Mauve was perched behind the counter at the village post office with her elbows jutting out from her bony shoulders like wings. Her dark little eyes shifted in their sockets. She wiped the counter for the third time with a paper towel and then nervously readjusted the stack of packages beside her. She was new in town, and just filling in for the day, she wanted to make a good impression.
Dory Williams didn’t much care what Mauve wanted. She was round as a bowling ball with tight, salt and pepper curls that hugged against her large head, She looked like she’d bitten into something bitter when she leaned toward Mauve: “Don’t you remember?”
Then her eyes went dark and her voice flattened. “Oh that’s right. You’re not from here. You don’t even know Helen.” Dory said it dismissively. It was no secret Dory had no use for outsiders.
Just minutes earlier she’d held her yellow slicker rain coat closed with one hand as the rain and gusting wind outside pushed her into the post office. She stalked past a row of locked mailboxes lining the single room with her white crocs squishing puddles along the linoleum floor to the stainless steel counter where Mauve stood.
At the counter, Dory laid her arm down with her hand palm up, and then, instead of facing Mauve, she looked around the room behind her as if any more effort would have been an insult. “Dory Williams here for a package,” she said brusquely.
Whether from the wet wind seeping through the walls or intimidation it wasn’t clear, but Mauve suddenly felt cold. Her arms and hands moved in staccato. She willed them to do what she needed but they wouldn’t quite cooperate while she clumsily searched through two stacks of packages waiting for pick up. She went through the stacks, couldn’t find the correct package and then started again from the top.
Finally, Dory got impatient, clicked her tongue and turned toward Mauve. She stretched across the counter to look over Mauve’s shoulder where the packages were. “Stop. There. That’s it,” she said and pointed to a long, thin box. Mauve was still pulling the box off the stack when Dory stopped her again.
“Wait,” she said suddenly. Who’s that one to?” Dory pointed over Mauve’s shoulder to another package, square and neatly wrapped in brown butcher paper addressed to Ms. Helen Mays. The name and address were handwritten in black magic marker. Dory leaned so close to the package that Mauve could see the pores of her nose and smell her hand lotion. She stepped back to get out of her way.
“How long has Helen been in town?” Dory asked.
“All I know is there’s a box here for her,” Mauve answered, her words came out fast and high like she hoped they’d speed Dory’s departure.
Dory’s hard, round face turned into itself. Her lips tightened and her mouth turned down at the corners. “Let me tell you that woman is dangerous,” she said. “Who sent it?” As if on command, Mauve jerked her head back to the package. “There’s no return address,” she said. “It looks like it was mailed from California?”
“Oh, that’s not good. No one is safe with here with Helen Mays in town.”
Dory held out her hand again and with her palm up jiggled her fingers at Mauve. “Hand it to me,” she commanded. Mauve moved quickly. She picked the package up, handed it to Dory and pulled away fast as if she might get burned.
“Everyone here knows Helen Mays is a witch,” Dory was matter-of-fact.“I need you to open up this package so we know what’s in there.” She held the package up to her ear and shook it.
“Oh I can’t do that,” Mauve said. She snaked her hand along the counter toward the package now sitting between them hoping to return it to the pile. Dory made a preemptive move and put her hand back on top.
She paused, then smiled at Mauve revealing sharp, hard little teeth. “Do you like it here?”
“I do. I just, I can’t do something illegal.” Mauve tucked her hands into the sleeves of her sweater. “I mean you can’t, I can’t, no one can just go through someone’s mail.”
A young woman about Mauve’s age walked by the large window up front near the door. The collar of her dark blue ski coat was turned up and her hands were crammed deep into her pockets. She held her shoulders high and tight against the cold. The two, Mauve and Dory, watched her lean into the wind, her red hair rising and cresting like some dancer in a tragic ballet.
“See her there?” Dory said. “That’s the kind of person Helen Mays prays on. That woman there, she’s Fred Mills’ wife, reminds me so much of my best friend Maxine. Maxine passed.”
