Milky’s Postal Service truck stopped with a lurch at the next mailbox. She grabbed some letters and the small white package, storing them in the metal cylinder. Shutting the door, Milky commented on the fact that every time she pulled a mailbox open, her jaw automatically dropped.
But today was going to be a good day, she nodded to herself. She had a job, a house and even a small dog she dressed up every Halloween to hopefully get some laughs out of the toddlers and babies. Doughnut hated wearing a tutu or a tiara, but she panted and wagged her tail nevertheless. Maybe she didn’t want to complain. She had to, after all.
But she seemed happy. Milky even felt her dog’s ability to fill the night air with laughter was unique. Doughnut had a good time. Even with the costumes.
Milky wasn’t much of a complainer.
She grew up in a broken, poor, warring neighborhood. She awakened to neighbors yelling at others to return stolen groceries or baked desserts. She went to bed wondering why she had to hear alcohol cans shatter so close to her open window. It was hot inside, so the cold air warmed her insides. But not her annoyed, upset, saddened heart.
Milky wasn’t the troublemaker, either. She completed every homework assignment and passed every test and quiz—only to receive straight B’s and C’s. Passing high school was like taking a walk in the park—you just had to do it. So Milky went from high school to college to—
Milky jumped, thrust her capped scalp out the window and scowled. A Chevrolet Camaro blasted its horn at her. Images of herself taking a stroll through the park while her new but stolen Camaro waited in the parking lot comforted her as the window slid down to reveal a redhead’s face smiling right at her.
“What’s going on?” Milky threw her hands on her hips.
“Hey…” The squinting woman shaded her eyes. Milky moved an inch closer and the hand went down. “Don’t be such a Debbie Downer! It’s April Fool’s Day.” Her smile grew wider. “Why you need to be such a pessimist all the time?”
“I’m not.” She looked over at her humming truck. “I’m delivering mail—”
“Have any pranks to pull on me?”
Milky stormed away, checked her mail, closed the lid and then promised herself no one would have any pranks to pull on her. She didn’t want pranks—she wanted peace.
Jokes just served as reminders of the sarcastic days and mocking nights. Milky never laughed. She just sighed. Deeply.
She still did, though she didn’t live among argumentative neighbors. She did sleep peacefully, though she silenced her alarm clock with a hard blow of a fist. Yes, no more anatomy of a beer can on the sidewalks or roads. No more loud laughter or icily silent nights.
She did travel from one neighborhood to the next, humming a good o’ tune to herself while tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. She also waved when calling out a good morning, afternoon or evening to runners or dog walkers.
The frown stayed like it was taped, or glued, or… It didn’t matter. Milky wanted to turn it upside down.
The car behind her made her do a double-take. Shielding her eyes again, her mouth did become an O when she stared before her. She even leaned out the window and pushed herself up on it to get a better view of all these cars lined behind that redhead’s. Her jaw extended downwards as she pushed herself up further. Then, her jaw contorted in piercing pain as she slowly descended into her seat and lifted her right hand. Glass sprouted from her palm like two leaves off a fresh stalk of corn. Blood was its floor as Milky barely formed the words Ow. Then she tried prying the glass out of her hand. It felt a little squishy, and she squinted her eyes.
She narrowed her eyes as she heard hysterical laughter. Opening her door, she marched over to the fist-pounding woman. She picked her head up and looked at Milky. “I didn’t do it!” She leaned out the window and pointed left. “That woman in that navy Tahoe managed to insert fake glass into your window.”
Milky planted both hands on hips, fingers pointed downwards. “How?”
“She…” The woman took a breath and controlled her laughter. “She got it from somewhere—BestBuy, maybe. They’re having an April Fool’s Day sale—and she put a small amount into your window. First, she ensured the window was scrolled down all the way. And then she stuck in a tiny portion!”
Milky looked at her hand with the fake glass. “So…it was a prank?”
“Yeah!” The woman slapped the steering wheel.
“Oh.” Milky laughed, raising her eyebrows in surprise and letting go of her hands so they fell, hitting her sides. “I just didn’t know that.” Sardonic laughter radiated from her mouth. “Well, I need to continue.”
After cleaning her hand, she did continue. Maybe the woman put red dye on the glass? Milky would never know. All that mattered was that peace needed to be the party of the neighborhood.
As she delivered, Milky’s sarcasm with the woman came back to her. But she hated pranks, so she decided to do good deeds today. She hated interruptions, so she didn’t want to be told it was the worst holiday on the face of the planet. She just wanted to enjoy a nice day of going from one American city to the next one.
Guess that wish wasn’t on the woman’s list to grant.
Milky sighed after shutting the front door, Doughnut barking her loud-for-a-Chihuahua-bark. She hopped up into her hands, and she carried her to the dog bed. While Doughnut made herself comfortable, Milky pulled some chocolate chip cookies from the refrigerator and poured herself some cold, days-old milk. Working three shifts in five neighborhoods deserved some relaxation. Milky called her mother. She’d make her usual cookies to go along with their tall glasses of cold milk.
