I’m still cleaning out my inventory of old short stories; this one, too, dates from college, and it, too, is copyright 1992.
Grey like a battleship. Grey like a piece of granite. Grey like an elephant’s tough hide, and usually in my case almost as wrinkled. That’s what my uniform looks like. Actually it’s a blue-grey, a blue grey like nothing else but a postal carrier’s uniform. So it was.
I liked the job, carrying letters. I felt like the bearer of tidings from far away places, like an unstoppable force. Through rain, sleet, and snow I walked my route, delivering letters and stuff, mostly bills and junk mail, but sometimes letters and cards. Nothing could stop me. I was like that great battleship, ploughing through the waves, carrying the letters no matter what. Rain and snow slowed me down a little bit. Dogs sometimes, too, but I was behind the grey uniform and the little can of mace, so I was safe.
I like the neighborhood I carry in. It’s a nice almost suburban neighborhood up in 53225, townhouses and duplexes with a couple regular houses. A nice quiet corner of the city, but I guess no corner of the city is all that quiet all the time.
The winter parka was warm on me as I walked along. I think it was November, one of the first cold days of the year. The sun had shined a little, but the clouds were rolling in. The winter parka was a bluer grey than the summer shirt, but it was warmer and thicker. I was carrying my bag over my right shoulder and I liked the tug. Sometimes I loaded it extra heavy, because I figured that I was keeping in shape walking all the time, I might as well get big shoulders, but my shoulders never did get that big, and it would have only been the right shoulder anyway, so it was just as good.
I was whistling something stupid like I normally do when it’s the beginning of winter and just getting cold enough to make my cheeks red and just cold enough for the parka. I got to my favorite corner of the neighborhood, up on 100th Street, right behind the park, Little Menomonie, I mean. It’s a nice neighborhood. There’s apartment buildings, but they’re good enough people.
I was walking along, whistling something stupid, something by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, I think. I was counting the mail and sorting it by house, counting it to see who got the most mail and what they got. It’s not like I was keeping tabs or anything, I was just looking mostly at the covers of the magazines that I came across. Tom Filbin, one of the people on my route, always got the best magazines. He got Discover and Smithsonian all the time, and Smithsonian always has the neatest covers. I like Us and People sometimes, when they have really pretty movie stars on them, but Cyrus Stevens came later in the route, and it was too late in the month to be getting a magazine anyway.
I was walking along, counting and sorting mail, and thinking about the houses coming up. The walk down the street was on the side with all the apartments, the evens, and the walk back was on the side with the townhouses, the odd side. I had already finished the apartments, and I crossed the street down by where it dead-ends. It doesn’t actually dead-end, but the street ends and another comes in by the corner, so it’s not like a dead end at all.
I was thinking about the houses coming up, which I sometimes do, but generally I only think about the people I know. Some people on a mail route like to meet me at the door, like they lived waiting for me. It was my letters and stuff, I know, but sometimes they were friendly and said hi to me and stuff, and we’d talk for a second about the weather, usually as I was walking up their sidewalk or onto their porch. Sometimes I’d get to know them a little better and I’d stop to talk to them for a minute or two when I get ahead of my schedule. One lady on 107th gave me a Christmas card last year, her face crinkling up when she smiled. She invited me in for coffee one day, like I sometimes hear they do in the rural areas, and it was an old house and an old woman, so she probably did the same thing twenty years ago when this area was still fields and a little river. I thanked her, but I was late, so I told her some other time maybe, and I kept going.
I was thinking about one house that was coming up, mainly because there was a pretty lady that lived there, and I liked to talk to the young ladies as much as anyone else. Maybe more. Bikorsky once told me about a pretty lady meeting him at a door on his route in a thin flannel nightgown. I don’t believe a word of anything Bikorsky tells me, besides, I just like to see them smile and say hi. This particularly lady was not home, but I generally only see her on Saturdays anyway. It was a Wednesday, I think, and I was silly to think she’d meet me at the door anyway.
