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 Carol Jenkins had been last time.

“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, Carol 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.”

 

©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, VIII

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

“Hello?”

“Aunt Carol!” Marty put all the sweet he had in his words. “How’s it been??” Static punched the line. He shoved the cord up into the phone in his hand, admired the printed *Y*O*U*R*F*A*C*E* inked on his knuckles, flexed.

“…Who is this? …Martin?”

Some air leaked before he shut his mouth. He didn’t want to be like that stupid case worker, always breathing out ‘stead of doin’ somethin’ about a guy. “Yeah! It’s me: Marty!”

Static again. He shoved the other end further in the wall.

“Aunt Carol?”

He heard a pause. Maybe he’d given the old bird a heart attack. He hoped not; he didn’t know who else to call.

“Aunt Carol? You ali- you all right?”

“Ye -yes, Marti- Marty. I’m fine.” He thought she gulped. “You just caught me by surprise. I think it’s been …it’s been at least a year, Dear.”

Dear…?

“Sorry, Marty. How are you? How is …prison?”

He stuffed *U*R*C*E* in his mouth to stop a snort. ‘How’s prison?’ There was no way an old broad like Aunt Carol could handle ‘how’s prison.’ But he couldn’t hear her sayin’ anything, so he had to answer… “Uhh… prison’s …good.” He coughed. He looked around for what else to say and saw the clock. “That’s why I’m callin’ today. I only get ten minutes then it’s the next guy’s turn, an’ I already tried Sis -Aunt Rachel and a cousin…” Marty heard shoes down the hall, heavy ones. A boss.

“Oh-okay, Marti- Marty. I’m heading out to work anyway, once the aspirin kicks in. What do you need, Dear?”

Dear again… Shoes were gettin’ closer. And shadows. “I’m -I’m getting out soon, Aunt Carol.”

He heard that pause that wasn’t static.

Officer Wilson and Snakes came around the corner. Marty turned his back on them and leaned on the phone and the wall. “Listen: I need somewheres to go. -Just for a bit. I -I got nowhere else, Aunt Carol.”

“Mennet!” Officer Wilson sounded right behind him.

“Marty…” Aunt Carol didn’t sound happy.

“Listen, I gotta go-”

“Mennet! Time’s up!”

“…I don’t know, Marty…”

“Just think about it! Please!” he sputtered out, right before Wilson yanked the line from his grip and slammed it back on the wall.

Continue to “Going Postal, IX.”

 

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, VII

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

“Are you listening, Mr. Mennet?”

Marty jerked his head up to squint at the broad. She didn’t look happy; she never did. Probaby could do with a lift. She frowned again; maybe some mesc and a don juan. Maybe Freddy’d consider…

“Mr. Mennet!”

“Yeah!” She did that thing of letting air out from behind her doctor getup and looking at the lights above. What was ever interesting about the lights, did she think?

“As I said, you’re being released, due to risk of contagions…”

Marty couldn’t stop from grinning. He tried. He didn’t want the eager all over his face or maybe they’d send him back. Back wasn’t bad but out was better. He twisted his mouth like he was sucking a wad to wipe the smile.

Mizz Case Worker droned on; he caught a word or two: “tracker,” “check in,” “job restrictions,” “travel restrictions.” He flipped his head up and down when she stopped reading her paper to check if he listened. Of course he heard. He was getting out ’cause the feds crowded the joint with innocents like him. He would’ve been catching the chain awhile ago if Larry hadn’t snitched last year.

“Mr. Mennet!”

“Marty…”

Mr. Mennet, it is imperative that…” She caught his eyes leaving her face. “Nevermind. Do you have any questions?”

He flexed his fingers and wiggled his toes in their government shoes. Questions? Nah. Maybe. “Where’s my stuff? -No, wait. Where’m I going? Half-way?” She let masked air out. She was a f***in’ coffee machine, wasn’t she?

“As I sai-” Eyes roving again. “No, Mr. Mennet. You’re to be released into the care of family-”

“Fam’ly? Who??” No one’d talked to Marty in months. The last blood who’d answered had been old Aunt Carol, too sick to loan him anything.

“Well… that’s skipping ahead of procedure…” *Sigh* “You find someone to call.”

He squinted, thinking.

“Otherwise…” He swore a smile pulled at her flat, fat face above the mask. “You can’t be released from custody.”

“F-” Her face scrunched; eyebrows scowling. “Um, I mean- damn.”

Air again. She stood, tilted her head, scrunched her papers in those blue-gloved fingers of hers. “I suggest you think about all of your options and have a list ready, or you’ll lose your place in the consideration process.” She left.