“Oh, sweetheart! How sweet of you.” The sunshine-warm voice stretched a smile on Milky’s face. She nodded.
“I just thought since we always enjoyed cookies and milk when I was little, we’d celebrate with a batch of freshly baked ones. I’ll be over in fifteen, okay?”
“Yes, thank you. See you soon!”
A few minutes passed, and Milky struggled to breathe. She groped for the phone and dialed 911. Things were starting to fade in and out as she was gasping, and then everything blacked out.
Yawning, Milky opened her eyes to see her mother’s hands holding hers, a soft smile on her face and eyes blinking back tears. She rubbed a wrinkly finger under an aged nose, and then said, “You’ve had an allergic reaction. This woman saw you on the floor and rushed inside when she saw Doughnut barking and slamming her tiny but faithful self against the front door! Fortunately, you had left your keys on the porch’s bench, or Dune wouldn’t have been able to save you.”
Milky scrunched her face at a beaming woman and a tiny dog panting and wagging her very short tail. “Here.” She handed Milky her dog and sat in a chair beside Milky’s mother. “I…I’m sorry about the prank…”
“Dune,” Milky shrugged and covered herself with the sheets, her mother helping her. “Don’t worry about it.” She nodded towards her. “I should apologize for snapping at you.”
Milky felt her mother’s glare on her and so treated her the same way she did Dune. Milky watched as her mother bobbed her head and Dune scrunched her face into worry and concern. Then she frowned and moved on to the fact that she didn’t want to live—let alone drive—in a neighborhood. It just reminded her of that one during childhood. She turned to pull off the sheets and jump down from the raised bed, but her mother prevented it.
“Honey, you must wait for the doctor to come and take care of you. Wait a minute.”
Milky balled her fists under her comforter, but she obeyed. Telling Dune to leave, Milky watched her nod submissively and walk away. Milky called out that she just had to wait until she could come back in, so Dune nodded, arms crossed.
Milky pursed her lips and then told her mother. “Now we’re not going to be able to make cookies together anymore!”
Her mother slapped the bed’s metal railing. “We can make more. Milky, you’re always making more cookies and pouring more milk and making more memories. We can always get a new recipe.”
Milky moaned. “Yeah. We can think of something else.” She played with her hair. “I don’t know why it’s time to change to something new. We’ve been eating chocolate chip cookies forever!”
Her mother grinned, and Milky responded respectfully. She told her mother she wanted to thank Dune for saving her life.
“That’s my mailwoman!”
“I can’t believe I’m suddenly allergic to those chocolate chips! I mean, I’ve been eating them since I was two.”
“Maybe you bought a certain kind.”
Milky pushed back her kitchen chair and went over to the trash can. She dumpster dove for a minute and then read the ingredients. “Chocolate chips (milk, whey, cocoa butter).” She held the package in front of her mother and had her read the ingredients, too. “I guess… the whey? Or butter? I’m not allergic to those things.”
“What did it taste like?”
The word peanuts made Milky’s jaw drop. “Peanuts?” She wore a face of discomfiture. “I’m not allergic…to peanuts.”
“Now you are.” Her mother went for the phone. “I’m going to call Dune.”
“I don’t know her number.”
“You didn’t ask for it?”
“I…” Milky thought, looking away. “No. I—”
“Milky.” Her mother sat down again. “I want you to start thinking of others, okay? I’m always getting these grunts you say are answers. You’re so upset.”
Milky wanted her mother to see the word ratiocinative written all over her face. “I’m trying to think—”
“Milky! Your obsession to live in a peaceful neighborhood is a little out of control. How are you going to do great things like restore peace to your old neighborhood or have peace in this neighborhood—?”
“I know, I know!” Milky shot her hands up. “I just…I want to celebrate with you. Is that not okay?”
Her mother planted her hands on her hips. “I just want you to kill ‘em with selflessness. Okay?”
Milky retorted that she works a job where she delivers mail, especially today, instead of playing jokes, albeit harmless, on others. Besides, she had asked for Dune’s forgiveness.
Her mother raised her eyebrows.
“Okay, okay!” Milky went for her purse, studied Dune’s number after pulling it out and then typed it into her iPhone.
The bubbly attitude resulted from the excited voice, Milky noticed with a tight smile. “I’ll be right over. Let me stop at the store…”
“We’ll swing by and get you instead.”
The three women walked the aisles, Milky just grabbing and dropping the ingredients for the non-peanut butter chocolate chips into the basket. After reminding Dune she couldn’t get anything peanut butter, Milky sighed through her nose and clutched her hands to her elbows as her mother checked bags of sprinkles, scratching her sandy head and asking Dune whether she should get the big bags or the little ones. When Dune finally started thinking about the answer, Milky exclaimed she was going to the check-out center. Her mother shook her head, and Milky resisted rolling her eyes and moaned instead.
