He had not been expecting a letter.
If not for the utility bills or the monthly mortgage statement, the hinges on the rural box at the end of the old rock drive would likely be frozen from rust. It had become his nature to avoid that particular form of socializing. These, his latter years, had been spent in virtual isolation. Mixed degrees of curiosity and suspicion lingered along with the old man as he returned to the weathered house of his refuge with this puzzling pale white envelope.
Jedediah McHugh was born into the proud, well-established Irish of Chicago. His early life was relatively uneventful, much like the life of other boys living along those brick streets of at the turn of the century. There were the usual conflicts over girls and perceived territories – nothing one could describe as extraordinary.
For Jedediah, extraordinary came later.
In 1899, sixteen-year old Jedediah lied about his age and joined the Marines. War was in the Philippines, and Jed wanted to fight. He was assigned to an infantry unit, and quickly found himself aboard ship, bound for the South Pacific. On this journey, Jedediah would get his first taste of mortal combat, though not with the enemy.
It was common for men at sea to experience boredom. Tempers would fly in the face of reason, especially between men of different ethnicities. Late one evening a disgruntled member in a card game called Jedediah a “geebag” – to an Irishman the worst of insults. Jed jumped upon the fellow delivering a fury of vicious strikes. Others struggled to pry Jedediah off the man, but when they did, it was too late. To hide the man’s death, the body was tossed into the sea. He would be counted as missing at roll-call and presumed overboard.
After the war, Jed returned to Chicago. The Jedediah who had left for the war was not the same man who returned to the quiet confines of his old Irish neighborhood. Some time after his arrival, the papers began reporting the strange disappearances of several young men and women along a popular stretch of lakeshore.
Jed decided to move to the upper peninsula of Michigan and become a logger.
The money was good, and Jed soon bought himself some acreage and built a house. Around this time Jed felt the need for a woman to take care of the domestic chores he loathed. He had little interest in marriage or love, so it was through the mail that he found a suitable companion. Bessie would arrive from Nebraska in a week.
Jed never dreamed it could be so easy.
While Bessie was with him, letters arrived with regularity. She would sometimes walk down to the box, wondering at all the correspondence. She once inquired of them over the dinner table, which produced a raised eyebrow on the Irishman’s face.
Lillian was a stout woman in her mid-thirties. She appeared to know her way around a house and for a time worked with discipline. Jedediah eyed her as she maneuvered around the house dusting, washing floors and windows, tending the stove and firebox. It wasn’t until she decided to garden however, that she received his full attention.
Later, as Greta acclimated herself to rural life and new surroundings, she became comfortable with Jed and felt she had found a home away from the difficulties of a previous entanglement. She was different. Young and attractive, she had an air of defiance that, more than any other, rendered the ire of Jedediah. She returned from the mailbox with an open envelope.
Vivian carried herself proud as she walked up the road, her grip held tightly. As she approached the house with peeled paint, dilapidated stairs, and a porch with torn screening lapping over the sills, she wondered if she would have done well to remain in Ohio. Jedediah watched her approach without expression. Once the worst was over, Vivian concerned herself with the troubles of life no more.
As the years went by, Jedediah made fewer trips into town for supplies. His horses were gone now and the carriages they pulled lay rotted amongst the weeds. He made the trip to the box at the end of the road now, never expecting much more than the business of a billing statement.
As he sat near the window, he began to open the envelope which had so captured his interest. Noting the foreign postmark, he withdrew the unexpected letter and while unfolding it, an old ace of spades drifted to the floor…
…The letter was found next to the decomposed body of a man found in an old farmhouse in Michigan’s upper peninsula. The message on the yellowed paper stated: “My last Ace has it over you geebag!” .
The postmark? “Manila, Philippines…1900.”