One day of work was all that stood between me and the truth. The letter was coming that afternoon, I was certain of it. I could feel it; feel it in my bones the way Bitsy Barns could sense a rainstorm three days off by the throbbing in her right wrist. When the truck came in with that day’s mail to be sorted and wrapped in the circulars like a babe in a blanket; I would find the envelope I was looking for.
Of course, I would open it.
That was a Post Mistress’s prerogative.
The door of the Post Office was greasy with fingerprints again. In one corner, there was a little rebel flag clinging to the glass, and I knew Daddy Sheriff put that there when my back was turned, just to get me riled up. Nobody sticks nothing on the glass of my Post Office without asking first. I unlocked the door and pulled it towards me. A bell overhead tinkled to announce my entrance, not that anybody was inside to take notice. Budget cuts again.
Inside, the air was dark and thick. I flicked a switch and the cobweb-covered florescent lights had to ponder on it for a good while before deciding to get past ten watts and make it clear to a hundred. I walked past the community bulletin board, so full of pinholes, it was a wonder those faded flyers actually clung to it.
They said that I dealt in gossip; that I traded it the way a boy trades his baseball cards or them Pokémon cards they’re so taken with nowdays. I don’t understand all that mess: Hit points and damage and evolution. I liked life better when it was simpler; when boys knew the names and stats of the Pirates’ starting lineup. When I could steam open a letter and no one would question it because no one questioned someone in a position of authority, ‘specially when that someone was holding onto a stack ‘a your bills. But no matter what they said, I didn’t deal in gossip. I dealt in truth.
Steaming didn’t work anymore. But I could tear off an edge of an envelope easy enough; throw on a sticker Damaged. As long as I didn’t do it too often, no one made a fuss.
“Morning, Lilly Jean.”
Bitsy Barns walked through the door carrying a takeout cup of coffee and one of Annie Fowler’s sweet rolls. “Brought you your breakfast. And I’d like to mail this, please.”
“Thank you, Bitsy.” I took a sip of coffee and put a stamp on the envelope. Bitsy was three months late on her water bill at the diner. Her cousin Billy wanted to move in with her for a bit until things settled down with his wife. “How are things?”
“Oh, just fine, Lilly Jean. Just fine.”
“Glad to hear it.” I handed Bitsy her change and watched her slip the envelope into the slot marked Out of Town before leaving.
I drank my coffee in silence. I painted my nails dark red and cleaned my purse and turned on the television set when my morning show came on.
The bell jangled again. Jonathan Fowler.
“Book of stamps, Lilly Jean.” He slapped a twenty on the counter and eyed me. “Mail come in yet?”
“Not yet, Jonathan. I expect it’ll be along directly.” Some men work their lives around their stomachs—three squares a day. Some arrange their lives around their paycheck—depositing it in the First National down the street every two weeks then taking their girlfriends to Bitsy’s for chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Jonathan Fowler measured his life against the mail. Regular as clockwork, twice a day, he came in like he was expecting a letter from the president or something. “Waiting on anything special?”
He took the book of stamps and counted his change before putting it in his front pocket. “I dunno’ Lilly Jean, am I?” He turned and walked back out the door, but not without first ripping the flag from the glass.
When the mail came, I closed the Post Office for my lunch hour and took it in the back for sorting. I found the letter quick enough: It was addressed to Jonathan; had a Texas postmark. Clearly this was the truth I’d been looking for. This was the information about Ellie that I’d been waiting on.
I tore the envelope open; slipped the paper out and unfolded it.
“Lilly Jean, I would appreciate it if you would stop opening my mail. My life really isn’t all that interesting. JF.”
I crumpled the letter up in my hand and tossed it in the trash. That was one letter that wouldn’t be delivered. I dusted the lights. I swept the floor. I cleaned off the bulletin board. I sorted the mail.
I wondered if one day of work stood between me and the unemployment line.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week,Mare challenged me with "start a piece that begins with 'one day of work was all that stood between me and...'" and I challenged Kristen with "take a person--in your fiction or your life--whom you despise. Now write a piece--a letter, a scene, whatever--showing love, admiration, or respect for that person."
Labels: Fiction Indie Ink