She’s a loner, always has been since Eddie, the kid next door, made her drown her own kitten. He was eleven, she was six. They were in his basement, his mother’s Speed Queen pretending it was a marching band. She remembers soft fur against her palm, the cold water in the sink, the squirming kitten, the thump, thump, thump of Keds knocking against the metal drum.
She has nightmares some nights, but not often and tolerates her job at the post office. The windows are high up and gloom settles like fog around her workspace. She can smile, make mindless chit-chat, count back change accurately for the most part. She worries, though, that she is missing out on things, on Life with a capital L, so when the freckled man shoves a large package, poorly wrapped, over the counter at her, laughing a little, shrugging, and says, “I need help with this,” showing her his fingerless left hand, she feels a surge of pity, a surprising lift of her heart, too, because his smile is, what? Sweet, winsome?
The narrators of the thrillers she listens to never use the word “winsome,” and she wonders where this thought has come from, and then remembers her cat. Had her mother called her cat, winsome? Eddie called it dead.
This man’s eyes are blue as a day-old bruise, she thinks, and his lips are pale, almost as pale as the skin that’s barely visible beneath his freckles. His teeth are perfect and white. Bone white. Marble white. White as her drowned kitten’s paws had been. She realizes she’s staring into his face and he is staring back, his forehead slowly wrinkling above his long nose.
Holding up his fingerless hand, he says, “My mother’s in the hospital or she would have helped me. This is her package, to her cousin. His birthday.”
“I’ll help you. Sorry about your mother. And your hand.” She stares at it for a few seconds longer, then pulls the package close to her, then brings out from under the counter a large pair of scissors.
His eyes widen when he sees the scissors’ blades glint in a rare beam of light, watches as she snip-snips the string.
She looks up, smiles, snips-snips the air. “The US Postal Service,” she says, “no longer allows string on packages. Just tape, only heavy-duty shipping tape.”
He nods, freckles growing bigger as he smiles, the skin between them going whiter. She moves the heavy tape container closer to the package and yanks out a long strip. Slices it sharply against its jagged edge. She feels his eyes on her as she holds down the flap of paper on one side and applies the tape, then repeats the action to the other.
“That should do it,” she says, reaching for the scissors. He watches her fingers slip into the handle. She raises it up. Snip-snips in the air again, then returns it under the counter. She places the package on a nearby scale, studies the display, and tells him the weight and cost of postage.
He reaches into his pocket, fumbles his wallet onto the counter.
“Would you like me to help you?” She offers him a sly smile.
“Yes, yes. Please.”
She takes his wallet into her hands, runs her fingers over the worn leather. “It’s so soft,” she says, “kitten soft.”
He nods. “I should get a new one, I guess.”
She opens it and studies his drivers’ license. “You really drive?”
“The steering wheel is modified.”
“Of course. And you live nearby?” She moves her lips into a smile, puts warmth into her eyes. She can do this when she needs to.
“Not too far.” He hesitates a moment, turns away, then turns back. “You want to do something sometime? A walk or-or-or grab a beer?”
“That would be fun.”
“Can I—can I have your phone number?”
“I’ll just come by tonight,” she says, “if that’s okay. Keep you company since your mother isn’t there. I’ll bring dinner.”
“Okay, yes. Thank you. Wow. I’ll give you my address.” His reddening face looks like one big freckle.
“Got it from your license.” She smiles again, wondering if this dude’s house might have a basement like Eddie’s, a Speed Queen Washer, a sink deep enough to drown a cat in. Or a man.
Brief bio:Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.
Pomegranate Stories, Eight stories about mothers.
Rattle of Want, Full-length collection of short stories and flash fictionWhat Came Before, Suspense novel