Louanna's Letters

Selina Stambi

The tulips were delivered to Miss Izzy’s doorstep once a week without

fail, all wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow. I looked for them

every Tuesday morning when I walked Puppy to the park.

 

No knew her name. She seemed like an Isadora, so in my head I

addressed her as Izzy for short. I added Miss out of deference for the

liberal dusting of silver on her crown.

 

Miss Izzy lived by herself in the house at the corner of Clover Court, with

a cranky cat who fumed and hurled itself at the front bay window

whenever Puppy and I passed by. An orgy of weeds wandered all over

the walkway and her grass hadn't been cut for as long as I could

remember. She wore her hair in a knot at the nape of her neck, or in a

wispy braid hanging over her shoulder. In the summer she hid under the brim of a

floppy old hat, squatting on a wooden stool and plucking away at

the sea of dandelions buttering her lawn.

 

It irked me to keep walking past with never a word of acknowledgement,

so one day I attempted a cheerful ‘Good morning’. Miss Izzy made no

response and I supposed she was fated to end her days alone.

 

The dog days of summer yielded to fall temperatures. Autumn weather

flung mantles of flame all over the maples guarding the sidewalks of

Clover Court. Puppy pranced in piles of dry leaves, always pausing in front

of Miss Izzy’s bay window to perform his three-legged ballerina act

against her fire hydrant and drive the cat into a foaming frenzy. Miss

Izzy still sat on her stool and tugged. I wondered how she would pass her

mornings when a blanket of white froze her lawn.

 

I became reluctant to venture out as the cold crept in. Puppy played in

the backyard, and I reconciled myself to picking up and disposing of

bushels of lapdog waste when spring returned. Then came an

unexpectedly mild day when I was inclined to walk again with a delighted

doggy in tow. We approached the battlefront window just as Miss Izzy

emerged from her garage, lugging a recycling bin.

 

I covered the distance between us at a brisk trot with an offer of

assistance. “Miss Iz … er …ma’am. Let me help you.”

 

She straightened up with a sigh and nodded, murmuring, “Yes. Thank you.”

 

I stooped to pick up the plastic bin which overflowed with newspapers,

magazines and bundles of letters secured together with rubber bands. I

caught a glimpse of faded foreign stamps.

 

“I’ll hold the dog,” Miss Izzy offered. I handed the leash over, and bent

to examine the contents of the box.

 

“Miss … ma’am, these stamps might be of some value. Are you sure you

want to throw them out?”

 

“Do you want them?”

 

“Oh, I do!” I couldn’t believe my luck. “What about the letters? They

should be shredded, you know.”

 

She shrugged. “Keep them, toss them out. As you wish. I don’t care.”

 

Miss Izzy held on to Puppy while I dragged the blue box to the kerb. She

gave me a plastic bag for the letters.

 

“I live across the street at number twenty six,” I said, fishing the

discarded mail out of the box.

 

“I’m Lou,” she replied.

 

Miss Izzy stood head and shoulders above me. I had never seen her on

her feet before. We smiled at each other, now officially acquainted.

 

… xx … xx ….

 

Miss Izzy’s correspondence was dated between 1964 and 1975. The

letters were from Quintus Lim, addressed to Lou-Lou LaMaie, all

unopened and in their original condition. I sorted the aerogrammes,

greetings cards and tissue-thin notepaper in airmail envelopes by date,

and arranged them in piles on the kitchen table. The missives were short,

no more than a handful of lines written in elegant copperplate with

curlicues and flourishes which made the handwriting difficult to

decipher at times. Postage stamps from every corner of the globe were a

philatelist’s dream come true.

 

I spent the evening working my way through the stack of letters.

There were several like these -

 

Quebec City, June 18, 1964

Dear Lou,

Happy birthday to the prettiest girl I know.

Love,

Quintus

 

Paris, June 18, 1966

Dearest Lou,

Happy eighteenth. Will you marry me?