Marty listened to the echoes the closed door left behind her exit. He slumped in the plastic chair. She might still be watching through that fake-mirror wall. “Damn,” he repeated.

Continue on to “Going Postal, VIII.”

 

 

©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

Going Postal, IV

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

The residents of Westside City were a mixed bunch, thanks to a dispute among the planners back when a large area of it went from unincorporated to residential. Sort-of. Supposedly, Fred Simons wanted multi-family housing while Martin Gonzales thought single-unit homes were better. Carol Jenkins said she’d abstain if pressed, while Mayor Cliffstone threatened to film the whole thing if the two gentlemen didn’t sit down and discuss things like humans instead of animals.

In the ensuing debates over taxonomy and zoning, no one thought to verify whether the United States Post Office planned to include the new area in its existing route maps. Ron Richardson didn’t mind; he’d been considering an easy employment since retirement and thought a contractual mail carrier fit the bill nicely.

It hadn’t been all butterflies and roses, of course. He was required to use his own vehicle; had to bend, stoop, and lift; and not many residents acknowledged his existence. Still, Ron had done it for ten years and figured he could handle all that for another ten. Then, the current city planning board called him in.

He and the three committee members, spaced at least six feet apart, were the room’s only occupants.

“We’ve been getting some complaints from residents,” Joe Schlepp said. He tried to look stern as he squirted his hands with sanitizer and rubbed them vigorously.

“Oh?” Ron rocked on his feet in an amiable fashion. His toes rested against a scuffed bit of blue tape on the carpet.

“Yes,” Carol Jenkins agreed, her voice muffled behind a paper face mask. She read over a printed page that waved slightly in her gloved hand. “One resident says her package was delivered to the wrong address. Another claimed hers never arrived…. Another says it went to the wrong house, and another, and another…”

In the awkward pause, Ron answered, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Bob Spineless frowned. “Mr. -”

“Ron -”

“Mr. Ron, we cannot have this level of irresponsibility from our mail carrier. If we receive any more complaints, we will need to consider offering your position to another applicant.”

The happy rocking stopped. Ron’s affable smile did not, although it tightened.

“Do you understand, Mr. Ron?” Carol should have known his real name. She had hired him. She had his name printed at the top of her complaints sheet.

“Sure. Sure.” Ron turned and left. The committee didn’t seem to notice. Not only did no one talk to him on his route, no one had really talked to him here. Apparently, they all only noticed problems, problems that were the fault of incorrect address labels and lazy post office sorters.

Each downside of the job came to him with each step he took away from the city government meeting room and toward the city government parking lot.

For an entire decade, he’d delivered everyone’s packages faithfully. Lately, he delivered everyone’s panic-buying supplies. He drove from before sunup to after sundown. He carried everything from canned goods to ammunition.

Ron exited the double-glass doors and descended the double-wide front steps.

Since he was a contractual mail carrier, he had no official vehicle. The post office workers treated him like a civilian. He saw their sideways glances and sneers as he picked up his allotted bins and assigned bundles every day, multiple times a day.

He unlocked his pickup truck and got in.

Contract workers didn’t have health insurance, either.

Reaching for his Big Gulp, Ron realized his throat felt sore. He felt tired, but maybe that was because he felt warmer than usual in the cold, April sun.

Continued at “Going Postal, V.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, III

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

Not many people talked to Art. He liked that. From his steel-toed boots to his copper-lined military cap, Art was practicality and self-made efficiency. He squatted at the dark corner of his covered porch, eyes on the neighborhood. Every fifteen minutes, he raised his binoculars and did a sweep of the area.

Art was waiting for the mailman.

Today, according to the electronic message from Guns, Gurneys, and Steel Blades, his package of ammunition would arrive. He knew what a hot item his purchase was; those who took the coming threat seriously were stockpiling. He’d seen the signs: necessities disappearing from store shelves, people filling extra cans at the gas station, and prices of guns and ammunition rising.

Even his ignorant, soft-shelled neighbors demonstrated mild panic. He’d watched Mrs. Hempsworth looking around as she cradled package after package of toilet paper. The Andersens kept purchasing food supplies. And he, Arthur Jackson Williams, seemed to be the only suspicious one on the street.

There! The mailman’s pickup truck! Art lifted the binoculars and fitted them to his eyes. Amidst the happy-faced brown boxes bursting in the mailman’s cargo space, he spied his package. Setting his shotgun, Bowie knife, binoculars, pistol, and tactical belt to the side, he rose and moved down the stairs at an easy pace.

