Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Manila Envelope

by Robert Starr


It was sitting right where David had always imagined it would be, but now it was finally within his grasp. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen where it was plain but turned over so he couldn’t see the post markings, but he knew what it was. David took one step and drew one breath; then he walked across the floor to the manila envelope.

“Ohhh, what’s this?” He felt immediately stupid for playing coy.

“Open it,” his wife said without looking up from the sink. “ You know what it is, so open it now.” She pulled one rubber glove off so it smacked and twisted into a yellow/white mangle landing in a heap on the counter beside the sink.

“ Just open the thing.” she put her hands on either side of the sink where white suds were popping softly in the basin. “ Just open it.”

So David put both hands on it quickly as if he thought it might be hot, tore the flap open, and shook the envelope so the papers slid out on the counter top.

“It’s them isn’t it?” his wife said. She’d never talked about what would come in the envelope because she knew how important it would be to him, but, now that it was here, her voice took on a reverential hush, like in a church. She’d imagined what the deeds would look like many times but was too overwhelmed to look now that they were beside her.

David didn’t answer her directly. He just tapped the papers even on the counter and put them back into the envelope.

“These are my ticket.” He ran his thumbs up and down the spine.

“This is the way I’ll finally get even.”

His wife turned to watch him walk to the door pulling off her remaining yellow glove so it snapped over on itself exposing its white side like a reptile sheathing its eye, and then she dried her hands quickly with a dishtowel. But she knew she couldn’t stop him so she spun back to the sink to watch the suds dissolving as he left.

####

Union Cemetery was east of the hub of the city, kitty corner between one two lane road leading to the sports complex and another running straight to the next town. David drove past the wrought iron gates and the faded world war stones tilting in the earth like they were flinching from his headlights. The night was quiet away from the road and the silhouetted maples rustled through the car’s open window to remind him of some lake he’d visited as a boy with his father. For a moment, he was rushed by a familiar but long forgotten musty whiff of the foam at the water’s edge.

But he only had to look at the manila envelope sitting beside him on the seat.

“No, no.” The spoken words cemented him to his plan and washed the vague memory away. “You’ve had this coming for a long time.”

As soon as he stopped his car and put it in park, the running engine resonated with a strident blasphemy threatening to attract the attention of things unseen and lurking, so he shut it off and sat for a moment listening to the pinging from under the hood. Once the dark became welcome and peaceful he had second thoughts—a lapse when the night became adventurous again like he was a small boy lying in a tent. Suddenly, he felt there might be some other way. A reconciliation. That this business with his father’s widow might be all some misunderstanding.

But then a cricket chirped from the other side of a stone and he became frightened and embarrassed he was sitting in a car at his father’s grave and his plans were real. When he’d settled down enough to be able to just listen (and when he was sure he was alone), he got out and looked behind him. Walking quickly to the back of the car, he opened the trunk but looked around again before he let the lid up.

####

The first spade full was the hardest. He was sure it would bring the police or groundskeeper, and when he put the weight of his foot on the shovel and pushed again, the metal grated off a stone with a gritty crunch he was sure could be heard back out on the street. But he only needed a small hole, just one big enough to fit the empty manila envelope. He went back to the car when he was done, put the shovel away, and threw the deeds he’d pulled out into the backseat.

####

“Did you make the call?” he pulled his jacket off barely inside the door.

“Yes, I made the call,”his wife said from somewhere in the dark living room.

“Did you tell her?” he stopped suddenly in the doorway.

“Yes.”

“Good, good.” he threw the jacket on the stairs. “Now all we have to do is wait.”

“Yes, all we have to do is wait.” she said, her voice floating to him in the dark. “But for what? David, where will this end?”

“Did you tell her the deeds were buried in the grave?”

“Yes, I told her you’d hidden them there, but.”

“Then the whole thing ends when I phone the police and tell them she’s started to dig up her husband because I didn’t give her what she wanted.”

And he walked over to his jacket and took the papers out.

“But she only wants to be buried beside him.” His wife’s voice sounded weak, suddenly tired. “She only wants…”

“I don’t care what she wants,” he said turning to glare into the dark. “She could have had these, if she hadn’t taken everything else.” He held the rolled up deeds in a clenched fist like a sword. “Now she gets nothing.”

He walked into the kitchen.

David picked up the receiver but hesitated when the suds in the sink caught the moonlight shining through the sliding doors. The crackling reminded him again of white foam on a half remembered shore, and his wife’s inside out glove looked like a dead bass belly up on the beach.

And suddenly the lake had a name. Scugog.

That night after fishing they made a campfire by the water’s edge. The light shone out ten feet, and David saw it made the water orange on the crests of the tiny waves lapping impishly toward the shore. It looked like they might be depositing the little flecks of foam, slyly pushing them inland when they thought no one would be watching. He turned and looked at the embers rising from the fire like luminescent baits jerking on invisible lines in pitch-black water, and then a log popped making him jump.

But it was only his father stirring the fire with a stick.

David put the phone back and stood alone in the kitchen. The surfacing memory changed his mind about what was right, and he knew to finish his work he’d need to disappear before his wife could ask him what he was doing. He moved through the hall for the door.

