They’ve switched mail carriers again. You spy from the dusty blinds, the subtle air from the vent no longer warms your toes, as the dust curls inside your nose, a heart-tick scent of home fades in a flash of arthritic pain in your shoulder. The bright young man with the beard who drove his truck so far up your driveway, threatening to crash into the throat of your garage, always left open because you couldn’t bend down to pick up the rake blocking the sensor. Wanting to find the grooves in the knotty wood from your husband's sweating calluses. The landscapers no longer fool with bygone technology. They breeze in with machines who rip the solitude from the air.
The mail truck zips onto the next mailbox, and you want to wave, and though you don’t know this particular man, you can tell he’s just like the rest, their particular personalities now belong to memory, while old age has made you the caricature of feeble.
The mail awaits, loaded with possibility, a lottery of potential connection, someone wanting, though surely it’s merely a corporation taking their tithes or bright colored flyers, devilish in their marketing ruses. They keep telling you to walk, keep adding devices to ensure your safety, but they denounce the pain the way a parent refuses to believe in imagination, friend or foe, so you’ve reduced yourself to taking the car. Gas, pollution, waste mean nothing to pain, blips of self-consciousness floating by like ashes.
You check to make sure the garage door is open before starting the car. When you were in kindergarten your teacher died this way, and you’ve been afraid of carbon monoxide ever since. You’ve given the world several chances to kill you—childbirth, car accidents, pneumonia—but all of that is lost in today’s challenge of retrieving the mail. You put the car in reverse, though the curve of your shoulders makes it hard to see out the rearview mirror. Thank heavens it’s too cold for the neighbor kids to be outside, running across your driveway, excited to see their friends, laughing with their easily found breath.
The car bumps out of the garage and idles down the driveway. Your hands rest on the wheel, and you wait for the horn of a passing car, the crunch of the front tire of a bicycle, each worry a new pinprick, until you have to start cranking the wheel, but your foot, pain coiled around the tendons like sentient vines, spasms, punching the pedal, the engine roaring joyfully, craven for the taste of speed. Though it only lasts a few seconds, the mailbox flattened, the trunk metal spiked, you wish you had remembered the music. All of life’s accidents, happy or otherwise, deserve a soundtrack.
You put the car in park, though you doubt it would move anyway. You wait and wonder what new excitement this event might bring. An accident, you’ll say to your daughter. Thrilled by your lie, you’ll beg her to call the post office, remind her to ask for the nice, young man with the beard. You’ll tuck away the spears of pain in one wrinkle-defined smile, the one the world has been demanding most of your life, and wait.
Tommy Dean is a Special Education teacher from Indiana. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in Split Lip Magazine and New World Writing. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.
See more from Tommy in issue 3.1 here.