A love pressed between the pages
Like the good Hibernophile he is, Mike Cunliffe has a natural taste for quintessential Irish author Roddy Doyle.
You know, the one who wrote such classics as “The Commitments” (if you haven’t read it, maybe you’ve seen the movie) and “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” (for which Doyle won the Booker Prize).
So when Mike found a hardcover copy of Doyle’s “The Barrytown Trilogy” in mint condition at the Value Village at Queenston Road and Centennial Parkway, he snatched it up. It was only $5.99.
Trilogy. That’s three stories, right?
Well, to his surprise, Mike got a
fourth out of the deal. Value Added Village.
As he leafed through the pages before taking it to the cashier, something fell out.
A piece of paper, folded in half. He put it back in the book and made a mental note to see what was on it, once he got back to the car.
“Usually I go on seniors Tuesday,” says Mike. But it was a Wednesday and he went shopping on a whim with a colleague at the Hamilton Children’s Aid Society, where he works, on their lunch hour.
Back in the car, Mike unfolded the paper. The paper had fallen out of the book, and now out of the fold of the paper spilled something else, a dried red rose, the paper and rose having been pressed between the pages ... for how long?
The answer stood at the top of the now unfolded piece of paper. June 2, 1994.
Mike read the writing on the paper to his colleague. A love letter. It begins, “My love, With this rose I profess my undying love for you.” Always lead with the heart.
It is written, in a neat and graceful hand, in red ink. This, of course, was before texting.
It goes on. “I have been doing some serious thinking about where our relationship is heading. I want nothing but the best for both you and myself.
“If you could fathom how much you have changed me and made me happy, then you would probably be able to understand why I love you so and never want to let you go. This is selfish, I know, but I cannot but help feeling this way. Whenever you are ready, I would be honoured and so happy to spend the rest of my life with you. I love you with all my heart.”
It is signed, simply, Bill, followed by eight Xs and eight Os, alternating.
Mike, says, “After I read it, she (his co-worker) said, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta find out.’” So he called me up. “We couldn’t stop wondering,” says Mike.
Did the book belong to Bill? Did he write the letter, then lose nerve, perhaps saving it in the book for a day when he had worked up the courage to send it?
Or did Bill deliver the letter to its intended reader who then, prizing it and meaning to guard its private nature from the eyes of others, stashed the treasure in the secret and protective chamber of a book’s middle pages, only to, many years later, forget it was there and bring the volume to Value Village?
Mike’s intrigued by the sentence, “This is selfish, I know ...” “What does he mean?” As I write this I wonder, was Bill’s beloved about to pursue a job or other opportunity far away; was this his grasping last ditch effort? Is that what he means by “selfish?” Or perhaps something forbidden?
We might never learn. Or maybe someone’s out there. Bill? Bill’s beloved? Anyone for whom this rings a bell? Please let me know.
Maybe we can have a followup by Valentine’s Day. Or maybe the trilogy’s “fourth story” will remain pressed forever in the unopenable pages of its own mystery.
“I’m a romantic,” Mike says, with his broad Gaelic smile. “I want happy endings. I like to think they got together.”
Mike Cunliffe found a love letter and a pressed rose inside a copy of “The Barrytown Trilogy” he purchased at Value Village. He’d love to know who wrote and received them.