January 7, 2010
It was already dark when Audrey stuck her key in the mailbox, the red one on the end. The neighbors had all switched to the lockable ones thanks to a rash of mail thefts in the neighborhood over the past couple of years.
Back in the house, going through the mail in the kitchen, Audrey made a “hmmm” noise as she pushed back her sweatshirt hood. One of her Christmas cards had come back with a yellow label marked “Return to Sender.” She took her tattered address book off the shelf and opened it to the R’s. The addresses matched.
Audrey tore open the envelope and removed the photo greeting card—with pumpkins and hay bales, more Halloweeny than Christmassy—from the Pullets: Carl, trim and silver-haired; Evan, tall like his dad but fair like his mom; Joe, twenty-one and the broadest-shouldered, next to a scarecrow in camo fatigues with a sign, “Todd needs a brain;” and all of them towering over Audrey, red-faced with laughter.
The kitchen door swung open. “Hi-ho,” Carl said, stomping his feet on the mat. He unzipped his wet jacket.
“Hi,” she said. “Did your Uncle Fred move?”
“Heck if I know.” He opened the fridge. Bottles clattered. “Why?”
Audrey showed him the card. “It came back. Not deliverable.”
“Huh.” Carl opened a beer and headed for the family room. Audrey followed.
“You don’t think he died without us knowing, do you?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Something must’ve happened.”
“Audrey, he’s ninety-five. Ninety-five happened.” Carl turned on the TV as Audrey disappeared into the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Audrey stood between Carl and the Steelers. “I just got off the phone with Lorene.”
“Yeah. She said she told you Fred was moving to an assisted living facility in Pasadena. Last April.”
Carl thought about that. “Oh. Oops.”
“I think fifty-nine happened.”
Carl headed for the fridge at the next commercial. The family photo was fixed on the door with a magnet, and Todd’s name had been X’d out with a fat black marker. The scarecrow’s sign now read, “Carl needs a brain.”
© 2010 Pam Wells