With the Wife Long Dead
Marcus used to enjoy going to the mailbox. Birthday envelopes, checks, coupons that held meaning…Now he let it all pile up in the tin well. Now, today, when there were no new envelopes, he would breathe again.
His hand pulled toward him and the maw croaked open. He smiled. It’s another lucky day on death row, he thought with natural easiness, as he sighted no new correspondences above the months-old pile of red and blue circulars, closing the door to the succubae portal. Like a reprieve from the Governor. One more day to enjoy Salisbury steak and green peas. One more night to coast through careless dreams. An evening, perhaps, to watch the mayhem on the news and think himself detached from sadness, grief, and ignorance. Tea was good. Big books were even better. His dog felt knowing as it sat on his bare toes. In the late afternoon he heard the volunteer firefighters testing the emergency siren. In the evening he heard jets thundering overhead. After dark he felt the home shudder under the chop of a law-copter in lantern-festooned pursuit of a questionable human being. Late into the night the nonsense fell away to a womb of quiet and he paced his heart against the ticking element of his water heater. He lit a modest fire in his wood stove. His dog gnarled on a mealy tennis ball. When he first closed his eyes on his easy chair a flash image—a watercolor—of a beautifully disappointed young woman he once knew buried itself in his fluid pantheon. She wanted to know why he wouldn’t or couldn’t or some such, and, in his near sleep, he nodded mechanically, taking the scorn in stride like it would happen forever. When, for the second time he slumbered in the chair, a throaty churning of cellos and brass signaled the frozen lake of his uncle’s farm, and a skating day, just he and his brothers chasing a puck into a bank of reeds. He could smell the resin on the tape of his old stick. He could feel the fire on his aching throat, the jarring of ribs upon ice—the needless last point to prove a conquest. Finally, he hoisted his indifferently aching frame off the chair and poured it onto his agate-hued couch by the wood stove. So ended the last day and night of reprieve from all contact, for all contact held unfathomable demand. His mind was clean. His body, rested. His dog, begrudging. His life, suspended.
The following late morning Marcus treaded over the gravel with his errant hesitation, eyeballing the row of boxes by the highway. The tracks of the postal jeep were fresh, and his tin handle was loosened away from the clasp. He peered inside with a wince and beheld a large yellow envelope featuring a red stamp marked “urgent.” Above the stamp read “Penalty for unlawful opening by other than the addressee may result in a fine or imprisonment.” The addressee panel was a plastic, cut-out window. The address was his, but no matter how he shook the envelope a name would not pop into the window. Even the imprisoning powers think I have no name, he decided. Marcus walked home with the mysterious delivery and placed it inside his wood stove.
For weeks the game continued; Marcus would receive a large yellow envelope with no name and take it home to burn in his stove. Finally, as spring winds blew his front gate open and the caws of ravens wretched above his roof spans, he heard tires popping over his limestone apron. After a few seconds he both heard and felt a rare knock on his heavy door. A meager drop of adrenaline cycled through Marcus’s chest, followed by a stoic smile. His dog stayed rapt at his master’s signal—he would not bark at this knock or any. Marcus murmured the word “settle,” and that was all. After several minutes the succession of knocks ceded to silence. Marcus and his dog heard the looming vehicle clamor back into gear and away.
The next day the knocking returned, followed by another loathsome session on the third day. The fourth day was shrouded with soundlessness, however, and Marcus, who hadn’t ventured out since the first rap hit his door, finally pulled open his threshold and beamed across the front, both watching and listening for these news-bearing wraiths on wheels. All he discovered—instead—were three stick-notes on his door, which said, “Sorry we missed you!” Marcus laughed in acknowledgement of the celestial fact of that statement, and thought warmly of all the ventured souls of his life who must be “sorry” today that they ever bothered to “miss” him. Inspired, he took a scalding bath, dressed up in his finest flannel and denim, pomaded his salty hair and drove his dog to the lake for a dance with the wind, sun, and waterside. “Who knows about being missed,” he barked at his companion, “more than the water?” The dog, atop the shotgun vinyl, excitable, stared at his master with the brimming now.