Science Fiction?

And remember, shoppers, wearing masks helps everyone.

Kate hardly heard the announcement as she squatted on the fissured floor. It had played five minutes before; five minutes before that; five minutes before that; five years before that.

Don’t forget to stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

Her breath fogged her vision; cleared; fogged. She remembered when panic first hit; when people rushed to stores for cleaners, supplies, and even frozen pizza. Crazy to think, half a decade later, of running out of sanitizer. Everyone brewed his own, fumigating what remained of the landscape.

Are you immunocompromised?

“Then you’re dead,” Kate mumbled into her mask.

Try our grocery pickup: FoodCorp prides itself on offering grocery pickup, right outside the store!

“But not delivery,” Kate sighed. Too bad, really, about delivery. It’d been nice while it lasted. Groceries, radios, cars, the mail -all of it, brought right to where you lived by someone who didn’t take it for himself. Or, someone who didn’t get killed by raiders.

Associates: it’s the top of the hour.

Kate stiffened. More time had passed than she’d realized. Throwing caution to the winds, she lay on the grubby floor and scrabbled underneath the shelving.

Please ensure your areas are neat and tidy for our customers.

Her glasses scraped and scratched. Straining, she felt an edge of curved, sealed metal. It spun at her fingertips but moved closer. She grunted; pushed; spun; strained; shoved. A dust-grimed can of chili rolled in front of her floor-laid face.

Thank you for shopping at FoodCorp!

“Thank you,” she muttered, coughing into the fabric across her mouth. She clutched the can to herself, raised herself, glanced around herself. Shoppers’ shadows walked across her memory as she retraced her steps down the empty, broken aisle. Had it really only been a few years since sunlight? Shining linoleum? Aproned workers sweeping? Smiling customers that moved their shopping carts aside to let yours through?

Please, come again.

Kate shoved a molding display shelf against the wall and climbed. After peeking beneath it, she lifted the ragged Welcome to FoodCorp! banner and crawled though a hole in the brickwork.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash

©2020 Chel Owens

Going Postal, XIV

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” “Going Postal, IX,” “Going Postal, X,” “Going Postal, XI,” “Going Postal, XII,” and “Going Postal, XIII.”

Ron was just your average sort of guy: tallish, wideish, oldish, kindish. He drove his reliable old pickup with the reliable old hardtop around the neighborhood every day; often, he drove around several times a day.

Some of the residents talked to Ron. Most did not. Most didn’t notice him or his truck, despite its nearly always being full to bursting with their latest Amazon packages and Domino’s pizza coupons.

Mrs. Hempsworth remembered the last time she’d spoken to the mailman, although she couldn’t recall his name. She thought about their odd, stinted conversation as she peered at her community mailbox from behind her lace bedroom curtains.

Not only had she not seen the white-haired, blue-eyed mailman much lately; she’d not seen her packages for two weeks. When she phoned the post office, no one picked up. Didn’t they know she couldn’t drive? Didn’t they know she didn’t own a car? Didn’t they know that a lady like her couldn’t trust a driver these days?

Mrs. Hempsworth shuddered.

In her seventy-two years of life, she’d never imagined life the way it currently was. Even her father’s tales of The Great Depression or the racial tensions of the 60’s and 70’s didn’t seem as bad as now. “Oh, how I miss it!” she sighed, thinking over her childhood, happy marriage to Lloyd, and lonely retirement.

She’d had Bunco. She’d had an eventual prospect of Happy Meadows Retirement Home. She’s had Days of Our Lives, for Pete’s sake. Now, she had a television full of bad news. She had neighbors who’d left or barricaded their doors. She had nowhere to go because nowhere was safe.

A noise from downstairs startled her from her reflections. She didn’t move; the old, heavy bureau was already in front of her bedroom door and all her necessities were in the room with her.

She sighed. “May as well get it over with.”

The sounds from below increased: furniture moving, drawers opening. She closed her eyes and imagined her phoning the police; imagined a time, now gone, when the police both existed and responded to home robberies.

