For Her Own Good - A Short Story
Mrs. Angle's dog is loose in her yard again. I walk pass the white fence surrounding the little lawn in front. I give the yapping pooch a sneer as it runs back and forth along the dirt path it has forged in its constant quest to aggravate any passers-by. Slipping the telephone bill in with the junk mail, I store it all in the back of my pouch for tomorrow's delivery. There is nothing that can't wait and certainly nothing worth losing a chunk out of my ankle.
The day is fine so I take my time on Grassy Lane. It is larger than a lane now. New homes sprouted up a few years ago and the road was widened. I like this part of my route. The hill is not steep and the sudden curves surprise me every time. The combination of dogwood, poplar and pine trees provides shade. My heart beats a bit faster as I near the small log house occupied by Deanna Potter.
Deanna has rented the house from old Joe Ogletree for the last year and a half. She works as a tour guide at the local winery and is majoring in southern history at the university. She is a natural redhead, not the kind who uses a rinse to look like an Irish Setter. When she smiles, which she does often, her green eyes light up like a Christmas bulb. She is tall and lithe and has a deep voice full of laughter. I open her gate and notice with disappointment her ten year old Chevy isn't there. Pushing her mail underneath the crack under her front door, I imagine she smells like fresh fruit at the grocery store.
Not that I should even be thinking such thoughts. Deanna is twenty years younger than me. Though she always gives me the right time of day, she does so because I constantly ask. I try to plan my route so the occasion might arise she will be out on the porch cramming for exams or watering the scattered plants on the railing. Even if she has no mail that day I find an advertising flyer to give her. The morsels of weather predictions and gossip I share with her never seem enough. But she is ever polite and looks at me when I talk. I'm not much to look at but I've gotten good at sucking in ny pot belly when I'm around Deanna.
It is because I think so highly of her I have chosen to hang onto the postcard. I look at it every night when I get home. The picture on the front is of San Francisco with the focal point on Alcatraz. I can't understand why anyone would send the image of a defunct prison to someone they supposedly care for. I look at the handwriting for at least the thousandth time and as many times I hate the small and smooth-flowing penmanship. This night I don't read the message, just try to picture what kind of man would write like that.
It is Friday and I am rushing to finish my route. The day is warm and drizzly. My uniform is wrinkled and stuck to my body. The U.S. Postal Service demands neatness from its carriers but all the starch in the world cannot battle the humidity of this day. I slow down when I see Deanna pulling into her driveway. She struggles with some groceries and I run right over to offer my assistance. She smiles a thanks. I follow her up the steps and wait while she unlocks the door. I am aware of the sweat spots spreading beneath my armpits and try to keep my arms against my body. We enter a small but comfortable living room and take a right into the kitchen. I place the paper bag on the table next to hers.
"Thanks, Charlie." I notice her eyes look dark and worried. My heart nearly breaks to see it. "You're welcome anytime," I say, lingering by the table unable to take my eyes off her sad face. She doesn't say anything else and I can't think what to say either. I turn and leave the way I came. I stop by the door taking in the warmth Deanna has created in her space. I close my eyes and imagine myself here. Reluctantly I shut the door behind me and continue with my day.
Around 5 o'clock on Saturday, I am driving around the city. It is my day off but not Deanna's. I wonder if she had a busy day at the winery. If I could I would be waiting for her and offer to rub her feet after such a long day. I would run a hot bath and comb out her sun-kissed hair. I find myself turning onto Grassy Lane. I park my old pick-up across the street from Deanna'a house squeezing it among a dilapidated row of other vehicles collected by her neighbor. I slouch in my seat and wait for her return.
She comes home right after work, as usual. I watch as she hurries to the lopsided mail box where my replacement deposits her mail. She removes one piece at a time, impatiently tucking the junk stuff into her purse. She looks into the empty box for a moment then slams it shut. Deanna walks slowly to the house and disappears behind the door. I drive away toward the city.
Monday is another scorcher. I am irritated and tense. My morning sorting came up with another postcard for Deanna. I hastily slipped it to the bottom of my pouch where it can be easily overlooked. Mrs. Angle's pooch is out so I don't bother to check what I might have for her. I keep thinking about the postcard. It is heavy in my sack. What kind of man would pursue a woman living clear across the country who is probably too good for him anyway? He should have given up by now. I kick a stone in my way and watch it nick the side of someone's car.
When I reach Deanna's house, she is waiting on the porch. She is looking particularly pretty in the pale yellow dress I have seen her wear once before. She watches as I self-consciously fumble with the gate latch and approach. She offers me a weary smile.
"There wouldn't be a postcard for me in that bag of tricks of yours, would there, Charlie?" I make a production out of looking through the assortment of bills and advertising in my hand. I pretend to search my pouch but come up empty-handed.
"I'm afraid not, Deanna. But your new history magazine is here." Her face crumbles like an old sand castle. Her tears come as a surprise to me. I want to gather all of her into my arms to comfort. Instead I awkwardly pat her back and murmur a few there, theres.
"He said he'd get in touch as soon as he got settled. We met in England and we fell in love. I should have heard from him by now." She sits at the end of the chaise lounge and lowers her head into her hands. I want to cry too, not for her pain, but for my inability to say the soothing things to make her forget him.
I cannot concentrate on anything. All I can think about is my beautiful Deanna, home alone, fragile and vulnerable. She needs someone to make her laugh again. I pick up the postcard. The Golden Gate Bridge in the photo looks unreal. I turn the card over with reluctance. I try to fight the angry sweat breaking from my forehead. The neat handwriting from before seems urgent now, its lines sharper and more pronounced. I still hate the penmanship but I despise the message more.
"Deanna, please say you'll marry me. I desperately await your reply. I do love you. John."
He has placed a sticker bearing his address and telephone number beneath his signature. I am disgusted with the pretentiousness of it. I see Deanna in my mind again. I can almost feel her soft skin. I miss the twinkle in her eyes and her ready smile. She deserves happiness and love. For her own good, I know I must do the right thing.
My steps are labored and the route seems longer than usual. I keep touching the two postcards I have placed in my shirt pocket for safe-keeping. I approach Deanna's house. I vaguely notice the empty driveway. I climb her stairs and leave the small gift-wrapped package at her door. With lighter steps I hurry to the street corner. I drop the postcards through the grates of the drainage hole watching as they mix with the murky watery grit beneath.