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Letter the Seventh
From Antoinette Charleton to Mr. John Garribault
December 20, 1948
Dear John Out-the-Window:
Please excuse the strange address. I am not a fan of “Dear John” letters and don’t like to bring up bad associations in a new friendship. And since I can see your building from my view, a name including “Out-the-Window” fits.
Your letter did cheer me up. Thank you for being so kind as to write.
I am sorry (read: terribly so) that I stood you up at the dinner. I think I ought to explain some things. It will be awkward for me, but I have heard that honesty is the best policy and would like you to know everything.
So as not to make you think I am a total ninny, would you please name a time and date at which it would be convenient for us to meet? Then I can be sure it is not I who ruins the meeting. If you decide to run out on me, it would only be fair and I will not blame you.
I Remain Yours Respectfully,
P.S. I see now that calling you, “Mr. Garribault” would have solved the problem. Unfortunately, I am already late for work and have not time to copy this letter again. Signed, A.C.
From John Garribault to Antoinette Charleton
Dec. 20, ‘48
Dear Miss Charleton:
Eight thirty tonight at the coffee shop on the corner? I will be the man at the third left-hand table reading a copy of the Washington Post with his feet propped on the chair opposite. If you show up, I’ll take my feet down and let you have the chair. If you don’t come, I’ll weep into my coffee and fold the paper into a fool’s cap. Please take this scarf as a token of my appreciation for your willingness to ‘fess up. It reminded me of the six geese a’laying, though I suppose they are more like swans…and there are seven of them.
P.S. Your broad hints have me ravenously curious. What evil shall befall me if I come near your dwelling?
P.P.S. Will your friend join us or is she employed strictly as a stage-hand?
From Antoinette Charleton to Mavis Brinkley
December 20, 1948
Dear Old Mavis,
I told you I would not write unless I had a thing to tell. I do have a Thing and I believe you ought to know. Tonight (though I suppose it was technically last night, as it is past midnight now, I met the real John Out-the-Window. It came about in this way:
Diane wrote to him to excuse my rudeness in not showing up at the Willard for our meeting. I believe she pleaded the excuse of “bad news” (fair enough) and that I did not do it out of malice. I am not sure how she discovered what his name is. One doesn’t like to pry too hard into the methods of a novelist. They’re a bit unhallowed, I’m sure.
This afternoon (or yesterday. Tomato, To-mah-to) I received the note I sent in your letter. It was a kind demonstration on his part, don’t you think? Anyway, Diane convinced me that I ought to ask to see him again for a chance explain the Horrible Trick. I think she’s still hot at you for my sake, but somehow, Mavis, I can’t be furious.
However, I did think it only fair to Mr. Garribault to tell him the story. Also, I did not want him thinking I am the sort of girl who invites people boldly out on a date and then drops them for the fun of it. You might be accustomed to treating men in this way (have you gone steady with Corky? He’s very nice-looking), but I am not. All this to say, I wrote and asked him to pin a date and time at which we might meet.
At work, I told Mr. Pierce the ordeal up to this point. I really think I struck the man speechless with the nonsense of it all. He only pleaded with me despairingly to take a little care and be sure I carried my billy-club when I went for the meeting (I think carrying a Diane might be more effective). Oh, Mr. Pierce also lectured me on the expense of postage for all this. I think he did feel a little sorry for me, however, because he squeezed my hand as I left and told me:
“You’re a good girl, Toni. Don’t let (insert radio interference) make you think you aren’t worth secret admirers.”
Let it be, Mavis. Mr. Pierce has never liked you as you’ve told me a million times. He is certain your figure is somehow fake and says that though making clothes for you is a dream, you wear them with bad intent like a mannequin gone looking for Calcutta’s black hole. His words, not mine. Sometimes I think Pierce ought to give away his sewing machine and go in for poetry or moral and philosophical lectures.
When I returned home from work, a second note from John was waiting for me, inviting me for coffee at the shop on the corner. He told me I could bring Diane, but I got a reckless, headstrong idea and went alone. Diane’s presence is calculated to make a storm in some way and I felt much braver in the idea of my own ability to meet a stranger for coffee than in hers to keep a civil tongue in her head over the subject of You.
I bundled up well and wore the silk scarf with the seven swans printed on it for a spirit-booster. How my hands shook! I never, in all my fancying about John Out-the-Window, expected to meet him. I think I would have remained in love with him even if all I ever did was admire him through the window. I think if he had, after a year or so, moved offices, I would have felt it a death and gone about for a few days feeling widowed.
All these thoughts and more kept me company on my little catty-corner trot to the coffee shop. I paused outside the door and my stomach flipped like a circus seal. People say that in books, but I promise it really flipped. It’s an awful feeling.
