling that this must be it.
At lunchtime the following day, I drove to Poor Clare. I expected a young Mr. Webb, thinking he was the one who had come to see me. But the man before me was in his 50’s. I introduced myself.
“Ah, Mr. Daniels! I’m glad you dropped by,” Mr. Webb acknowledged.
“Come. There is something I want to give you.”
More curious than ever, I followed him.
Mr. Webb led me to his office. He opened the cabinet behind him and removed a rusty metal rectangular box. He laid it on his table.
“Please have a seat, Mr. Daniels.”
“This belongs to your sister. We were repainting the rooms and one of the painters found it under the floorboards. There’s a keyhole. Unfortunately, there was no key with it.”
“I have it.”
I inspected the box. It was about 6 by 8 by 12 inches and quite heavy.
“There’s something else.”
With knitted brows, I met his eyes. He then removed an envelope from his drawer and slid it to me.
“We learned that you were abroad, so we kept it.”
“Yeah, I just got back a month ago.”
Mr. Webb nodded. “Is January 5th of any significance to Donna?”
“I’m not sure. Why?”
“That letter came on that date. The same date was also carved at the back of the floorboard hiding the box.”
“Coincidence?” I blurted while inspecting the letter. It was light. The stamp was hardly readable, and it had no return address.
“I’d like to think so. But these registers show otherwise.” He pushed three log books to me. “Open the pages with bookmarks and see the entries yourself.”
Mr. Webb was telling the truth. My sister did receive six letters when she was alive.
“Hmm. This doesn’t look like a coincidence anymore.”
“Do you have any idea who is sending these letters?”
“I can’t think of anyone. Our parents died in an accident four years ago. We are not close to any relatives…and Donna, she was friendly, but she hardly had any good friends who would write to her.” I paused. “She had a fiance though, who went missing three months before the Vietnam War ended -”
“Edison Walls,” Mr. Webb interrupted.
“Yes! You know him?”
“Some of the staff mentioned him recently.”
“But Edison went missing seven years ago. If he was found…and alive, my sister would have mentioned it to me. Unless she didn’t know.”
“Well, perhaps the box and that letter have the answers,” Mr. Webb added.
I thanked Mr. Webb and kept the letter in my bag. I was about to get up when I remembered one thing.
“January 5th was yesterday. You didn’t receive a second letter, did you?”
“We were expecting, but none came. Perhaps it got delayed.”
“Or the sender has come to know about Donna’s passing.”
I decided to open the box at Poor Clare’s parking lot.
I took a deep breath and inserted the key. It fit perfectly. I uncovered the box. Inside were opened letters. As I sifted through them, I noticed that all the envelopes lacked stamps and return addresses, as though they were hand-delivered. There were photographs of Donna and Edison. Even with Edison gone, my sister’s charming smile never left her face till the very day she departed from this world. Edison was a fine man and looked dignified in his uniform. I never had the chance to meet him. By the time I was back home from my training in Washington, he had already left for Vietnam. But my sister used to send me letters, telling me about him and how much she loved him. So when she handed me a key with a puzzling apology, I knew there was something she wasn’t telling me.
I sighed. I continued inspecting the box. At the bottom was a folded piece of pink stationery. I was about to unfold it when a knock on my car window startled me. I dropped the paper on my car floor along with a few envelopes and pictures that were on my lap.
It was Mr. Webb asking me if everything was alright. I answered yes.
“Well, then. Goodbye, Mr. Daniels.”
I collected the fallen items from the floor and started the car.
As soon as I reached home, I emptied the box on my living room table and searched for the folded paper. I couldn’t find it. Outside, Mrs. Wills was calling my name.
“I found a picture under your car, Dean. Is it yours?”
I opened the door and the photo of Edison greeted my face. “Ah, yes. Did you find anything else?”
“Only that. Should there be more?”
“It’s okay. I think it’s in the car.”
Mrs. Wills looked like she had something else to say. But I dismissed her by thanking her and closed the door. I knew she wanted to chat about my visit to Poor Clare, but before I could answer her questions I had to answer mine first.
