He put the letter with ‘IMPORTANT information inside’ stamped in big red letters across the front, to the back of the pile of mail. ‘When will they understand that I don’t even own that vehicle anymore?’ he asked himself as he walked up the long gravel driveway back to his house from his mailbox. He always had a bunch of junk mail to throw away. The world couldn’t be that worried about preserving trees, he mused as he walked into his house and tossed the other mail on the kitchen table.
It was October and this year’s leaves were already giving up, saying good-bye to their limbs and letting go. Small brown piles of this past summer’s shade were now beginning to form on the ground.
Listening to James Taylor on his new but old vinyl, Victor made himself a new pot of coffee and looked out the window over the sink. ‘Looks like it might rain today, Larry. We gotta get that garbage off and fix the birdfeeder before the rain gets in. Don’t you think that’d be a good idea, Larry?’
Larry nodded in agreement. Larry was always in support of doing anything that would increase the bird attendance at their home. Larry had been Victor’s best friend for years now, probably 10. Larry appeared about a week after Vic’s wife had passed away. Larry had became invaluable in Vic’s life. So much so, that Vic had written in his will that when Vic passed, that it would only seem right if Larry were still alive, that Larry should be euthanized and buried with Victor. I mean, Larry was already old, so he might as well go with Vic to the great Beyond, right? They were besties, after all. Space wasn’t going to be a problem. Victor’s wife was on her side, Victor would be on his side and Larry would fit nicely in the coffin with him.
There’s always room for an albino cat with pink eyes in a coffin.
Pouring his cup and sitting at the table while Larry sat on the table and supervised today’s mail sorting, Vic picked up the stack of letters.
As James wailed ‘Long ago a young man sits and plays his waiting game’ in the background, Vic sifted through the mail. ‘junk, junk, junk, bill…Larry, I thought we paid this last month’. Larry was busy cleaning his front paw and could care less if bills got paid.
‘Junk, junk, ju…wait…what’s this one?’
Victor laid down the other letters and looked at this one. Odd looking piece of mail he thought. Looks old. But it’s fashionable now to make things look old so he wasn’t really THAT surprised. Like he normally would do, he turned the letter on it’s end and tapped it on the table to let the contents settle to the bottom. Reaching across the table, he picked up the steak knife from last night’s steak dinner. Larry was always excited to have steak. Especially when Vic would leave the plate out all night so Larry could graze during the night on the steak scraps and tangy juice.
Victor sliced open the end of the envelope. Reaching inside he pulled out the folded single sheet of paper. This sender was really good. The paper that the letter was written on was even browned with age. The letter actually smelled old. Like going into an antique store and smelling the ancient books that lined the dusty shelves, this letter brought with it much interest to Vic. The smell even caught Larry’s attention as he finished his morning bath and came closer to this oddly fragrant thing going on.
Unfolding the sheet of paper, Victor put his reading glasses on.
I hope you’re doing well. It’s been a long time since we talked, I wanted to write you. I hope your classes are going well in college. You know, your mother and I talk often of how proud we are of you…’
Larry jumped off of the table and scrambled to other side of the room and sat against a wall staring at his best friend. Suddenly, something was wrong. Something was very wrong with his Victor.
Victor Willis stopped reading the letter right there. The hair on his arms tingled. He laid the letter down and tried to catch his breath.
This was insane. There’s no way this could be real. Getting up to splash his face in water at the kitchen sink, Victor had gotten his wits back about himself. Clearing his throat, like this would help him read better, Vic went back to the table and picked up the envelope.
It was his name and address, so he didn’t receive it by mistake. Turning it over, there was no return address. The only thing written there was two initials; D.L.
Flipping the letter back over, he noticed the stamp. The stamps were so old. There were 6 of them all in a row, only 1 cent stamps. Holy Toledo, how old was this letter and why was it just now getting here?
For a moment, Victor tried to piece together logical possibilities. Heather, the mail lady didn’t seem the type to prank. At that moment, there were so many things going through his 70 year old mind that Vic decided to stop trying to be all dramatic. ‘Just be practical and go back and read the letter’ Vic said to himself.
Picking the letter back up, he continued to read where the hair had stood on its end and Larry ran off like his hair was on fire.
‘You know, your mother and I talk often of how proud we are of you. You always did well in grade school and high school. We are all so proud that you’ll be the first to attend a real college and graduate! I always wanted to go to college but for people like us, without much money, it was only a nightly dream we all had.
