Flash Fiction: Letterbox by Lydia Copeland Gwyn

Photo by Alvin Engler.

She can see her reflection in the glass patio door, and she’s sick of her posture, which she learned in gym class. The spine against an imaginary wall, the belly sucked in. Back then she was full of baby fat and had dimples for knuckles. Smiling hands, her teacher had said. She hates the shorts she’s wearing, the uncomfortable shorts that looked nice in the store. Pearls dangle from her ears. A cactus surrenders on her t-shirt. She holds up her palm to feel for rain.

He’s standing on a ladder, which is propped against the house. He’s done the job well, he knows. He’s good at what he does. He’s good at most things, like his father before him driving nails into blocks of wood at night. He thinks of his father’s whetstone, black in an old candy tin that sat atop the refrigerator. His father’s missing belt loop, a thumb under an orange peel, getting things started. Everything is easy for a man who spent his boyhood separating hides from rabbits like pulling off a tube sock.

She misses how they used to shower together after working in the yard, raking leaves, shoveling snow. She loved how tight he felt in her hand. How he came to life. Cold lips warming in the water. Now after yard work, they come inside and sit at the table working a crossword on his phone. She knows all the answers before he can type them in. When they go to restaurants he complains about the coffee or the religious pictures on the walls or the crowds, so they stay home, and he fixes his things the way he likes them. And she listens to her shows, the 5 o’clock jazz on a local radio station, a podcast on her phone about near death experiences where the host and the guests talk in acronyms, NDEs and ADCs and STEs.

Their backyard is a square outlined with painted cinder block walls like most of the yards in their neighborhood. There’s a charcoal grill in the corner and a bed of pebbles–dune and puddle–out of which a young tree grows. Its leaves wet from its own damp insides. The day is ending with a big sky, heavy with the feeling of storms she knows will come that night. What is there to do that hasn’t been done? What is there to say?

He’d always wanted a son to teach things to. Gutters, routers, oil pans. How to bake the walnut cake all his father and grandfather used to bake. His wife stands below him, full of curves, the white curl of her hair, the round edge of her glasses. How many times in their life together has she stood at the foot of a ladder while he climbed up? He used to read murder mysteries to her, years ago when she was on bedrest. Sitting in the lamplight by the sofa where she stayed, his words made a rhythm that put her to sleep.

At one time these two were strangers, and she would see him sitting on the letterbox with his rolled-up shirt sleeves and wish he’d come down and lean into her car window. And he would see her in the bookstore and think of her braiding her hair on the edge of his bed. Posters peeling from the walls. She would be a wide river moving quiet and slow through the woods, trying not to startle the natives.

She read somewhere that happiness is a choice, or maybe she heard it on one of her shows. She can hear a lady’s voice saying it in her head. But she also knows it’s easy to be sad like falling back into an armchair.

Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s stories and poems have appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, New World Writing, The Florida Review, Glimmer Train, Gone Lawn, SmokeLong Quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, and elsewhere. Her book of flash fiction Tiny Doors is available from Another New Calligraphy. 

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