“Oh I’m so sorry.” Mauve looked up at Dory her eyes rounded, warm and concerned. Dory ignored her. She looked over Mauve’s shoulder to the wall and continued.
“Helen Mays asked for a lock of Maxine’s hair. Her hair was so pretty. Helen said she wanted to put it in a locket and give it to Maxine. But Maxine never saw the locket. She started getting sick. Right before she died, Maxine told me she thought someone put a spell on her. I thought about it and thought about it. That spell could have only come from Helen Mays.”
Mauve made a face. “I don’t really believe in that kind of stuff.”
“Oh you won’t believe, until you believe.” Dory said it, paused and let the thought float in the air.
Her face changed suddenly. Her eyes lit up as if a lamp switch turned on in her brain. “I’ll tell you what, you open the package up, we look inside, tape it back up and no one will be the wiser.”
“It doesn’t seem right, I could lose my job.”
“You’re just filling in though, right? Not much of a job.” Dory said it under her breath like she was thinking aloud.
They both looked down at the package. Dory looked up first.“You know most people are killed by someone they know,” she said. “Someone who might be in this community right now. Would you like to be the one didn’t believe a person was dangerous? Maybe someone like Fred Mills’ wife dies?
“Of course not.” Mauve considered the things she’d read about in the news—the kind of big city stuff she’d moved here to escape.
“Well you have the power to stop something bad from happening before it happens. Look at the mass murders in the news. Most of the time someone knew the murderer was a dangerous person but they didn’t want to get involved.”
Dory pushed the package slightly toward Mauve, but didn’t remove her hand.
Dory looked at Mauve, her face was dark and serious. She put one hand on her left hip with the other one still perched on the package on the counter. “Listen you open this package right now,” said Dory. “You say you want to be part of the community. Prove it.”
“I do want to be here and do my part,” said Mauve. “I really do. But there’s no time. Helen Mays called just before you got here. She said she’d be here soon.”
“I wish you had mentioned that before.”
“I didn’t think to tell you.”
“Then we’ve got to hurry. You need to do this now. Who knows what’s in that package.”
Mauve stood still.
Dory reached over and lifted a letter opener from a pencil holder on the counter next to the scale. She handed it to Mauve, who took it. “I really can’t,” Mauve said. But her voice had lost its resolve.
“You need to do this for the safety of your neighbors,” Dory said. She gripped the edge of the counter and looked over her shoulder out the window behind her as if to make sure Helen Mays wasn’t on her way into the parking lot.
“Well, I guess it can’t hurt. It’s for safety.”
Mauve turned the package over and looked up at Dory for reassurance. “Hurry up,” said Dory. Mauve looked back down and carefully pulled the tape from the bottom of the package. She slowly peeled back the butcher paper. Her hands were shaking now and the paper made a crinkling sound against the metal when she laid it flat on the counter outstretched. She set the red box that had been wrapped in the butcher paper upright. She looked down and considered it. “It doesn’t look dangerous,” she said.
“Don’t get cold feet now,” said Dory gruffly. “It’s too late to change your mind. We’re all counting on you.”
Dory turned from the waist, checked the window again for traffic and then turned back to the package on the counter. She set her arms waist level with her fingers outstretched and her legs slightly spread, as if ready to run away if necessary. “Get on with it,” she demanded. Mauve slowly removed the top of the box.
She held her breath and pushed back two layers of thick, red tissue paper. The two women leaned over to look inside. There, they found four rolls of thread and an embroidery pattern. Mauve exhaled, she blinked and her shoulders relaxed.
“This is all that’s here. It isn’t witchcraft. It’s just thread.”
Dory smirked. “So, she’s still sewing,” is all she said. She turned and walked out the door into the gale. As she disappeared, Mauve thought she heard her cackle. But then again, it may have been to wind.