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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Before You Go: ‘The Letter’

CRL columnist John Gray returns with another short story.

For an old, dying man he was still quite clever, hiding the letter in the place he knew only the new homeowners would find it. Sure enough, a week after closing on the turn-of-the century Victorian, Sarah and Jacob went to the basement and opened the washing machine to do a batch of whites, discovering the letter carefully taped inside the lid.

“Congratulations,” it began. “If you are reading this correspondence than two things are most certainly true: my life is over, but you two are just beginning. I made certain in my Last Will and Testament that when my home was sold, they would only entertain offers from a young couple that was in love. That would be you two. Let me tell you why.

“The Worthington’s built this house in 1902 and filled it with love and children. When they died, my wife Abigail and I, not two weeks married, tried our best to do the same. We never did have children, but believe me when I tell you during these past 54 years there was love in every corner, cupboard and floorboard. I lost Abby a few years ago and stayed as long as the good Lord let me, missing her every hour of every day.”

Sarah smiled at Jacob and squeezed his hand as the letter continued. “I know you don’t know me, but I want to ask you for three favors. They’re small things, I promise, but if you perform them I believe the two of you may get a gift in return. The first will come in late spring. There’s a beautiful birch tree in the front yard, with an old bird house hanging from the limb. Each day put a fresh cup of sugar water inside the birdhouse and watch what happens.”

Spring came and Jacob did as the letter asked. By the third day, as the two of them enjoyed their morning coffee on the front porch, Sarah pointed and said, “Oh my. Look.” There were hummingbirds buzzing around the tree to drink the water. They were beautiful and the two of them watched them for hours.

The letter continued, “My second favor is an easy one. In the study on the west side of the house there is a big bay window. Please don’t wash the second pane down on the right-hand side. Come October go sit in that room and watch the sunset and you’ll understand why.” October came, and as instructed, Sarah and Jacob went into the study and waited for the sun to say goodnight. As the orange glow sank deep into the horizon a momentary burst of light came through the window and the one pane they were told not to clean revealed a secret. In the glass was the impression of a heart someone had traced there with their finger. “That heart is Abigail’s,” the letter explained. “Many years ago I told her I’d clean the windows, but I missed a single pane. She teased me by drawing a heart in the dust and the impression never left. You can only see it in the fall, which is appropriate because that was her favorite time of the year. I could never bring myself to clean it and I hope that heart reminds you of what it taught me: that there is beauty in imperfection.”

The third and final favor in the letter was the strangest of all. “I know it’s asking a lot, but once a month on the eleventh day could you take a single yellow rose and leave it on the stone wall out back at dusk? It would mean the world if you could do me this small kindness. God bless you two. Don’t ever stop loving each other.” It was signed with just two letters: J.F.

Sarah and Jacob did as the old man had asked and placed the yellow rose on the stone wall just as the lightening bugs were coming out to play. They waited and nothing happened. But the next morning Jacob noticed it was gone. The following month, on the same day, they placed the rose again and sure enough the next morning it had vanished like the morning mist.

By the third month the suspense was killing them, so after placing the rose on the wall they vowed to stay up all night and keep watch. Just as they were losing hope and dozing off, the sun peeked over the pines and they were awoken by the sound of a pick-up truck making its way up the dirt road that ran along their property. A man in a wool cap and a weathered brown jacket got out and grabbed the rose. Sarah and Jacob scrambled for the keys to the car and were quickly in pursuit. It was still dark out, but they followed the tail lights of the truck as best they could when it went over a hill and suddenly disappeared. Surely it didn’t vanish, so they re-traced their steps and noticed an unmarked road. They drove up it and found it led to just one place, an old cemetery.

The two of them walked slowly past the stones, not sure what they were looking for but knowing they would understand it when they saw it. And there it was, a well-kept grave with a single yellow rose resting on top. The man who delivered it saw them and explained he was simply keeping a promise he made to a dying man. “If ever there was a rose on that stone wall, I was told to bring it here.”

Sarah and Jacob stepped closer to the grave and suddenly everything made sense. The stone was etched with a huge heart and inside were the names Abigail and Jeremiah Fitzgerald. Surrounding the heart were an array of beautiful hummingbirds, Abby’s favorite. They saw that Abigail died on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 2007.

Sarah and Jacob drove home without saying a word, their hands locked together the whole way. They hadn’t held each other that tightly since their wedding day. They promised each other at that moment to always honor the old man’s letter and never forget the lessons within. That spring, they planted a dozen rose bushes in the front yard and when they bloomed all those who passed by quietly wondered what one young couple could possibly want with so many yellow roses.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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