Today’s post comes from Cathy MacKenzie. The prompt this time is to use three of the following words in the story: ridicule, laugh, spellbound, following, letter.
Cathy’s most recent publication, BETWEEN THESE PAGES, is a compilation of 18 short stories. The book is available on Amazon and Smashwords:
The letter arrived in the mail on June 7. The addressee, a bit disconcerting, jarred Mildred to attention, and she swiped at a tear. She stared at the tan envelope, noting the missing return address and non-existent stamp. She supposed the mail slipped undetected through the scanner. How else could it have made it to her box? One needed a key to open it. She cringed. Days of home delivery were long gone. Streets lined with mailboxes and red arrows pointing up or down made her feel warm and cozy, like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. Oh, for the good old days, she thought. But what the heck. Life moves on. Not like I’m old like my mother or grandmothers, rest their souls. Mildred felt it necessary to add “rest their souls.” She had heard that phrase so many times it was ingrained in her head.
She slammed the door of the mailbox and returned to her car. She threw the several pieces of mail on the passenger seat, ensuring the mailbox key went into her purse. She had lost the key once, only to have Ted, her husband, discover it on the driver’s seat. She wasn’t sure how it landed there. Probably slipped to her lap instead of in her purse or she forgot it was in her hand and let it drop between her legs. Luckily the key hadn’t been lost, or she would’ve had a hassle obtaining a replacement, and, most certainly, it wouldn’t have been an easy feat. Nor cheap. There’d be a fee, for sure. Canada Post wouldn’t give anything away.
Drat passing time and bills and mysteries, she thought, as she drove away. Mildred squinted into the sunlight. What was that ahead? A truck? A moving van? Why was it coming toward her, invading her lane? Where was the white dividing line? Despite sunglasses, the glare blinded her. What the dickens!
Mildred braked—just in time. So did the vehicle ahead, the one careening toward her. She glanced into the rear view mirror to see a van looming. She felt hemmed in, jammed between metal monstrosities, when all she wanted was to return home, plonk into her rocker, sip a cuppa. She rolled her tongue across her lips, tasting the tea she had leisurely sipped that morning—the English tea she loved so well—though she felt the blister on her tongue. And the bubble forming on her lip. I drank it too fast, she thought. Didn’t let it cool enough. Patience wasn’t one of her virtues.
Spellbound, she stared out the windshield. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She simply stopped at the community mailboxes, returned to her car, and drove. Minding her own business, for when did she ever interfere with other’s lives. Never, that’s when. And heck, if the sun happened to blind her, what could she do? And who told those vehicles to follow or drive toward her. No, she was right; they were wrong. Besides, she was in her nineties. Didn’t seniors deserve extra consideration?
A young man peered into her car. Mildred rolled down the window. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re driving too fast, lady.”
“Me?” Mildred looked around.
“I’m just driving home. Need my afternoon tea, you know. And, lookie here.” Mildred produced the mystery letter. “Look at this. A mystery.”
“Mystery? You almost killed me.”
“I did not.”
“You did. Perhaps you’re too old to be driving.” The young man glared at her. “When’s the last time you had a driver’s test?”
“Driver’s test? Me?”
“Yes. You. You’re the problem. You seniors are always the problem. “
“Sonny, watch your tongue. I’m a fine, upstanding citizen.”
“Yeah, right. Kill someone and see what happens to you then.”
“I didn’t kill anyone. I was minding my own business until you arrived.” Mildred paused. “Did I show you my mystery letter?”
The man glared at her. “I don’t care about your letter. I just want to ensure the roads are safe. They’re not safe with you on them, ma’am.”
Mildred opened her mouth, then thought better of it. She could ridicule him all she wanted, but what good would that do? He’d continue to glare, daring her to proceed with her tirade. No, she’d be the good person. She’d shut up.
“I have to go. My tea is waiting.” Mildred rolled up the window. The man, brandishing his arms, sauntered back to his car.
Mildred until the vehicles dispersed. She didn’t want to be accused of any further disturbance. Once alone, she admitted she was, perhaps, too old to drive. But she didn’t want to give up her “wheels,” as the youngsters referred to vehicles. What would she do? There was no public transportation in her residential area. She’d be stuck at home, bored and lonely. No, she couldn’t give up her car. She’d have to be more careful in the future. Her livelihood depended upon it. She didn’t want to wither away like some decrepit old soul without a life.
She drove into the driveway of her small bungalow, grabbed her purse and the mail from the seat, and entered the house. After she put on the kettle, she stared at the mysterious, non-descript envelope. She should toss it in the trash. If someone wasn’t decent enough to affix a return address, she shouldn’t have to waste time opening it. She rationalized a missing return address was the same as a private or blocked number on the telephone. She ignored those phone calls, just as she should ignore unknown envelopes. What if they contained anthrax or another legal powder? What right did people have to disguise themselves, hide behind blocked numbers and missing return addresses? If someone couldn’t announce his or her presence, so be it.
Despite strong feelings of retaliation, she felt pulled toward the plain envelope. Her long nail slid across the flap. She pulled out the paper. One sheet.
The paragraphs—blocks of letters—loomed before her. Though too many words and sentences blurred her eyes, several lifted from the page. The important ones. Estate of Mildred Simpson … tax return … unfiled … penalty … interest … outstanding amount….
Her face flushed, then turned white. What!
Mildred dropped the letter before racing to the mirror. Her face. Was that her? She flattened wayward hairs on the top of her head. I am alive. I’m alive. Dratted mail system. Dratted government. She greedily gulped a needed breath.
Mildred’s next thought was her driver’s license. Had it expired?
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Catherine A. MacKenzie