Once the kitchen filled with the delicious aroma of oatmeal and milk chocolate chips, Milky, her mother and Dune talked about their childhoods. Dune elaborated on her love of April’s Fools Day while Milky checked the cookies, her mitts prepared to retrieve and then serve them.
“They done?” Her mother, she turned to see, depicted anticipation.
Dune’s anticipatory words made Milky press her lips together. She shut the oven door and returned to the other two women, expressing her desire for April Fool’s Day to end. In fact, she said she wished this holiday never existed.
“Because beer cans and glass and yelling were April Fool’s Day jokes to us. To me. I would lie awake every night, waiting to hear roars of laughter or gales of mirth for once. Waiting for the angry souls to sit peacefully and tell a joke and then the ultimate punchline. Waiting for reality.”
Milky barely heard Dune’s positive comments as she lifted the cookies onto the stove and shut the oven door. “I’ve always wanted to wear a real smile on my exhausted face. I wanted to be like these cookies—moving up, away from the heat of the anger and the jaw-dropping frustration of loud noises and all the other stupidity. I just want to eat a cookie without tasting any worry or despair.”
“You can do that with us.”
“Yeah!” Dune’s voice made Milky jump. But Dune must’ve missed it. “We can sit down and have a nice, cold glass of milk.”
Her mother had a silent conversation with her daughter while Dune texted someone. When they finished, Dune stood up to go. Milky pursed her lips. “I just made them. Can’t you stay a few minutes?”
Dune texted a bit and then looked up at Milky. “Sure.”
They all sat down to enjoy a hearty snack of—
“I need to get three glasses of milk!”
“I’ll get them. Put these cookies on a plate.”
Milky listened as Dune apologized for the nightmarish neighborhood Milky had to endure. Dune also told her she was more than welcome to come talk to her. A strained smile stretched across Milky’s face, but she politely declined. “Thank you, but I’ll figure something out.”
As Milky and Dune enjoyed their cookies after dunking them in their milk, Dune commented on Milky and her mother’s tradition of eating cookies and milk. “I think it’s great! A tradition always brings a family closer.”
“Yep!” Milky’s mother bobbed her head. “We have always enjoyed this treat ever since my daughter was in diapers.” She winked at Milky, who laughed. “I’ll never forget when Milky reminded me of eating cookies when I was eating a piece of cake! I must’ve picked it up by accident. I completely forgot our tradition!”
Dune laughed loudly and then told Milky her boyfriend was getting upset. “I’m so sorry! I just…I wanted to enjoy this time with you.” Milky just grabbed a plastic bag, and Dune filled it with her plate of cookies. That evening, Milky drove her mother home.
“Come spend the night, dear. We’ll talk more.”
“Sure.” Milky wasn’t in the mood to talk, but she did decide she’d take this day to care more about others than herself. So she returned with a packed night bag, the cookies and milk all riding in the backseat. The Andy Griffith Show gave Milky’s mother some good hearty laughs. Milky watched and crunched away on her caramel popcorn, laughing at the hysterical events or lines.
Later that afternoon, her mother told her to think about what she said.
Milky did. She told her mother she’ll do better this evening. Her mother hoped so.
“Be at peace with yourself. Then you’ll bring peace to others.”
Milky chugged through five hours of mail delivery and then smiled when she got home that evening. She called her mother, whose enthusiastic voice brimmed with delight and relief.
“Oh, honey. I’m so proud of you!”
Milky was cheerful throughout her nightshift. However, it brought her hands into hard fists once she was home again. She did see elderly couples grin as joy radiated from their faces. She witnessed kids bouncing up and down as their parents presented them with a puppy or a new set of toys. She asked herself why she was happy when delivering mail and then frustrated at home.
She looked down at Doughnut. “Are you going to try to change me, too?”
“So, that’s a ‘no’, huh?”
Doughnut closed her eyes, and Milky looked at the TV. Turning it on, she stared at the commercials rolling through the screen, trying to entertain her. She wanted to be happy while doing great things and then when relaxing with Doughnut.
Milky did more good and worthwhile things late that night. She felt light and ready when she watched her reflection put its hair up in a ponytail. When it swung wildly, she told herself she was going to deliver mail like a boss. Having a great attitude bolstered Milky’s confidence, and even opened her eyes a little.
Milky didn’t slam her hands on her hips all throughout the activities, either. But laying her head on the pillow that night, Milky pursed her lips. At that moment, Doughnut hopped up her little set of doggie stairs onto her queen-sized bed.
Maybe Doughnut has some advice.
Milky got comfortable and asked her what she thought.
Doughnut curled up next to her, yawned and then snored away.
Milky sighed in despair. Slapped a wrist onto a hip.
In the woodlands, the serene nights would be bliss. The mornings would welcome her with its glorious sunshine. The singing birds and curiously playful squirrels would steal her attention whenever she would break from her online job. Maybe she’d miss the ice cream man or the mobile library running throughout town. But she’d have her own library of her own shelved books. And stacks of ice cream containers in the freezer.
Doughnut would play with her new friend, Change.
And every day, she’d know she did change.