The crunch-clunk was so loud it not only reverberated through the floorboards and up into Sandra-Dean’s sturdy USPS approved shoes, but up her thick calves as well, disturbing the lilting chorus of the David Bowie tune she’d been singing along with.
“Fuck!” The word bounced tinnily off the steel walls of the mail truck ‘I’ve heard that noise before.’ She inhaled damp mountain air deep into her lungs while searching for a safe indent to pull over on the narrow one lane road.
Early that morning, a butterfly had landed on Freddy’s windshield, right in front of her face, while she was stopped at a mailbox on a two-lane road. It had been a good luck sign. She’d sat there a full ten minutes, enjoying its ethereal presence. Then it had fluttered prettily off and across the road…
…and was struck by a westbound car.
It had loop-de-looped pathetically down to the pavement like a sad fall leaf. Sandra-Dean had leapt from her seat out the open door and run to the fallen angel whose pretty orange wings feebly waved goodbye. She had picked it up and gently dropped it into a tall hedge bursting with sweet smelling star jasmine. She’d wept the next two hours and again whenever she thought back in wonder that one could be so blessed and elated one minute, then so bleakly and blackly cursed the next.
The last time she’d heard the tell-tale crunch-clunk she’d patted the dash in front of her and murmured words of encouragement, “Come on Freddy Fred, you’re the best LLV in the world…I think you can, I think you can…” as the little white mail truck strained its tire muscles up a very steep, very narrow road. Like many thoroughfares on her route, it had been a one-lane road more like a long dirt driveway held tenuously together by oak roots. That time she had managed to pull over into the base of a customer’s driveway, the LLV parked at a precarious 45-degree angle. When she had exited the vehicle- engaging the heavy industrial parking brake and turning off the engine- she’d chuckled ruefully. ‘Curb those wheels people! Ha!’ It was a serious rule drilled into newbies at the Postal Academy but pretty moot to many rural carriers, herself included…there were no curbs in the boonies. Naturally, her cell phone was reduced to nothing more than a metallic-blue-cased paperweight. Three years previously, she’d have squeezed tears of panic and frustration from her dust reddened eyes, all newbies did at some point. That day she had broken down, she had merely sighed, applied a fresh layer of tinted lip balm, checked her appearance in the large rectangular mirror by her door- ‘mirror number two’. She didn’t want to look like a psycho mountain-person-yeti-half-breed of which she had grown accustomed to bear sightings of. She’d walked up the long driveway, enjoying the stretch in her leg muscles.
The first time she’d asked a customer if she could use their land line, she was pretty freaked out by the idea but had no choice. By the sixth time, she was relaxed, most people she had met this way were quite nice and sympathetic and more than happy to let her use their bathroom facilities as well as their telephones. Real bathrooms on a rural route are as common as vegetarian foxes playing pinocle in a coop full of fat hens.
On this day,
Sandra-Dean, Deany to her friends, parked the boxy white mail truck, automatically yanked forward the parking lever, and exited, leaving the amber flashers on. Though it was a grey, muggy day, the canopy of redwood trees crowded out the light; it was always dark along this stretch of one-lane road, its surface more potholes than pavement, the ride was like skiing down a giant maid’s old-fashioned washboard. The local kids actually raced down it.
She brushed the redwood shluff absentmindedly from her shoulders as she made her way along the angled narrow path between the mountainside and her vehicle, thinking again that she should be wearing golf cleats; the shluff the redwoods dropped was thick and soft and loamy- fine for mountain goats, an ankle trap for careless two-leggers. She frowned again as she made her way past the crinkly new monster dent her new sub had kept silent about and peered under the rear between the two tires. They looked fine- balding, but fine, there was nothing hanging where it shouldn’t be. Along the side she did the same and saw nothing amiss. She held her breath as she looked down beneath the front bumper.
“Whhhheeeewwww.” The axle was not dragging on the ground and the tires were both full of air and facing the way they should be…unlike the last time.
“Hm. Okay.” She had only one more area to deliver, about a half hour’s work, and mostly downhill. She got back in, and, low and behold, she actually fastened her seat belt and closed her door, still freaked by the telltale crunch-clunk.
Deany felt a cool trickle of sweat rivel from her left armpit. The mugginess of the overcast day competed with the frequent hot flashes she suffered through every hour. She was forty-nine and had been pre-menopausal for two years. She had been conditioned to wearing layers- sport cammi, tee shirt, hoodie, and occasionally a vest or light rain jacket. Always black or navy blue and usually embroidered with the USPS logo so people would know she was a mail carrier and not some skeevey porch pirate. Rural carriers aren’t afforded allowances for uniforms like city carriers (they’re people too) and therefore allowed to wear what they like. They all wear comfortable and often sporty, leisurely clothes -joggers and sweats and yes, even jammy pants- as they don’t see a lot of people in the boonies. Deany was aware that even in the boonies everyone had Ring cameras nowadays, or motion sensitive yard cameras. She assumed she was always being watched and felt eyes on her whenever she was within fifty feet of a residence. This really sucked when you had to pee. But peeing in the woods you did.