Yours always,

Quintus

 

Tangiers, June 18, 1970

Darling Lou,

When we were ten you said you would marry me one day.

Will you?

Still hopeful,

Quintus

PS: Happy birthday!

 

Singapore, December 1975

Dear Lou,

Another Christmas in the Orient. No snow, just heat and mosquitoes.

You are probably married by now. I have given up hope of hearing from you.

I’ll keep writing anyway, just in case.

Always yours,

Quintus

 

The messages were succinct, quite childlike in their simplicity.

There were about three dozen in all. I felt like a peeping Tom, completely caught

in the threads of this romance-that-never-was.

 

Bedtime came, sleep would not. I was too involved.

 

Who is Quintus Lim?

 

The voice of curiosity nagged. An inevitable midnight Google search

ensued, revealing enough to satisfy an immediate thirst.

 

I scribbled some notes -

Quintus Lim: Born in Hong Kong, 1945. Graduate of York

University, Harvard Business School. Scholar, author,

globe-trotting entrepreneur. Retired. Founder QL

Enterprises - Importers, Exporters, Online florists.

 

Florists, huh?

 

… xx … xx …

 

Miss Izzy waved from her doorstep as Puppy and I availed ourselves of

another mild day. The cat commenced its demented dance, his owner got

distracted, missed her footing and fell. She hit her head on a concrete

paving stone and landed with one leg folded at an ugly angle beneath her.

I reached for my cellphone.

 

The ambulance arrived within minutes. Miss Izzy came to as they

strapped her to the stretcher. She reached for my hand with anxious

eyes. “The key’s on the hook behind the door. Feed Quintus, please.”

 

I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud and assured her I would care

for her pet.

 

She named the brute Quintus …

 

Miss Izzy had a broken hip, a fractured femur and a long road to

recovery ahead of her.

 

… xx … xx …

 

Winter rode in with stiff winds and endless dumps of snow. The

neighbours rallied to take turns shovelling Miss Izzy’s driveway.

Quintus Cat rubbed himself against my leg when I set down his bowl of

food every morning. Puppy smelled the odious fragrance of feline on my

clothing and backed reproachfully away. Quiet weekday afternoons took

me to the orthopaedic wing of the local hospital.

 

Miss Izzy and I grew quite fond of each other. I suspect I was the first

person in years to exchange more than a passing word with her.

 

“My name is Louanna Lim, by the way,” she informed me.

 

“But the letters were addressed to …”

 

“Lou-Lou LaMaie was my stage name when I danced at the Amber

Theatre.”

 

A go-go dancer!

 

My mind boggled at the unexpected revelation. “With feathers and high

kicks … and everything?”

 

“And everything,” Miss Izzy agreed. “I had top billing in my day.” She

reached for the bedside drawer and retrieved a tattered newspaper

clipping from her wallet, holding it out for inspection. I examined the

cutting with interest.

 

A high kicking showgirl alright, and quite a beauty too …

 

I brought Miss Izzy the get well card signed by the residents of Clover

Court who were intrigued to finally know her name. It took an entire

Saturday afternoon knocking at doors card in hand, to solicit signatures.

The neighbours asked how they could help, and some of them made cash

contributions towards a gift of flowers. I ordered an arrangement of

tulips.

 

“I love tulips. How did you know?” Miss Izzy enquired when I set the

vase of blooms on the window sill by her bed.”

 

“I guessed you might,” I replied.

 

The Tuesday tulips, of course …

 

I guided the wheelchair out of the elevator and into the hospital lobby

where we found an unoccupied corner to relax and chat. We were now

good enough friends that I could pose all sorts of questions without

sounding nosey. Miss Izzy was always eager to talk.

 

“What happened to your family, Lou?”

 

The grey eyes clouded over. “My father was old school Chinese, a

difficult man. He disowned me when I chose the stage. To have a

dancer for a daughter was to lose face in the community. Mama was

French. Her family was hard-nosed and didn’t approve of her marriage to

a foreigner. I left home when I turned seventeen. I never talked to my

parents again.”

