Copyright is held by the author.
OFFICER TOM loved his job, except for this duty. Telling a family the worst news they could hear was not his cup of tea. His heart was in his throat as he walked to the door. He had not been on the job long, so he hadn’t yet developed the ability to distance himself. He noticed the perfectly groomed lawn and gardens and the red brick Leave it to Beaver house. He listened to the chimes of a door bell from an era before he was born. He dreaded telling the news he had to deliver.
An attractive, well-dressed older woman opened the door and greeted him with a warm smile. Tom was invited in. He followed the woman into a meticulously decorated living room complete with grand piano. She sat in a rose-coloured wingback chair and Tom chose a seat on the pillowed damask sofa. Tom took in the family photos, the Royal Doulton figurines sitting on doilies and the fine carpet beneath his feet. There was definitely nothing in the room from Zeller’s. He sensed the comfortable life of the household and an era of old -fashioned straight-laced living.
After an awkward silence, Tom gently asked the woman if she was Catherine Grey. She told him she was. Tom proceeded with his duty and told her that her husband had been killed a few hours earlier; a car had hit him as he was crossing a downtown intersection. Catherine remained still, and poised, with no show of emotion. She took a deep breath. Her mouth twitched slightly but otherwise she did not move.
With no hesitation Catherine asked Tom who had been driving the car. Tom informed her that he was only allowed to tell her that it was a woman driver. He added that no charges would be laid due to the circumstances. It was an unavoidable accident at a crosswalk and there were witnesses. He stopped, not quite sure if he could reveal more. He wanted to help the poor woman, but knew the parameters of his job.
The newly widowed woman quietly pressed him with questions about the driver. She wanted to know the driver’s age, her hair colour and her height. These unusual questions perplexed Tom. He resorted to official policy and told her that he was not at liberty to disclose this information. Catherine continued to pry, wanting to know the make of car and whether or not it was new. Tom assured her there would be more information forthcoming. Tom thought maybe Catherine was in a state of shock and that her brain was trying to cope with the devastating news. He knew grief could wreak havoc with the mind.
Catherine remained calm and with no outward sign of emotion. She stood gracefully, walked over to an elegant writing desk, sat down, opened a drawer and removed a fountain pen and crème coloured notepaper. Tom recalled that his grandmother used the same type of stationery. Catherine smiled at Tom and asked whether he knew how to write a proper thank-you note. He shook his head. Catherine outlined the proper way: include three paragraphs, use a good pen and penmanship and never use email. An email thank you was just not acceptable. She emphasized the importance of being precise.
As she wrote the note, she spoke aloud its contents:
“To Whom it May Concern,
I wish to express my deepest gratitude for the gift of freedom you have bestowed on both me and my husband, by running him over with your vehicle today.
You have given both us our freedom after 42 years of torment and hell.
Your kindness will long be remembered. Perhaps we can share tea someday and recall your generosity.
With the tip of her tongue, Catherine carefully licked the envelope. Then she pressed her fingers along the glue line making sure it was sealed properly. In a regal manner, she rose again, passed the envelope to Tom, and asked him to deliver the note to the driver. Tom stammered that he would first have to check with his superior. Catherine assured him his superior would be amenable to such a proper gesture.
Catherine escorted Tom to the door, extended her hand and thanked him for his kind manner. Tom could only nod and back out of the door.
Tom stood outside the door not sure what had happened. Before he left the stoop he heard Richie Haven’s Woodstock version of Freedom blasting from the stereo in the living room. Tom looked through the picture window and saw Catherine dancing Bacchus style, leaping onto the sofa, tossing pillows, twirling and singing with complete abandon.
In his cruiser, Tom sat stunned. He fingered the vellum thank-you note in his hand, pondering the bizarre contents. Maybe he understood now why the accident might have been unavoidable. The driver said the victim came out of nowhere. Tom remembered the scene of the accident; the victim had died with a smile on his face.