One Last Letter (Fifth and Final Stave) by Jamie Kirkpartick

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Just as everything unto heaven has a purpose, so must every story have its conclusion. And so, dear reader, our tale now comes to an end. But first:

By the time Mother Wilmer had finished reading “A Christmas Carol,” little Holiday was fast asleep in her lap and drowsy Christian was not far behind. The fire had burned to embers and the last of the dim afternoon light was fading quickly. The chore of undecorating the house would have to wait another day.

Christian looked up at his Mama with half-closed eyes and murmured, “Tiny Tim had a father, didn’t he?”

“Yes, my darling.”

“Then where is our papa?”

It was not an unexpected question, but coming at this peaceful moment, it caught the good widow off her guard. She had to admit: it was a confounding query. She knew for certain that the man in the cemetery was the very man whose likeness she had seen in the just-read book was none other than the redoubtable Ebenezer Scrooge. Could he also be the two cryptic letters mysterious signatory, “S?” But how could that be? Scrooge was only a character in a Christmas tale while the man whom she had seen by Mr. Wilmer’s grave was flesh and blood—or surely seemed to be. True: he had left no trace anywhere, so what was he then—a ghost? But characters in stories don’t have afterlives—how could they?—they are, after all, nothing more than figments of some poor scribbler’s imagination, players on a stage, shadows without substance or corporal form. And then there was the matter of this other actor, this poor “Marley,” Scrooge’s one-time partner in an accounting firm, whom, as she had learned at the very beginning of Mr. Dickens’ story, “was dead.” But what had he to do with her departed husband and why did “S” think he was he buried under Mr. Wilmer’s headstone?

And now she began to put two and two together: if this “Marley” character were indeed dead, and if her husband were also dead, and if the mysterious “S” was in fact Scrooge and if his cryptic letters were the common denominator, then was the answer not four? She had to admit she knew next to nothing about her late husband’s past—he never talked about his origins which (as she had divined by his accent) must have been in England. He had simply materialized in Chestertown one day nearly a decade ago and, with hard work and an honest reputation, he had prospered—as an accountant!—to an extent that made her and the twins the most fortunate beneficiaries of what he had created out of seemingly thin air.

That thought brought her back to the moment and to young Christian’s plaintive question. She looked down at the boy and saw he was watching her, waiting for her to answer.

“Your poor Papa,” she began, “was a wonderful man and he would have…”

Just then, there came a knock on the door. Not wishing to wake little Holiday, Mother Wilmer sent her son to answer. A moment later, he returned holding an envelope. It was simply addressed to “Mistress Wilmer.” This time, she recognized the hand immediately.

“Who gave you this?” she inquired of Christian.

“A very nice gentleman, Mama. He looked just like the man in our new book. He said I was a remarkable boy and he gave me this!” He held out a bright English shilling.

“Run, quickly, darling, and invite the gentleman in!”

“I can’t, Mama.”

But why ever not, my dear?”

“Because he’s already gone, Mama. One minute he was there and the next he..he just wasn’t.”

Mistress Wilmer looked down at her son and her daughter who was just now waking and at the envelope she held in her hand. She thought to open it later but seeing the seal was already broken, she withdrew the folded note and read it silently.

“What does it say, Mama?” asked the twins in unison.

The good widow smiled and turned the letter—if one could call it that—to show her children what was written on it—one simple sentence: “God bless us, every one!” Signed, of course, “S.”

FINIS

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Hugh Silcox says:

    Thank you for that bit of holiday whimsy … and magic!

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