I won’t keep you. I just wanted to say how proud I am of you and had you on my mind as we start to plan for the holidays. Can’t wait to see you then. I hope this letter finds you doing well.
What in the world? By now the shock had worn off, well sort of, and Larry had sauntered back over to the table and had wrapped himself around Vic’s leg.
Aunt Dot had died many, many years ago. Dorothy Livingston, Dot for short, was his favorite Aunt. She had bright red hair and always laughed. She cooked special cookies when he went there. They were orange and had cinnamon mixed in them. Every time he smells oranges now, he remembers Aunt Dot and the fun they had. Her laugh was mesmerizing to young Vic. Her husband had died so she was lonely a lot. Vic’s mom had agreed that Vic could go stay with her some and help with things in the yard. But the truth was, Vic did very little work. Dot didn’t either. They walked and talked a lot. He told her things he couldn’t tell anyone else and she didn’t judge him. She’d always have a clean white apron on. She was busy but she insisted on being a ‘clean’ type of busy.
The scraping sound of Larry sharpening his claws on the kitchen table leg brought Vic back into reality.
This letter must have just gotten lost in the mail and just now showed up. That happens. He smiled as he remembered how much he loved his aunt Dot. He was lucky indeed. That’s all this was. Just a lost letter in the mail. He had seen this happen before on the news.
It was a gift from Dot, it was so like her to gift him this many years after her death. Dot died from a quick and merciless bout with ovarian cancer sometime in 1975. Walking over to the stainless percolator, Vic poured himself a new cup and felt good inside again. Warm.
Like an orange and cinnamon cookie.
On the way back he suddenly remembered the exact date of her death. It was the day after Christmas that year. He recalled it because it was the saddest Christmas of his knowing the pain that Dot was in.
Christmas dinner and presents were done but not as usual. His mother was crying most of the night over her sister dying. Christmas music and red and green papers were useless to try and cheer up a home with his mother’s sister dying in the next room.
And then, the next day, the electric angel on top of the Christmas tree seemed to glow a little brighter as his sweet Aunt Dot passed peacefully in her sleep.
Going back to the table and picking the letter and envelope up he would be placing them in his family Bible. Feeling emotional, he picked his best friend up and carried him with him.
Larry started to paw at the tips of the envelope. That was odd. Larry wasn’t playful anymore, he was old now. That was something he used to do. He had a thing he’d do where he’d paw at stuff he seemed to want Larry to notice; an empty bowl, a cat toy that needed to be thrown or wiggled, He had a way of making sure Vic knew he wanted him to see this thing. But it had been years since he’d engaged Vic like that.
In this moment, however, Larry’s bright white paw was toying with the edge of the envelope where the stamp was. Flipping it, he would look up at Larry with those aged pink eyes as if to tell him, ‘you’re not looking here’.
Vic flipped the envelope over with one hand to see what Larry was so upset over.
And when he saw it, he dropped Larry in the floor. Larry shrieked the sound that nails on a chalkboard would make and ran under the couch. James Taylor had quit singing and the house was deathly silent except for the ‘bump bump bump’ sound coming through the speaker that meant that the vinyl record was at the end and needed tending. But Vic stood there unable to move, or think really, as he read the front of the envelope that Larry had insisted he see.
Why had he not noticed it before now?
How would his dead Aunt Dot have known what his address would be in 2020?
How and why?
Suddenly what was a great memory of a favorite relative had turned into something that made him feel quite differently. It wasn’t a good feeling anymore.
Things started moving really slowly in his living room as his mind whirled with confusion and sadness and unsure of what this emotionally evil game is that he had just become a part of. The bump bump that continued on the record player was as loud as the sound of his own increasing heartbeat in his ears. The windchimes now chinged their irregular rhythms in the damp autumn breeze outside.
Larry’s red eyes peered out from under the couch at his best friend who was now pale. Vic’s skin color was now more the shade of Larry’s white and glowing albino coat.
Larry watched as Vic collapsed onto the living room floor. Larry didn’t even jump at the thud of Vic’s lifeless pale body crashing on the living room rug still grasping the old faded letter.
The last thing Vic remembered before he passed out was reading the postmark.
Inside the faded postmarked circle by the six 1 cent stamps, the date clearly read