Monday, November 09, 2009


The old man was only her uncle, not her father, but he had raised her -- he and his wife, while she lived -- and she was the next of kin. She would have happily taken him in, would have visited more often, but he had stubbornly insisted that he was fine by himself. After the funeral -- a smattering of cousins, some shuffling old women from the neighborhood -- she went to the boarding house to see to his things. The landlady unlocked the door to his room, then withdrew without a word and let her be.

She set down her purse, slipped off her gloves and folded them over it, then began her inventory. It didn't take long. In the closet she found some old suits and trousers that still had some wear in them, and there was a good pair of leather slippers next to the bed; she would tell the landlady to donate those to charity. There were three or four books on a shelf she didn't think anyone would want. She flipped through them to see if anything would fall out, but there was nothing.

In a drawer of the nightstand she found the old enamel candy box and lifted the lid. There was a little folding money on the top -- not much, but she doubted the landlady had helped herself -- a mass card with her grandmother's name on it, his naturalization papers, a few photographs, sepia-toned and curling, a union ring with a chipped red stone, and a thin packet of letters, carefully tied with string.

She undid the knot with her fingernails and lifted the bundle into the dusty sunlight. The paper was brittle, burned by the slow fires of time, but the ink was a vivid dark blue. She unfolded the first one carefully but it was written in the old tongue, the one he wouldn't teach her, that she didn't want to learn, and she could only make out a word or two here and there. The letters were all in the same hand and she didn't recognize the name of the sender.

No comments: