Daniel opened the apartment door with a key he had possessed since he was a boy. Still on the same piece of green yarn, it slipped in the keyhole easily. The air was stale. The place had been closed tightly for too long, drapes drawn on the windows shutting out the world. The hardwood floors needed cleaning. He moved slowly from room to room, taking in the smells, touching the furniture, noting the photographs carefully hung on the walls, and in small wooden frames on the tabletops. He peeked in the fridge; he sighed, saddened; there was little work to be done in there. Confirmation that he hadn't been eating properly. Finally, Daniel set his coat on the back of his favourite chair, an overstuffed club covered in dark lavender velvet. He loved it because it was eccentric and comfortable, everything that he had known Theodore to be.
It had been only a few weeks since his Uncle had died, but it felt like he had been gone from this apartment for much longer. His presence now absent, he could hear his voice and feel his laughter. In the mirror, he thought he caught a glimpse of him, his smile lighting up the room as Daniel entered it. He paused and then shook it off, deciding that it was his imagination.
The bed sat perfectly made down the narrow hall in the bedroom as though it was expecting a guest to arrive. Flanking the luxurious queen-sized bed stood two nightstands adorned with matching lamps, more photos in frames, a bible and a set of reading glasses. Daniel sat on the edge of the mattress, dreading the opening of the closet door. He considered for a moment, returning on a different day, taking his time, not rushing the process. He deliberated and then opted to forge ahead, seizing the day, attacking that which waited for him to be sold or donated to charity.
Daniel stood to his feet and stepped towards the closet door; he pulled it open and switched on the light. Rows of his Uncle's clothing hung neatly in the small room. Suits in grey and navies, wool crepes and linens. Shirts bearing light starch were folded and stacked on shelves, sorted by colour, whites, blues, yellows and pinks. He stepped further inside. His shoes, all polished, lay in neat rows beneath the hanging pants.
He could feel him here; Theodore's spirit was all around him. In the hats and sweaters, the belts and the t-shirts that were neatly folded and placed according to colour. Theodore had been organized and had a keen eye for fashion. An old man when he passed, he spent the entirety of his life alone. Never finding a special someone to share his life with. Never marrying, never having children. He never spoke of it, never cast a negative word, never begged for empathy or sorrow from others. Instead, he remained a positive influence, a great character that illuminated and entertained his siblings' children.
Daniel ran his fingers across the shoulders of the jackets as he moved towards the back of the closet. There beneath a row of hanging shirts, he noticed a carefully placed brown paper box.
The box showed its age in how life had tattered it, the corners crunched, rubbed and worn. The sides were worn thin, the creases of the top flaps tearing from use. Yet, a film of dust lay untouched across the top of it. It had been sitting for some time. It sat atop a leather steamer trunk, navy in colour with brass supports on its corners bruised from travel in years past. The brown paper box wanted to be opened. Daniel knew it. It beckoned him, a muted call by its contents to be released.
He looked over his shoulder as though his mother might be watching him. As though he was doing something wrong in opening it. He reached forward and took the box into his hands. Carefully lifting the four corners, releasing into the air the past that had been hidden for too long.
Theodore kept in the box ticket stubs from ball games and live music performances. A book of matches and napkins from Blues Bars. Daniel riffled through it all, carefully looking at each piece, wondering what it had meant to his Uncle. Everything that was so carefully put into the box had to have been saved for a reason. The movie ticket stubs, the playbills, photographs. He stopped, held a black and white photo, pulling it closer to his face. He recognized his Uncle Theo, but he didn't know the other person. He wondered who it could have been? What the person meant to Theo.
Daniel put the photograph back into the box and lifted the next item. He held a grouping of Postcards in a small envelope, none of them were written on, and all were from the same exact location. Banff, Alberta. It looked beautiful. Under that, he saw a letter, addressed to his Uncle Theo, he lifted it out of the box. It had never been opened. The seal remained fully intact. There was no name, but there was a return address. Daniel sat perfectly still, pondering the circumstances, wondering why Theo wouldn't have opened it. Theo had never touched the letter. He left it, unable or not wanting to open it. Afraid of what was inside. Or uncaring. The envelope was no longer white; age had turned it a dingy yellow. For years it sat waiting to be opened. Daniel carefully slipped his finger in the small gap on the corner, opened the envelope, took the delicate paper out, and unfolded it. The penmanship was immaculate, each letter perfectly formed, telling its own story.
My darling, I have been counting the minutes since I sent you away, hoping that you would come back, praying that you would see through my childish ways.
