The Letter—Part 2
On Sunday afternoon, Clancie Carroll rummaged in her grandmother’s garage until she found the old pink Schwinn bicycle. Grandma kept the vintage bike in riding condition. Clancie added air to the tires with the small compressor Grandma stored on a nearby shelf. Although the bike had a large plastic wicker basket mounted to the handlebars, Clancie stowed her belongings in a backpack and slung it across both her shoulders. She pedaled two blocks over to Dempsy’s drugstore and soda fountain on Main Street to meet her cousin, Victoria. Five minutes later, Clancie chained her bike to the rack in front of Dempsy’s and headed inside.
Victoria waved and called out when she spied her cousin walk in the door. “Hey, cuz!” Victoria was a year older than Clancie and heading into her senior year at Kent Island High School.
“Hi, Vic!” Clancie scooted onto the neighboring counter stool and eyed the ice cream sundae sitting in front of Vic. “Ooh! Is that the Brownie Sundae Delight?”
Clancie waved to the server and ordered the same thing. “I’ve missed this place,” she said as she swiveled to face her cousin. “I’ve missed you too, Vic. I’m glad I’m spending the summer in Worthington Cove.”
“I don’t understand why. There’s nothing to do here.” Vic took a bite of ice cream. “I mean, nothing exciting. We can sit on the beach and read books. Go out in the boat with my dad. Sit in here and eat ice cream. Binge-watch TV at my house. The same boring stuff we always do.”
“Yeah, but I like that stuff,” Clancie replied.
“Did Grandma set you up in the garret room?”
“She did.” The server set Clancie’s ice cream on the counter. She spooned out a mound of vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce and popped it into her mouth. “Vic, have you ever rummaged through the attic storage room at Grandma’s?”
“There’s just a bunch of old junk up there. Plus, a lot of dust… and spiders.” Vic grimaced and dug another spoonful of ice cream out of her sundae dish.
“I ventured in there yesterday. Just to look around. Found an old copy of Madame Bovary in a stack of books on a desk. It’s on my reading list for next year, so I took it to my bedroom. Anyway, I want to show you what I found inside.” Clancie shrugged the backpack off her shoulders and pulled out the hardcover book. She leafed through the pages until she found the letter and pulled it out.
“Look at this,” she said as she unfolded it between them on the counter. “It’s a love letter to Daisy from Mac. Have any idea who they are?”
Vic set down her spoon and picked up the sheet of ruled notebook paper. When she finished reading it, she handed it back to Clancie.
“Yeah. And look at this.” Clancie opened up the book cover and pointed to the name written inside. “Who is M. Carroll?”
“Grandma Marjorie?” Vic shrugged. “We can always ask her.”
“Think she’s Daisy?” Clancie laughed. “It’s hard to imagine Grandma Marjorie being a young girl in love.”
“Let me see that letter again.” Clancie handed it back to her, and Vic studied the handwriting. “The date on the letter is 1965. My mom was born in 1950. Grandma would’ve been married to Grandpa when this letter was written. I don’t think he went to Vietnam. Besides, Grandma called him Paddy, not Mac.” Vic handed the letter back to Clancie, who stowed it in the book.
“Who else could it be?” Clancie asked.
Vic shrugged. “Don’t have a list of every Carroll with the initial ‘M.’” She finished her ice cream and turned toward Clancie. “Let’s work on this in your garret room at Grandma’s. I haven’t been there in a while.”
The cousins retrieved their bikes from the rack and rode to the Carroll house. Clancie pondered the fate of Mac and Daisy as she pedaled. Would it be a “happily ever after” story or a tragic tale of lost love? Whatever the outcome, she was ready to delve into the project.
After sprinting up the two flights of steps to the garret bedroom, Clancie and Vic lounged on the twin bed to catch their breath. Clancie opened the spiral-bound notebook she brought from home and tapped her pen against a blank page. “Think we should ask Grandma for help?”
Vic stretched out across the bed and stared at the ceiling. “Let’s poke around first and see what we uncover. If there’s a family secret here, Grandma may not want us to find out. She may tell us to forget it. So…”
“So… don’t give her a chance to shut us down.” Clancie laughed as she finished Vic’s sentence.
For the next fifteen minutes, Clancie and Vic listed Carroll family members with the initial “M.” They identified four. The first was their Aunt Margaret, then their parents’ cousins Mackensie, Michael, and Myrna. Aunt Margaret married Tom Jacobs, not Mac, so they focused on the others. They didn’t know the names of the cousins’ spouses, so Clancie and Vic brainstormed theories about which one of the other M. Carrolls might be Daisy or Mac. None of the scenarios, however, satisfied either girl. There was a chance that neither Daisy nor Mac was a Carroll at all.
