The letter caught up to them in OSLO. “Oh!” the young man behind the concierge desk exclaimed as Peter and Charles returned from a full morning of exploring the city, “Mr. Stoller, you’ve a message . . .”
Peter slowed his steps across the glossy lobby and sensed how, behind him, Charles did the same.
The concierge (surely he was too young for it?) offered up a creamy envelope with a seal Peter recognized only too well. Still, he managed to keep his hand steady as he accepted the missive. The young man waited, brown eyes wide with expectation, but Peter dare not open the envelope until back in the safety of the hotel room. So with a generous tip and a “thank you,” he turned on his heel and went for the lifts, Charles half scrambling after him.
“What is it?” Charles asked once they were sealed inside the box and on their way up. No one was with them.
“Nothing, I’m sure,” Peter said. The doors opened and a woman with a small dog boarded, giving them each a quick appraisal before bestowing a smile.
“God morgen,” she chirped.
“God ettermiddag,” Peter responded blandly. He might’ve been amused when she checked her watch, but the letter in his hand felt too heavy for his spirits to rise that far.
The lift stopped with a chime and Peter and Charles stepped out. “Ha det bra!” the woman called, and the dog gave a yap, but though Charles turned to waggle his fingers in a kind of wave, Peter marched on down the corridor without looking back. By the time Charles caught up, Peter had already opened the door to their room, was standing by the window and lifting the seal on the envelope.
. . . special permission under the circumstances . . . These were the first words Peter’s eyes picked out of the familiar scrawl, Gordon Lessenby’s own handwriting. He then checked the date on the top of the note. The service had done its work well; the letter was only four days in finding them. Which meant they were being watched, of course, but Peter had expected as much.
“What is it?” Charles asked again.
Peter gave his head a small shake. “Nothing really. Just as I thought.” But he went back to the start of the letter and read it through anyway.
I’m so sorry to have to be the one to inform you that your father passed away . . .
He was being given special permission to visit for the funeral, though it having been four days meant it may very well already be over with. Mum wasn’t one to wait; her efficiency knew no bounds.
Peter re-folded the card and wondered what emotion Gordon had meant to convey by using his best stationery. Kindness? Formality? Was it warm or cold?
“It’s not nothing,” said Charles. “I can see that much. Or is this one of those things you can’t tell me?”
“My father died,” said Peter. Might as well get it over with, he supposed. “And Gordon is giving me permission to come back to England for the funeral if I like. Which I don’t. So it’s nothing.” Turning from the window, Peter started to drop the note on the writing desk then thought better of it and went over to the luggage rack to put it in the pocket of his suitcase. He couldn’t brave looking directly at Charles just then. Not if he wanted to keep his composure.
For a long moment there was nothing but a kind of booming silence. Then Charles ventured with, “Was he ill?”
“Gordon says it was heart failure.”
Peter found himself rummaging through his bag as if looking for something, though really he only needed something to do. His hands wanted to be busy; they began unfolding and refolding the neat stacks of clothing.
“And your mother . . .” Charles went on, speaking to Peter’s back.
“Has the kind of steel running through her they put in buildings to keep them from falling in earthquakes. No need to worry about her.”
“Is that where you get it?” Charles half muttered. Peter pretended not to hear but could not ignore it when Charles said more audibly, “I’m sorry I’ll never get to meet them.”
“Don’t be,” Peter told him. “You’re not missing much.”
“But you must miss them,” Charles persisted. “And they . . .” Here Charles faltered. “Or your mother at least . . .”
“I assure you they did not and do not miss me,” said Peter. “And I was through missing them long ago. Death is not any more permanent an absence than is already in effect.”
If you’re coming in late, go here for an explanation of what’s going on. Rest assured you needn’t read all of the alphabet to enjoy these installments! Though they utilize the same core characters, each letter is independent.