The letter arrived the second Tuesday in November. Standing in the narrow vestibule of her West Chelsea brownstone, Clare Burke unlocked the creaky brass door to her mailbox and reached inside. There, among a pile of bills and flyers, was a single ivory envelope.
She stepped into her parlor floor apartment, slung her messenger bag off her shoulder. Still holding the mail, she removed her notebook and camera and placed them on the kitchen table. Three cats—Blackburn, Olive, and Chat, all named for passerines they would most certainly kill if they had the chance—darted around her feet as she opened the refrigerator door and filled their bowls.
Setting the bills aside, Clare turned to the envelope. In a world of e-mail it stood out for being personal, an actual letter—people didn’t write each other anymore, and she felt instantly curious. She saw the name in the return address, and her breath caught.
Rasmussen was written in a tiny, sharp hand, above the address: P.O. Box 1041, Scarborough, ME. The handwriting was not her sister’s. Clare turned over the envelope and saw the Burke crest stamped in blue sealing wax. Their parents had given the sisters family crest rings on their twentieth birthdays, and the seal had been imprinted with Anne’s.
Clare walked into the living room; trying to keep her hands steady, she opened the letter and started to read:
Dear Aunt Clare,
We don’t know each other really, but I’m planning a trip to New York and wondered if we could meet. I’ll be doing research for a project. I read your Avian Society blog and look at your photos—I especially love the one of the snowy owl. I didn’t know they wintered on city beaches.
This letter must seem really out of the blue. It is for me, too. I didn’t plan on writing it, but then this opportunity came up, and I thought who do I know in the city? This is not a trick to get revenge for my father or something. Please do not be worried about that.
Just so you know I’m a serious person, I’m in my senior year at Emerson College in the Documentary Production program. I am inspired by nature, and am working on a project that combines sculpture and film. I have something under way, and I want to visit New York to film a certain habitat.
I know you spend a lot of time in the parks and at the beach, and are very busy. From your blog, it seems you watch birds all over the city. I’m sure you know the place I’m interested in, and I’d love to tell you about it when I see you.
It’s funny, I haven’t been to New York City since I was in third grade. My father had an exhibit and we drove in and stayed for a few days. While he was setting up the show, my mother took Gilly and me to the Met. She showed us lots of her favorite paintings, but there was one in particular she said you and she used to love. It was by Winslow Homer, and there was moonlight. I remember she looked happy and sad, staring at it, both at the same time.
This might seem presumptuous, but I was wondering if I could stay with you a few days while I work on my project. I know the address, of course, from family history. Your number is unlisted, so I can’t call; I plan to show up at 495 West 22nd St. and hope for the best.
The letter felt real in her hands, but nothing else did.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at The Literary Guild® Book Club even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.