Agatha Jones received the hand-addressed pale pink envelope from the young chubby blonde woman who brought her lunch.
“You got a pretty letter, Agatha. Would you like me to help you open it?”
The big girl’s tone sounded like she was speaking to a child. Agatha took the envelope and eyed the plastic-wrapped egg salad sandwich, thin brown coffee, and tiny bowl of applesauce on her lunch tray.
“My fingers are stiff, but I’m still perfectly capable of opening my mail. I assume the egg salad includes a mixture of this morning’s leftover scrambled eggs and some from the container in the freezer?”
The lunch lady studied the cellophane-wrapped pieces of soggy white bread stuffed with chunky orange mayonnaise.
“Those eggs are still perfectly fresh frozen. They’re only a few weeks old. Besides, that’s all your insurance will pay for.” She picked it up. “I can get you tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly if you like.”
“No, thank you. I’ll have the egg salad.” Agatha hated being poor and old. She missed Benny. They had been together for sixty-six years. Now she was alone in a bottom-of-the-barrel nursing home, waiting to die. Worse yet, all they fed her were sandwiches. She waited for the girl to leave before examining the letter. In looping blue script, the return address read Mr. Percival Primple, Depository of Love, P.O. Box, Thirteen-Thirteen, Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Dear Mrs. Jones,
There are times when the needs of our members dictate that the Depository of Love open its ledgers to match those with a lifetime of love to those most in need. In your case, we have found a match between a young couple whose marriage is in tatters and your need for companionship. I want to call on you this afternoon at twelve-fifteen to explain the ramifications of this match. It will require you to donate some of your and Benny’s love, but I assure you it will benefit all.
A man in a black suit knocked on the door of her room at exactly twelve-fifteen. “Mrs. Jones? I see you received my letter. I’m Percival Primple. It’s nice to meet you. May I speak to you for a moment?”
Agatha pointed to a rickety chair. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too. Please sit down. You mentioned donating some of my and Benny’s love to a young couple going through a difficult time. I would happily help you, but I don’t know how. Love is intangible.”
He smiled. “We’ve developed a technique to extract it from your wedding rings.”
“`Most definitely. They are more than just symbols of your love. They can collect and store it, too.”
She rummaged through the nightstand drawer until she found the knotted hanky containing Benny’s ring. “I purchased this at Montgomery Ward for twenty dollars. It seemed a fortune at the time.”
The little bald man smiled. “It has only increased in value. The young couple I referred to in the letter needs the love in that ring. They need the love from your ring as well.”
“Why is our love so valuable to this particular couple?”
“Because of the loss of your son, Mrs. Jones. Love that survives the loss of a child is rare and valuable.”
Agatha felt her eyes water. “It still hurts to think about it. I should have watched him closer.”
The man in the black suit sighed. “No, Mrs. Jones. Tommy’s death was an accident. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it.”
She handed Mr. Primble Benny’s ring. “Did this young couple lose a child, too?”
He took the scratched-up gold band from her like it was one of the crown jewels. “It was tragic. The new mother left her infant daughter in the backseat and entered her office. She discovered her when she left for home. She has been under a doctor’s care for several weeks and is inconsolable. Their marriage is in shambles, and she and her husband no longer speak. Your and Benny’s love is the only thing that can save them.”
Agatha extended her twisted fingers. “You won’t get mine off unless you cut it.”
He patted her hand. “There is no need for that. If you are sure you want to donate it, I can remove it.”
She looked at him with tear-filled eyes. “If it helps them through their pain, you may take it.”
Agatha’s hand became young and supple, and Percival Primble slid the ring off as quickly as Benny had slid it on.
“How did you do that?”
“I cannot tell. It is a trick of the trade. A skill acquired from a lifetime of delivering love.”
She studied the white line where the ring had been. “Will I ever get it back, Mr. Primple?”
“Most certainly.” He weighed the two plain bands in his hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Jones. You don’t know the gift you are giving.”
It was the silence that bothered Karla the most. Before the unthinkable happened, she and Erik had a year of excitement—prenatal visits. Baby showers. Choosing names, decorating the nursery, and dreaming of a son or daughter, they didn’t care which. Their world came crashing down the first day she returned to work.
Karla hadn’t slept through the night in weeks. The judge gave her probation for leaving a child in a car unattended. She’d have preferred the death penalty. Erik didn’t speak to her anymore, and her breasts wouldn’t stop seeping milk even though there was no child to drink it. Three bottles of sleeping pills lay in the bottom of her purse. All she lacked was the courage to take them.
A pale pink envelope addressed to her arrived, along with the bills and sympathy cards. The return address read: Mr. Percival Primple, Depository of Love, P.O. Box Thirteen-Thirteen, Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Thomas,
There are no words I can say that will comfort you in this time of sorrow. Losing a child is heartbreaking, and even the strongest love can fail. In cases like this, The Depository opens its ledgers and searches for a donor with a common interest. We have done this and found a woman who is alone in the final years of her life. She and her husband lost their son when he fell from a tree. She knows your pain and has agreed to donate some of the love she and her husband accumulated to bolster yours. In return, I ask that you include this generous woman in your lives and occasionally provide her with something besides sandwiches.
Karla put the letter down and heard a knock on the door. A small bald man in a black suit smiled when she opened it.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Thomas. I’m Percival Primple. Let’s go find your husband.”
Agatha looked away from her egg salad sandwich and noticed the man in the black suit standing in the doorway.
“How did it go?”
“It went very well, Mrs. Jones. I have the couple here. Would you like to meet them?”
“Yes. That would be wonderful.”
The young man and woman came in carrying a bouquet, a box of candy, and a takeout chicken dinner.
“Agatha. I would like you to meet Karla and Erik Thomas.”
Karla gave her the flowers and candy, hugged her, and burst into tears. Erik tried not to cry and looked for a place to put the food.
Mr. Primple smiled. He sat Agatha and Benny’s rings on the nightstand and quietly left the retirement home. A cloud moved away from the sun. Wings appeared on his back, and he returned to The Depository of Love’s Harmony Pennsylvania office to see who was next.