Carter eased his Suburban into a parking space in front of the two-story red brick house and took a good look. Hers wasn’t the grandest address on the block by a long shot, and the front yard appeared well overdue for a landscaping. But it wasn’t exactly a run-down cottage either. This was the full bay-and-gable treatment with the steep, multi-angular slate roof and a chimney reaching for the sky that looked like something out of Mary Poppins. Which Carter supposed was an okay analogy given how English-ey this part of Toronto always struck him. Yes, definitely a step above run-of-the-mill.
Carter patted the upper righthand pocket of his utility vest, checked his watch, and headed for the front door. Plenty of time to make his delivery, turn around, recross the border and head west for Cleveland and his next delivery. For the most part Carter didn’t mind international jobs, especially since some of them more than paid the bills. And this part of Canada didn’t feel all that foreign to start with. The red-faced Maple Leaf fans staggering up Roncesvalles a few minutes earlier looked a lot like the red-faced Amerks fans he’d seen stumbling down Court Street back home the previous week. You wanted exotic, there was that time in Kyoto delivering a sixteenth-century edition of The Tale of Genji. Hoo boy. What a mess that turned into. Toronto was tame-tame-tame by comparison. Still, it always felt good to be back home on familiar soil.
“Oh my. You’re early.”
Carter doffed his Rochester Red Wings ball cap and bobbed his head in apology.
“The border crossing went faster than I expected. I can come back in a bit if it’s not convenient?”
“Oh no. This is fine. It’s a right long time coming and I wouldn’t want to delay it. Tell me your name again …?”
“Mercury Carter, ma’am.” He handed her a card with his name and a phone number on it.
“That’s right. Memory’s not quite what it was. I remembered a planet.”
Carter smiled and followed her inside. She was his height or possibly a touch taller, erect bearing even at her age, her step light and quick. Snowy white hair, red-cheeked, eyes the dark blue of a Scottish loch, which went perfectly with the burr in her accent. Wrapped in a brown knitted shawl that covered a pale blue blouse and tweed skirt. A pair of cheaters around her neck and wearing brown lace-up shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hike on a moor. He put her in her early eighties, but the hale and hearty variety.
“I’ve just made some tea,” she said, settling him in a red upholstered wingback chair with a white needlepoint antimacassar across the top. “Would you care for a cup?”
“Much obliged, Mrs. MacDonnell,” Carter said. He was telling the truth. Some days it felt like he spent half his life apologizing to people for not being much of a coffee person.
“Now then, call me Margaret. And it’ll only be a minute.”
The tea cups and the white bone china teapot with the English roses design that Mrs. MacDonnell poured from looked nearly as old as their owner, in keeping with the timeless feel of the house and its stolid, comfortable furniture. The only exception to the setting was a flat-screen TV on a stand opposite the couch airing a muted medical documentary.
“Milk and sugar?”
“There now,” she said, handing him the cup and seating herself in her own wingback. “Not to be presumptuous, but is it possible to …?”
“Of course, of course.”
Carter reached into the righthand utility vest pocket and removed the beige cardboard gift box no bigger than a deck of cards. He handed it to her and watched her open it carefully, marking the catch in her breath as she lifted the locket from its cotton nesting, the loop of the gold chain draping itself around her veiny wrist.
“Thank you,” she said firmly. “It’s just as I remembered it.”
“You’re welcome.” He took a sip of tea. Now that was a properly brewed cup.
“It’s my mother, the day of her wedding,” she said, angling the locket toward Carter. “She was so beautiful. Her whole life ahead of her. I never thought I’d see it again. Now I can die happy.”