The Envelope

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It was a small town. It was a boring town. But boring was the way that Kevin liked it.

His life was fine until he’d gotten an envelope that couldn’t be opened.

He was a person who liked routine. He craved routine, to be more precise. Every morning he woke up, went to work, had lunch at the same café, and went home.

Kevin worked at a grocery store, working the checkout line on weekday mornings. Mornings were easy. The movements were so repetitive, the swiping of the barcodes, the sorting through the register… For hours at a time, Kevin could live with his eyes closed. He didn’t need to think. It wasn’t that he didn’t like thinking, he just never had much of anything worth thinking about.

After work, he went to the café. Everybody there knew him. It was a run by a family, the mom, the dad, the three daughters. They would share some small talk, but they weren’t precisely friends.

There was somebody new in the café that day. Kevin knew all of the lunchtime regulars. It was a young boy, probably still a student. He was sitting at the table next to Kevin’s, examining a crinkled white envelope.

Every once in awhile, the boy would look up, and their eyes would meet. Then he’d look back down at the envelope, flexing his fingers, making the paper crackle with every movement.

Kevin was eating a tuna salad sandwich. He almost always got the tuna salad sandwich on weekends. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were typically days for grilled cheese sandwiches, while the Tuesdays and Thursdays were for bacon cheeseburgers. The only reason that he would ever break from this tradition was if the café had run out of ingredients for his preferred meal. Often when he came in, he wouldn’t have to bother ordering. One of the daughters would simply gesture to a seat and bring out the day’s lunch.

He hadn’t noticed, so absorbed in his food, and so absorbed in trying not to think of anything, but the boy at the other table had stood up and wandered over. Suddenly the boy was sitting across from him.

Kevin looked at him expectantly, but he didn’t have a clue what to say.

“Hey,” the boy said. The envelope was tight in his hand.

“Hello,” Kevin said.

The boy tilted his head, as if searching for something on Kevin’s face. “Can I ask you a favor? It won’t be any trouble.”

Kevin’s eyes were on the envelope. “I suppose not. Who are you?”

The boy shifted in his seat. He was anxious about something. “My name’s Bryan.”

“Kevin,” Kevin said, reaching out a hand and shaking his. He did it automatically, feeling that he had no choice. “I’ve never seen you here.”

“I don’t live in town,” the boy told him, shrugging slightly. His eyes were on the envelope too. “I’m from a couple cities over.”

Kevin furrowed his brow. “How old are you?”

Bryan smiled, like it was a joke. “Seventeen.”

“What are you doing out here?”

His smile grew. “I don’t quite know, to be completely honest. This morning I stole my dad’s motorcycle, and I started riding down the highway. No direction, no destination.”

Kevin thought about this for a moment. “You ran away from home.”

“I did,” Bryan said, flapping the envelope against his open palm.

“You have a license? You allowed to ride a motorcycle?”

“I suppose not. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Kevin studied his face. Bryan’s tone seemed politely cheerful, but there was still an ounce of disappointment hidden behind it all. “Why did you leave?” Kevin asked.

“I had some problems with my dad. Nothing special. But… anyway, I have a favor I need to ask you.”

Kevin said nothing.

Bryan lifted the envelope to eye level. “I need you to take this. I don’t want it anymore.”

“You don’t want it,” Kevin repeated.

“A few years ago, my mom was in the hospital, sick. The docs gave her a one in ten chance of living.” He flapped the envelope again, the paper crinkling. “My mom always liked handwritten letters. She said there was something nostalgic about them, something… melancholic.” The word sounded strange coming from his mouth.

“That letter is from your mother,” Kevin concluded.

Bryan looked at it again, as if he hadn’t realized he was holding it. “My dad didn’t like to visit her in the hospital. I wanted to go alone, so I could talk to her without him looming in the back of the room, listening and judging…” He sighed deeply. “About a week after we last visited, my mom sent this letter. But she was dead before the letter arrived.”

Kevin didn’t know what to say.

Again, Bryan flapped the envelope against his palm. “My dad never saw the letter. I got it out of the mail, and I hid it in my room.”

“Why?”

He sneered. “My dad didn’t deserve to see it, didn’t deserve to know her last words.” His face fell a moment later, like a deflating balloon. “I didn’t deserve to read it either. So I never opened it.”

“Why?” Kevin asked again.

Bryan looked away, his gaze on anything but the envelope. “I don’t know, really. I had a fight with my dad last night. Not a big fight, or at least no bigger than any of the others. But I was done with him. It was the last time. So I left, and the only reason I stopped here was because the bike was running out of gas.”

He set the envelope on the table and slid it over to Kevin.

“I need you to take the letter. I don’t want it anymore.”

“Why?” Kevin asked for a third time. He felt foolish for repeating himself. “Why me?”

Bryan smiled, puffing air out of his nose. “You’re somebody. As long as it’s not me or my father, I don’t care who reads that letter.”

Kevin picked it up. He’d expected it to feel special, have a certain weight to it, but it was just crinkled paper. He didn’t want it. It was difficult to say precisely why, but it seemed that this letter wasn’t meant to be read. “Do you have any idea what it says?”

“I have no idea. I keep thinking about the kind of ink she used. Black ink? Red ink? Blue ink? Maybe it was written with a pencil. Maybe it’s written in perfect calligraphy. Maybe it’s meaningless scribbles, a desperate message from a dying mind. Maybe the pages are blank, one last crazy joke to infuriate my father.” He shook his head. “I have no idea. And I have no intention of finding out.”