Expecting masked mobs or bobbing flashlights, Mrs. Hempsworth opened her eyes and looked down at the street outside her front walk. The street, however, appeared mostly empty. The only thing she could see was a white, covered pickup truck, parked at an odd angle to the curb.

THE END

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, XIII

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” “Going Postal, IX,” “Going Postal, X,” “Going Postal, XI,” and “Going Postal, XII,”

Not much happened anymore outside little Charli‘s window. Not much happened in the house, either, now that her big brother and daddy and mommy stayed home. Now, they all played all day like she did, but also not like she did.

“Go away!” her brother, Jer, snapped when she tried to watch his screen.

“I’m busy; not now,” was Daddy’s answer every time he worked on the computer.

“Why don’t you go play with your toys, or with that letters game you like so much?” Mommy said, also watching a screen.

Charli didn’t understand why Jer kept his headphones on, why Daddy gave his computer a mad face, or why Mommy sighed as she played on her phone and sat in the empty hair-cutting room. No carpool drove up and honked. Daddy didn’t have ‘at work.’ Mommies didn’t come get a haircut from her mommy.

Even Santa didn’t always come. Instead of the nice man with white hair, Charli sometimes saw a scary man with scary eyes holding the smile-presents as he climbed their front steps. She never saw when he dropped the boxes on the porch because she hid behind the blue curtains until it was safe.

The smile-boxes were the same, and there were more of them. She didn’t know why Daddy wanted so many; if they were food like Santa told her, why did they need so much? Mommy still got food from the store; Charli just didn’t get to go with her anymore.

“Oh, I don’t go into the grocery store,” Mom had told her when she asked. “They shop for me and bring it out to the car. If you came along, you’d sit in the car and that wouldn’t be fun for you.”

Charli thought about that explanation as Mommy helped put her shoes on. “Why are we going to the store today?” she asked.

“Because,” Mommy said, pulling on the shoe straps, “I need to get our groceries. Daddy went to the post office. Jer wanted to go with Dad.”

“Why did Daddy go to the post office?”

“Because they didn’t deliver some of our packages.”

“Why didn’t they deliver our packages?”

“We don’t know, Honey. No one’s answering the phone.” Mommy sat back and smiled her tired smile. “No more questions. Let’s get in the car.”

They walked through the house to the car in the garage. Charli waited for Mommy to buckle her in her Big Girl Seat, then waited for Mommy to buckle her own seat belt. She watched Mommy’s face scrunch and her eyes move while the car went backwards. Mommy turned back to look where she was driving. Charli looked out her window.

The world outside the car window wasn’t fun, like the house window wasn’t fun. She twisted around and waved buh-bye when Mommy turned onto The Busy Street. Just before she turned on her game, Charli saw Santa park his truck by her house.

The scary man was with him.

Continued to “Going Postal, XIV.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, XII

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” and “Going Postal, IX,” “Going Postal, X,” and “Going Postal, XI.

Art perched in his favorite, familiar location doing his favorite, familiar thing: scouting for the mailman. Ron had been unpredictable over the last few weeks; if the government wouldn’t use it to spy on him, Art had considered installing a camera. Maybe he could ensure the feed stayed on a closed circuit. His brother, Larry, knew a guy who knew about that sort of thing.

An approaching white pickup truck grabbed his attention. Art raised his binoculars; yes, it was Ron. It was also Ron’s usual time and his usual parking spot. Art frowned as he saw Ron exit the vehicle and scan the area -that was not usual.

A rustling came from behind the porch, followed by a thud. Art had enough time to drop the binoculars and turn before a strong, dark arm pulled at his neck and a sharp, bright blade glinted across his view. The arm tightened. The blade brushed against his cheek, then poked into his neck.

“Arthur Jackson Williams,” a tough voice said.

Art tried shifting but the knife turned painfully. This guy knew what he was doing. “Who are you?” Art whispered.

The guy gave a short laugh. “Yeah, right. Let’s just say I owe your man, Larry, a thank-you.”

“Larry? Uh -we don’t talk much… I barely see him-” More pain came from Art’s neck, cutting off what he thought to say in a deep intake of breath.

