The Lorelei Signal
Now the Mail Comes at Midnight
Written by Marie H. Lewis / Artwork by Marcia Borell
After the 10:30 p.m. news, after thirty minutes comedy, I hear the mail truck bumping over the potholes down the next street followed by occasional howls from confined yard dogs. The dogs used to bark at the mail truck when mail was delivered in daylight. Now it comes after dark, they howl.
When the mail truck reaches our corner four houses away, from mine and the deep-voiced biggest dog howls, I begin getting myself up. And a one, and a two, and a three, I’m balanced on two legs and a cane. Time to look out my front door.
Only the new renter across the street still has his porch light on, waiting to pick up his mail. Everybody else now picks up yesterday’s mail as they see their children off to the school bus stops or they back out of their driveways leaving for work.
Even our subdivision’s retired complainers-about-everything have given up calling the post office or their congresspersons and being told to count ourselves lucky our homes were built before more distant mail cluster boxes replaced mail boxes at the end of the driveway.
It’s hard enough for me to reach the end of my driveway on my walker. Like many who have reached my age, I don’t drive anymore. So now I can’t sell my old house and move to a smaller one because there’s no way I can get my mail from a cluster box. Our make-everybody-pay-corporations-for-everything billionaire-bought legislators have just about finished off the first federal service this country ever provided, the only federal service everybody needs.
I make sure my porch light still comes on. Hiring someone who can climb a ladder to change a burnt-out bulb costs a fourth of a hundred dollars. Just in case the porch light does go out while I’m down the driveway, I have a little flashlight duct-taped to the front of my walker. Since the street light by my driveway end’s been out all week, I pull the flashlight’s switch to send its beam before me across the uneven driveway surface.
It’s good the new renter across the street always waits to see I get back inside my door before he goes back inside his. We’ve never spoken but I appreciate that in him. People don’t often watch out for each other anymore.
When mail came in the early afternoon, everyone at home came out to the street curb to get it at the same time. They saw each other. They talked to each other. They knew each other’s ailments and concerns. Without daytime mail delivery, nothing brings everybody outside at the same time to meet each other.
The only thing I know about the man across the street is he’s always home and awake nights. I’ve never seen him outside by daylight. That lone man moved in after mail started being delivered just before early school buses brought elementary school children to the grandparents waiting to watch them until their parents came by after work. Nobody ever visits the new renter.
When mail started coming only after the latest school buses carrying high schoolers home after team or band practice, clusters of cigarette butts on driveways showed where teenagers stood around smoking until the streetlights came on and spotlighted their gatherings. The man across the way came out for his mail, as I did, after the teens moved off.
Now mail delivery never comes until it’s so dark even with the street lights on you never see your post-person clearly. When you reach through the delivery truck windows to put your mail into gloved hands, all your attention’s on not dropping what’s handed to you. All their attention is on reading addresses by the truck’s dashboard lights.
The mail-truck stops across the street. The new renter comes out to it using two walking sticks. I’ve only seen persons with two prosthetics using two like him. The new renter seems to still have both his feet and legs. On his right, he uses a metal walking stick with its four rubber ends on the cement. On his left he uses a wooden walking stick. He jabs its pointed bottom into the edge of his lawn between great oak tree roots.
I leave my cane inside my open door and lift the front wheels of my walker over the threshold to the porch slab, then lift and drop the back wheels. The seat-lidded basket in my walker supports packages whose weight could overbalance me carrying them.
Whenever I feel the walker’s front wheels hit uneven cement, I make sure my following feet don’t trip following. Too many of my Bible study group members have ended up in surgery from tripping over something sticking up or slipping on something slick.
The new renter stands beside his mailbox at the street curb, his mail in his hands, watching me come forward. I nod to him as the truck pulls up on my side of the street, just behind my mailbox. The truck driver’s black gloved hand reaches out my monthly horror magazine, always delivered late now, often with the front cover bent or torn.
As I reach out with my free hand for the magazine, another black gloved hand grabs my wrist and jerks my arm across my walker handle up to the window toward two pairs of gleaming white pointed fangs. Seizing the magazine’s bottom in my other hand, I double it and jam its thick top into the teeth tips, trapping them in the wadded pages, holding them off my throat. With my body weight I slam my walker front into the mail truck door.
The attacker was braced for me to pull back, not thrust forward. It skews sideways into the window. The new renter heard the blamm when my walker handle hit the mail truck side and rushed to the other side of the mail truck thrusting the pointed end of his wooden stick into the twisted back of the toothy driver. That thing pops and deflates like a pierced balloon, a choking black stinking smoke pouring out of it, fogging my glasses and stinging my eyes. I yank the remains of my magazine off the fangs, making sure the black glop pouring onto the paper wad doesn’t reach my fingers or my walker.
Step back to solid ground. Pull walker back over street curb. Swing it to the side as my eyes clear. The new renter is coming around the truck front, supported on his metal cane carrying the stained pointed piece of wood with him. My clearing eyes see his long white fangs come out of his wide-stretched mouth. First predator’s dead because second predator wanted the prey--me.
When Granma showed me how even a whip across the eyes with a wet dishrag can blind an attacker, she said “See. Anything in your hand can be a weapon.”
I tilt my walker and ram that critter as he sets his forward foot on the driveway corner’s curved curb, right on the broken curb-piece I keep pressed in place so the HOA won’t be demanding I have driveway work done. The broken curb bit turns under his lunge and the toothy one staggers sideways.
My walker frame knocks the pointed piece of wood free from him. I grab its upper end, pull it toward me down across my walker handles, tilt the pointed end up, brace the bottom end on the solid ground in front of my feet. Throwing the magazine at his red eyes blinds him. He flings himself toward me and onto the point of the grounded stake.
Another popped balloon deflates. Its putrid pieces scatter across the road. The mail truck’s auto drive kicks in and slaloms the truck across the remains. It heads back to the post office lot.
The wooden stake flips across the street. A fresh wind whips various pieces of junk mail, steaming black mists, off across lawns trimmed to the homeowner’s association’s three inches high requirement.
I wait a slow sixty count to be sure nobody’s opening a door to look outside because of the metallic bam like a trashcan lid banging shut or a wandering teen hitting a streetlamp post with something hard. Then I balance myself on my walker to retrieve my destroyed magazine, the only proof I was ever out here.
If the morning sun evaporates the body, no one’s likely to come knocking at my door asking if I saw or heard anything. I’ll plant the magazine with daffodil bulbs tomorrow and message its distributor online I never received this month’s copy. And that will be that.
Marie H.Lewis is a retired High School Spanish teacher who now bird watches and enjoys looking out the patio doors at her green world. Her fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine. She, along with her daughter Sarah Lewis, are active members of the Woodlands Writing Guild.