“Where are you going?” she said, angry at his stealth. “Why haven’t you phoned the police yet?”

When he left she got up and went into the kitchen and saw the papers had gone with him.

####

It was two-thirty in the morning when he pulled into the Union Cemetery again. Stopping his car well before his father’s grave and shutting the lights and engine off, David stepped into the crisp clear night and got the shovel from the trunk. With only the moonlight to guide him, he walked down the road where crushed stones popped and spit from under his feet.

Because it was dark, and because he was racing to reach the empty envelope before it was discovered, he missed the first time, stopping when he saw by the moonlight the hole was too deep. So he dug another, missed, and tried again. He stopped when he realized there were several holes but no envelope. Leaning on the shovel, his mind conceded defeat and started searching for a quick way out, a simple way to make things as they’d been only yesterday and erase everything in one big arc like cleaning a chalkboard.

But then a car pulled around the other curve on the road toward him and he only heard it on the gravel a second before the lights swung off him. He ducked and ran three rows back to hide behind a clammy cool tombstone.

####

The next night there were footsteps just beyond the edge of the firelight, stopping when a twig snapped outside the orange cap.

“Sam?” A voice called, trembling and unsure.

David’s father pushed the stick into the flames and swung his upper body around.

“Carol? Is that you?”

And as she emerged from the tree line her dark clothes were still hidden with only the beige oval of her face visible.

“I had a hard time finding you,” she said and his father lurched up, rushing to her and looking back over his shoulder after they’d hugged.

“David.” He pulled back and brushed the leaves and twigs from the front of his pants like he was embarrassed to be camping. “This is Carol.”

But David turned his head away to the ebbing, lapping shore of Lake Scugog.

####

The car’s door opened so slowly a hinge creaked. One foot crunched down on the gravel, then someone walked to the back and fit a key in the trunk. David crouched behind the alabaster tombstone whose glossy finish absorbed the moonlight muffling the granite’s luminescence. He put his shovel down and held his breath.

Footsteps moved toward him, off the gravel and onto the grass where they started to swish rhythmically. He dropped his head between his knees when they stopped because he thought whoever they belonged to would be directly over the stone, blocking the moon and looking down, waiting for him to face them.

So he looked up but there were only stars above his head.

####

It was late and the fire was out. David’s father had doused it with a bucket of water from the lake; it hissed and a curl of white smoke dissolved up to blend with the starlight and finally disappear. David was still lying outside watching the stars and a plane that was so far away he couldn’t hear it but only watch it taillights blink.

“Carol,” his father had said earlier, “ why don’t you sleep in the tent? I’m sure David wouldn’t mind, would you?” And something changed in his father’s eyes so David knew the camping and fishing were over, and he waited until he heard the tent’s zipper go up before he moved.

####

And these were the same stars.

It was uncanny these were the very ones he’d seen as a boy. So he had nothing to fear—they were guiding him, watching over him, and David suddenly stood up knowing Carol would be on the other side of the stone.

She was bent over kicking at the grass and looking for the spot he’d dug.

“Are you looking for these Carol?” He pulled the deeds from his pocket. “Here. Come on over now, you can have them.” He bent over the stone without moving his feet.

Her silhouette drew a deep breath.

“Why do you hate me?”

“Because you took everything from me.”

“But your father wanted me to have everything. He told me so before he died.”

“It’s not the things,” David said looking up for the plane with the silent lights that had been gone for a very long time.

And she took a step closer so he flicked the papers with a wrist.

“Come. Come closer now,” he said as she reached out to snatch them. Then he was convinced of what had to be done, so he dropped them and they spread like the white embers from a spitting campfire. He reached behind to pick up his shovel while she was bent over.

####

The house was dark when David got home. He tried to sneak up the stairs past the living room but his wife had been waiting and turned the light on.

“Honey?” she said. The glare from the light temporarily blinded him, an orange/white ball popping in front of his eyes.

“ Honey, I know you took the plots with you. I’m proud of you.” She started toward him.“ She only wanted to be buried beside your father.”

“I know,” he said. “Funny, don’t you think, how some people always get exactly what they want?”

But David’s wife was confused, so she stood still while he walked into the kitchen, and he took the dirty manila envelope he’d found after digging one last deep hole and put it down on the counter top. He took the deeds out from another pocket and put them inside, then waited for a moment before he phoned the police to confess because he thought he heard Lake Scugog’s foam calling a last time.

But when he looked toward the sink, one last oval of crackling soapsuds slipped over the edge of the drain and disappeared.

THE END


© 2007 Robert Starr

Bio: Robert Starr is the author of the novel "The Apple Lady" and the short story collection "Creek Water", both published by Stonegarden.net and available through Amazon.com, and has also published many short stories, including some "Best of" entries in Aphelion. His most recent Aphelion appearance was Red Arrow (February 2006). In addition to his writing projects, Mr. Starr also provides editing services for Stonegarden and Northern Lights Publishing on a freelance basis.

E-mail: Robert Starr

Website: Robert Starr, Professional Writer

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