The Letters | Jon MacDonald
Hollis took another turn around the faded maroon, 1950 bullet-nose, Studebaker commander. It was too much of a cliché to kick the tires so he just passed his hand along the passenger side of the car. Yes, the car would need work, but that was his joy—fixing up classic cars.
Hollis was the owner of a modest Atlanta body shop. At fifty-three the only passion he had left was cars. His marriage to Charlene was now just a numbing routine. Their only child, Charlie, was estranged from them and lived in California. Charlene had her quilting, her church, and her ladies clubs, and was off in her own world most of the time—which was fine with Hollis. Over time they’d both drifted into different tributaries along life’s river.
Hollis shook his head with a frown. “I can’t see paying more than a thousand,” he said to the elderly owner, as he turned away from the car and squinted across the backyard.
Hollis, thin and nearly bald, wore a perpetually pained expression even when he said he was modestly happy. He ran his hands down his plaid polyester pants and turned back to the car which was parked, surrounded by weeds, by the seller’s tool shed. “It doesn’t even run. I’d have to get a tow truck back here to get this out.”
The seller responded, “But it’s a classic. Come on, it’s worth at least five thousand, even in this condition. And the engine’s really good—just needs some tinkering. And you’re looking at a value of fifteen to twenty when it’s all fixed up.”
“Yeah, but it’s not all fixed up, is it? I’d have to put in a bundle to get this into acceptable shape. And do you know what parts for these babies cost these days?”
“Okay, four then,” the seller offered.
Hollis took another turn around the car, stopped and stared at it, thoughtfully. “Two-five. Best I can do.”
The seller pursed his lips. “Three.”
Hollis thought for a moment, shook his head, and started to walk away. “Got another car to see this afternoon. I’ll get back to you.”
The seller caught up with Hollis, put his hand on his shoulder to stop him and said, “Okay. You’re killing me. I’ll take two-seven.”
Hollis smiled, turned around and shook the man’s hand. “I’ll pick it up Saturday.”
~ ~ ~
Since he owned the body shop he’d used his own tow truck to fetch the car. He parked the Studebaker behind the shop until he could make space to permanently park it inside to start the restoration. He studied the car. He liked the maroon color and decided to stay with that.
As the weather looked threatening, Hollis walked into the shop, took down a tarp, and went outside to cover the car. But before he did that he decided to check the car out and clean it up a bit first. He opened the trunk. Good, the lock works. But there was no spare. He pulled out some dried leaves and a few old newspapers. He looked at their dates—1957. Might be fun to take a look at those later. There was a box of magazines and books and he took those out. They looked interesting, and he thought he’d rummage through those as well.
Hollis went to the driver’s side and got in. He adjusted the seat and put his hands on the steering wheel. Yes, this is going to be a nice little car when it’s all fixed up.
He reached over and opened the glove compartment. He pulled out a bunch of papers. “Well, look at that,” he said, as he found the original owner’s manual. There was an old registration, an insurance card, and some drive-thru receipts. Hum, the owner was a woman.
At the bottom of the pile was an envelope. It was addressed to a Cynthia McFadden—same name as on the registration. It had been opened and he couldn’t resist taking a look at the letter inside.
I got your letter, and let me tell you it sure came as some big surprise, let me tell you. I’m not quite sure what to say here. Julie Cranston… really? I knew you guys were friends and all, but I never expected in a million, billion years that you two would become… Sorry, I just can’t write it. You know it’s a sin, don’t you? I mean you… my mom…
I knew you would be lonely after I left for the seminary—with me being your only child—and with dad having run off and all. And I would expect you to want to have some close friends around you… but living together? What are folks going to say?
Sorry, I’m just not very good at answering this. I went to talk to Brother Timothy about it, and he said that you are surely going to burn in the fires of Hell for an eternity, and he told me that I must break all ties with you. Have you thought about that? And how am I going to face my friends when I come back home to visit? Surely everybody’s going to know about this. You know what the folks in Dunkirk are like…
I’ve tried to think what I can say to help you. It’s only my first year here at Sacred Heart and I don’t know a lot about this kind of thing, and surely it hasn’t come up in any of my studies so far. But maybe if we could sit together we could pray together and come up with some kind of a solution. Have you thought to talk to Father Carmine about this? Just a thought. I’m sorry I really don’t know what else to say here.
I’d like to come home, but I just couldn’t if Mrs. Cranston… Julie… was living there. Being a sin, and all, it wouldn’t be proper for me, as a seminarian, to be staying in a house of sin. Surely you understand that don’t you?
I don’t want to never see you again, but after what Brother Timothy said about breaking ties with you…well, I have my soul to think about too. Would I become contaminated?
I think I’m going to have to put my foot down here and insist that unless you and Julie split up I won’t ever be able to see you again. I know that seems harsh but I believe it’s the best thing for the both of us.
Let me know your answer. If I don’t hear from you again I will know that your decision was for sin and we shall never meet again. But I pray I will get a letter from you saying you have broken your ties with that lady, and I will be free to come home and take you in my arms.