“Don’ waste my time lyin,’ man. Larry talked about you all dah time. He talked about you’ deals, about you’ connections, about you’ weapons -” Right next to Art’s ear, the man added, “Even about you’ precious Rachel.”

Art’s mouth felt dry. He didn’t know how this guy knew about Rachel. He didn’t even know who this guy was.

“I think you know enough to share some of that stuff you’ve been hoarding. If not…” Another twist. “If not, I think you know where your body’s gonna end up.”

Art swallowed.

“So, you’re gonna tell me dah combination to that room downstairs, nice and slow. Then, you’re gonna put on some fancy bracelets I’ve got for ya. Then, you’re gonna keep your trap shut with this tape till I get what I want.” The guy spoke so close to Art’s ear that Art felt his hot breath. “Otherwise, I kill you and bust into dah room anyway.”

Art’s instincts failed him. “You won’t hurt Rachel?”

“Only you, princess.”

He gulped, then slowly whispered, “Oh three. Fifteen. Sixty-seven.” It was the birthday of one of America’s greatest leaders. Art recalled that fact with happy pride just before the world went dark.

…..

The world still looked dark when Art awoke. His head hurt so badly he rolled to the porch’s edge and vomited into the hedge. Through spotty vision and throbbing headache he scanned the area but saw no one. “Eurgh.” Unsheathing his favorite knife, he stumbled to the front door and opened it. He stumbled into the house. He stumbled down the stairs. He stumbled to the end of the hall and stopped at the open, swinging door to the armory.

No sound came from the dark, open door. He moved forward, still blinking against intense pain. Stopped. Sighed. Yes, many of his guns and a few ammunition cases were gone; but, there -still in her place of honor- hung Rachel.

Art groped forward to the Springfield Model 1816 Musket and stroked her barrel. “Rachel,” he whispered affectionately.

Continue to “Going Postal, XIII.”

©2020 Chelsea Owens

It’s All Greek Till Someone Gets Hungry

Eric loved the Greek fast food place in the mall. He hadn’t been in months; Monica complained of his smelling of onions whenever he ate there. He wasn’t sure he should be letting her stop him from pitas and Tzatziki, but -truth be told- Monica was a little scary.

Something about Monica’s black-lined black eyes worried him.

Something about Monica’s black-painted black fingernails frightened him.

Frankly, something about Monica’s black-dressed black everything gave him the willies.

“You can’t let her push you around just ’cause she’s a Wiccan,” Eric’s pal, Niko, advised.

“You’re right,” Eric said.

He and Niko stopped by Greek Fest that very day. The food was everything Eric remembered; he thought about it with pleasure all afternoon. When he walked through the door to his apartment, he could still feel the crisp onions between his teeth and the fresh tomatoes on his tongue. The lamb had been seared at the edges but soft in the middle. The Tzatziki –

“So,” Monica’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “You did it.”

Eric stopped and stared at her. She wore even more black than usual and stood within a black circle of black candles. Somehow, even their flames looked black. He heard David Bowie’s “Heroes” playing from Alexa.

He stepped backwards slowly. Monica spread her black fingernails wide and he found himself immobile.

♫We can be heroes, Bowie crooned, If just for one day…♫

“So,” she repeated. “You thought you could eat Greek…”

♫Just for one day…♫

“Just for one day,” Eric tried to defend himself, but his mouth didn’t work. His limbs didn’t work. His eyes stayed wide open and staring at the black-clad, black-lit Monica. She waved her hands over and around the black candles, chanting -you guessed it- black words.

♫And you, you can be mean…♫

“Midnight, Coal, Pitch!” Monica’s voice rose in volume to drown out the music. Her candles and the overhead lights of the apartment fluttered.

I’m sorry, Alexa said, I don’t understand your request.

“Jet, Soot, Cave, DARK!”

Eric’s clothes fell off and around him as the room grew huge, stretching up and away. His last thoughts were, I feel a bit like shredded lettuce, before his cognitive functions ceased.

Monica stepped over her candle circle and walked to where Eric’s clothes sat in a pile on the floor. Pushing aside his discarded shirt and jeans, she uncovered a perfectly-made Greek sandwich.

“Now, Eric Morgenstein,” she cackled, “You can be a gyro, if just for one day!”

