Waiting for the Mail

A Wednesday in Late September

2 pm

You step out of the front door of your small cabin which sits high in a field, woods to the back and the sides. You’ve grabbed a sweater because late September always brings a slight chill to the air, and the daily walk down the winding drive to the mailbox takes a good 10 minutes. It’s been five days since he left for California; this is the absolute earliest you could expect to hear from him. Here at the cabin, you have no cell service, no internet, and — since your car gave its last wheezy growl earlier in the year — no easy way to get into town to check emails or make phone calls. While he lived with you, you had decided you didn’t need a land-wired phone. Everyone you wanted to talk to was already in the cabin with you. You spent your t8me together writing: he was working on an article about the post modern art movement; you were working on fiction, on essays, on anything that flowed from your mind to the keys of your typewriter. And so when he left, you asked him to communicate the old-fashioned way, through actual physical letters, pen to paper, envelope and stamp. You’d already written to him over the weekend and slipped the envelope, along with 55 cents for postage, in the mailbox on Monday knowing that your rural mail delivery person would happily buy the stamp for you when she got back to the post office in town.

The leaves on the maples have begun to turn to their vibrant fall colors, the flame orange an annual shock to your eyes. The oaks are a dull yellow-brown, the shy older sister to the flamboyant maple. As you reach the mailbox, you take a deep breath, hoping to settle the flutter of anticipation in your chest. Opening the metal flap, you are a touch disappointed to see only the weekly Shoppers Guide; no other mail, no letters, not even a bill. But it’s soon to be expecting mail from him. You know this. He would have arrived in Fresno late on Friday night. Then an hour’s drive to the campus in Merced where he is to begin his associate teaching position in art history. Getting himself settled into his new lodging on Saturday; no outgoing mail on Sunday. Maybe tomorrow a letter will come. You have gotten ahead of yourself with the ache of loss and expectation.


The Last Friday in October

2 pm

You step out the door of the cabin and notice that nearly all the leaves have fallen now. The height of fall colors is past; there is more than a hint of chill in the air. You walk down the winding drive to the mailbox as you have done every day since the end of September, still awaiting word from the man that had promised to write. You have gone into town only a few times since he left. On those occasional visits to the modern world, you’ve checked your email; you’ve left messages on his phone. But because the trips are few and far between, and only of short duration, you haven’t been able to wait for a call back or a return email: the neighbor who has given you a ride has little patience for staying in town too long and little sympathy for heartache. So every day you walk down the drive, waiting for mail that never comes.


A Wednesday in Mid-December

2 pm

Today when you step out the door of your cabin, you find a dusting of snow on the fields; the smell of woodsmoke from both your chimney and from the neighbor’s house — invisible through the woods, but not too far for the sweet richness of smoke to reach your nose. You walk down the long drive to the mailbox. There is no longer anticipation in your heart: the daily walk has simply become a routine, no different than making the coffee, sweeping the cabin’s wood floors, and the hours spent each day working to get your words onto paper, but no longer letters to him. Instead you’ve been writing intertwining short stories, filled with different characters and different settings, but there is a basic structure of loss and heartache and memory than winds through them all. All the things you’ve stopped telling him in letters come out in your stories as you work through what feels a lot like grief, even though you don’t think he has actually died. 


 A Thursday in Early February

2 pm

There is a sameness to winter weeks in New England: even if it’s not actively snowing, there is no doubt you are in the depths of winter. The cold can be devastating and the wind hurts your skin even through the scarf you’ve wrapped around your face beneath your cap. The driveway has a thin coating of ice, and you walk towards the mailbox more slowly each day; the fear of slipping and falling on the ice is real. You heard from your neighbor that an acquaintance who lives further up the road had fallen on the ice earlier in the month, had badly sprained her ankle, and had struggled to drag herself back inside out of the cold. You fear having the same thing happen to you, because in your case no one might discover your injury for days until the next time the neighbor decided to stop by. 

So carefully, step by step, you make your way down the drive, through the bare branches and frigid air of winter, to check the mail. The metal door on the mailbox catches and resists; the same thin layer of ice that is on the drive has sealed the box shut. You tug and then hit it with the flat of your gloves hand to clear the ice. When it opens, you pull out a few utility bills, and underneath them is a letter. Your heart stutters as you recognize the stark writing that has always reminded you of the writing of architects and draftsmen. It’s his hand, his return address on the envelope. You stick the letter along with the bills deep into the pocket of your coat, and you turn to walk back to the cabin, now not wanting to read whatever this letter that was far-too-long in coming might say. What joy could a letter unwritten for five months possibly bring?