This day, Deany wore a snug black tee shirt with the sleeves cut off over loose-fitting cargo shorts, black knee socks, and her clunky but sensible black shoes. She wore a black bucket hat with the logo on it over shoulder length hair she dyed a dark chestnut brown because the color brought out the green in her eyes. She wasn’t overly vain, but she knew the stress of the job showed on her facial features, from her frowning forehead lines to her tightly pressed lips. This tell-all stress give-away made her feel like a creepy old ogre when she’d caught glimpses of her face in mirror number two. So, she put on a little make-up and forced herself to relax her face, smiling at customers who appeared before her in real life as well as for the ones behind the walls watching her on their little screens.
She turned off her Bluetooth speaker and drove with her right ear bent towards the wide, open window, alert for unwelcome noises. Even the snap of tires over fat tree limbs or the regular creaks and groans of Freddy’s undercarriage induced prickles of goosebumps and pops of fresh sweat. ‘Ugh. I stink.’ Her frayed nerves were sizzling copper wires beneath the thin plasterboard of her skin, making her itch.
She was approaching the last mailbox tucked into a stump surrounded by young redwood fronds. As usual she transferred some of the mail she had in her left hand to her right- another No No she’d become accustomed to doing and did without thinking. She felt a prickle on her left shoulder. She braked gently, slowed, and craned her neck to look…there on her bare shoulder was the mother-fucking, hairy-ass, grand-poobah of all spiders! It was GI-normous!
The LLV (which stands for Long Life Vehicle by the way) was still in motion as she instinctively brushed at the humongous redwood spider with the two letters she held in her right hand. Its prickly, hairy feet clung like burs on cotton socks. It took a second swipe to unseat it. Unfortunately, it landed on her bare thigh and skittered down her sock. While making its escape she had pulled over and parked. Deany got out and inspected every inch of herself and then the dusty rubberized floor of the LLV, looking under the dash and seat with the flashlight on her phone. She was not so concerned about the hairy creature attacking her, which would leave her with a huge itchy burning lump- she really swelled up from spider bites- but more so about hurting it or crushing it. The sickening crunch would make her very sad.
She never found him but felt his prickly little sticker-feet here and there all the way back to the post office. She only heard the disturbing transmission noise once more, but it was more of a dull thud than an alarming crunch-clunk.
As usual, Simmi was back before her. She was route two’s sub but the fastest carrier in the office. She was of Eastern Indian descent and dark and mink-like and fast. Deany had been the fastest carrier until Simmi had come on board, but she wasn’t jealous. Any help to the small rural serving office was not only welcome but nurtured and encouraged and supported. Besides, Simmi still had a lot to learn as far as mixing up addresses and missing scans- big No Nos that were not ones you could get away with. She was casing the thin local papers that came out on Wednesdays, her slender arms a blur as she inserted one into each of the six hundred and forty address slots.
“Hey Deany, beat you again, neh?” She said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“You’re doing great Simmi. I’m proud of you. Oh hey, I was attacked by the hugest redwood spider ever today…I brought him back for you.” Deany waggled her empty coffee flask, came towards Simmi and started unscrewing the lid.
“AAAAAAIIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!” Simmi’s wren-like hands fluttered to the sides of her head, scattering the newspapers in a grey flurry.
Deany doubled over laughing. “Oh c’mon. I’d never do that to a poor spider.”
Laughter bubbled out from the end of the row of three cases (a case is essentially a desk and three and a half walls of address slots.) It was Mark, Deany’s sub, casing the papers into Deany’s case. “Oh, hey Mark. Cool. Thanks for doing that, I soooo appreciate it…and you.”
“No problemo,” said the pudgy hairy man, his round shoulders still genuflecting with his giggles. His greying hair was tidy today in contrast to his scruffy beard and scraggly unibrow. A tiny spark of a diamond stud caught the harsh light of the fluorescents. Deany winced and pulled the cord that turned them off.
Mark said, “Oh sorry. Forgot you’re a vampire.”
Deany smiled. Being picky, her case was clean and tidy and organized. Though she was so very thankful to have a sub, she cringed at the greasy napkins on the ledge and grungy old rubber bands scattered on every surface. She said, “I just hate those harsh lights, especially after a route. Soothing darkness and a long hot bath…ahhh.”
“And a nice big martini.”
“You know it, dude. Oh, just a heads up. Freddy needs a write up…again.”
Mark’s face flushed and Deany said, “No dude, it’s not that giant crater…whatchoo hit anyways?”
