Mid-Night

Our son-in-law Bridger* whose family is currently staying in our home, he heard a mountain lion around here about 1:30 a.m… Just a heads up for your children and pets.

I read the message in our neighborhood chat, knowing my son wouldn’t take the news well. He’d been sleeping outside most weekends in a small canvas tent.

Still, it was my job to keep him alive. “I don’t think you should sleep outside tonight,” I told him.

He gave me the Teenage Look; the what stupid worry that couldn’t possibly exist do you have now, Mom? look.

I glared back. Lovingly. “One of the neighbors said there’s a mountain lion. It’s not safe.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Now it was my turn for a Look. I whipped up the oh no you don’t talk back to your mother look. “You’re not. It’s not safe and I won’t have you doing it.”

-Not that I didn’t intend for him to return, once safe.

We heard nothing. We saw nothing. The deer filtered into the back acres, eating beneath our fruit trees. They stood calmly, dipping their heads now and then to sample last year’s windfall. The only concern in those deep, soft eyes was for the humans staring at them from the windows.

And so, I granted my son permission to camp. He gathered his thick socks, his beanie, and his sleeping bag. He shoveled the starlit snow from the tent’s door and beat it from the tent’s outsides. Zip zip zup and he was inside, snug for the night.

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

Two a.m. is a rotten time to awaken -an opinion my two-year-old did not share. I calmed him, watered him, and tucked him back in. Then, I tucked myself back in.

I could not sleep.

An anxiety seized me. My neighbor’s message slunk around my brain: he heard a mountain lion around here. ‘What if it’s out there?’ my mind imagined. I peered through the back windows at my son’s tent. It sat, serene and silent in the shadowed snow. I heard nothing. I saw nothing.

‘It is nothing,’ I told my brain.

‘And even if it isn’t,’ a quiet voice reminded, ‘What would you do? Walk out there?’

I finally fell to sleep.

The next morning dawned frigid and overcast. I walked out to awaken my eldest. I’ll admit to looking warily about; when no wild cat appeared, I scanned for his prints. But all was smooth and undisturbed. I knocked at the tent as best I could. “It’s time to get up.”

The tent shook and stretched. “Okay,” huffed a deep teen voice. A moment later, the zipper opened –Zup zip zip! and two large feet in half-shod sneakers emerged. A lanky form followed, till my son stood before me. He closed up and we headed to the house.

“How’d you sleep?” I tried a casual tone.

“Not bad.” Crunch crunch “I heard a deer scream around 3 a.m.”

I allowed for silence as I considered his statement.

“Son,” I said carefully, as we walked, “I don’t think deer scream.”

He looked thoughtful.

I phrased my next words in a calm, level tone. “But I’ve heard that mountain lions do.”

We walked inside. I headed straight for a bathroom. He headed straight for a computer. We met up at breakfast.

“So, I looked it up,” he began, “Aaaaand, the noise I heard sounds just like a mountain lion.”

From YouTube, not from me.

©2022 Chel Owens

*Name changed

Daddy’s Here

My Joe’s been sick, Amy read. Keep him in your prayers. She scrolled through her news feed, her finger moving faster and faster.

We’ve all tested positive.

Been down for a month.

Feeling better, but still have trouble with stairs.

Pray for my David. He’s never been sicker.

“You don’t know that’s what he has.” Matt stood in the doorway. She hadn’t heard him come in.

Amy’s eyes fixed on his silhouette. She turned back to her phone, then down to the blanket-bundle on the bed. “But he has a fever.”

Matt came forward. He placed a hand over the screen, pulled it from her grasp, and set it on the nightstand. He kneeled beside the bed. “I know, but you’ve been reading bad news all day. Maybe longer.”

Amy sighed. Another tear escaped down her cheek.

“Here.” He moved the comforter aside. Pushing her legs out to hang over the side, he rubbed at them; massaged her feet. “Go shower. I can take over.”

She met his gaze. She hadn’t moved from where he shifted her.

“Please, Amy. He’ll be fine for a few minutes.”

She sighed.

“Please.”

She shifted. He stood. She let him help her rise. She did not let him walk with her. “Stay here.” she said, head raised and eyes locked on his. “I don’t want him to be alone for even a second.”

Matt nodded and moved to the bed. He sat in the same spot she’d vacated. Looking up, he saw her watching. “I’ll stay here. I promise.”

Now she nodded. Her shadow followed her down the hall. The bathroom door closed.

He heard the shower water turn on. The bundle of blankets to his side whimpered and a fist emerged. “Shhhhh,” Matt said, stroking his son’s face. He moved his finger to the fist. It held. “Daddy’s here.”

©2022 Chel Owens

Photo by Wayne Evans on Pexels.com

Beatrice Box

Beatrice was a square sort of being. Squat, brown, dusty, a bit bent; she couldn’t help it. See, Beatrice was literally a box. Still, she longed for love. Like most boxes, however, she couldn’t open her mouth without attracting the wrong sort of attention.

“I can’t even lift a flap,” she complained to the bureau, “Without acquiring an odd or end.”

He squeaked a commiseratory joint. “I’ve the same problem with me drawers, Love. Have ye tried tape?”

Beatrice hadn’t, so she did. The tape worked quite well for keeping out; but, how could she get love in? She appealed to the cedar chest. “What’s your secret? However do you attract such finery?”

The cedar chest considered. She sniffed. “Smell, mostly. Seems to keep riff-raff at a distance. Then, there’s the carvings up top what observers always notice.”

“Carvings? Smell?” Beatrice examined the parts of herself she could. What she saw failed to instill confidence. She was, as noted, a box. Her relations tended more toward the packing variety and less toward containers in millinery shops. “Have I a scent? What about designs?”

