|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on March 31, 2011 at 8:24 PM|
The packet was given to her with a smile, an unspoken paragraph of meaning. She didn’t feel herself to be a good judge of people; she wanted people to be virtuous and kind. She could not remember ever really getting what she wanted.
She sat on her porch with a glass of iced tea, raspberry iced tea, with a teaspoon of real sugar in it. Early evening often brought calm to any breeze that had stirred during the day, tonight was no different.
She puzzled over the envelope. It was so different than opening an email. She realized she had no virus protection against this sealed communiqué, this dispatch, this hand-delivered missive. She balanced the envelope on her upturned palm and felt the weight of it. A slight tremor of nerves caused the unopened envelope to flutter like a silver maple leaf in a breeze.
Her mind replayed the scene of her neighbor handing her the envelope. What did he say in his half-smile, “We’ll see how smug you are after you read what is hidden in the virginal whiteness of this envelope?” She had always secretly despised the man. When he shoveled snow he made mounds of it in the small space that separated their driveways, the icy piles lingered when other snow melted. When he cut his grass he mowed so that the clippings were thrown into the air in the direction of her car.
She thought of these things and more as she sipped her tea and looked anxiously at the envelope. Surely someone handing you important documents, papers that might alter your life, wouldn’t just pass them off without a word. Wouldn’t they forewarn you? Isn’t there a rule? Something in the way humans are programmed that says the giver must signal, through words or body language, when there is weighty sobriety to the situation? Her mind was distracted by the bees that hummed in the spice bushes on the other side of the screen.
It was warm for the first of June. She caressed the coolness of her glass. She wondered if she imagined the sneer and raised brow. She thought that the documents could be good news. But then, why not an inkling, a word of cheer from the man? Why would he not want to share in her happiness with a clap to the back or knowing wink? The envelope and its contents could not be good. Sludge of somber, reddish copper sunk to the bottom of her glass. The ice melted and transformed the liquid near the top to a dewy saturate of pink hue as her mind worked over the possibilities. She stared at it and thought of things that could sink her to the sweet, opaque abyss.
Were these documents of her family history? Was there evidence of some rampant neurosis that strikes unwittingly, but skips generations? Was it that her proclivity for prolonged sour periods was spawned hundreds of years ago and passed, like rolls at dinner, across the table and through the generations? Now, here to own her? Did the papers speak of things to come? Was he, the one who passed the papers, the recipient of news so catastrophic that he could not speak when he handed her the sentence? Was he so shocked that his lip curled in dreaded relief at being done with them and she mistook it for a smile? Perhaps she should pity him for the toll on his soul to pass on such sumac news.
Like a blind woman, she ran her fingers over the envelope’s edges. She Brailled through the thin covering. Was that the edge of a picture? What had she done that was caught by paparazzi of sneak and snare? That would now be her ruin and her shame? That would cause whispers and sidelong glances even among people she thought were her friends? She thought of the few friends she had and imagined their disloyalty.
She swirled the tea with her spoon and caused a mini tornado to spin counter-clockwise. The bits of ice that remained were too weak to clink against the glass. The raspberry gave off an infirm fetor, the sickly sweetness of artificial berry-like flavor. Was this perfumed drink her last supper before opening the warrant before her? Glassy droplets of water rolled off the stem to splotch the envelope. An omen of tears, of requested atonement.
Perhaps there was another way to be rid of this insanity. She thought that if she was ever asked, she could say that it blew away on the wind before she saw the contents. She could say it was lost among the sheets of the Sunday paper and given to the recycling gods where it was shredded, reprinted, and unwittingly became the blacker news of tomorrow.
She considered whether it was better to burn it unopened. She could take the white sheathe and sear it to bubbling black. Then pour water into the wastebasket and make a slurry of freedom. She’d empty it out onto her rose beds. But, then she could never enjoy an inhale of their coral fragrance again without wondering.
In a sane world she had no choice.
She slipped her finger under the glued edge of the triangle flap. Her eyes settled on her iced tea. More tears of condensation welled and then slid slowly down the sides of the glass to melt into the tablecloth. She couldn’t bear to watch her own supposed destruction. She closed her eyes to the fluke of disaster.
With nothing and with all to lose, her thumb and forefinger reached in and pulled out a stiff piece of paper. Blindly, she removed a second, smaller shape. Her thumb slid over one slick side and recoiled at the ruffled edge. Her heartbeat hammered the inside of her chest. Her breath was held against constricted lungs. She was on her feet without knowing that she had stood ready to make for the woods.
She felt the coolness of the glass on the back of her hand and knew that she had rocked it off its center of gravity. Her eyes flashed open in time to wince as the liquid escaped in one obliterating rush to stain the tablecloth and oval rug. Her eyes flew to the documents. Too late to lose, or shred, or burn the contents. Instead, they were washed in a rosy glow of sugar berry that raised water welts on the face in the photograph.
She peeled the sodden high school graduation invitation and picture of her neighbor’s son from the table. Where was the simplicity of Occam’s razor perception when needed?