Shelly picked up the wallet that was lying propped up against the dirty brick wall and opened it. She found four crumpled and worn one-dollar bills, a folded in half picture of a house, and a scrap of paper with a flowery entreat on the back “Call me” with a phone number. No other identification. The wallet was a nice one, hand stitched and meticulously maintained and so soft to the touch.
Ticking it in her purse, she vowed to give the number a call when she got back to her office. The whole walk back she tried to imagine the origins of the wallet. She pictured a man dressed in a natty suit, crisp collar and well shined shoes. A woman with blown out hair and perfectly manicured nails gripping a gold tone pen and breathing a hint of perfume on the paper she discretely slipped into the eager man’s sure hands.
Maybe they were having an affair? Shelly’s mind raced and she had to laugh at herself, for it usually took only a few minutes before it traveled to the gutter – thinking the worst about mankind that she could.
Shelly had come home early from work one night to find her fiancé in bed with one of his co-workers. The one that had flirted shamelessly with him at the office party and after making a catty remark, Shelly had been told she was insecure.
She knew about cheating men. Her father had cheated on her mother. Her fiancé on her. It figured, in her mind, that this man, this owner of this wallet, was breaking hearts. It’s what men did, she thought.
When she returned to her desk, the phone was ringing and she forgot all about the wallet. Days went by, and there it lay buried underneath the junk she carried around with her. Several days later, digging in her purse for some gum she felt its smooth, supple surface and realized it was still in there. Pulling it out, she again admired its fine craftsmanship. Unfolding the slip of paper she dialed the number.
“Hello. You don’t know me, but my name is Shelly. I found this number in a wallet and was trying to track down its owner.”
The woman on the other end of the telephone line didn’t speak.
“Hello? This number was written on a piece of paper with ‘Call me’ hand-written on it. There wasn’t anything else in the wallet, but it’s a nice wallet, so I figured I’d at least give it a try before doing anything with it.”
The woman let out a small cough. “Did you say it was a hand-written note? There was nothing else with it?”
Shelly opened the wallet back up and pulled out the creased photo of the house. “Well there were four dollars; still here.”
The woman was silent for a minute again and then spoke so quietly that Shelly almost didn’t hear her. “I thought he’d forgotten.”
Shelly didn’t respond. Forgotten? Forgotten what? Their date at the clandestine hotel? Their liaison when the wife was out of town? She bit her tongue.
The woman coughed again. “Thank you, um, what did you say your name was again?”
“Shelly. I work around the corner from where I found it. Do you know whose wallet it is? I’d like to give it back.”
The woman began crying. “It was my husband’s wallet. Do you mind, would you mind terribly to return it to me? Where did you say you found it again?”
Shelly was startled. She didn’t understand why the woman was crying. “On the corner of 38th and Washington. Near an alley.”
The woman sobbed quietly into the phone. “My husband was killed three months ago in a hit and run car accident. They hadn’t found his wallet on him in the car.”
Shelly gasped. “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry to hear that. We’re not anywhere near 38th St, but I do have it. And I’d like to get it back to you. Do you have an address I can mail it to?”
“And they never did determine out how the wallet ended up miles and miles from the original accident scene, but figure it was somehow, some way meant to be.”
The woman was audibly trying to regain control. She breathed heavily, “I know this probably sounds silly; it’s just a wallet. But we used to leave little love notes to each other. It was our stupid little way of getting through long days. He worked in the financial district and before he died he was putting in really long hours closing a deal. I used to stick little notes in his wallet and briefcase to try and cheer him up.”
Shelly had a knot in her throat.
“Well, would you mind terribly if I came to pick it up myself? I’d hate to think it might get lost in the mail or something.”
Shelly gave her the address and the woman said she’d stop by tomorrow around lunch time. “Oh, I almost forgot, there was a photo in the wallet too. A house. Looked like it was cut out of a flyer or something.”
The woman was quiet again. “Yes, that was the house we’d put a down payment on in Connecticut. We were supposed to move in next month.”
Shelly didn’t know what to say, so she told the poor woman she’d see her the following day. At a few minutes before noon the next day, Shelly got a call from the receptionist that someone was there for her. Carrying the wallet gingerly, she went out into the lobby. There stood one of the most beautiful woman Shelly had ever seen, holding the hand of a gorgeous little girl.
“You must be Shelly. I am Wendy, and this is our daughter, Emiline.”
Shelly held out the wallet and Wendy reached out to touch it, holding it as though it were precious. She gave it to her daughter, who started rubbing it up and down against her cheek, declaring “it’s soft!” and laughing.
The two women smiled over the little girl’s head, and suddenly Shelly had the urge to hear more about this story, and invited the woman and her child out to lunch, and happily they agreed.
The lunch started a fast and long friendship. Shelly learned all about the man whose wallet she’d found. What a good and kind man he was; how much he loved his beautiful wife and doted on their daughter. How he’d been working hard to afford the house of their dreams and had been planning their future together before being so cruelly taken away.
Shelly’s faith in men was restored that day, and Shelly and Wendy bonded in a way that has since endured two more marriages and many other triumphs and failures along the way. Shelly is sad that she never got to meet Wendy’s first husband, but both women are grateful that out of the tragedy at least one good thing occurred- their friendship. And they never did determine out how the wallet ended up miles and miles from the original accident scene, but figure it was somehow, some way meant to be.
Thank you Shelly, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Adara Bernstein and Story of My Life ®