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Written in response to Peregrine Arc‘s prompt that was supposed to be responded to by last Thursday.

Going Postal, XI

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” and “Going Postal, IX,” and “Going Postal, X.”

“I don’t know, Marty.” Ron said. He felt tired and breathing wasn’t easy.

“I’m tellin’ ya.” Marty sat up as he spoke. “They’s -they’re rippin’ you off! Everyone’s been usin’ dah mail -I seen it!- while they’re holed up in their houses. You said dah city said they’d fire you? Who’re they gonna get? They can’ get anyone right now!”

Ron tried to think. He knew Marty wasn’t the most trustworthy guy, but he’d been really responsible the last few weeks. Without Marty, he and Carol -his thoughts broke off and tears started in his eyes.

Marty’s eyes looked bright but dry as he studied Ron. Young people like him hadn’t been affected as badly, after all. “Unca Ron, ya gotta believe me. You saw dem sh- those guys at dah post office! They pushed you around, didn’ they? I got ’em to do their jobs and stop dah dis-respect!”

That was true. Ron’s mother had always said, You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But those guys at the post office hadn’t ever been nice, no matter how nice he’d been first. Whatever Carol’s neice’s son had said to them, they’d shaped right up. Ron fumbled at his seatbelt. He saw and heard Marty drum his fingers on the dash in impatience.

Ron finally got out of the seatbelt, then out of the truck. He leaned in for a last look at Marty. “You can do this, Unca Ron,” Marty said, smiled, and gave him a thumbs-up with those tattooed fingers of his.

After nodding and closing the truck door, Ron made his way up the double-wide steps of the Westside City office building. He walked through the double-glass doors, through the line separators, past the empty front desk, and down the hall to where the city planners met. He opened the doors into a room that looked just like the last time he’d been there, except a black woman sat where Ida Jenkins had been.

“Can we help you?” she asked, through another of those paper masks.

Ron tried to stand straight. He smiled in a friendly way as he walked to the blue tape on the floor. “I -” *Hmm-hmm* “I’m Ron Richardson. I’m a contractual mail carrier for the-”

“He’s the temporary mail carrier for The Farmlands Area,” Joe Schlepp interrupted, without looking at anyone.

“Yes, I-” Ron tried again.

“Didn’t we talk to him about poor job service a couple’a months ago?” Bob Spineless asked.

“Yes, I-”

“Well, I wasn’t there, then,” the new woman sounded cross.

Ron tilted his head so the flourescent lights didn’t glare so much and read Miranda Owen on her nameplate. “Yes, Ida Jenkins was-”

“Do you have an appointment?” Joe asked, looking near Ron’s head.

“No, I-”

“I’m sorry,” Bob began, “But you can’t get in without an appointment, so-”

“WELL I’M NOT SORRY,” Ron yelled. He paused, his whole body shaking with silent, strong coughing.

Miranda, Bob, and Joe sat in their paper masks and blue plastic gloves, finally silent.

Ron stood straighter than he had in weeks. He walked forward off that stupid tape. “I’ve been delivering the mail for ten years without complaining. I’ve used my truck and carried boxes and done my job.”

Joe leaned back as Ron approached his desk, hugging a bottle of hand sanitizer.

“I’m not temporary.” Ron turned to the next one.

Bob nearly clambered out of his chair as Ron walked up to him.

“I’m not responsible for the post office’s bad sorting, but I try anyway,” Ron told Bob.

Miranda was the most composed as he moved to stand in front of her.

“I’ve done a good decade’s worth of work. I’ve never had a sick day till -” he stopped and swallowed. “…Till my wife got sick and I had to take care of her -but I still had my nephew fill in so I didn’t have to bother anybody!”

They still sat without talking. Waiting.

“Now that my wife’s -now that I’m back to delivering everyone’s toilet paper while they’re too scared to open their blinds, I’m here to ask…” Ron thought of Marty. “No, I’m here to tell you: you can either get me the same benefits as the other mailmen -with the health coverage goin’ back to the start of the term- or you can try to find someone else to do this job.”

Continue to “Going Postal, XII.”

