AND THE WINNER IS:
I would like to thank everyone who joined the mini short story contest and took time to say hello and share a bit about themselves. I used Random.Org to choose a winner and hope you will enjoy the mini short story I created based on the comment selected by random.org. I thought it might be fun if you could guess which comment won using my story content for clues. I will reveal the winning comment on Sunday so people can have a few days to read, guess, and say in a comment which comment they think provided the inspiration for “Dear Madame.”
Patricia Reynolds stood in front a cluster of seventeen identical mailboxes not far from the condo where she lived alone. She juggled the shopping bags that dangled from both hands as she tried to keep them from touching the ground while guiding a tiny key into the locked box marked with a bold number six instead of her name.
It seemed she was always struggling with too much in her hands especially when she picked up the mail at the end of her day. She knew better of course, but she had to park so far from her door that two trips always seemed like one too many.
She wished the area around the mail drop was tidy enough to put the bags down, but too many times she’d noticed her neighbors picking up their mail after a walk with their dogs and she hated the way they seemed to regard the area as a last chance toilet break for their animals before going inside.
Moving carefully, she slid the stack of mostly business sized envelopes from the overstuffed mailbox and maneuvered it into the open top of the closest bag. Walking the short distance to her front door she inserted the largest key on the ring into the lock and pushed it open with her foot.
She stumbled inside just as one of the plastic bags tore open scattering the contents on the floor in front of her. Fatigue overwhelmed her for a moment and she felt as if she might cry. Frustrating did not begin to describe the day she’d had and on any other day she would have picked up every bit of the mess now at her feet while thinking about what her mama had always said about cleanliness being a virtue, or was it something about godliness, with patience as a virtue, she couldn’t remember which it was and today she was just too tired to care.
She felt worn out lately, even more so than normal with the recent increase in the amount of paperwork from her sales job. Well … you couldn’t exactly call it paperwork anymore she thought to herself, considering that expression would soon be obsolete as there was so little paper actually involved these days.
The endless call reports they were now required to submit were being done on the laptop that she’d jokingly referred to as Pia over drinks with her friends the last time she’d managed to join them.
As they moaned about how they never saw her anymore, she’d smiled as playfully as she could muster and said, “That’s because I have a new best friend who takes every minute of my day. I call her Pia, which is short for pain in the ass!”
They’d laughed at this poor attempt at humor and were gracious in saying how it was okay and that they understood how demanding her job was, but she had not been herself that night and she sensed something had changed in their group dynamic as well. It was not just Pia or things at work she’d thought on the drive home, but it was more likely the change in her relationship status that had made things seem awkward.
It was funny the way they seemed to miss Jeff more than she did at dinner, the empty chair obvious at the table made for eight. Patricia tried not to notice all the ways they had to shift the conversation over the evening to avoid mentioning him and while she appreciated their loyalty, she wanted to hug them collectively and shout that she was really okay.
There were things she’d missed about him when he’d first left, but sharing household chores and splitting expenses did not make a relationship and she had been okay when he’d announced he was leaving although sad that they had lost the spark of something she had hoped in the beginning would turn into more. They’d been fixed up by friends who loved them both and they had wanted to believe they were the match everyone else thought they would be.
She had soothed any bits of disappointment at their breakup by writing the words to a favorite quote across the glass of her bathroom mirror so that everyday she might be reminded that what she and Jeff had shared, was not really love. At least not the kind of love Pearl S. Buck was writing about when she said, “Love cannot be forced, love cannot be coaxed and teased. It comes out of heaven, unasked and unsought.”
Patricia had no problem waiting for love although she had to admit she was a bit lonely at times and she sighed as she considered another night alone. Somewhere between the sigh and lifting her foot to step over the mess on the floor, she lost her balance as her back foot slipped after coming down on the stack of bills that had fallen with the groceries.
She grabbed at the table on her way down pulling the lamp over with her and landed in a heap on top of the pile in front of the door. The lamp was the first thing she checked after finding herself unharmed and it was then that she saw the letter.
Patricia noticed the blue air mail sticker before she saw a stamp with what looked like the head of a woman wearing a crown. The return address included the letters UK and she wondered for a half second if it had been delivered with her mail by mistake. Running her eyes across the front of the envelope she was momentarily surprised to see a name she recognized although it was not her own.
She shook her head as if to clear her confusion and remembered that she had requested her mother’s mail be sent to her after her death almost six weeks earlier. It wasn’t as if it was the first piece of mail she received addressed to her mom, but this one was different from the machine printed labels on the few bills she’d had to deal with to wrap up her mother’s business affairs; this one was handwritten and looked as if it might be personal.
Patricia turned it over and quickly ran a fingernail under the flap opening it with one stroke. She slid the folded paper out of the envelope noting that one of the two sheets of paper seemed thicker and of better quality than the other and there was an old photograph of someone she did not recognize included as well. One of the pages contained more of the same handwriting she’d seen on the envelope while the other was a photocopy of something that looked very old.
Still sitting where she’d fallen in the middle of the shopping and the mound of bills, she held one page in each hand unsure of which to read first. With the photocopied old letter in the left and the new one in her right she decided on the letter that began with the words, “Dear Madame.”