I walked on, still whistling “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, probably because the second to last house on the block had a vine growing up the side of it. I don’t think it was a grapevine, but in the summer it made the house look distinguished and old. Like something that would be growing on Harvard or Yale or something. Vines just made me think of Harvard and Yale.
I dropped the mail in the boxes on the third to last house, no magazines or packages, so they fit right in nicely and I could be on my way like a grey ghost, unseen and spreading the first Christmas cheer. Like the ghost of Christmas Present. I could see the browning leaves on the side of the next house, and I was whistling “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.
I was sorting through the mail, whistling, and I counted out three envelopes and a big bulk rate card for the left side and only the bulk rate card for the right. I walked up the driveway, carefully. I’m always careful and I don’t walk across the lawns like some carriers do, they sometimes save time by cutting across the grass so they can get to their trucks and have a cigarette or warm up. I don’t smoke, like I said I’m trying to stay in shape, and the extra walking was good for my heart.
I was walking up the driveway, thinking about the house a bit I suppose. I hadn’t seen any of the occupants very much, not with a Christmas card, a cup of coffee, or a flannel nightgown. I had seen the lady on the right once, a young lady about twenty-five. She didn’t smile and only seemed to open the door when I was there by accident. She wasn’t very pretty, but she didn’t smile, and I like to see the young ladies smile. I said hi and handed her her mail, and she said thank you, and I smiled and turned around and continued with my route. That had been in the summer, and I was wearing my lighter summer shirt, crisp and clean like the air.
I was walking up to the mailboxes, kind of looking at the ivy leaves and thinking they should be cut in the winter or something, but if they were, they’d have to grow back all in the spring. I filled the left side first, because the driveway is on the left and the walk comes up from the driveway, and I never cross the lawn.
I was crossing the porch and looking at the ivy and thinking it should be trimmed. It kind of blended with the brick, though, so it didn’t look all that bad, but up close I could see the dead leaves better, and I wondered if it would look better if they were all pulled off, the dead leaves I mean. They surrounded the front window and made it look like Yale in the summer.
I was putting the mail in the mailbox, the one card, and looking at the ivy around the window. The curtains were half open, pink curtains, like the last part of a sunrise. Yale doesn’t have pink curtains, I don’t think, but the right side of this townhouse wasn’t Yale, and I wasn’t whistling any more. I had gotten to the part of the song I forgot, so I stopped whistling entirely. The air was stilling chilling my cheeks, but I wasn’t whistling.
I was closing the mailbox, looking at the window, and thinking about Yale and pink curtains when he hit her.
They had been in the living room, mostly hidden behind the pink curtains and the vine-covered brick wall when I came up, and now he was yelling at her, but I really didn’t hear it until I saw him hit her.
It was a slap, not a punch or anything, but it knocked her down.
I could hear him yelling at her still, or more, like a maniac. She didn’t try to get up, but he bent over and grabbed her by the shoulders and picked her up. He wasn’t that much bigger than she was, but big enough, probably not as big as he thought he was. He started shaking her, and her head bounced back and forth, her brown hair bouncing over her blue covered shoulders, over his white knuckles. He shouted something right in her crying face and threw her back onto the couch, behind the curtain.
I could have knocked on the door and demanded to know what was going on. I had my mace, what could he have done to me with a faceful of mace?
I could have knocked on the door and acted like I had a package for them. I did have a little box in my bag for someone around the corner. I could have asked for him to sign for it but then acted like I realized the box wasn’t for him. He might have gotten mad at me then and yelled at me and forgotten about her or something.
I could have gone back to my truck and radioed for the dispatch to call the police and maybe kept an eye on them to make sure he didn’t really hurt her until the police came. Or something.
I closed the mailbox softly so that they wouldn’t hear, and I turned around and continued with my route like a battle-scarred battleship limping through a storm and toward drydock. Like a grey fog rolling through the neighborhood, unimposing and unnoticed. Like an old man in a parka too big for him.