“Let’s write down what we have,” Clancie suggested when they had run out of ideas. “In 1965, Daisy and Mac were probably young, either in their late teens or early twenties. So how old would they be now?”
“Say they were twenty in 1965. Then they’d have been born in 1945.” Vic rolled over and faced Clancie as she spoke. “And now they’d be seventy-five. So, let’s say early to mid-seventies. Is anyone on our list that age?”
“Really? You’re asking me?” Clancie laughed and nudged her cousin with her elbow. “That’s a Grandma question.”
“Okay. So how do we ask without making her suspicious?”
Clancie contemplated Vic’s question. “We bring up the Vietnam War. Tell her it’s for school. I have an American history class next year.”
Vic nodded. “Okay, and?”
“I can ask her if anyone in our family served in that war.”
“That could work,” Vic agreed. “But… what if the answer is ‘no’?”
“Then at least we’ll be certain that Mac isn’t Mackensie Carroll,” Clancie replied, grinning.
The cousins grew quiet. Clancie mulled over the books in the storage room. What if another one harbored a letter to Daisy? It might shed some light on the identities of Mac and Daisy. She sat up and turned to Vic.
“Let’s search the attic for more letters. Four stacks of books are on the desk. I only thumbed through Madame Bovary. We can check the others.”
The older girl’s brows drew down. “The attic? Ugh. That place gives me the creeps.”
“It’s not that bad.” Clancie stood up. “We’ll take the lamp for light. There’re others in there. We can plug them in and see if they work.”
“I guess so.” Vic stood up, and a sigh escaped her lips. She shuffled toward the bedroom door. “All right. Let’s do it.”
The late afternoon sunlight streamed through the two dormer windows and shed some light on the objects in the attic. The room brightened when Clancie switched on the overhead bulb, but shadows still lurked in the corners. She found an electrical outlet on the wall near the door and plugged in the lamp from the bedroom. Then she made her way to the bookshelf and selected another lamp. When plugged in, the second lamp radiated a bright glow that added more illumination to the darker corners.
The books on the desk remained as she left them. Clancie tackled one stack and Vic worked on another. Each selected a volume and leafed through the pages. Clancie recognized a hardcover title that interested her—Wildfire At Midnight—and set it aside. Once she finished the first stack, Clancie launched into another. Twenty minutes later, the young women finished examining all the books on the desk but didn’t find any other letters.
Vic picked up Wildfire At Midnight. “Why’d you single out this book?” She opened the cover and let out a whoop before Clancie answered. “Clancie! Did you see this? Aunt Margaret wrote her name in this book. On the inside page. I bet she’s M. Carroll. Let’s compare the handwriting.”
The two cousins returned to the bedroom. Vic brought the book from the attic and Clancie retrieved Madame Bovary from her backpack. They studied the names written neatly in cursive and decided the same person penned them both.
“Well, that solves one mystery but leaves us with the other question. Who are Daisy and Mac?”
“Maybe Aunt Margaret found the letter and tucked it in the book,” Vic suggested. “She might know. We can go to the inn tomorrow and ask her.”
Later that evening, Clancie slipped back into the attic alone. The space was comforting, as though the generations of Carrolls before her left tidbits of their lives to discover and savor. She wanted to explore every niche and cubbyhole, uncover every treasure, and learn as much as possible about her ancestors. They were part of her story, her life.
After switching on the lamps and overhead light, Clancie wandered over to the bookcase, where old items were juxtaposed alongside newer ones. She fingered the keys of a manual typewriter. The nameplate on the dusty square body identified it as a “Royal.” A newer teal model, labeled “Smith-Corona,” sat next to it. She trailed her fingers along the shelf, stroking a pink rotary-dial princess telephone and then several record albums stacked adjacent to the phone. As she combed through the LPs, Clancie noticed a cream, vinyl-covered jewelry box tucked beneath them. Carefully, she withdrew the case, then moved it to the old writing desk nearby. Clancie gasped when she lifted the lid. A fold-out tray popped up, which held a diamond engagement ring and a pearl necklace. What caught her attention, though, was a stack of letters nestled in the bottom of the box. She thumbed through the collection, which was tied with a length of twine, and counted ten letters written on sheets of notebook paper and folded in thirds. The envelopes were missing.
Clancie carried the jewelry to the garret bedroom and sat down on the bed. She thought about calling Vic, but it was late and she decided the news about the letters could wait until tomorrow. Besides, she had a plan. The nightstand lamp was still in the attic, so Clancie retrieved it, knowing she would need additional light. Then, after settling under the quilts piled on the twin bed, Clancie removed the bundle of letters, untied the twine, and began reading.