Your son, waiting in anticipation for your reply,
Hollis folded up the letter and put it carefully back into the envelope. He took a deep breath. Now that was some letter. It affected him more deeply than he was, as yet, willing to admit. He couldn’t help but wonder what Cynthia’s reply would have been. But he would never know. That letter was from almost sixty years ago. Cynthia had probably passed on by now, and the boy would now be close to eighty-years-old. He thought about doing an internet search on Daniel McFadden, but decided there must be a slew of them out there. Some mysteries must remain mysteries.
Hollis got out of the car and started pulling the tarp up over the top. The driver’s door was not completely closed so he opened it again to slam it shut, but before he did, he glanced down and saw a book wedged in between the driver’s seat and the car’s frame. He pulled it out to throw it into the box with the other books from the trunk, but he noticed an envelope sticking out as a bookmark. He opened the book and took out the envelope. It was addressed to Daniel McFadden and had a three cent stamp. The stamp had not been postmarked, so it was clear it had not been mailed. Could this be Cynthia’s reply to Daniel? The letter was still sealed but Hollis had no compunction about opening it up. He found his hand shaking slightly as he took out the letter and unfolded it.
My Dearest Darling Boy,
I was afraid you might react the way you did, and I cannot tell you how deeply it hurts my heart that it is so. I thought I taught you to be more loving and understanding of the wide range of people there are in this world. I suppose it’s the influence of your studies that you think this way now, but that is not how I raised you.
I must abide by your decision not to come home if I am still with Julie and, therefore, I must state that you and I will not be seeing each other again any time soon, for I will not relinquish the love I have for Julie. After your father left us, I soldiered on alone with only you by my side. However, Julie stepped forward to help me and my boy. Over time our friendship blossomed into love—for both of us. And after you left for the seminary it became inevitable that we should grow even closer. We knew it would be difficult to live together as a couple in a small town, but we also knew it was the right thing to do—for us.
Perhaps one day you will see that love—any kind of love—is not a threat to you or your beliefs. And I hope and pray that you may be able to expand your understanding and accept me for who I am. Maybe my stance will trigger a melting of your heart, and I pray that it may be so. But no matter your rejection of me, know that I do, and always will, love you.
Hollis was astonished at her reply and immediately wondered why the letter had not been sent. Had something happened to Cynthia that she was unable to mail the letter, or did she ponder her response and decide not to send it? The consequence would have been the same in either case—Daniel would not have come home. And unless Hollis found something else, he would never know the outcome of that story—would they ever meet again?
Hollis finished covering the car. He carried the letters and the box of books to his office and sat down at his desk. He reread the letters and sat staring out at the roiling storm clouds for a long time. Evening was coming on and the grey skies hastened the darkness. Finally, Hollis turned on his computer and began a letter.
My Dearest Charlie,
I know it has been far too long since you heard from me. Your mother and I miss you so very, very much. I know we parted, each one of us, full of anger. And I can’t begin to tell you how much I regret that.
I have never understood your lifestyle—that which you tell me is not a choice. But that does not forgive me and your mother from not trying to understand.
I know the world has changed a lot since you left us, and there is more acceptance now for your kind of people. I have decided to make an effort and get to know more about your issues.
I am writing this letter without your mother’s knowledge, but I intend to show it to her before I send it on to you, and I hope she will join me in wishing you well and perhaps opening a new dialogue between us.
If you can find it in your heart to forgive us I hope you will one day come home so we may embrace once again.
I hope this finds you well and I long to hear from you soon.
Your loving Father
P.S.: If you should now have a friend, he would be welcome to visit us as well.
Oh, Honey, please accept my love and know I join with your father in this letter.
Your loving Mother
~ ~ ~
Hollis picked up the mail that the postman had just delivered through the slot in the front door. There was a letter addressed to him from Charlie. He wondered if he should wait until Charlene came home from the grocery before opening it, so they could read it together. But he was so nervous he, instead, got into his car and drove over to the body shop. He retreated to his office where he could be safe and alone, as it was a Saturday and the shop was closed. He put the letter down on the desk in front of him and just stared at it for several minutes. But finally he summed the courage to open it.
Sorry it’s taken me this long to respond to your letter, but I was just OVERWHELMED when I received it. At first I couldn’t believe that I was actually reading what you wrote—and then I just cried and cried.
Thank you. I am so grateful that you have reached out to me and I can clearly sense your change of heart.
I would LOVE to come and visit. I do have a partner, Jason, and while I would love for him to meet you both—and he tells me he wants to meet you too—I think it’s best if I come alone. I don’t want to pile too much on you guys when we first meet again. And maybe it would be a good idea to have a phone conversation before I come—maybe break the ice a little. And have you heard of Skype?
Well, I don’t want to ramble. Just wanted to let you know I am THRILLED to hear from you guys.
Hollis smiled, and for the first time in a long while, he no longer had a pained expression on his face. He carefully refolded the letter and put it back in the envelope. He slipped the letter into his shirt pocket and put his hands on the desk to rise up from the chair. He glanced at his desk for a moment and saw the title for the Studebaker that the seller had signed over to him when he picked up the car.
Need to make a file for that, he thought. He picked it up and, for the first time, noticed the name of the seller—Daniel McFadden. Hollis was stunned, but took a deep breath and began to laugh. He was definitely going to give Mr. McFadden a call—or was it Father McFadden? In any case, he was looking forward to having a really great story to tell.
Jon McDonald lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has seven published novels, a memoir, and three children’s books. His short stories have appeared in a number of prestigious publications.