Kevin stared at the paper, at the address on the front. The address was typed onto a sticker, likely printed off by the hospital. There really was no way of knowing what sort of ink had been used. You couldn’t see through the paper. “The town on the address,” Kevin said. “You really have come a long way.”

Bryan stood up. “I have.” Then as he turned away, he added, “I’m sorry.” It sounded like he meant it.

The boy returned to his table, eating the rest of his meal quickly. He was finished within a matter of minutes. He stood up, paid at the register, thanked the staff, and left. Kevin could hear the motorcycle revving outside.

Kevin wanted to open the envelope right there, right that instant. But something held him back. After he ate his lunch, he brought the envelope home, but still he didn’t open it. He decided to sleep on it, and save it for tomorrow.

Still, he didn’t open it.

Obedient

Standard

She must do as she is told. It is not because she wants to obey, but because she has no choice. Any instruction, no matter how ridiculous, she will follow. As horrific as it may sound, she certainly is a good mother.

When the kids need something, she provides. When an errand must be run, she will complete any task. Her husband greatly loves her, and she grew to love him, after he told her to. She used to think for herself, of course, but others found that the independent thought caused nothing but trouble. She hasn’t thought for herself in years.

“Can you drive me to the mall?” the daughter asked.

“Of course,” the mother said.

“Can you drive me to my friend’s house?” the son asked.

“Of course,” the mother said.

“I get a ride first!” the daughter clarified sternly.

“Of course,” the mother said.

The son refuted, “No, I get a ride first!”

“Of course,” the mother said.

Their father walked in. “Don’t argue, kids. Honey, can you make us some dinner?”

“Of course,” the mother said.

“Dad! She can’t make dinner!” the daughter complained. “She has to drive us!”

The father eyed his children. “Let’s all have dinner here, as a family. Then you can go out. Okay? I feel like your mother is driving you two everywhere these days.”

The son moaned, “But my friend wants me to come now!”

“Dinner first,” the father restated sternly.

But the son ignored him and turned to his mother. “Mom, drive me to my friend’s house!”

“Of course,” the mother said.

The father spoke up. “No, no, don’t drive him anywhere. From now on, ignore everything that the children say.”

“Of course,” the mother said.

“Dad!” the kids complained. That was their father’s secret loophole that he would use sometimes. There was always some sort of trick to get their mother to do what needed to be done. The kids had both considered using the same trick, to negate their father’s instructions, but they worried what their father would do once he got control of their mother again. Their father always did this for a day or two when they were to insistent for favors. It was like a time-out from access to mom.

“Make us dinner,” the father instructed.

“Of course,” the mother said.

The daughter grumbled, “Can you tell her to make it quickly?”

The father sighed, “Yes, I suppose so. Dear, can you make the dinner within ten minutes?”

“Of course,” the mother said. She walked into the kitchen and started cooking.

Sometimes the kids would try to tell their mother to do something that wasn’t possible. Once they had tried to have dinner ready within only one minute, just to see what would happen. It didn’t taste very good.

The trouble was, though she had to obey, there was still room for failure. There was one frightening time when the daughter asked her mother to bring her to France within an hour, just to see what would happen. It had been terrifying. As fast as she could, the mother threw the daughter into the car and sped down the street, driving as quickly as the car would allow her to go. So scared, it had taken the daughter a moment to remember that she could change her mother’s instructions.

She was very talented, when she needed to be. The family had tried asking her to create art, or to play a piano piece without error. The mother would try her absolute best when given these tasks, and her abilities often surprised the family.

After dinner was ready, the family gathered around the table and started eating. Almost immediately after, the son asked, “Dad, can we give mom instructions again?”

Their father nodded, “Yes, I suppose so. Honey, you can listen to the kids now.”

“Of course,” the mother said.

“Mom, can you pass the salt?” the daughter requested.

“Oh, come on!” the son complained. “The salt is only two feet away from you!”

“Of course,” the mother interrupted. She passed the salt to her daughter.

“Thank your mother,” the father said suddenly.

“Why?” the daughter sneered. “We don’t even know if she can hear us!”

The father assured, “She can. Thank your mother.”

With a sigh, the daughter mumbled, “Thanks, mom.”

Whenever somebody thanked the mother, the father half expected her to say, “You’re welcome,” like she used to. It never happened.

The son requested, “Mom, can you get me some more orange juice?”

“Of course,” the mother said. She stood and walked into the kitchen.

As she returned with a fresh glass of orange juice, the son muttered, “Thanks.”

The daughter asked her father, “Can I go to the mall now?”

“Wait until we’re all finished eating.”

She rolled her eyes. “Can we at least make mom do something fun while we wait?”

The father shook his head. “I don’t like you taking advantage of her like that. She’s not here for your entertainment. She’s a person.”

“Barely,” the son teased.

“She is a person,” the father repeated sternly.

“I have an idea!” the daughter perked up. “Hey mom, do not obey this command.”

The mother frowned. The instruction was impossible to follow, but at the same time, it was impossible not to. She tilted her head, staring at her daughter. She didn’t know what to do.

“Now look what you’ve done,” the father groaned. “You’ve gone and told her a paradox!”

The mother kept staring forward, not moving, trying to process the command with all of her might.

And in her confusion, she had a single independent thought. She wondered what it was that she had been doing all of this time. She wondered what had happened to her life.

“Okay, you can stop,” the daughter said, hiding a smile.

Her father glared at her. “That wasn’t funny.”

But the son was laughing. “Yes it was.”

“Mom,” the daughter grinned. “Can you wash my dishes and put them away?”

“Of course,” the mother said, as if nothing had happened at all.