To say the package and note surprised him is understatement. He didn’t recognize the exact return address, but anything from Madison, Wisconsin stirred all kinds of memories for him.
It was a small, lumpy manilla envelope. He opened it and inside were a folded note and a small book, about the same dimensions as a Covid vaccination card.
I hope this address is still good and this reaches you. I’m not sure you remember me. I know we only met a few times, but you and my sister were very close. I wanted you to have this old address book in found in a box in my parents’ attic, along with many letters from you.
You’ll notice that your address is on the front page, under the As. If she’d listed you on the front page, instead of under L, your address must have been very important to her. Anyway, I wanted you to have this to remember –
He didn’t want to read the rest of the note; he knew what it would say.
Opening the small gray book that had Address Book printed in gold cursive letters across its tattered cover, he stared at the first page. Sure enough, there he was under A. Again he was surprised, however, because his name was listed second, under another name that was out of alphabetical order.
And he knew this person, remembered how he’d come between the two of them, moving back to Madison for her. The old ex-boyfriend. A regular Svengali.
Why, he wondered, hadn’t her sister sent the address book to him? It looked as if the resurrected ex outranked him still.
He thought about writing the sister back, first to offer her condolences, second to acknowledge receiving the book. And third? No, he couldn’t. Wouldn’t it be a breach of some kind of decorum to ask why she’d not sent the book to the other boyfriend?
It had to be those letters she mentioned, how her sister had kept them. Couldn’t that be it? That the letters he’d sent her were of utmost importance to her, so she’d kept them together with this old book.
They’d written many letters to each other after the ex dropped out of the picture for good. She’d even asked if he might come back to Madison. But he’d not had the heart, or maybe the guts, the nerve, to try it again. The whole ordeal had nearly killed him. He’d barely dragged himself back to Hawai‘i after everything fell apart.
He sat at the dining room table idly leafing through the rest of the book. None of the names rang any bells. Should he?
I wanted to tell you how sorry I am to hear about your sister’s passing. She was a terrific person, one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met.
Thank you for sending me the address book and for mentioning that she kept my letters. This means a great deal to me. I’ll never forget her.
I also wanted to ask about the other name on the front page. I’m pretty sure you know him. He and your sister were very close both before and after my time in Madison. Was there a reason why you sent the book to me rather than to him?
He reread the letter. No, that was way too much. Just the condolences and the thanks. Just that.
He tore up the draft and wrote the letter again, minus the question about the old boyfriend.
Perhaps the sister had not liked him. Or maybe he was dead too?
That thought crossed his mind as he licked the envelope, and he smiled.