Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Original Fiction: Mail Call

Autumn came early to Carter’s Hill. The red and orange leaves drifted onto the bare spots of earth, hiding the dead grass from view. A northern breeze shook the trees and sent another cascade of color through the air.

I sighed and leaned into the porch swing. Chains creaked as I pushed myself back and forth. The gray, rolling mists covered the valley below like a heavy blanket. Somewhere down there lay Carter’s Village, but I was not interested in its location at the moment. I closed my eyes and welcomed the fresh air as it blew across my cheek.

My new house was exactly as I imagined it: a cedar-sided building with red wooden shingles and a spacious porch. It occupied a half-acre plot of land atop a small hill. The trees surrounded it on three sides, giving me a good amount of privacy. Serendipity had brought me to this place, and I took the chance.

"The top of the world", the realtor had described it. "No one will bother you. The perfect
retreat." This was a test of my will. The challenge, solitude. I heard the rustle of trees and the warble of birds, instead of the chatter of conversation and the shriek of cell phones. The silence reverberated all around me, but I was confident I could adjust.

You wanted this, I reminded myself. It was natural to yearn for an old life, but this was better. I could live without the smog, the traffic and the chaos. So why did I still feel an emptiness inside?

A stack of moving crates sat at my feet. Butternut sprawled on one of those boxes. She watched the world upside-down, her whiskers waving in the wind.

"Lazy cat," I chuckled. "Here I am, trying to make our house a home and you’re just staring away, upside-down." Butternut continued to gaze, a feline Buddha with an inverted view of the world. Relax, she said to me. Look around you and rejoice. I gave her a wry look. Both of us were adjusting to a new attitude. Of course, the cat was faring better than I was.

I turned my attention to the opened box at my feet. Bundles of old postcards were packed together, all tied together with pieces of string. I pried them out of their snug packets. Australia lay next to Japan, Canada next to Jamaica and Arkansas next to California. I smiled at images of family reunions and spur-of-the-moment vacations. The brightly colored cards bore exotic stamps and postmarks.

I came to the end of the stack with a sigh. The silver fog had wrapped itself around the house. The icy chill chased away the warmth of sunshine. You wanted this, I told myself again. You’ve adjusted to new places before. This is nothing different. Somehow, this was different, but I could not say how.

The sound of a vehicle whirred through the trees. A blue-and-white truck stopped at the bottom of the hill. "Mail call," I said.

Butternut meowed and twisted herself upright. We looked forward to this time of the afternoon. The postal service kept us connected to the outside world, a welcome break in the loneliness. I took it for granted while I was living in the city; it took a different meaning out here. It was a lifeline to the rest of the world.

Butternut followed me down the steps to the street below. Thirty-four in all, slick with dewy leaves. My boots crunched on gravel. Butternut hopped lightly from step to step, claws clacking on the wood.

Two mailboxes sat side by side, each perched on a cedar post. My box canted slightly to the left like a drunken ballerina. I pried the rusted hatch with my fingers. A sheaf of magazines tumbled out. Butternut jumped back with a short yowl.

"Look at all this junk mail," I said. Advertisements for lawn service, aluminum siding, and long-distance phone carriers. Slick catalogs for lingerie and hunting equipment. A typed request for my vote in the next town election. I pulled out last year’s phone book and a sample of hand moisturizer. A small pile had accumulated on the ground.

"Don’t sit there," I told Butternut. She lay in the middle of the mess, her paws together in
her imitation of the Sphinx. I picked up a handful of the flyers and glanced through them again.

All of them were not addressed to a single person, just the impersonal title, "Resident". No name, but just a title, just a rural number; one mailbox among millions in the country. I shivered and zipped up my windbreaker. What was I doing here, all alone, in a strange place? No one knew who I was or cared about my previous life. The loneliness pressed on my shoulders with all its weight..

The soft voice made me jump. "A lovely fall day, isn’t it dear?"

I glanced over my shoulder. A silver-haired woman smiled at me. The hunched body shuffled towards her mailbox, then straightened as she opened it. It reminded me of a plant tasting a fresh stream of water and unfolding in ecstasy. She pulled out her mail, a wad of generic advertisements, just like mine.

"Look at these," she said. Her loving fingers caressed the wrinkled sheets. The white stickers read "Resident", and the address. I stared at her; this woman had a presence that demanded your attention without asking for it. Butternut stared up at her, equally mesmerized.

"Junk mail," I said. "They didn’t even bother to put our names on it."

She smiled again. "The worst thing that can happen is that you find an empty mailbox, day after day. That means the world had forgotten about you." She lifted the bundle and tucked it under her arm. "At least they acknowledge we exist. That makes me happy."

Butternut rolled on her back in her snug little nest, all four paws in the air. She blinked once, slowly, and looked wise. I thought the cat nodded in agreement.

"That’s a unique way to look at it. I never thought of it that way," I said with a little laugh. The woman laughed as well and the temperature warmed all around us.

"I’m Valerie, your neighbor down the road. I watched you move into the house on the hill. I suppose it gets lonely up there. It must be scary, moving into a quiet house."

"Sometimes." I remembered my manners and introduced myself. "I’m Audrey Vaughn, and this is Butternut. Yes, it’s taking some getting used to."

"Well, whenever you’re ready, come on by, and we’ll have some tea. You can bring your friend. I wouldn’t mind the company, and I have plenty of catnip for your friend here."

My inverted cat put herself to rights again and I picked her up. She purred deep in her throat in approval."I’m ready now, if that’s okay."

"Come along then. I make a good raspberry scone."

I walked out of lonely silence with cat under one arm and generic mail in the other, only now, it didn’t seem so generic.

Copyright 2006 by A.Dameron

All writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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