He found his old briefcase in the shed. It had a combination lock on it and he wondered for a while what the combination might be. It was his birth date.
In the case there were a number of embarrassingly naive poems and a pile of letters held together with a perished rubber band. There were old bank statements for an account that no longer existed in a bank that no longer exists and there were letters from friends overseas and they were old. But mostly they were bank statements so he threw the whole pile into the furnace. He was careless, his aim was sloppy, the letters hit the side of the furnace, the rubber band broke and half the letters ended up on the floor. As he gathered them together one seemed to be stuck to another. He turned it over and on the back was one small word, “Tamara”. With a heart at the end.
He didn’t open the letter. Not then. He put it to one side.
Tamara was the girl who typed his letters. She wasn’t his secretary. He was only a clerk and did not rate a full time secretary. She was from the typing pool but was always available to him when he needed work done.
He sat in his chair in the shed with the bank statements lying on the floor and poured himself a glass of whisky and closed his eyes.
I think Tamara was in love with me, and I think I was in love with her but we worked together and in those days the unwritten rules were obeyed scrupulously.
I told Tamara how I had been brought up in outback New South Wales and lived in a tin shed and she was quite fascinated.
She told me that she was from Georgia and I proved myself an idiot by saying she didn’t have an American accent and she explained quite carefully that she meant Georgia in the USSR. Odessa to be exact. Her family was what they called White Russians and after the Revolution the family had moved to Vladivostok as far from European Russia as you can get. She told me stories that made me feel ashamed that while I had been living in an old shack in absolute freedom she and her family were struggling to stay alive day by day for years.
It was a long story and we talked and talked when we should have been working and sometimes we had to stay back in the office to catch up on work that was urgent. One night we kissed and she burst into tears and ran out of the office and went home. I had absolutely no idea what was going on. No idea at all. I think I was too young and very naive.
About a week later she told all the girls in the typing pool that she had got a job as an air hostess with Ansett Airways and was leaving.
On Friday all the girls in the typing pool had a little coffee and cake afternoon tea sort of thing and then she went around the office saying goodbye and she came into my office and shook hands, said goodbye, kissed me on the cheek and turned and went.
I ran up the stairs and onto the roof, ten stories up, and looked over the edge and saw her walking out of the building. I missed her. That was the end and after a while I got on with my life and she faded from my mind.
The old man opened his eyes. The fire had burned down and the paper that had made it into the furnace were now dusty ashes. He opened her letter. It was dated about five weeks after she had left the office. She told him she didn’t like flying. There had been a bit of trouble while with a cargo door that had blown off and she was rather nervous. She had resigned and she asked him to pick her up from Essendon Airport on the next Saturday – she had a lot she wanted to tell him, she said. He closed his eyes again.
I opened her letter fifty-two years too late. I wonder where she is now and I wonder how she got home from the airport.
I wonder about a lot of things.
He collected all the letters that were on the floor and set them alight. All of them. It was a long way in the past.