I did find the folded paper under my car seat. I expected a love note for Edison, but it was a note to me. It read –
Eddie is alive. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but he made me promise not to tell anyone. He also made me promise not to contact nor visit him. But you didn’t, so please go and meet him. I think he needs help, Dean.
Below the note was Edison’s address –
015, Ashford Street
The questions in my mind increased multifold. I hoped the letters had the answers.
I read them one by one. But none of them gave clues. They were details of Edison’s life in the army – his training days, his first encounter with the enemies, the life and death they faced when a few of them got separated from their platoon and were stuck in the field for many hot days and cold nights, rain or shine, with little ration. The letters also talked about how he missed my sister, wishing he was back in America and married to her.
His letter of 1980 was different and sounded strange. It spoke of my sister’s thoughts – her love for him, her doubts and apprehensions, her plans, which appeared to surprise my sister, for she made notes beside them. The ‘how can he know my plans, my doubts?’ seemed like Edison was able to read her mind.
I quickly opened the latest letter hoping they would reveal something. If Edison could read Donna’s mind, the next letter would throw some light. But the letter only made things more mysterious.
My dear Donna,
I have a confession to make. I haven’t seen the sunlight in years. Since they found me, they kept me in a windowless room. The only opening is a door that is so small I have to crawl if I want to get out. The outside is bright, but the people are lifeless. They don’t even see each other eye to eye. I don’t like it.
My dear, I am exhausted. I miss you so much. My condition here is worse than being dead. Death, my love, is something I’m willing to take if offered, for not being with you is as good as death itself. But I know you are waiting for me. Patience, my love. Soon, there’s nothing that can part us.
I love you always.
P.s. There’s good news. I think I may be able to see the sun again. I heard we are getting transferred to a better place. When that happens, my dear, I will come and see you.
Rubbing my forehead as though it would help me understand everything, I decided to visit Edison.
Next weekend, I flew to Florida. With the pink stationery in my hand, I hired a taxi. My heart was full of hope that Edison would talk to me and answer my questions. But what I found out that day defied common sense.
The taxi stopped at a construction site with earth movers unloading building materials. When I asked around, a guard claimed it was a cemetery before, for soldiers whose bodies were unclaimed.
“They unearthed the bones and transferred them to Christ Memorial Center six…eight months ago,” he added.
I didn’t believe him at first, so he sent me to Sawlbury’s Health Department. Their Ashford Death section showed me the following details:
Edison Walls (age 26)
Vietnam War Hero, MIA – January 05, 1975
Found one week later, shot in the chest, No known NOK
Remains buried at Ashford, Sawlbury, Tampa, Florida
I wasn’t sure how I got out of that place and came home that night. But the moment I hit the bed, I slept like a log. When I woke up the following day, it was already noon; my head was bursting; my belly was grumbling, and my heart felt like a boulder was sitting on it. What was revealed to me yesterday was beyond what any rational person could handle. I was neither religious nor superstitious. But the evidence was so overwhelming I could only accept its truth. A truth that my sister never knew and never will.
There were still some questions left unanswered. ‘Does Eddie know my sister had passed away? Is that why the letters stopped coming? Who was the young man who had come looking for me? Was it Edison who left a message with Mrs. Wills?’
Those questions were answered on Monday when Mr. Webb called and informed me that another letter, addressed to the entire staff of Poor Clare, came in the morning. He went on to read it for me:
To the staff of Poor Clare Nursing Home,
I write to you to thank you all for taking care of my Donna. You did what I could not do in the past years. When I was transferred to my new place, I came to know my Donna was no longer with you. This is my last letter. I won’t trouble you, good folks, anymore. We are reunited now. Tell Dean I came to see him but he wasn’t home. A nice lady took my message for him. I am very thankful to her.
Indebted to you all,
Pvt. Edison Walls
I dropped the phone, shocked. I heard Mr. Webb asking me “Can you make any sense of it, Mr. Daniels?”
Bewildered and relieved at the same time, I rushed out to get some fresh air. At the hallway, Mrs. Wills was prancing to and fro as she was wont to do. She smiled at me.
“Dean, did I tell you the shabby young man looked just like the man in the photo -”
“I know, Mrs. Wills. Don’t worry about him,” I said, as I dashed by. And I mumbled to myself, “May he rest in love and peace at last.”
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