by Jennifer Fliss
IT’S 3:30 AND THE MAIL should be arriving any minute. In the chill air-conditioned darkness only a sliver of light permeates the room from outside. Ronit gets up from the couch, transferring the baby from her chest to her hip, not without effort or pain—they’d been lying there for several hours. She peeks from behind the heavy damask curtains Alex likes to keep shut. Outside the sun pierces her eyes with burnt orange shards that she can still see when she closes them. The dahlias, the red balls and crisp white pompons the she planted earlier are blooming in their honeycombed perfection.
And there it is, Myra’s mail truck. Every day but Sunday and Thursdays which is her day off. Ronit appreciates her promptness, even on a Saturday. Especially on Saturdays.
Ronit slips on her sandals and goes outside. The postwoman is filling the bank of mailboxes across the street. The rest of the street is empty—all the families gone. To the lake, to see grandparents, to the pool, to the mall. Parents home from the workweek, guests from out of town. A lawnmower roars quietly, summery, a few blocks over.
‘Hi Myra,’ Ronit says when she’s just behind her. The postwoman startles and drops several envelopes. Junk mail, Ronit can tell. Credit card statements, promises of won vacations to worn places, solicitations for donations.
‘Why, hi there,’ says the postwoman as she collects the fallen mail. ‘And how are you doing today?’ She emphasizes the word today as if the answer would be different today. This day. A day that is not yesterday or the day before. Today.
‘Good. I think,’ Ronit says.
‘And Mr. Maguire? How is he?’ Myra looks into Ronit’s face and Ronit knows she looks tired, her hair almost like one of her dahlias in a round bun atop her head. Ronit follows Myra’s eyes up toward the house. The large colonial with the red door. The multi-paned windows with the dark tightened curtains. The many rooms. The perfect flower garden in front.
‘Oh, you know,’ Ronit says.
‘He home today?’
‘No.’ Alex, again, wasn’t home.
Myra turns her attention to the baby. ‘Hi, lil guy. And how are you?’
‘Good,’ Ronit says for her son. ‘He’s six months old today.’
‘Well, happy half birthday!’
‘We were going to have a little party.’ It was true. She had bought a small cake the size of her fist. Her son didn’t eat solid food yet, but she thought the sentiment would be fun. Watch him punch into the vanilla frosting, mash the cake up in his tiny fat fingers, paint wishes into the floor or his hair, which was remarkably thick.
Myra looks up and down the street. ‘I have something for you today.’ She digs into her heavy canvas bag, shuffling through envelopes and stacks wrapped in rubber bands. ‘Something good, I think.’ She comes up with a thin vellum envelope addressed with craggy writing with two brightly colored stamps affixed to it. ‘Here, another from Israel,’ she says as she hands it to Ronit. ‘Who do you know all the way out there?’
‘My parents,’ Ronit says on a sigh.
‘Pretty far,’ Myra says.
‘Well, I should get going, dear. That’s all I got for you today.’ Myra hops back into her truck.
In the house, Ronit sets the baby down in his swing. Flips the switch and the mechanical sounds of Mary Had a Little Lamb fill the room.
At the dining table that functions as a desk, she picks up a pair of tweezers and sets about pulling the stamps from the envelope. It’s delicate work, and she moves slowly. Starting with the stamp with the portrait of Yitzhak Rabin.
Halfway through the extraction, the baby lets out a shriek, sharp like a burn. The stamp tears. Ronit curses and pushes it back down with her thumb. She goes to the baby and coos at him, rocking the plush seat. His face slowly eases from scrunched up radish red to a blushy pink, his wet cheeks heaving. Her breasts feel thick but she doesn’t feel like nursing. She sings along to the music until he falls asleep. She notices a small stain on her shirt. She will hold the density in, all tight into herself.
Back at the table she tries again with the second stamp—this one a tiny watercolor of a pomegranate. Holding her breath, she slowly extricates the sticker from the envelope. It pops off in the final corner and she exhales. Pushing the stamp onto another page in the album, she decides to forget the torn one. She doesn’t open the letter before shoving it in an old tote bag and placing the bag on the top shelf of the coat closet. In the kitchen, she takes the small cake out of the box. She slinks against the cabinets, a handle jabbing into her back. She stays there and takes the cake into her mouth in two bites.
She thinks of her stamp collection. She has many stamps and almost as many unopened envelopes. So far from home. Alex says he is scared of flying. The baby wakes again and wails. Alex lies. Her breasts release and she can’t contain them. She doesn’t even try.
Jennifer Fliss (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose collection, The Predatory Animal Ball came out in 2021. Her forthcoming collection, As If She Had a Say comes out in 2023 with Northwestern University Press/Curbstone Books. Her writing has appeared in F(r)iction, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website: