In the Dead Letters Depot, a soft hush settled on the abandoned furniture, emptied champagne flutes and silenced record player. The letter detectives’ Christmas party was over. Exhausted and jubilant after another relentless season of finding homes for misplaced post, the comrades jostled and tumbled into the heaving euphoria of Shoreditch High Street to make their way home.
All except for William Woolf.
He remained at his empty desk, luxuriating in the sudden silence, mesmerised by the streams of silver rain on his window pane, the blur of scarlet and white lights on the glass.
Just one more parcel.
He eased himself out of his creaking leather chair and brushed mince pie crumbs from his Christmas penguin jumper, slowly acknowledging the effects of his colleague Marjorie’s Merry Punch on his heavy limbs. An ambulance’s siren screeched past on the street below and he paused, unable to cast off the thought of how someone’s Christmas might soon be shattered. Tragedy doesn’t heed the holiday season; devastation and delight may visit the same house, separated by just one moment.
Spurred to recalibrate the scales, William manoeuvred his way through the dishevelled office to rummage through the last delivery of the year; lost letters that now must wait impatiently for the detectives to return in January for their final hope of redemption. He rolled up his sleeve, wriggled his fingers, and reached into the trolley, feeling his way through the different textures crinkling at his touch. With a sudden impulse he gripped a hard ball of tissue paper and pulled it into the light.
The outer packaging was gone; instead a tattered powder blue envelope was clumsily sellotaped to the fine white paper: ‘Try over the Uke shop on Goodge Street’, a postman had scrawled across the front in red pen.
The outer packaging was gone; instead a tattered powder blue envelope was clumsily sellotaped to the fine white paper: ‘Try over the Uke shop on Goodge Street’, a postman had scrawled across the front in red pen. William opened the envelope and extracted a lined copybook page.
Moll and Freddy,
I know how sad you are that I won’t be home for Christmas. I’m very disappointed too - more than you can know. I’ll think of you at every step: the carol concert downstairs in the uke shop, Auntie Meryl’s horrible pudding, midnight mass, your faces as you open your presents under the tree. But they need me here to work, and we all need me to keep this job! And yet, you know how Christmas is full of magic? Well, I have one more particularly special present for you. This is a magical silver bell – whenever you ring it, I will be with you in your heart, even if I’m all these miles away.
Until I come home for good, if you tinkle it, I’ll be there.
All my love,
William held the cool silver in his hand, traced his thumb over the etchings of nightingales in flight, perched owls, and a tiny dormouse. He wrapped the parcel and letter in brown paper, tied it with string and consulted his A-Z before setting off on his red Raleigh bike across the dripping city.
Behind a daffodil-yellow door, he found Moll and Freddy in matching green pyjamas, crestfallen that William was not the man they were hoping for. Freddy tore the brown paper from the parcel as Moll carefully opened the blue envelope, eyes wide behind round silver spectacles. The door remained ajar as William unlocked his bicycle and turned it eastward. He could hear the bell ringing frantically within.
A black taxi pulled up beside him, splashing through dirty puddles. A figure in tweed trousers, a shiny black mac, and with a head of ginger curls stepped out and William watched as he gently pushed open the yellow front door. He looked just like Freddy, but all grown up.
Moll and Freddy had tinkled the bell, and Pops had come.