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After breaking his wrist in a fall some thirty years earlier Hugo gave up painting and turned his attention to what had been a childhood hobby, stamp collecting. His wife and daughters showed no interest in this pastime and they avoided the grim study. The room held many stamp catalogues and hundreds of stock books filled with thousands of stamps, some valuable, others commonplace. On a small side table lay stamp tongs, varying sizes of magnifying glasses, a microscope and a laptop. Thelma let out a sigh and shook her head. What nonsense this stamp collecting is. Childish nonsense but a nonsense she herself as a child had once enjoyed. Dusting and vacuuming this room was tedious work. It required her to be especially careful, and she was.
Thelma knew her customers thought well of her. Even Hugo would from time to time acknowledge her efforts at keeping the house livable. She had a reputation for good work and honesty although to avoid income tax she preferred to be paid in cash.
Thelma was nearing the end of her work when her cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Yes, hello Thelma, it’s Joan.”
Joan, Hugo’s eldest daughter, told Thelma that Hugo was at North York General Hospital and that he was going to be transferred to a rehab soon. He would not be returning home for a few weeks. This stroke was more severe than the last. Joan said that she would let Thelma know when she should resume her bi-weekly visits to the bungalow.
“Oh, I hope he gets well soon. Would you like me to drop by the hospital?”
“You could, but he might not recognize you.”
They said their goodbyes.
No, this time Hugo will not be returning. Today is my last day working in this house. I’ll miss it and Hugo, he was a nice guy, if a little standoffish. She would also miss the money this job brought especially now with her mother in a fix and the collection agency on her back. Some people just don’t know how well off they are. Hugo’s kids will make a killing selling this place with its big lot. It’s got to be worth plenty. Someone is sure to knock this house down and replace it with one of those monster homes.
Again the cell phone rang. This time it was Thelma’s daughter. She sounded frightened. “The landlord was here. He says we’re behind in the rent. He was angry and going on about how he can’t pay his bills if we don’t pay ours.”
“It’s okay dear. I’ll talk to him. It’ll be fine.”
Thelma put on her coat and hat and started out the front entrance then stopped. The customer that usually followed this one had recently moved to Orillia. Less money coming in and so many bills to pay, how am I going to manage? No need to rush. Why be in a hurry to get back to the little apartment and find my useless daughter watching soap operas?
On an impulse she walked into the study and placed her purse on the desk.
My situation stinks and there’s no one that’ll lend a hand, no brother, no aunt, no friend, no husband, no one. She wrung her hands in despair. My mom is stuck in her room, can’t even go out to get groceries. I’ve got to do something. She held back angry tears and took a deep breath.
The gloomy room was a temple to stamp collecting. Thelma stepped over to the steel cabinets. Behind a lower set of doors she spotted a small safe. It was, as usual, unlocked. Thelma reached in and pulled out a leather-bound stock book. Inside were three or four hundred stamps, all from Belgium. On the last page, she knew, sat the most valuable stamps in all of Hugo’s collection. Thelma recognized them. Some fifteen years earlier Hugo had shown them to her. He had just received a major promotion at work which put him in a great mood. He told her stories of his childhood and showed off his stamps.
Now, her hands trembling, she removed a beautiful 5-franc claret with railway parcels, a 1920 65-centime inverted centre, two 1849 10-centime “Epaulettes”, and an 1869 5-franc brown red. She and her brother had both collected stamps as children. She knew these little pieces of paper were worth a fortune. Hugo’s daughters will never miss them and I’m broke. I really need money. She rearranged the stamps on the last page of the stock book to hide the fact that something had changed.
On one of the bookshelves she found a pile of small brown envelopes. She would need only one. The stamps in their little brown envelope were deposited in the zippered inside pocket of her purse. Putting her shoes on in the hallway she took one last look around her and stepped out onto the porch.
Thelma shut the door to the house and locked it securely.