He arrived just as the mailman exited his truck.

“‘Morning, Ron!” Art’s tan, unshaven face creased into a smile. His eyes remained vigilant.

Ron seemed surprised and turned his whole body to meet Art’s approach. “Oh! Mornin’!”

Art wasn’t fooled for a second. “Nice day, eh? How’s it been so far today?”

Ron considered, frowning. “Oh, not bad. Just -” he paused.

“Yeah?”

“Just-” his sky-colored eyes searched their source for inspiration. “Just a lot more packages lately.” Ron smiled vaguely and shrugged.

I’ll bet, thought Art. Aloud, he said, “Bet that’s a real pain in the -”

“Yep.” Ron laughed, agreeing. “Yep.”

“Sorry for adding to that, Ron. Really.” Art nodded toward the pickup’s hardtop. “I thought they’d use UPS.”

Ron shook his head. His white hair floated against the movement. “Nah; Post’s cheaper. We’re better, too!”

“Ha! You’re right!” Art folded his arms. “Well! Don’t go overloadin’ yourself with too many o’ these Amazon deliv’ries, alright? These softies can shake a leg and try their chances at a store sometime! -Maybe experience the real world!”

Ron’s smile broadened. He laughed again. “That’ll be the day!” He went to the open-space window of his hardtop and removed Art’s package. Cringing at the weight, he slid it free and walked a step. Art unfolded his arms and came forward.

Taking the box from the old mailman’s arms, he said, “Whoa, Ron. Wouldn’t want you hurtin’ something. You’ve got all that toilet paper to deliver still!”

Ron laughed a third time. “Yep!”

“See you next deliv’ry!” Art turned and headed back home.

“See ya!”

Without looking back, Art heard the familiar unlocking of the community mailbox. He heard the familiar whistling of the contented mailman. No one seemed to worry about what Ron delivered; what Ron saw. But Art knew. Art knew.

Continued at “Going Postal, IV.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens

Going Postal, II

Continued from “Going Postal, I.”

Little Charli Andersen loved to watch the world from her front window.

On Garbage Day, the garbage truck came. On Not-Preschool Days, her big brother’s carpool pulled up and honked. And, every day, Santa Claus parked his white pickup truck at their street’s mailbox.

At least, she thought he was Santa Claus. He was old and had white hair and sometimes brought presents to the porch. Her mother didn’t show Charli what the present-boxes had inside, but she knew they must be something happy. Almost every box had a smile on the side.

Today was no exception. *Ding* beeped her touchscreen game. *Snip* *snip* went her mother’s scissors. *Oh, I know, Honey* said the lady in the haircut chair.

A blink of white from beyond the window reflected onto Charli’s game. Santa was at the mailbox again! She watched him ease out of his truck and shuffle to the back. Her hand hung poised over the screen as she saw him pull out a large present, heft it to a new position, and stagger toward her house.

Charli saw the usual smile on the package’s side. She had to know what Santa brought this time, before her mother took it. Glancing up to confirm that her mother was busy working, Charli set the tablet down and snuck to the front door. She opened it just as Santa arrived at the top of their porch stairs, huffing.

“Well, hi, little girl!” he said, smiling. He set the box down near the edge and leaned against the railing.

Charli smiled and looked at her feet. She didn’t know what to say, now that she’d finally met him.

Santa scratched his face. He didn’t have a beard. “Didja like the rain we got yesterday?” he asked.

She nodded, still looking down.

“Didja see the rainbow?”

She jerked her head up in surprise. He still smiled kindly at her. She saw his eyes were the color of the sky. “No,” she said.

He gave her a sympathetic frown. “That’s alright. You can see one next time it rains.”

Another nod. She ground a bare toe into the doorstep in a twirl. “What’s in the present?” she managed to ask.

“Hm? Present?” He looked confused, Then, his attention turned to the large box at his feet. “Oh! Well! …This isn’t a present-”

Charlie’s face fell.

“-Not this time!” he added, holding up a reassuring hand.

Her expression lightened, curious.

“Yep,” Santa said, “Looks like this big box is some fancy food storage for your big family.” He gave a soft chuckle.

Her mouth puckered and she scowled.

He laughed outright. “Ha! This’s some high-quality stuff. ‘Time’ll come, some people’ll kill for this stuff! -Now, run on inside and tell your mommy about it so no one takes it. ”

She nodded again, and scuttled back inside. Her mother liked knowing about packages. She didn’t like when Charli opened the door without asking.

Continued at “Going Postal, III.”

 

©2020 Chelsea Owens