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, X

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” “Going Postal, VIII,” and “Going Postal, IX.”

“You know,” Stan tried to say through his mask, “This job stinks.”

Nobody in the sorting room answered, but he was certain they all felt hot and tired like he did. They must all hate waking up and going to work in the dark, even if they were sick. For sure, they hated wearing masks and gloves and having to sit through stupid lectures.

This morning, the lecture had been which last name came before a different last name.

“We all went to school, ya know!” he’d told Dave, right after.

Some of us did!” Ian had answered, loudly. Ian always spoke loudly.

If they didn’t have to wear the personal protection equipment, Ian wouldn’t have heard Stan’s comment. If jerks like Ian also didn’t tattle like a little girl, Stan wouldn’t have to wear the itchy things all the time.

A roar of engine and screech of brakes sounded, scaring him out of his thoughts. He and the four other guys in the room turned to see a familiar white pickup truck pull up outside. The truck pulled up faster than usual; Ron the wannabe mailman also parked in three spots and almost smashed the cement posts. They didn’t usually pay much attention to the old man -who would?- but Stan, Ian, Dave, and the two temps stared as the truck door popped open and someone else got out.

The new person walked like he could hear music, with his head moving, his feet sliding, and his body going from one side to the other. Stan felt nervous and scratched at his mask. He squinted to see this new guy better.

“Who’re you?” Ian practically shouted.

The music-guy came up to the table across from Ian. He put tattooed hands on top of Ian’s neat piles and leaned in. “Hey, Pal.” Stan thought he saw a glint of metal in the smile. “I’m Marty. My uncle -Ron- said I come here to pick up dah mail.” Marty looked at the letters in front of Ian, looked at the mailers in front of Stan and Dave, and looked at the piles of boxes in front of the walls.

All the guys looked at Marty. Marty reached into a pocket and Stan expected a knife or a gun. Instead, Marty pulled out an I.D. badge on a blue rope. “Got ‘is badge an’ truck. Unc- Ron‘s at dah hospital an’ I gotta do his route till he’s back.”

Dave walked closer. “Marty, huh?”

Marty slid into a standing position. He put his hands on his hips and glared. “Yeah?”

Dave stopped, then turned and walked over to the loading area. “You get your assigned mail over here. Ron’s route’s all put in this area.”

Marty music-walked to Dave. He stood close and Stan thought he saw Dave lean away. Dave’s gloved hands definitely moved, like he played an air guitar at his hips.

“So -” the Marty guy said, and leaned toward Dave, “Get ’em in dah truck.” He spun and walked his walk back to the pickup, punching a full box of coupons on the way. Even though the cardboard was double-walled, Marty’s fist made a hole and a route’s worth dumped out onto the floor.

“Right,” Dave said.

“Okay,” Stan said.

“Yessir,” Ian said.

The three ran over and fought a silent battle over the wheeled bin, glancing at the frowning Marty. Marty watched them from behind the windshield. Once they got the loaded bin to the truck, they saw Marty tapping at the steering wheel. On the last trip to fill the covered bed, Stan saw Marty cleaning his nails with a knife.

And still watching them.

Stan stood by the emptied bin. He felt silly and exposed but definitely didn’t want to turn his back on a guy with a knife.

Marty rolled down the window. “Nex’ time, I’m not gettin’ out,” he said, and spat. “You ladies got it?” Without waiting for an answer, Marty gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot.

Continue to “Going Postal, XI.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, IX

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” “Going Postal, V,” “Going Postal, VI,” “Going Postal, VII,” and “Going Postal, VIII.”

“I know you’re thinking, Ron. Out with it now.”

He didn’t look at her right off, just rocked back and forth on those big, capable feet in their big, capable shoes. His hands clasped from one hold to another behind his back.

“Ronald Richardson! Don’ you keep your back to me!” She used her I-love-you-but-you’d-better-answer-me tone, sure he could feel her scowl through his flannel shirt.

Rock. Rock. Stop. Ron’s shaggy head of white bent to stare at his toes then turned to cough in his hand. “Dunno, Carol.” He looked back at her and his smile didn’t reach his eyes. “You sure he needs to come here?”

