I don’t really know what they’re all about. I’ve seen them mentioned in books about writing and figured they were ways to get you over writer’s block or something. Since I’ve managed to escape that malady to date, I’ve never looked into them.
However, yesterday one of my new favorite blogs had a “Writing Prompt.” So I did it. I set my countdown timer for 15 minutes and wrote. This is the result. I noted where my timer went off in case you’re interested. Obviously I didn’t get far, but that’s ok. It was fun. I might even do one again sometime.
Rusted at the corner with the door warped by years of use, the mailbox sat atop a weathered post looking somewhat forlorn in the fading afternoon sun. A screen door shut with a soft “whap.” The spring on that door wasn’t what it once was either. Footfalls, more of a shuffle than true steps crept down the stone pavers to the dirt road and stopped at the mailbox. The hinges creaked as the door opened and a wrinkled, arthritic hand reached inside.
The shuffle-step of life-worn feet returned to the house and once more, the screen door snapped shut. The mail dropped on the seat of a padded rocker that looked jerked from the screenshots of a bad sitcom as the woman went to retrieve a glass of sweet tea and a couple of cookies. The movements were fluid enough, even in the jerking actions of age and feebleness, that their routine was clearly evident.
The hand reached for the assortment of envelopes, catalogs, and flyers and grasped them as she lowered herself into the chair with speed that would be called anything but that. The first envelope contained the assurance that if her number was the winning number, she had already won millions of dollars in the Tri-County News Group’s Sweepstakes. She read every word and then tossed it.
One envelope was a political plea for support on some measure regarding the roads and a request for financial support from a candidate she wouldn’t vote for. No siree. His granddaddy had appropriated class funds back in ’47 and you just couldn’t trust one of those Willis’. Still, she devoured every word before relegating it to the waste bin. (Timer stopped here)
She passed over one envelope, her thumb caressing the return address, and moved onto the next. Inside, a missionary prayer card showed her the picture of a family who had come through their church several months back—four children beamed at the camera, flanked on each side by parents who looked happy but old for their ages. Suriname. She’d never heard of it before they came to speak. After a quick prayer for their safety and the souls they tried to reach, she tucked the card inside her Bible and read the letter that accompanied it—twice.
A car dealership promised great savings, top dollar for her trade-in, and free maintenance for five years if she came in by noon that day. “That’s the way to make sure you don’t have to make good. Just mail ‘em too late for people to use.” The voice sounded over-loud and out of place in the utter silence of the house.
Each page of both catalogs received complete scrutiny. The woman read every description of every item, mentally correcting grammar and punctuation as she went. She wouldn’t buy anything. Who could afford 49.99 for a t-shirt? She remembered when she could get a Sealy mattress for less than that.
Eventually, only one envelope remained—nearly square in comparison with the other business envelopes, and unlike those, the addresses were handwritten in familiar handwriting. She relished these days. In an age of computers, email, and “texting,” no one took the time to write anymore. For old folks like her, that usually meant reading the inconsequential words on uninteresting sheets of “junk mail” in order to have any contact with people. Did they know there were people out there who read every single word simply because they knew someone had written them? Did they know that alone in a house that no one of this generation would look at twice, an old woman waited impatiently, six days a week, for the rumble of the mail truck and the dust cloud that followed for her one brief daily contact from the outside world?
Tiffany Dearborn—her granddaughter. She never forgot a holiday or a birthday. Not once. With infinite care, her trembling hands worked to loosen the sealed flap, cautious to protect the envelope and the paper-thin skin that sliced much too easily these days. The last paper cut had gotten infected. It was ridiculous.
Pale blue eyes, clouded with happy tears pulled out the card. A verse on the cover was surrounded by embossed flowers and butterflies. She ran a finger over them, feeling the raised edge as she read the words—and again. Once more. Tiffany always did pick the best cards. It was beautiful.
It happened every time. She tried to draw out the moment—savor the experience—but her eagerness to read what was happening in the family’s life overrode her feeble attempt to make every second last. She flipped open the card, smiling at a little at the short admonition to have a blessed Thanksgiving. She would now. The handwriting below it—the thing she’d waited for most—read, “So sorry to hear you won’t make it to the family dinner. You’ll be missed. We love you, Tiffany.”
She flipped the card over, lifted the folded paper, but no breezy, cheerful note about T-ball and PTA meetings fell into her lap. The request for a recipe that came with every card was absent. There was nothing—nothing but the assurance that she’d be missed because she couldn’t make the long drive to Smithville that year—not after her surgery next week.
A tear rolled down her cheek.