by Than Pence
A late birthday card acts as a catalyst for something uncomfortably disturbing...
|“Mail call,” said Cliff as he plopped envelopes onto the table.
Mary watched as the small bundle slid loose of itself, and she sighed. “You know I don’t like it on our dining room table.”
Cliff smirked. “Right. ‘Cause you don’t wanna end up like your old man.”
Rolling her eyes, Mary snatched up the mail. “And your mother, Clifford. We come from pack-rats. Hoarders. It’s in our genes and I don’t want to live that way.”
He pressed against her, his groin rubbing against the top of her buttocks, his chin resting against the back of her head. “Ooh, I’d like to get into your jeans, Ms. Mary.”
Turning, she swatted him with the mail. His scruff mussed up her blonde hair. “Stop that, perv. You’re sweaty from outside, and I don’t have time for your dime-store charms.”
“You can’t spare three—”
“No!” she exclaimed, smirking. She looked at the mail and flipped through it quickly. “I have to be at work soon… What’s this?”
Cliff craned his head at the bright orange envelope. “Don’t know. Saw it in the pack. Looks like a late birthday card.” He adjusted himself and smiled. “Speaking of being late…”
Mary couldn’t help but smile at him. “Stop it,” though she knew it felt like an empty command. Her smile betrayed her. “And you’re right. It’s two weeks late. And who’s it from?”
“Don’t know.” He untucked his shirt and Mary knew another sloppy attempt at an afternoon quickie was coming. “Just open it.”
“The postal stamp says… Altanta.”
Cliff slowed in slipping out of his shoes. Mary looked at him. They both knew someone in Atlanta. She felt her cheeks flush and looked back down at the envelope, at her carefully written name and address. Taught moments finally contracted and Cliff huffed, his lunch-breath catching her off-guard. “So… he’s still sending you cards?”
Mary didn’t answer. She didn’t know how. She knew that she felt uncomfortable all of a sudden and that she didn’t want to open the bright envelope. She flipped it over to see if the address was on the back, but nothing was there.
Finally answering the question, Mary weakly said, “I don’t know.”
Cliff huffed, rolled his eyes, and went into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, he said, “Well, you should open it. See what the asshole sent.”
Not wanting to appear eager, Mary, with deliberate leisure, opened the envelope. Inside was a birthday card with Snoopy on the outside. She turned it to show Cliff in the kitchen. “Snoopy,” she said.
Popping a cap on a brown bottle of root beer, Cliff looked at the card and flashed a bright-eyed, cold smile. “That’s fucking great.”
Mary flipped the card down quickly, stifling a lump in her throat. In moving the card, something slipped out. It fluttered in the air, a crisp piece of green paper.
When it landed, Mary gasped. It was a hundred dollar bill.
Cliff saw the money escape from the bright prison, too: Warden Snoopy not keeping track of his inmate. She watched him step out of the kitchen and look down at the money. He slowly shook his head, his smile widening. “What a piece of work.” He took another swig of root beer.
Mary scooped the money up quickly, stuffing it back into the card. “That… that was very nice of him.”
“Yeah, he’s a real saint, that one.” He knocked his bottle toward the card. “Well, how’d he sign it? ‘Your friend, Gerald’? ‘With fondness, Gerry’?” He stepped forward. “’Love, G’?”
Mary met her boyfriend’s gaze finally, his blue eyes matching his cold demeanor. “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, Cliff. I haven’t seen him in… in years.” She threw the card onto the table, on top of the other mail. The hundred dollar bill slid partially free. “I guess… I guess he still likes being nice. To me.”
Grabbing the card, Cliff opened it. “Hugs and kisses and hugs and kisses. And then some.” He looked at Mary. “That’s sure an awful lot, wouldn’t you say?”
Mary, feeling sick, grabbed the card. There was no signature, just a stint of X’s and O’s. She looked at the back of the card but only saw the manufacturer, the price, the barcode. “There’s no signature.”
“It’s right there,” said Cliff as he pointed.
“That… this could be anyone.”
She looked up into his face, at his square, stubbly jaw, his asymmetrical nostrils, his thick lips. Then back into his ice blue eyes. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“We both know it’s him.” He took another helping of root beer and said, “Let me see your phone.”
A flash of anger came upon Mary. Anger and disgust. She couldn’t say “No” fast enough.
Cliff smirked at her response. “Figures.” He rolled his shoulders down and scratched the top of his head. “You got something to hide.” He licked his lips and drank the last drops. “You been texting him? Talking to him?”
The flash from a moment ago finally lit a fuse. When the fuse burned up inside Mary, she unexpectedly, and with great force, slapped Cliff. He reeled to the side Her hand burned. The man’s stubble was hard. He stood propped against the table.
“Do not ever accuse me of anything like that. I’m not the one with a history of cheating!” He didn’t meet her gaze. Noticing the time, she swore and pulled her phone out of her purse. “Here. Browse through it all. I’ve gotta get to work. Dick.”
She stormed past him, opened the door, then turned back and grabbed the cash. “I’ll leave the card with you, Snoopy. I need gas money.” Slamming the door, Mary went to work and knew her mood wouldn’t warrant many diner tips tonight.
She looked at the money and was ironically thankful to have it.
Word Count: 976