Miles spotted the tattered box by the back wall and turned to the the front desk. Ricky-D glanced up from Bass Gear Magazine and nodded. Knock yourself out, dude.
Each book was carefully wrapped in layers of tissue paper. Miles crouched down and lifted them out, one by one. Military, history; he didn’t need to see them all. The thick roll of small bills was in his hip pocket. The weekend’s tips from the bar, along with Allie’s shopping list. How mad would she be if he came home with books instead?
The taxi driver sped away. Miles paused on the sidewalk for a moment looking at his box of books. He still didn’t know how he was going to explain it to her, but he had to have them.
The cannelloni were baking in the oven and Miles was sitting on the parquet wood floor, lost to his new-old books. He read the inscriptions from the early 1900s and wondered about them — the people who cared for these books. Then he saw the one wrapped with a red ribbon.
Miles heard the hourglass of time as the leather binding cracked open. Something fluttered to the floor. He unfolded the wax paper to reveal small yellow flowers. Buttercups? Then he noticed that many items had been placed in the book; something at every few pages.
More pressed flowers, letters, envelopes, photographs and even some pieces of fabric. Miles discovered that the letters corresponded to entries in the book: William T. Nicholls had transcribed letters he wrote to his sweetheart and placed her replies between the pages. They were dated 1914 to 1918. World War I. Miles sat back in wonderment.
The oven timer buzzed and Miles got up. He reduced the setting to warm and poured himself a glass of wine. Then he returned to the letters.
He’d read through the first 30 letters and replies of 1914, pausing to refill his glass. Where was Allie? Her phone was turned off and she was almost three hours late. Miles finally served himself some dinner and placed the rest in the fridge. Then he sat back down to read letter 31.
The cannelloni wasn’t bad, Miles thought with a touch of pride. After clearing his dishes, he went over to the turntable. He carefully dropped the needle on Coltrane’s Blue Train. He mixed himself a gin and tonic, smiling at the lives and love that were brought to life in the letters.
His smile faded when he realized that he still hadn’t heard from Allie. Would she ever be moved to write him a letter such as these? Would he? When he heard her key in the door, he knew the answer.