Her name was Lily Marlock.
Some interesting people pass through the portals of my computer. I get strange emails from all over. It took several months, for example, for the members and sympathizers of a certain animal welfare group to stop sending me threatening letters.
I don’t get many nasty telephone calls. Such people generally are unwilling to meet you in a face-to-face or voice-to-voice confrontation. What people will happily write in emails, they are often simply not willing to say to your face, or at least to your ear.
Lily was nothing like that. To be totally frank, she did come across as being just a little bit strange. An incident a couple of years after I first met her would mark her as being very strange, but I’ll get to that directly. Someone had given her one of my books and she had enjoyed it so much, she said, that she had read it through several times. No, that’s not what made her strange!
I guess she did do that because she went through the trouble of contacting my publisher, Flanker Press, and getting a mailing address for me. Then she wrote me a letter. The writing was very shaky and difficult to read. I’ll paraphrase it for you.
“I am an elderly lady living in a nursing home in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and do not get out of bed very often. I just finished reading for the nth time your book “From the Ashes of My Dreams” and will probably read it many times again.
“I am wondering if you have written other books that I might enjoy. My friend has looked in the bookstores, but there are none anywhere. If you do have another, I would be happy to pay its price and also the cost of mailing.”
Talked on phone
Well, we had a nice little chat over the phone and she told me some things about herself: that she had been in the home for some time, that she rarely got out of bed, that she had few visitors and that her chief pleasure in life was reading. All she wanted were my books. You have to admire her taste.
I said I would send her another book, but it would cost her nothing. Next to readers, the group which I find most interesting in life is seniors. After all, I’m married to one. (That little comment is more than likely to get me into a fair amount of trouble with OH, not to mention her friends who are of a comparable age. But I live on the edge.)
She said she would most definitely pay for it. I told her she would not. Anyway, I mailed off the book. Within a few days, there was a cheque in the mail from Lily with a note of thanks. I tore up the cheque and sent it back to her.
That’s how it went for a couple of years. She’d finish reading one and ask for another. Inevitably, her reading overtook my book production and I had nothing left to send her. So she read them over and over. Then I started packaging up books from my own library which I knew would interest her, and that would keep her going for a while.
About three years ago I found myself in Saint John, N.B., speaking at a conference. On our way back to North Sydney, it suddenly struck me that I had barely enough time to go to P.E.I. and visit Lily for an hour or so. It was after dark when we got to the home. Then I went to the reception desk and asked to see Mrs. Marlock. To be honest, I had no idea what reception I might get. Perhaps I should have phoned ahead and given her some notice. Anyway, here’s where the strange part happens.
A nurse took me down to her room and told me to wait. I heard her say, “Mrs. Marlock, you have a visitor.” And then I heard Lily speak.
“I know, it’s Ed Smith.”
I just about fell on the floor. She had no idea I was even in the Maritimes, let alone in P.E.I. and about to enter her room. The nurse said, “Did you know he was coming?” And Lily said, “Yes.”
When I went into her room, I was in for another surprise. Sitting on her bed were a couple of my books. I didn’t wait to say hello.
“Lily, how did you know it was me?”
“I just knew.”
I didn’t press it any further because I didn’t have much time to spend with her, but it’s been a mystery that’s haunted me ever since. There was something about her I couldn’t fathom. I gathered she had had a hard life and was left with few family or friends. She mentioned a man named George who came to see her and brought her things, but that was about it. She continued to call and I continued to send her books.
She continually asked about my next book and wanted me to send her at least a chapter from “The Rev. Willie,” my newest project. It’s supposed to be quite funny, and I promised her I would. But, as Wordsworth said in his wisdom, “the world is too much with us” and I didn’t get around to it.
News from George
On Tuesday of this week, I got a call from a man named George who told me that Lily had just passed away. She had made him promise that if anything happened to her, he would call and let me know.
I am deeply saddened by Lily’s death. I know I have lost a friend and I’m not sure I ever let her know how important she was to me. But I will always think kindly of her and be grateful that I knew her for just a while. Now that it’s probably too late, I will cherish her.
Sadly, too often, that’s the way it is.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in
Springdale. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.