by P. N. Porcino
My Dearest Harriet,
I’ve just had the most wonderful evening on the town with a young gentleman, and I simply must tell someone about it or else I will not get a wink of sleep tonight. His name is Theodore (is it awful of me that I don’t even know his family name?) and he works at a bank downtown. He is sure to be manager someday soon. He is tall and handsome in a subtle way – I know his pale skin will not at all be to your liking, dear, but to me it shows his gentle nature. I need not go on about his looks, for I lugged along Uncle Charles’ photography equipment and convinced Theodore to allow a passerby to take our picture outside the Park. I am including the plate – won’t you run over to Mr. Wedgwood tomorrow and have it developed so you can see just what I mean?
You will want to know how I met him. Well, I am not ashamed to tell you Harriet, but I saw an advertisement he had taken out in the paper, and, well, I responded to it. He just sounded so kind and honest. I know it was very wicked of me, but you don’t know how lonely it gets here in a strange city, with everyone so busy, and not even a Good morning when you leave for the office or a How was your day, dear? when you return at night. Oh, you mustn’t tell Mother about the advert!
I arrived at the appointed restaurant earlier that he. I had just been shown to the table by a snooty waitress no older than you, Harriet, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around in my seat, expecting to meet my date, but it was only the telegraph boy. “Telegram from Miss Baker, ma’am,” he announced. Charlotte Baker is the girl who works next to me at the office and my only real girl friend in this town. The paper which the boy handed me read: HOW IS THE DATE STOP IS HE A MURDERER STOP. I had to shake my head and smile at what goes on in that girl’s mind. I sent the boy along with a tip and my reply, and just then Theodore arrived.
“You must be Miss Catherine,” he said with a very polite smile, extending his free hand. (He carried a rather large attaché case in the other.) I smiled and smoothed my dress and he took the seat across from mine, with the case in his lap. The waitress returned with the menus, but Theodore knew all the best dishes and ordered them for us right away. I asked whether he dined there often, for it could not have been an inexpensive place to take one’s supper, but he said simply, “I have never been here in all my life.” I must have looked quite surprised, for he winked then with a mischievous smile and, opening the black case in his lap, removed a small volume and presented it to me. Bleeker’s Guide to Dining was embossed on the cover. Inside were the names of all the finest restaurants in town, followed by reviews written by various patrons, describing in detail the dining experience and décor, and the best dishes to be had at each. I was quite impressed, having never seen anything like it in my life. “They have them available at all the clubs,” he admitted when I complimented him on it.
There followed then the shortest of awkward pauses, which, to my relief, was ended by a tap again on my shoulder. “Telegram from Miss Baker, ma’am.” It was, of course, the darling telegraph boy. She had written REMEMBER NO EMBRACING ON THE FIRST DATE STOP. I blushed and smiled, but Theodore politely pretended not to notice, extracting what looked to be a letter from his case and perusing it quite naturally. I scrawled my response quickly under the table, and when I had tipped the boy and again sent him on his way, Theodore folded away his own letter back into the great bag.
While we awaited the first course, Theodore removed an album from his attaché case and, opening the heavy leather-bound cover, presented it so I could see. “Some photographs from my trip to Paris this summer,” he explained. “Have you been?” I admitted that I had not, but that I would very much like to go some day. Oh, Harriet! Perusing those arrested moments of vibrant life, the living scenes of a foreign city, I almost felt as if he and I were at that instant dining in that greatest of world capitals, far from the dreary, busy bustle of the town outside. I told him which photos I liked and promised to comment more specifically if he would allow me the pleasure me of looking them over more carefully another time.
He put away the album when the first course arrived and we ate in silence for several minutes. When the plates were cleared by that vulgar hussy – it is a testament to Theodore’s character that he never once returned the looks she darted at him – I asked about the other young men I had seen in the photographs. “Were those your brothers?” I ventured. He flashed his easy smile and another wink. “In a sense I suppose they are. Brothers from my days at university.” And, as if he were just remembering something, he once again opened the black case and rummaged through its depths until he emerged with another leather-bound volume, which he obligingly opened and passed across the table to me.
“My yearbook,” he explained with a sudden, charming blush of modesty. “The Class of 1908. The Brave and the Bold.” The conversation grew easier and easier as he regaled me with tales prompted by the book: victories on the football pitch, the habits of quirky old deans, and what ministries and institutions his “brothers” have since entered. It is truly delightful to see the way his eyes light up when he talks about his past.
When the main course arrived it was just so beautiful, and I knew that you would be so delighted by it, that I made him refrain from raising his fork and knife for just a moment so I could sketch you a picture of it. I’ve included the sketch – are the cranberries not darling? You must think me ghastly for keeping him from eating while the food was still hot, but he made me feel quite at ease, for while I drew my sketch he removed the letter he had folded into his pocket and began jotting a reply on some stationery he carried in his “Galaxy Bag,” as I’ve begun to call it, for it truly seems to carry within its confines everything one could ever need.
The telegraph boy made his final appearance just before we were finishing with the dessert. I knew it would be quite rude to interrupt the meal, yet I felt so panicked with the poor child just standing there, as if he might have some dreadful news about Mother’s health, or some news of someone else’s mother’s health to deliver once he had finished with me, that I simply had to turn and see what it was he had brought. Of course it was just silly old Charlotte. HAVE FUN AND WIRE ME WHEN YOU GET BACK TONITE STOP. I sent the boy off without a reply and apologized to Theodore, but he seemed quite unruffled by it all, having removed from his bag the evening paper, which he rapidly scanned while I dealt with my message. I took that moment to look around the candlelit room, and what do you think I discovered? A boy from the telegraph company was standing behind at least half the tables, and a large attaché case could be seen at nearly all the others. It seems to be all the rage in London right now.
The photographic plate I’ve included was, of course, taken after we had finished the meal. Theodore had a book of maps and a torch in his case, so we arrived at the Park with no trouble at all. There we took a cautious lap, my hand resting in the crook of his arm, his case slung from the other. Oh, it was marvelous, Harriet, to feel at last as if I belonged to this great city, to lay claim to its geography with happy memories of my own. That was when I knew I wanted to capture the moment forever, and so ventured to unsling Uncle’s bulky equipment from my shoulder.
I won’t bore you further with the details of the evening, but let us just say that I did not at all times have Charlotte’s silly advice in mind. Again, I beseech you, not a word to Mother! The trolley had long since stopped running, so Theodore offered to hire me a Hackney carriage. I was sure he would have something in his case to help with this too, but he simply whistled loudly as we exited the Park and up drove a neat little hansom cab.
There you have it. I have gone on rather too long, but I feel at last that I could sleep. Oh, I have yet to write back to Charlotte! She must be worried sick. Well, let her worry. It will be good for her, even if she will raise a stir at the office tomorrow. It is quite unfair that you now know so many more secrets about me than I of you. Do go out and have some adventures with a country lad and write me all you can.
Your happy and affectionate sister,
Peter Porcino studied Japanese literature at Stanford University before setting off to circumnavigate the globe without boarding an airplane. He writes genre-stretching fiction and fairy-tales, and is the winner of the Westchester Review’s 2015 “Writers Under 30” contest.