She lived in a trailer park in Tucson, Arizona. She lived off coffee and cigarettes and candied ginger. She collected Reader’s Digest and catalogs from Lands’ End. She thought the guy on page seven looked like her first husband in emerald fleece, and further back was her second one, in black goose down. Winter was the season of her imagination.
She imagined the Mexican mailman was stealing her mail. He called her at night and then hung up when she answered. She called 911, but they didn’t do anything about it. She complained to her sister back in Florida and all she said was “poor thing.” She knew her sister was talking about the mailman.
Two years ago, she quit leaving her trailer. After that, everything got brought in, sometimes by her daughter and sometimes by her son-in-law, who smelled like a butcher shop. Smelling was something she was good at. Her daughter smelled like JIF peanut butter. Her grandson, like broken celery. The old man next door was a swamp of dead paperwhites. Sometimes she told people what they smelled like. Sometimes she told people she was widowed, if they asked.
Not too many people asked her things. Not too many people wondered what she was before. Now she was obvious: a blue hair waiting on a bus, a blue hair with tissue paper skin and sunspots and bruised forearms and brown bottle glasses and a white handkerchief balled up in her fist. She went along with it. She wore white Keds and daisy housedresses. She kept to herself. She kept her store ads piled up next to her beige telephone. If her daughter called her and asked her what she needed, she pulled one out and told her what was on sale.
The Mexican mailman was stealing her mail, though. He collected Social Security checks and cashed them at a liquor store near the border. He was the son of someone who didn’t exist, so he existed. He was born here, but always hated it. He collected catalogs too, but of condos in Cancun and timeshares in Acapulco. He wanted to go somewhere he existed, where he spoke the language. The language he spoke lived in his chest. The language he pretended to speak lived in his lips. His lips were always chapped. His lips were always chapped because of the desert wind and the desert sun and because of all the pretending. His lips hurt every time he said a word.
Right after Christmas was when she first noticed him. She saw him at the end of her driveway, shuffling her mail like playing cards. She banged on the front window and called him “Brownie” to scare him away, but all he did was look up and smile. Another time he brought her mail all the way up to her front porch. She yelled at him through the door to stay away. She thought he wanted to rape her, that’s why he came to the door and why he called her late at night, to see if she was home. That’s what she told her sister in Florida on the telephone.
It was times like these that a husband was for, she sometimes thought. When the Mexican mailman was stealing your Social Security checks, a husband would do something about it. A husband would call the government, or put up flyers at the club house. A husband would get your only daughter, who smelled like peanut butter, to file a complaint with the authorities.
Times like these was always on CNN, she also sometimes thought. She could hardly take her eyes off it, mostly because she didn’t know how to work the remote. All she could do was go from CNN, to her show, and back again. If she pushed the wrong button on accident she had to call her daughter and wait for her to come. She told Larry King about her Mexican mailman one night, when she had some wine. He was as old as she was, so she thought he’d understand. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but he sure didn’t do anything about it.
It looked like things were going to go on like this forever. Then all of a sudden one night, her left hand started to shake a little. She didn’t tell her daughter, or her sister in Florida. She cut her coffee in half, mixed half regular and half decaf, but that didn’t help. Three days later her whole arm went numb. First tingly, and then numb. She was sitting down with her CNN when she started to sweat. In the middle of a rerun of “Larry King” she thought she wet herself, but she couldn’t get up to see. The last time she wet herself was laughing on the telephone with that sister in Florida.
Just after dark, later that same day, the daughter came by to check on her.
Two weeks after that, she fell asleep in her bed with her hands folded over her stomach and never woke up again.
She died in that trailer park in Tucson, Arizona. Her cupboards were full of coffee and cigarettes and candied ginger. Piled next to her telephone were those store coupons and Reader’s Digests and catalogs from Lands’ End. The guy on page seven looked like her first husband in emerald fleece, and further back was her second one, in black goose down. She imagined the Mexican mailman was stealing her mail. And he was.
(This short story was first published in Passages North.)