I wrote a few short stories last month. It’s been a long while since I’ve written, let alone finished, any short fiction, so I should thank the 2:20 mark in the Lightning in a Bottle 2014 promotional video for this one. Amazing what a two-second visual can inspire.
It came on a Sunday afternoon. She was in the kitchen soaking shreds of letters in the dishpan before stuffing them into the garbage disposal. Once mushy white globs of bleeding ink thrust over the rubber drain guard, she’d flip the switch and the disposal would suck down in wet belching swallows. Then she’d start again.
It took two short rings and a piercing long tone for her to realize there was someone at the door. The tenants and the landlady were out for the day. She peered out the window before opening the door.
The man on the porch was dressed in a dusty postal uniform, shiny spots on both knees and elbows. Stray threads stuck out at every angle but his hair was combed and neatly parted to one side.
“Anyone home?” he asked.
“I’m standing right here.”
He blinked as his eye readjusted from their faraway stare. “I have a delivery for you, Miss.”
“Mail on a Sunday?” she folded her arms, tucking the goose bumps against her sleeves.
He chuckled good-naturedly. “Only one thing gets delivered on Sundays.” Excusing himself, he stepped off the porch and zipped around the side of the house. She waited in the doorway, straining to see where he had gone. He returned with a navy cooler strung over his shoulder. “Had to be sure someone was home. These are delicate. Can’t go leaving them on the porch.” He said it out loud but the words were more for himself. With tender care, he set the cooler down and unzipped the top.
She leaned in without breaching the threshold but all she could see was a woven cone shaped top. The delivery man pulled on white gloves and gently coaxed out a multicolored cocoon, spherical in the middle and stretched to peaks on the top and bottom. It was an oddly shaped Tiffany lantern that pulsed softly despite the afternoon light. He presented it to her, pushing it through the threshold but she back away, hands still tucked tight under her arms.
“Who sent this?” she asked suddenly breathless. A strange notion. She couldn’t remember the last time she had taken a breath.
“I believe it was willed but I’ll have to double check the paperwork,” he pushed it a few more centimeters.
She untucked her hands but hesitated. “Are you sure it’s okay? Barehanded, I mean.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. No harm to it since it’s yours.” She took it and was surprised by its weightlessness. The stained glass was cool but the woven frame was warm like bundles of veins with blood rushing through.
The man took out a clipboard and flipped a page over. “Yep. Looks like it was willed. I just need you to sign here and date.” He opened a fountain pen as she transferred the cocoon to one hip and signed with a flourish of black calligraphy. He tucked the clipboard under his arm and reshouldered the cooler. “Thank you ma’am. Be at peace.” Then he was gone.
She retreated to a chaise lounge in the living room and perched the cocoon in her lap as she looked it over. It couldn’t stand on its own; she would have to carry it with her wherever she roamed.
The afternoon meandered on and as the light dwindled to dusk, the cocoon glowed until it was the only illumination in the room.
“Willed,” she teased the word over her lips with her tongue. “It could have gone to the children or grandchildren. The wife even.” She choked at the end. “Instead you came back to me.”
Keys jangled outside and the light burst on in the foyer as the front door slammed. Chatter speared the air, moving into the kitchen. She remained quiet, transfixed by the glow of the cocoon, peering beyond its stained fractures for a glimpse of what was inside.
The faucet in the kitchen turned on then was promptly cut off. “Seriously? There’s paper in the drain again?”
In the foyer, deep in the corner of one’s eye, a multicolored light flickered before being spirited away.
(Written 03.14.2014; Edited 04.13.2014)