To read part one, click here
To read part two, click here
To read part three, click here
To read part four, click here
To read part five, click here
To read part six, click here
To read part seven, click here
To read part eight, click here
To read part nine, click here
To read part ten, click here
Letter the Eleventh
December 24, 1948
Dearest Mavis on Earth:
I am sorry to have left you curious last night. The truth is, the races are not a comfortable place to curl up while crying. The size of one’s hat omits the possibility of such pleasures.
Why was I crying?
Well I wasn’t. But I could have with you pestering me for information I did not have but very much wanted. The main question on your lips (or telegrams, as the case may be) is ‘What did John want to ask?’ and you are very right in wondering. We all thought, of course, that he meant to propose marriage. One feels a little qualm of decency in anticipating such a question, but then what is one to think when someone takes down his binoculars and mentions a question to be asked?
After this, my attention span for the races was briefer than it should have been. Not even Gilly Sly Guy winning his third heat in a row was able to hold me for long. I had no room in the telegrams to mention that Diane was with us, and she was nearly as bad as you, if not worse. I had to put up with her touching my elbow sympathetically and raising her eyebrows up and down as if to let me know she knew exactly what was going on.
What none of us could anticipate was what John actually meant by asking me a question. It just so happened that it began to rain heavily just as the races finished. An awful, ugly rain that should have been a snow if the temperature had obliged us and dropped fifteen degrees. I do hate green Christmases. They look like the leftovers of a pessimist’s annual Anti-Cheer Banquet billed for sale in a pawnbroker's shop.
It had begun to rain and so our plans to walk the paddocks and see the thoroughbreds were postponed. I don’t think John wanted to see them so terribly, Diane had taken herself away to collect her winnings, and I was in a mood to justle a constable.
We were finally alone, and John drew me to the fence. “Remember what I said?”
“Wanting to ask you something?”
Good gracious, here it is, I thought. My heart went dry and my mouth thundered. Or perhaps it was reversed.
“The Inquiries office is open and receiving,” I said, trying to be coy.
“Well, what I wondered is this...” John shuffled his foot in the mud and the mist came down fine and cold between our faces. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
Oh. Christmas. Not, “Toni, my darling, will you be mine?” or even: “Will you consider being my wife?” Just, “What are you doing for Christmas?” said in the same tone as, “What are you eating for supper?” or “What are you paying for milk at the corner-store?”
“Well, I had planned to hole up in my apartment and eat the fudge I bought myself and read The Christmas Carol and listen to the King’s address.”
“Patriotic of you.”
“Yes, I think so. They were good friends in the War, anyway. Brotherly love and so forth?”
“Your plans?” I rested the toes of my shoes against the fencepost and felt damper and damper.
“Catch up on an assignment. Sleep in indecently late.”
“You don’t have any family?” As much time as we’d spent together in the last week, I had not asked this question.
“Family’s all in Ticonderoga and I didn’t get much time off this year.” He shrugged. “I’ll miss ‘em. Still, it’s not the first time I’ve gone M.I.A. over Christmas.”
“Sorry you can’t make it.”
“You have any family?”
“Just a dad. He’s unpredictable.” I pulled my coat closer and shivered. “Can we go now? It’s rather wet out here.”
I couldn’t tell if he meant about my father or the rain. Still, his sympathy warmed me. John tucked his arm around my back and guided me through the muddy array of spectators. Diane waited for us under a blue awning.
The eyebrows went up. I shook my head. She made a face and John called for the car.
On the ride back into D.C., we chatted as normal and I tried not to be disappointed about his question and my own Christmas Day arrangements. How was this Christmas to be any different than any other? I have always spent Christmas alone, Mavis. It is my reality.
John dropped Diane and I off. Diane vanished through the front doors but I lingered on the steps. The rain still sifted on our heads and John’s had glistened as he put it out to take mine.
“Have fun, Toni?”
“I did. Thanks.” Could he see the tears? I bent my head so he would not. “Have a great night, John.”
“Will you do something for me?”
“Keep a candle in your window. I’m working late. I’ll feel like you’re awake to cheer me up.”
I laughed. “If you want me to.”
“I do. Goodnight, darling girl.”
He tipped his hat then, shoved his hands deep into his pocket, and trotted across the street to his building.
It wasn’t quite the same thing as a straight-up “darling,” but it meant quite a lot when said in his dear old voice. I slept on the sofa that night and turned it toward the window so I might keep an eye on the candle that watched my John out the window.
Today has been lazy and cold with few customers. Who does one expect on Christmas Eve but harried husbands out to finish their shopping? Mr. Pierce seemed to sense I was in one of my reflective humors and when we closed, put an envelope into my hand.
He turned four shades of beet. “Your Christmas gift.”
I opened it as I walked home and found a fat little check with this note clipped to the side:
I don’t often tell people what to do with their lives. Furthermore, I don’t often go in for romantic notions brought to life by the holiday season. But I want you to know that I realize you’re in love with your man out the window. I am inclined to look on this favorably. Everything you have told me about him seems perfect genteel. But would you mind letting me meet him? A man’s a man for a’ that.
I Remain Your Friend (Truly),
Dear old Pierce. Say what you will, he’s more reliable than my own father and I am grateful, at moments, for his meddling.
John’s eleventh gift came today. A record of highland bagpipe-tunes with the humorous caption of:
My Dear Toni:
I had insomnia last night. Listen to this before bed and you can share the treat.
I love the man, Mavis. I love John Out-the-Window with all the love that is in my little fretful heart.
That’s all the update I have for now. I do hope you are spending a quiet Christmas Eve at home with Corky and your father. Have you accepted him? Does your father know? It is your turn to “spill the beans” and tell me all the delicious and/or scandalous details.Peace on earth, goodwill toward men, remember.
Happy Christmas Eve.
I Am Always Your Own Little,Toni