 

“But surely your mother …”

 

“Under Papa’s thumb. She did as she was told. There was no choice.”

 

So sad …

 

“And siblings?”

 

“Quintus …”

 

Quintus!

 

“Your brother?” I almost gagged.

 

“No, no! Quintus Lim, my best friend. Father’s cousin, many times

removed. An orphan. Papa was his guardian. We grew up together.

Lou-Lou LaMaie was his nickname for me.”

 

I exhaled, relieved. What happened to Quintus Lim?”

 

“He had a falling out with Father. They were constantly at loggerheads.

 

He just got up and left one day. It broke my heart to see him go.”

 

“The letters …”

 

“I never read them. They were in a box under Mama’s bed. I found them

after she died. A lawyer contacted me about my inheritance. She

passed on twenty years ago. She outlived my father.”

 

“Why didn’t you read the letters, Lou?”

 

“I don’t know. I thought it was too late, I suppose. Life passed me

by. I chased a dream, it dissolved, vanished. I was alone and growing

old.”

 

“Did you ever see Quintus again?”

 

“He came to the Amber a couple of times in the early years. I had many

beaux, you know. Quintus was a short man. Very short. And I am a tall

woman. Such things matter when one is young. They shouldn’t, but they

do. I saw a newspaper announcement -- he married a Miss Mercedes

Sanchez.

 

“Flamenco dancer?” I quipped.

 

Miss Izzy chuckled. “His secretary, I believe!”

 

“Would his height matter now?”

 

Miss Izzy took a deep breath and examined her hands. “No. Not

anymore. I wouldn’t care a fig.”

 

I changed the subject. “Who sends the tulips?”

 

Miss Izzy looked startled. “Tulips?”

 

“The tulips on your doorstep. On Tuesday mornings.”

 

“You’ve seen them? I have no idea. They started coming a year ago. There’s a

business card stapled to the wrapping. It says QL Enterprises. Nothing else. No

address, no phone number.”

 

“QL?”

 

Her eyes widened. “Oh, I know. I guessed. The telephone directory

revealed nothing. I didn’t know where else to look, to find him.”

 

I persisted. “Did you try the internet?”

 

She shook her head. “I stay away from computers. I’ve managed just

fine without them.”

 

I did another Google search that evening and made more notes –

 

Mercedes Sanchez: Married Quintus Lim. Co-founder of

QL Enterprises. Deceased, 2013.

 

… xx … xx …

 

Mr Lim turned out to be a tech-savvy septuagenarian, unlike his

Lou-Lou LaMaie. I located him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He was

also a rather dashing dude if the profile picture was anything to go by.

I sent him a message on Facebook -

I’m Louanna Lim’s neighbour. Please call …

 

My mobile phone went off within minutes.

 

.. xx … xx …

 

The immediate neighbours and I prepared a week’s worth of meals for

Miss Izzy’s freezer. She grudgingly acknowledged that a change might be

in order, and allowed me to trim and blow-dry her hair. I might be able to

persuade her to apply a touch of lipstick when she goes home tomorrow. Her

table is set with old silverware and fine china from the cabinet by the bay window,

candles and a darling centerpiece of tulips. Dinner for two will be delivered at

eight.

 

Quintus Lim Esquire, is scheduled to arrive at Clover Court in time to welcome

his beloved Louanna when I drive her home from the hospital. He hopes she will

accept a ring he purchased fifty two years ago and never disposed of.

 

… xx … xx …

 

Spring is definitely in the air. Puppy and I have resumed our morning walks. My

canine companion seems more staid these days and the window-cat less crazy. As

for me, I cannot cease to marvel at the metamorphosis of Miss Louanna Lim. I

have been called a meddlesome creature, I know. Can I help it? I’m a woman

after all.