Inside that shop was the real John. I knew that his letters were mannerly and good-humored but what was the man himself like? What if he was horrible? What if he was rude or rough or bad? For a moment, I wanted to run away and not have my window-dream shattered. Without having met the fellow, he could have no faults. What sort of Pandora’s box might I open if I went through the door? My hands shook worse than ever.
Hoar-frost, cheap Christmas decorations, and community postings crowded the front window but through it I saw the top of a dark blue trilby and a copy of the Washington Post. Bending over and craning my neck, I could just make out a pair of worn soles stretched out on a dinette chair.
I stood up at the exact moment the paper came down. John Out-the-Window’s eyes shouted recognition and he grinned.
I could not move. His smile had literally cemented my feet to the sidewalk and even the bone-gnawing cold could not pry them off.
I waved back like the little idiot I am.
Somehow, I unglued my shoes from the icy pavement and fumbled my way inside. The eight feet from front door to third left-side table seemed an eternity with his eyes upon me.
He stood as I came up. “Miss Charleton.”
“Please call me Toni,” I squeaked.
“Cute little name.”
“I don’t really like it. It sounds Italian.”
Mavis, I don’t know what possessed me to say an inane thing like that. Immediately I blushed and became deathly embarrassed. John laughed and pulled out my chair for me, then sat across the table with his dear dear dear grin grinning like sixty. The worst of it was, it was the exact smile I fancied him having when I’d seen nothing but his back and shoulders silhouetted against the window pane. A figment of my imagination become flesh should not look exactly like I wished it to.
But he does.
Great Jehoshaphat he does. It isn’t that he has killer good-looks. He doesn’t, really. Not like Corky or Errol Flynn. He has happy eyes and his smile looks like he was just caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He is only an inch taller than I am (the fault of my insistence on wearing heels) and his nails are not as clean as one could wish them to be. But Mavis, he is so wholesome and homey and wears his shirt-sleeves turned up. I can’t help but love him.
He summoned the waiter with one finger: a feat I’ve never mastered.
“May I order you a coffee?”
“Yes please,” I said, even though I don’t much like coffee.
“Cream or sugar?”
“Lots of both, please.”
“Are you warm enough here?”
A pause, like he was waiting to see if I’d made up my mind to stay or not.
“I see you accepted the swans.”
I touched the cool silk around my neck. “Oh. Yeah.”
“I thought I was gonna go nuts.” He leaned back in his chair. “‘Six geese a’laying-six geese a’laying-six geese a’laying,’” he sang like an broken music box. His voice tipped slightly off-key with warm laughter.
I laughed too, then we sat quietly till the waiter brought my coffee. John pushed it forward and folded his hands on the table.
“So,” he said, “where to start?”
With a little help from him, questions in the proper places and so forth, I told my story. By the end, he wrapped his hands around his empty coffee cup and whistled.
“That woman.” He shook his head. “How’s you even meet her?”
“Dress fittings. I work at as a tailor’s assistant.”
“What does she do?”
“Mavis? Mavis doesn’t do anything. She’s a rich man’s rich daughter who sometimes studies art.”
“Oh. And who does she think she is to ruin your poor little hopes? What did she think would happen when Christmas came around and the gifts were finished?”
I told him I didn’t think you had thought that far ahead. That you never planned anything. That you sort of...waiting for life to respond to one decision before making the next.
And it was then that I realized I am not really angry at you, Mavis. You’re an awful problem sometimes but you just haven’t learned. Rich people seldom do, and I hope you won’t be angry at me for saying it. I love you but you don’t know what real life is. You choose not to plan and you choose not to think of consequences and you choose to do what amuses you for amusement’s sake. But maybe this time you’ll learn that actions do have consequences? Even amusing ones?
John had quite a lot to say about this and I’m pretty certain it was a good idea I did not bring Diane.
“Your friend busy tonight?” he asked.
“I didn’t bother to ask,” I confessed. “She’s a little exciteable.”
Then I remembered the Three French Hens. “But you are invited to come for tea tomorrow night,” I said grandly. “‘And she’ll be there.”
John stood and held out his hand. “Tea? How sophisticated.”
I stood and took it. “You’re right. Let’s make it cocoa.”
“I’ll be watching out my window for the signal.”
He walked me home and dropped me off to the astonishment of Mrs. Simmons who is probably glad to have my mailbox freed up again.
He’s coming tomorrow. John Out-the-Window is coming for tea. Or cocoa. Whatever. It is now one-thirty AM and I have to wake up at six-thirty for work and let Mr. Pierce know a billy-club was not necessary.
Yours In Perfect Contentment,