“Um. Oh yeah. That. Uh…it was that big rock by that big red box on Marsh. Sorry. Am I in trouble?”
“No. Just play dumb. I’m no snitch. Shit happens. Just be careful out there, okay?”
“I’ll never hit another thing again. So, is it the tranny?”
“Yes,” she replied vehemently. “Same fucking problem.” She glanced quickly at the window across the small office where, on the other side, the clerk was helping a customer. “Oops.” She raised her voice, “I mean…the same darn tootin’ problem by gosh.”
Mark giggled again. “You want me to write it up?”
“Sure. Add that the back left tire is pretty bald too.”
“Can I ask for air conditioning?”
“Ha! That’s hysterical.”
Andre the postmaster came out from his office and said, “Hey Deany, I checked out that driveway at the top end of Spring. Don’t go up there again. It really isn’t safe.”
“You saw what I meant about not being able to turn around? Were all three cars there?”
“No, just the truck. But I can see how it would be difficult, well impossible, to get out without backing down the hill. And that woman is not a nice person.”
“I told you she was crazy! Ha.”
“Yeah. She yelled at me when I explained that we can’t deliver packages up there anymore. I tried explaining why we aren’t allowed to back up more than fifty feet and she called me a liar. Like it’s a conspiracy or something. She actually called me a liar.”
It’s always been a No No to back up in an LLV, but we do it sometimes when we have to, rural carriers especially find many times on a route when they must. But…management is getting super serious about it now. Too much property damaged most likely: fences, mailboxes, vehicles…children...
“I am so happy to not have to drive up there anymore. Those first two houses are fine, but past that is just nasty for turning around.”
Mark had finished filling out the repair tag and handed it to Andre who said, “I’ll call it in now. Seeyou tomorrow.”
Three weeks later…
Deany arrived to the office in the dark as usual and began casing the Delivery Point System mail, or DPS, which is mail that comes sorted in the order of the route. It’s the easiest to do and always done first. It’s a mellow way to get into the groove of an otherwise fast-paced day, plus, you don’t strain your brain first thing in the morning.
As soon as it was light outside, she went outside to Freddy and started the engine. He purred his tiger growl without a hitch as he usually did. She really would not have any way of knowing if the transmission had been fixed until out on the road, perhaps climbing a steep hill. The back tire was still bald. There were McDonalds wrappers under the shelf and a schmear of spoogey stuff on the driver’s side window that looked like chocolate and boogers. Gross.
She shuddered and went back inside for a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of Windex.
The mugginess had been replaced by an early autumn chill. The sky was heavy with leaden clouds preparing to drop a deluge of rain some would call a hurricane. ‘Great,’ Deany thought, ‘I’ll be bagging today.’ City carriers (they’re people too) do not bag parcels. They write up orange tags for them which also makes their day go faster. Rural carriers bag…at least the ones in Deany’s office did. They don’t get paid to do it and it adds quite a lot of time to the carrier’s day. They simply do it to be kind. Added to the cold and wet, rainy days suck for rural carriers. She had been toying with the idea of printing up little cards that asked, nicely, if customers who order a ton of crap in the mail- and there are a ton that do- would be considerate and supply a safe dry place for said packages. Like a big plastic bin or something, like the one by her own driveway.
Just as she was loaded up and leaving for her route, the clouds opened their big fat maws and regurgitated a torrent as great as a river. It was in fact, called an atmospheric river.
The day was long. Deany’s nose started running like mad. ‘Great. I’m getting sick. What next?’ She laid her foot heavy on the gas to plow the straining Freddy up her steepest hill. It was Spring Street, and at the top end of it lived the crazy lady. Thank goodness she didn’t have to go all the way up it anymore. She delivered the plastic bag wrapped parcel that just happened to be a sixteenth of an inch too wide for the customer’s box and carefully did a three point turn back to the road. A familiar looking, older model white SUV was blocking it.
The crazy lady.
She was coming straight at her and yelling but through the windshield Deany couldn’t make out the words. In the darkness of the SUV the woman looked like Witchy-Poo in a Tasmanian frenzy.
Deany backed up the hill. There was a slight turnout at the edge of the mountain road, slight was all she needed. She’d been driving alongside these cliffs for years. When the crazy lady was even with the turnout, Deany inched alongside her, so close she could see flecks of spittle on the inside of the woman’s window.
The crazy lady saw her intention and veered towards her.
Deany stepped on the gas. CRUNCH-CLUNK!
LLVs are one wheel drive, the power wheel is the rear one behind the driver.
The back wheel spun in the mucky wet redwood shluff. The power steering had failed. ‘So that’s what that clunking noise was.’
Deany and Freddy slid in slow motion sideways, lame and powerless, the back wheels hung over the cliff; Freddy was going over. Deany rolled back her door ready to jump… and was astonished to find her seatbelt fastened tightly around her thighs.
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