Carol tried to stand up straighter. Standing straight hadn’t been easy since her surgery, but she managed. Still, she sighed. “Yes, Hon’. That’s what he said. That’s what we ‘greed.”

He faced the door again. “Just a few months?”

“Yes.”

“He knows?”

Yes, Ron.”

A nod.

Then, they both heard it: a car engine outside. Wheels stopping. Engine stopping. Doors opened and shut. Feet walked up the sidewalk and Carol pictured her prized daffodils and pansies to either side of the coming feet.

*Knock* *Knock*

Ron paused to cough again; he’d been at it for weeks now. Breathing out, he shuffled to the door and opened it up. There, on her clean front porch, stood a man in a suit and mask and gloves and …a hooligan. The hooligan smiled. “Uncle Ron!”

When he spoke, Carol saw that this was her sister’s daughter’s boy -why her sister hadn’t intervened when her daughter turned up with that biker years ago, Carol had never known, and now look at where it’d led…

For his part, Ron stepped forward with a hand out. “Hiya, Marty.” She heard the friendly smile in Ron’s voice. “Hey, Marty’s …

“State-assigned escort,” the man in the mask said.

*Hm-hmm* “Hello, Marty’s escort. Come on in.”

And, just like that, The Suit and The Hooligan walked into her front room. She tried a smile; tried a friendly way of greeting without shaking. Marty -little Martin who snitched an extra cookie and stuck his tongue out at her; little Martin who’d dug up her flowers and thrown them at the mailman; Martin who became Marty and whose mom had called Carol’s sister in tears so many times it was no wonder they both passed on before Carol- that Marty smiled right back at her and walked forward with his arms wide out.

“Aunt Carol! How are ya?”

She let him hug her and patted at him in return, grateful she wasn’t wearing any valuable jewelry.

Continue to “Going Postal, X.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, VI

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” “Going Postal, IV,” and “Going Postal, V.”

*Tick* *tick* *tick*

The kitchen clock pecked at Carol’s attention from its wall perch, a room away. She frowned and tried to focus on her TV show and her loop count. Once the clock hands touched eight and three; she’d sighed, put Ron’s supper in the fridge, and shuffled to the sitting room.

“I Love Lucy” was meant to block the ticking. The waiting.

The Corner to Corner crochet was meant to block the cold. The chills.

Maybe winter still hung around. Maybe she’d picked up a little something from her job at the airport.

Carol took a shaky breath. She’d been finding breathing harder than usual. No matter; a little eucalyptus and lavender could cure that right up. She’d be sure to mix some into the humidifier before turning in.

*Tick* *CLICK* *tick*

Nine o’clock. Where was that man? Carol had half a mind to suggest Ron go back to machining, maybe even try retirement. They could do it, now that they’d both been working a good long while and had almost paid her cancer bills. She’d been in remission for two whole years. His itchy nature could be satisfied with projects ’round the house, surely. She’d bring it up again, once he’d eaten some supper and settled down in his recliner.

A noise scramble-scritched at the door; his key in the lock. The front door opened with a screech and Ron stood against the dark spring night.

He coughed. “‘Mornin’, Care-all,” he said, smiling. He always smiled when he made that joke.

Carol looked cross, her usual response. “Now, Ron. You know it ain’t mornin’ and I ain’t yer Care-all.”

Closing the door behind him and locking it, he smiled the smile she’d loved since the day they’d met. He cleared his throat. “Reckon I picked up a cold somewhere,” he said. “Gotta get a drink.”

“All righty, Ron.” She looked down at her stitches as he walked past her to the kitchen. “Yer supper’s in there, too!”

She heard his big footsteps all over her just-mopped floor and hoped he hadn’t trailed in any mud. Once, he’d trailed in dog poop and she’d made him wipe it all up. She sighed; just another part of his job she’d rather do without.

Lucy and Ethel were stuffing chocolates in their mouths on the TV. Carol laughed to herself; good old Lucy.

Carol started a new row.

Lucy stuffed chocolates into her uniform.

Carol finished the row and started a new one.