I cannot begin to properly apologize for the way I have behaved, so I must just blurt it out. I was afraid. I'm so sorry, Theodore. I wonder if you will ever find it in your heart to forgive me? My parents don't understand, they aren't ready for this, for us. I thought I wanted to please them, but now I know that I can't. I can't be without you. I cannot imagine living my life in misery, because without you, that is all it will be. My life will be gruesome if I must endure it alone.
There is no way that I can explain, and there aren't any words I can offer that will make the awful things that I said to you suitable, but please, Theo, know that you are the only one for me. I will never love another. So please, Theo, please know how much you mean to me. I pray that your heart beats the same way as mine, counting each moment until we can be free and love each other as we should.
Send me a note, or a letter. I will wait for you until my very last day. I love you, my dear Theodore.
Daniel sat down on the floor of the closet. His hands shaking slightly, his heart beating faster than it should. He reread the words on the page again and then once again. He hadn't known. He had never known.
He had always thought his Uncle Theo a loner. That he had been unlucky in love or that he was too picky. It had never occurred to him that his father's brother might have found love and lost it. He struggled a moment to piece everything together.
Daniel turned the envelope over, looking for the postmark. October eleventh, nineteen sixty-nine. Daniel quickly looked through the mementos in the box. The movie ticket stubs, the baseball game, the theatre tickets; all of them were from the summer of nineteen sixty-nine. The two of them had spent the summer together. He knew it must have been so. They had fallen in love in the summer of nineteen sixty-nine. The man in the picture with his Uncle Theo must have been George. He was white! But why not open the letter? And why didn't Theo ever tell anyone about the two of them? Why keep the secret for so long?
Daniel wanted to know more about the Uncle that he thought he knew so well. He locked the apartment and, with the letter in hand, climbed on his bike. He rode in the direction of the return address attempting to use his cell phone to call his wife. She would bust one when she heard this! His fumbling fingers couldn't connect the call, so he decided to wait to tell her.
Within twenty minutes, he was in front of the Brownstone. Beautifully kept, he bolted up the staircase to its front door. He knocked, having no idea what he might say, not knowing if George would even still live there. Having no certainty if his assumptions were even correct. Although, the letter was pretty telling.
Daniel heard footsteps approaching the door where he waited. His heart raced. The heavy black door swung open. He then stood, face to face, with the most elegant young woman he had ever seen.
She smiled. "Hello, can I help you?"
Daniel swallowed. "Hi, yes, hi, my name is Daniel. You don't know me. But um, my Uncle Theo. No, sorry, wait-let me start again. Is there a George that lives here? Or that lived here?"
She pushed her red hair behind her ear, exposing more of her ivory skin. "What do you need with George?"
The excitement began to brew in Daniel's abdomen. Butterflies jumped for a reason that he couldn't explain. "You know George? George still lives here?"
The expression on her face changed. Her eyebrows dropped slightly, the corners of her mouth lowered. "I'm sorry, who are you?"
Daniel nodded at her. "Yup, I get it. Totally understand. A strange black man shows up in the middle of the day, for no apparent reason asking questions." He placed his hand on his chest. "My name is Daniel. I believe that my Uncle Theodore might have known George. I'm trying to find George."
She lowered her eyes and then looked up at Daniel again. "I'm so sorry, but George died a few weeks ago. So I'm just here cleaning out his things."
Daniel stood in front of her, with the letter and the photo of the two men in his hand. "How well did you know George? My Uncle Theo also died a few weeks ago. And I was going through his things and found this. These, and other things too, but this is the most important." He handed the letter to her.
She read the letter with her hand over her mouth. Tears rolling down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I must look like an imbecile crying like this. I was George's nurse. He had no one. No family. He told me about Theo, about your Uncle. About how much he loved him. They fell in love at a time when it wasn't accepted. Not only was it a same-sex relationship, but interracial as well. In the sixties, you can just imagine. But then that's love, right? It knows no boundaries. George was afraid to tell his family about Theo, so he sent him away. He told him that he didn't love him and that it had been a fun time, but that was all. It broke his heart. He waited, just like it says in the letter. I was lucky to hear the stories. I mean, I was glad to hear them."
Daniel nodded and took the letter from her, gently refolding it. "Would you tell me? Would you share the stories with me?"
She pushed the door open farther. "Would you like tea?"
About the author
Taught by some of the greatest literary minds of this century, Sandra's delivery method is reminiscent of her mentors and yet uniquely her own page-turning style. Her novels are suspenseful, unpredictable, & thought-provokingly colorful.