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John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Short story: Miss Comstock’s Paragraph

Miss Comstock’s Paragraph
 
   Catherine Comstock spent one hour looking for the letter. Then spying the crumpled letter in her delicate but wrinkled hand she asked herself aloud,  “How did that get there?” and then undertook another search for eyeglasses which sat on the top of  her head. And such was the way that Catherine Comstock, sole child of the illustrious Admiral Johnson Comstock of the Maryland Comstocks, lived out her days in the recent past years.
     A half hour later she had located the glasses and then the doorbell rang.
   “I am exhausted,” she said as she sprawled out across the day sofa where she waited for the day maid to answer the bell.  After a third ring she remembered she no longer employed a day maid and scurried through six rooms, half of the rooms on the first floor of her home, to answer the door, calling out “Un momento, por favor” even though she didn’t actually speak Spanish.  However, some decades before she had read Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, and the works impressed her, so in a salute to the writer’s efforts she sometimes shouted out things in Spanish, whether she understood the meaning or not.
   Opening the extremely large, tall and heavy front door she found a postman holding a piece of paper.
   “Registered letter” he said.
   “No young man” she answered “I have no registered letter for you.  If I did I would have mailed it to you.”
   “No Ma’am” he answered politely “I have a registered letter for you.”
   “Why?” she asked pointedly.
  “Why what?” he responded.
  Taking a breath and releasing it with a deep sigh to show her disdain for his slowness she said, “Why would you have a registered letter for me? I don’t even know you.”
  “I’m with….” He said before she interrupted him.
   “You didn’t have to write it down did you?” she asked.   “And go through all the trouble of registering the letter.  You simply could have come here and told me what you want. Now, what do you want?”
  “I’m with the post office, Miss” he explained. “Someone has sent you a registered letter and you need to please sign for it so I can give it to you,” and he handed her the letter, the receipt and a pen and pointed for the line she was to sign on.
   She took the contraptions but before signing asked, “And who gave this to you to bring here?”
   “I don’t know Ma’am,” he replied.
    Staring at him solemnly, she wagged a finger and lectured, “You should not be so trusting, young fellow.”
   “Yes Ma’am” he said for he was a kind and a polite mailman.
   “Always” she continued “know from whom you are accepting things. What if there were illegal narcotics in this envelope and the police stopped you and found the illegal narcotics and arrested you?”
   “Yes Ma’am” he agreed. “You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
    Content that she had protected the working classes from themselves she nodded and signed the envelope. He took the receipt and checked the appropriate boxes for her and when he looked up again he saw the one dollar bill in the lady’s hand.
    “I can’t take that Ma’am,” he said with a weak smile.
    “Nonsense” she said and pushed the sole bill into his hand. “Use it to buy a suit so you can get a job,” and then she closed the massive door. She paused and tried to recall what she was doing before this distraction pillaged her day.
     Ah, yes, the letter from the editor.
   She was looking for the letter from the editor before that terribly confused man arrived at her door.  Twenty minutes later she found the letter where she had left it, on the desk in the library.
    Placing the certified letter down on the desk and picking up a month old letter from the editor, she conducted a light search for her glasses, again, and finding them on her head, again, she read the letter aloud.
 
     Dear Miss Comstock:
    We have received the envelope from you marked “The Life and Times of Admiral Johnson Comstock As told by his daughter. Chapter One.”  The envelope was empty. Perhaps you could resend.

   Kind regards.
   Jackson Beauregard, Publisher
   Sentential Publishing Company, New York New York

   She carefully refolded the letter and placed it back into its clean white envelope and took a second letter from the desk, opened it and read it aloud.

           Dear Miss Comstock:
    We have received another envelope from you marked “The Life and Times of Admiral Johnson Comstock. As told by his daughter. Chapter One.” This envelope was also empty. When we suggested that you resend, we meant perhaps you could send another envelope with the actual chapter  within the envelope.

     Kind regards.
   Jackson Beauregard, Publisher
   Sentential Publishing Company, New York New York

   “Why is that poor man looking for things in empty envelopes?” she asked herself aloud. “Perhaps I should telephone him.”
    And so she did. She dialed. The phone rang. A man answered.
   “Hello?”  asked the man’s voice.
    “Yes,” she said “I need to speak with Mister Beauregard.”
   “Is this Catherine?” the man asked.
   “Oh good heavens,” she said somewhat annoyed. “I don’t know who you are and why should I guess?  Catherine Comstock here.  Is Mister Beauregard available to speak on the telephone?
   “Miss Comstock, this is Jackson Beauregard,” said Jackson Beauregard. “I’m so….”
    “Well you should have just said that from the beginning,” she said.
   “Well I just want to say how pleased….” he began.
   “I don’t have time for Tom Foolery, Mister Beauregard. I am not a New Yorker you know,” she said. “My Father the Admiral always said, Chicago has no hills. It’s completely flat.”
   There was a very long pause on the phone.
   “Well anyway,” Jackson Beauregard said “I was about to give you a call myself.”
   “On the telephone?” Catherine asked. And there was another silence. 
   “Miss Comstock” he said in a very business-like fashion “as you know, our firm has paid you a very large advance for the biography you promised to write on your father’s life. Your attorney, Mister Willoughby, assured us the books would be completed.”
   “That’s correct” she said. “Good for you.”
   “But that was several years ago,” he continued “And now that Mister Willoughby….”
   “Mister Willoughby has died?” she asked.
   “Yes” he said.
   “Well why didn’t he tell me?” she asked.
   “I don’t know” he answered.
    “Some people” she sighed “are so unreliable. As my father use to say “Catherine, I don’t like new York.”
   Here was a long silence on the phone.
   “Miss Comstock,” Beauregard asked “is there someone else?”
   “Someone else what?” she asked in return.
   “Well someone else we could speak to” he asked.
   “My goodness gracious man, there must be millions of people you could speak to,” she answered.
   “I meant” he said before she cut him off.
   “Is there someone else we could speak to regarding the manuscript, a new attorney, a relative of some sort? Someone who handles your finances?”
   “Well there is Miss Florence,” Catherine replied. “She’s here twice a week although I have forgotten which weeks those are.”
   “And she is your accountant? Financial advisor?” he asked.
   “No, no, no dear. She cleans the house,” Catherine replied. “She has a grandson. His name is Tupac. He’s doing ten years in Maryland, some sort of Doctorial work I would think. Should you have a bill to be paid, send it here and I will see to it that Miss Florence looks it over.”
   “She handles your finances?” he asked.
   “Oh yes” Catherine said sweetly. “Miss Florence has worked since she was 16 years old. Isn’t that wonderful Catherine?”
   “This is Jackson Beauregard, Miss Comstock.”
   “Oh the poor fellow with empty envelopes,” she answered. “I’ve been meaning to call you. You have sent me some letters regarding the biography I plan to write on my father. I finished the first chapter you know.”
   “That’s delightful, Miss Comstock” said Beauregard. “I’m glad to hear it.”
   “My father was a great man. He believed in us, in our greatness as a people. And he believed in freedom, for everyone, everywhere because he held the individual, each child of God, as a sacred thing. And he spent his life defending that principle.”
   “That he did, Miss Comstock, that he did,” said Jackson Beauregard. “We owe him much.”
   “Now, young man” Catherine said, “what is it that you have called me about?”  
    There was a pause and then Jackson Beauregard, who was a good man, a decent man said, “I guess I just wanted to say hello.”
   “Oh” said Catherine with surprise, “well hello to you as well.”