A week after my arrival at Camp Lejeune, the heat and humidity were such that I longed for the good old days, I mean, the days of perspiration and exhaustion back in Cape Upton’s mess hall.
It was on Christmas day that I got a letter, which had been mailed there and redirected to reach me here. At first glance I thought it must have been a mistake, which irked me to the point of discarding it, almost. No one but my father had ever written to me—but the penmanship could not have been his. My name was drawn in an unfamiliar, flowing calligraphic style. The envelope looked quite different from the ones he would send, and so did the stamps.
Dad would pay extra money to get the word INSURED printed prominently on the envelope in bold, capital letters. Invariably he would use stamps that featured famous Americans, each of whom was centered, rather formally, in a fancy, decorative portrait frame. I came to expect the usual lineup: a 2 cents stamp of Whistler, the artist, followed by a 2 cents stamp of Hopkins, an educator, a 2 cents stamp of Long, a scientist, a 2 cents stamp of Whittier, a poet, a 2 cent stamp of Cooper, an author, and a 2 cents stamp of Morse, an inventor. Forming a row at the top of the envelope, each one of these high and mighty characters seemed to have my father’s eyes, which gave me a sense of trepidation, of fear to find myself a failure.
In a blink they might look down their noses at me and shake their heads ever so slightly, as if to say, “See? He’s chosen us as for a reason, setting us as a model before you. Think, Lenny! Think what you’re going to become! Plan your future! Do it now!”
But on this envelope, the postage was different. I used to collect stamps, and was surprised to see two identical, large, square ones that I had long wanted to get. Valued at 5 cents, they were posted one under the other, featuring the same image: a romantic drawing of a woman named Virginia Dare, whose life, according to popular folklore, was a mystery.
Having read about her I knew that her grandfather had returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies and upon his return three years later, she had vanished without a trace. She was drawn holding a small bundle, which on second inspection looked like a baby. In the background was the pitched roof of a home. The image was lovely, but had no personal meaning, I thought, none at all. If not for the rarity of these stamps, I would have assumed that they must have been chosen completely at random. Even so, my curiosity awakened.
I flipped the envelope to its other side and thought I caught a whiff of perfume. I could not believe who the letter was from not only at first glance but also at the second and third, and had to rub my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming, not misreading the sender’s name. Written in meticulous handwriting, there it was, her name and no other: Natasha Horowitz.
This, I thought, must have been someone’s idea of a practical joke, but on the unlikely chance that it wasn’t I decided to open the envelope with the utmost care. Hoping to insert some tool and rock it gently up and down till the glue gave way, I looked at the corner of the flap, searching for an opening, no matter how small. But no, there was none. The envelope was completely sealed.
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