Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: MAIL (02/18/16)
- TITLE: Payback Time
By Cindy Duncan
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Joe swiped his time card and retrieved his keys from the rack. He shrugged his regulation parka on as he walked out the door into the freezing morning to check his vehicle, just as he had done every workday for the last forty-nine years. He was not looking forward to running his route in the bitter cold, but if Joe had known that today would be his last day at the United States Postal Service, he would’ve had a different outlook on the day.
He would’ve worn his dress shirt instead of his casual pullover. He might have stopped and picked up a couple dozen donuts for his coworkers. They would definitely want to celebrate, since they had been trying to get him to retire for years. “When you gonna just stay home, old man?” they would ask, pretending to be joking with him. Joe knew, however, that they were just half joking. They were sharks encircling him, waiting to snap up his route the minute he filled out his retirement papers.
Oh, he thought about retiring, and at sixty-nine, he probably should have already, but he loved the job. Even on days like this one, as he began to count the parcels piled high in his bin, he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He loved the smell of the mail as he walked in every morning. He loved watching his customer’s faces light up when he brought them a special letter or card. But as he cased the mail, he thought about how his job had changed over the years.
Twenty-five years ago there were rumors about a new thing called electronic mail. Joe’s coworkers were saying it would become so popular that people wouldn’t bother mailing letters anymore. “That’s crazy talk,” Joe had said. “People will never stop writing letters and sending cards.” But Joe was wrong. E-mail and technology had changed the makeup of the mail he delivered. As Joe loaded his mail truck for the last time, he wished that there were more personal letters and cards to load, and less advertisements and “junk mail.”
Joe drove to his first stop on his route, an apartment complex with central delivery boxes. For the next hour and a half, Joe stood in the freezing cold, his fingers growing increasingly numb, and stuffed circulars and other advertisements into the little metal boxes. As he worked, several customers walked up, retrieved their mail, looked at it, walked to the nearby trashcan and threw it all away. Frustration mounted, but Joe kept working diligently.
His next stop was a park and loop, where Joe was required to walk to each house, carrying the mail in a mailbag draped over his shoulder. As he headed to the first house, he balanced several parcels, an armful of mail, and the bag. He slipped on an icy spot on the sidewalk, almost losing everything, but quickly regained his balance. He made it to the first front porch, left the mail, and continued to the next house. As he turned the corner, he noticed two teenagers coming towards him.
Joe didn’t recognize them, but he nodded and spoke to the teens. “How’s it going guys?” he asked, feeling a strange tingle of dread as he looked into their eyes.
“Better now, since you brought us some presents, old man,” they sneered, as they grabbed the parcels Joe had balanced in his arms. They pushed him behind some bushes, but as he fell to the ground, he made sure to pull the remaining mail under him, protecting it from the young troublemakers. The teens then proceeded to kick him, laughing while he groaned and tried unsuccessfully to call for help. When he became quiet, the boys grew bored and left, leaving Joe lying unconscious on the frozen ground.
Almost an hour later, Joe was found and transported to the hospital. It was a week later, though, before Joe opened his eyes again. When he did, his wife was at his side, and as he looked around the hospital room, he saw five large canvas bags. “What’s in the bags?” he asked.
“You were attacked,” she responded. “The day after the attack, some of your coworkers were on the news telling how you were guarding the mail even while being beaten, and how much you loved making people happy by delivering them cards and letters. The next day, the cards started coming, and they haven’t stopped.”
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