“Had to report to the city today,” Ron said, coming from behind with his food. He coughed again, against his shoulder. She watched him settle into his old recliner, both creaking and moaning.

“Oh?” Credits ran down the screen and her finger held the loop.

He selected a carrot, whirled it in mashed potatoes and topped it with some hearty roast beef. “‘Said I needed to not deliver to wrong houses.” In went his fork.

She made a noise like their furnace when it didn’t want to spark. Ron caught her eye; he had such nice eyes. He nodded, swallowed, and smiled his sideways smile. “Well! Don’ that beat all!” she exclaimed.

“Ye-ep.”

“Well! …Well!”

He helped himself to the rest of his supper.

“Watcha gonna do, Ron?” Some warning about staying inside flashed on the TV. Holding her stitch with one hand, she switched the screen off with the remote.

He shrugged. “‘Could always work with Marty.”

Carol dropped her stitch. She faked a laugh. “Right.”

“I might be serious.”

She looked at her hands, pretending on finding her yarn again. “Well …it’s a good thing he’s not outta prison, then.”

Now he laughed, but it wasn’t his happy one. “Right.”

Continued with “Going Postal, VII.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, V

Continued from “Going Postal, I,” “Going Postal, II,” “Going Postal, III,” and “Going Postal, IV.”

Stan hated his job at the post office. He told his friends, his coworkers, his mother, and that girl he’d almost made it with last Friday night. For some reason, he didn’t tell his boss.

The problem was the boredom. Stan wanted to be lead guitarist in a band. “I would be The Next Big Thing,” he had told that girl. If she’d stuck around, he could have also told her about his plans: his band name, who would be begging to sing with him, and which girls would sleep with him after each show.

“Look,” Dave said in a somewhat muffled voice, after Stan spent the first part of their shift complaining, “Maybe you should publish some songs online, so people can hear your sound.”

Stan slid a package from the line and squinted at it. He felt sweaty wearing a mask and gloves. “Are you kidding? Then people would steal my ideas.”

Ian, from down the line, yelled out, “Stan -dude- do you have anything posted?”

Stan didn’t answer; just shoved the package harder than it needed to be toward Ian. Dave wiped a sleeve across his forehead and said something Stan couldn’t hear. “What??” Stan demanded.

“Nothin’.” Dave rolled a wad of advertisements and secured them with an elastic.

“I’ll bet I know,” Ian shouted. He’d shouted even before they all wore face masks. “I’ll bet he said you don’t got no songs! ‘Fact, I’ll bet he said you gotta learn guitar first!”

The room echoed in muffled laughter. Stan flushed.

Just then, a happy beeping sounded from beyond the receiving doors. They turned to see an old, white pickup truck pull up. Ron Richardson exited, sipping from a large drink. “Hiya, boys!”

Ian, Dave, and the others didn’t answer. Stan, however, never could resist. “Well, if it isn’t our friendly, neighborhood creeper! How are ya, contractee?”

Ron turned to Stan, his smile fixed. “‘Fraid I can’t really hear ya, Son.” He cleared his throat, then coughed a bit against a hand. “So! Where’s my load for the mornin’? I’m running behind after a meeting at the city.”

Stan pointed at a pile of bins and boxes behind Dave. No one moved to help him as the old man set his drink down and stooped to load a wheeled mail bin. The room remained silent as Ron filled and pushed the squeaking-wheeled bin to his pickup. And again. And again. The squeaking and his occasional cough were the only sounds in the large sorting room. After a half hour of work, he finished.

“See ya, Creeper!” Stan yelled at Ron’s retreating back on his last trip to the truck.

Ron didn’t answer. Maybe he couldn’t really hear. As the pickup chugged to life and pulled away, Stan yanked off his mask and gloves. The air felt cold and sweet. “Phew! That’s better!” Stuffing the safety apparatus into a back pocket, he walked down the line and grabbed at the edge of the wheeled bin to drag it back.

He had to push the bin from all different sides to reorient it, but Stan returned it back against the wall. “Lazy contractor,” he mumbled, looking at Ron’s forgotten Big Gulp and wiping at his mouth with his bare hand.

Continued at “Going Postal, VI.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens