by Ann Graham
Adeline pulls the letter from the mailbox outside her screened front porch. She examines the envelope with her name written in cursive. The neat, purposeful longhand is unfamiliar. It’s not Richard’s scrawl and as far as she knows he hasn’t located her and probably isn’t even trying.
Standing at her desk, she slices through the top edge of the envelope and removes the sheet of paper. Newsprint words glued to the lined paper give the note heft and the look of a ransom note. She reads: Stop Making Me Angry. Adeline guesses it is only in the movies that ransom notes are cut from newspapers and wonders if she locked the front door.
# # #
Compton slid two eggs to his griddle and watched the whites turn from translucent to opaque. He left them undisturbed so that the yolks would not break. He toasted three slices of bread, slathered them with butter and made one large mug of instant coffee. Two eggs times six days equaled one dozen. As with the eggs, a loaf of bread lasted six days. Six mugs lined the shelf above his double sink with the same number of drinking glasses in the adjacent cupboard. The stack of six dinner plates underneath the same number of breakfast plates and bowls diminished systematically. On the Sabbath, he did not cook or eat. He rested.
Standing at the window, he chased the runny egg yolks around his plate with toast while watching a gaggle of kids gather to walk to school. Young Ms. Warren across the street threw her quilted, flowery bag into the back of her yellow Ford Focus and another neighbor, Wilson, tugged his howling beagle’s leash.
After breakfast, Compton set out for his postal route. He pulled his neatly arranged cart behind him over the sidewalks of east Dallas. As he delivered bills, junk mail, credit card offers and magazines, he memorized information about each family. The large text across the envelopes he left for the Clarks stated: Final Notice Urgent Action Required. Jonathan Clark had curvature of the spine and his mother, Lorraine, watched “Medical Mysteries” on television. He overheard Sally Pierce talk about her trip to the emergency room; he saw a drunken argument at the Howes’ and a babysitter slapped the little Simpson boy. Although, he never lingered or spoke with anyone, he read, watched, listened, and remembered. From this, he created life.
When he arrived home after each day’s work, he placed his keys on the ring by the back door and headed for the kitchen to prepare dinner, rote and routine, a meat, a green and a starch. Then, at six o’clock on the dot, he made himself comfortable on his brown Naugahyde couch and arranged his accoutrements on the coffee table: linoleum knife, glue, a sheet of lined paper, an envelope, the phone book, and the day’s Dallas Morning News.
With the sharp blade he cut words from the newspaper headlines. As he sliced, he thought and remembered his father who had owned a linoleum flooring business. People used to visit on family vacations just to see the grizzly in the window of On the Ground. The store was a local sensation started by Compton’s great, great-grandfather who had killed the giant bear. It was said that an unsuspecting stranger in town would end up ‘on the ground’ if he looked in the window. As a boy, he enjoyed spending time with his father at the store on Saturdays. His father was gregarious and friendly with customers but at home his father wasn’t happy or gregarious. He was another kind of man. The energy crisis and steep inflation of the Carter era contributed to the failure of On the Ground and the store entered bankruptcy proceedings.
The descent of their economic health was quick; Compton’s mother did not grasp the severity until there was no money for milk or potatoes. The day his father, only thirty-three years old, took his own life with a linoleum blade to his brachial artery, Compton had been told to watch for the mailman. His mother had said some important paperwork should arrive and she needed him to meet Rex, their postman. Although, he’d wanted to walk down the sidewalk to ask for their mail, he waited patiently. Their house was the fifth one east from Munger Boulevard.
“Hello there, young man,” Rex handed him the single white envelope with angry, red letters across the lower left corner.
Grasping the envelope as though it were precious he ran inside but stopped short when he smelled the unmistakable odor of feces. Then he saw the blood.
“Papa, papa,” he screamed.
His mother pushed him through the living room to the front porch.
“The ambulance is coming. Wait here. Do you hear me?”
Startled by a rumbling down the street from a souped-up hot rod, Compton checked that the phone book was in its designated spot and straightened it so it was square with the coffee table and gave it a small pat with his hand. Then, he moved and arranged the newspaper headlines. His finger slid over the words, up and down, and back and forth until the perpetual panic that sat on his shoulders was assuaged and replaced with the promise of pleasure. He maneuvered the words until a phrase pleased him, Stop Making Me Angry.
Warmth grew in his crotch. The sensation moved like a meteorologist’s diagram of El Niño. Compton unzipped his mail carrier pants and with his left hand, opened the phone book to a random page as his right hand grasped his thickened penis. Translucent semen slung to the opened phone book just beneath Adeline Danver’s name. He copied the name and address in his purposeful longhand on the envelope, glued his new phrase on the piece of lined paper and slid it into the envelope. He licked the postage stamp, pressed it to the envelope and dropped it into his mailbox for his carrier to retrieve the next day.
The following week, he read in the Dallas Morning News: “An Eighth Woman Receives Mysterious Letter – Dallas police report local woman received what appears to be a ransom note with a curious request. The letter addressed to her states only, Stop Making Me Angry. Police believe this letter is related to similar puzzling notes containing simple statements or requests. None have demanded money. The police have submitted the evidence for forensic testing.”
Ann Graham lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She earned her M.F.A. in painting and drawing. She’s loved short stories since being haunted by “The Lottery” as a kid. She maintains a blog about the stories she reads at http://www.ann-graham.com. She attended a Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshop and loved every minute of it.
Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 9
April 15, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez