He had not been expecting a letter. In fact, it seemed as if he rarely ever received mail at all any more aside from the occasional utility bill. He eyed the return address label as he walked back to the front door from his mailbox. Without looking away from the strange handwriting, his stride lengthened as he crossed over the large crevice in the pavement as if his legs didn't need guidance to make it back to the familiar "Welcome" mat placed haphazardly in front of the doorway.
He finally broke his curious eyes away from the stark white envelope when he reached his hand down to the cool curved brass doorknob as if he were about to turn it. Instead, he wiggled the handle firmly left and right, up and down. He pushed his left shoulder against the peeling red paint of the door and cursed under his breath.
After a moment, a loud "POP!" sounded from the doorknob, and the door swung open with ease. He entered the front room and pushed the door closed firmly behind him, not bothering to turn the lock. The knob hadn't worked properly in almost three years now, but he had no desire to replace it. The way he figured it, if burglar was stubborn enough to stand on the porch and wriggle and wrangle with the lock to get the damned door to open - well then they deserved to take whatever they wanted.
He sat down gingerly into one of two identical overstuffed chairs and returned his attention to the envelope. As he slowly broke the seal of the back flap, he tried to remember the last time he had received a hand-written letter. It had been years ago, he was sure.
He unfolded the letter tucked inside, the smell of pancakes and strawberries wafting away from the crisp white paper. Unknowingly, he smiled to himself as the familiar scent reached him and then drifted away like a long forgotten memory.
Dear Phil Mr. Davis,
I don't know if you remember me, as it has been the better part of a lifetime since the last time I saw you. My name is Iris Rochester, but when I knew you my last name was Straussen although you may not have ever known that.
You used to come into my family's diner every morning for breakfast when you were on your way to the mill to work. You ordered a tall stack of my mother's corn-cake pancakes and my father's black-as-death coffee with a side of strawberries and whipped cream every morning. Do you remember?
The last day you came in for breakfast was on October 31st, 1948. No, I'm not some quack-job stalker. You used to always ask for your receipt before you left, but that day you forgot it so I tucked it in my pocket so I could give it to you the next day.
I've kept that receipt inside my register since that day so many years ago. It's seen me through one marriage; three beautiful daughters and two strong sons; the loss of my husband and sixty years of waiting tables. It's been there through good days and bad, sun and snow, sleet and rain. I've never been able to throw it out, as it reminds me so much of the warm smile that you gave me every morning, and the little note you used to write on the napkin before you left - Thank you Darlin'
I've always had the intention of returning your receipt to you, and when I saw your name in the paper last month I decided that I should look up your address and send it off to you. I know the sadness of losing someone you loved, and I am sorry to read that you have lost your beloved Evelyn.
Thank you for keeping me company all these years. Although you never knew it, you brought a smile to my face every single day.
Phil pulled the old tattered receipt from the envelope where it had been tucked behind the letter. The years had not been kind to the tiny scrap, fading the handwriting to a whisper of what it once was. A brown stain had taken over the right portion of the slip, so Phil could no longer make out the total, but he could read the note scribbled on the bottom of the receipt by what must have been a 17 year old version of Iris.
Thanks Phil - see you tomorrow for cakes, berries and coffee!
Phil carefully refolded the letter and slipped it back into the envelope. For the first time, he felt that someone knew the loneliness he suffered since Evelyn had gone. And for the first time since she passed, he cried.