“Hm.” The cedar chest strained; Beatrice thumped in an awkward, squarish spin before her. “You’ve an essence of forgotten memories, like old jumpers. Not unpleasant, I’d say; not pleasant, either. Ooh! I can make out a bit of an imprint… Upst- Hm. Upstares -Yes! Upstares closet. …could be an exotic locale…”

“Oh, dear,” Beatrice sighed. She knew how ‘exotic’ the upstairs closet was. But just when she thought to give up all hope, she met him: the box of her dreams. He fell on her like a ton of bricks.

Literally.

Good thing the tape held.

“Well howdy, ya pine box!” he addressed the cedar chest. “I’m Bob, a box. I’m currently haulin’ a buttload o’ building blocks! Ha!” He scratched at his top with a handy flap. “Thing is, I’m a mite lonely. You wouldn’t happen to know where a fella could find some company, would ya? -A good, solid, squarish sort of company?”

Beatrice could hardly speak for excitement. She could hardly speak for the box of bricks named Bob that sat atop her as well. She tried. “Mmph mmm mph phuhm.”

“Who said that??” Bob swept the room.

“Mmph mmm mph phuhm.”

Bob shifted. He couldn’t catch where the noise came from. “How’s that, pardner?”

“Mmph! Mm mph mph phuh mphm.”

Bob scooted a titch more; which, it turns out, was a titch too far. *CLONK!* He landed on the floor like a ton of -oh, you get the idea. He caught sight of Beatrice. “Well, howdy!”

Beatrice blushed. “Hello.”

It was the start of a beautiful future. Beatrice had such a crush, she was already making moving plans.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

©2022 Chel Owens

Tell Me the Story, Daddy.

“Tell me the story, Daddy. Tell me …when you met Mommy. Tell me when you knew.”

Arthur smiled that smile that never quite touched his eyes anymore. “When I knew what, son?”

Little Sammy squirmed atop his bedcovers. “You know, Daddy. When you knew… You know.”

Arthur almost laughed. Almost. “Okay. Okay. …Once upon a time, your dad -me- was young. I was barely an adult and was working my first job, at a bookstore…”

Arthur could still smell the scholarly breath of time and leather that greeted him each morning, could still hear the muted tinkle of the bell over the door, could still see the morning light filtering through mullioned front windows. Tomes ranging from paper romance to hardbacked alchemy built labyrinth paths between the barely-visible masonry walls. The dust of every bibliophile’s essence hung, distilled, in the motes that danced where empty spaces dared exist.

“I stood at a desk where I could see the door. Everywhere else was books.” This is where he changed the story; embellished it. “Harry Potter, James and the Giant Peach, Shel Silverstein, and even Where the Wild Things Are; comic books, picture books; fat ones, thin ones; old and new.”

His son’s eyes shone and then twitched over to the bookshelf in the corner. “What about your books, Dad? Did they have those, too?”

“Yes, son. Those, too.”

“Did Mom like your books, Dad?”

Sammy hadn’t asked that one before. The question gave Arthur pause. “No, not really. She -well! That’s a different story!”

This elicited a giggle and more rocking. Sammy even turned a lopsided somersault into his pillow.

Arthur wagged his finger in a pretended sternness. “All right. One day, I heard the bell on the door that meant someone had come in…”

There had been more light that day, enough that the younger Arthur could not see who entered the store. He raised a hand against the brightness and squinted at a diminutive shadow. The door closed, the bell sang, the shadow resolved to a timid, tiny young woman. Encircled by light and interrupted space, Arthur was smitten.

“I saw a very small, very beautiful woman. She came up to the desk and slid a paper on the glass -too shy to ask me for the name of the book she’d written on it.”

His son’s eyes -her eyes- were round in his small, attentive face.

“It was a book on poetry. ‘For school,’ she whispered. She wouldn’t look up, but I saw her look at me when I was searching through our book about books. …We didn’t have computers then, you see. We had a book that we wrote all the books in -well, we typed them on papers, then…”

Sammy yawned.

Now, Arthur managed a shadow of a chuckle. “I came around the desk. She seemed surprised when I stood; later, she said she hadn’t realized we were so close to the same size.”

Something inside fluttered at being nearer to her, he remembered. Her smile set it off again. The feeling was unlike any he’d felt in his lonely, empty life; one spent with one relative or another handing him off till he could move out and raise himself. Whether she smiled, or not, her very existence shook his. Next to her, he could be anyone or do anything.

“But, Daddy! When did you know?”

Arthur’s eyes refocused to the bedroom of the apartment he and Sammy shared, just the two of them. “I …walked with the gir- woman, over to our poetry section. I found what she needed. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. She took it from my hand, and our fingers touched.”

It had felt electric, a touch of divinity that opened an eternity of thought and feeling for this tiny, timid woman before him.

“And that, Sammy, was when I knew I loved your Mommy.” Arthur smiled. For an instant, it reached his eyes.

His son somersaulted again. “So, then you asked her to marry you?”

Arthur blushed. “Yes.”

The laughter from his son sounded so much like her startled laughter, from all those years before. At first she’d been shocked, of course, then she’d laughed. How much it sounded like the door bell, he’d thought. He had also thought to hide in a pile of The Rise and Fall of the Greeks and Romans.

“All right, Sammy. Time for bed.” Arthur stood and pushed the chair beneath his work desk. He’d be revisiting it in the morning while Sammy slept in.

Sammy snuck a few more twists and wiggles in before allowing his dad to lift the covers and shoo him beneath them. “‘Night, Dad.” He rolled his head up to see the framed photograph on the desk. “‘Night, Mom.”

“Good night, Sam.” Arthur went to the door and stood. Good night, Catherine, he thought to her picture, and turned out the light.

©2021 Chel Owens

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