George Barnes was a mail carrier. The greater part of his fourty year career was spent taking the neighborhood of West Sagamore by foot. He was offered better routes over the years, ones with less hiking and houses that were easier on the eyes. As the years took their toll on George’s knees, he was encouraged to take another route. After all, he’d certainly earned it with his years of loyal service.
Places like West Sagamore were meant for fresh faced carriers, with untried limbs and naive vigor. But with each passing season, George had become attached to the streets of West Sagamore. Crossing Jenson Lane to deliver to the apartments on Park Ave, to circle back down to Perimeter Rd had become second nature to him. He didn’t even mind the deafening sounds of the planes taking off nearby. It only happened a few times a day, and it was always while he was talking to a resident. He took that as a sign to wrap up his conversation and keep it moving.
The residents hated the noises. They told him often. But the prices of real estate and rentals in the area were too good to pass up, which is why many of them stayed. George appreciated the noises, although he never told them so. For him, the sounds meant freedom. He was a veteran after all, and the jets taking off were a reminder that his brothers were in the sky. He knew what those sounds stood for, and they were worth a few moments of interrupted conversation.
George packed a lunch most days, which he enjoyed in a thirty minute increment parked in a vacant lot that once belonged to a church. The church hadn’t opened its doors since he’d been around. He would occasionally get a piece of mail for them, an ad, or someone attempting to buy the property. For many years he placed them into the rusted mailbox, until it became evident that they would disintegrate there if he continued. Since then, the cross on the top of the building had aged too. The white paint had faded, leaving it brown on the edges. He always wondered what happened to the church, or why no one had taken over the property. Perhaps they couldn’t handle the jet noise.
While George had an attachment to the routine and the neighborhood, his devotion also extended to the residents. His coworkers at the station called him Barnes, a custom stemmed from being surrounded by former vets, but the residents on his route knew him on a first name basis.
Peggy Waters, a woman frail from years of cigarette abuse, would greet him from her porch every morning when he made his rounds. She only ever said two words to him, “Hey George!” with a cigarette flapping from her lip. This was more than he could expect from her. There was a point in time where she only acknowledged him to holler. The same message every time: stop stomping through her grass. George made it a point to stay on the pavement when he made it to her house. Her shrill voice carrying over the lawn was enough to make sure he never forgot again. Her gratitude was evident in her change of greeting.
George respected Peggy, despite her hardened demeanor. He knew she’d suffered a difficult life. George carried the mail when her husband was still alive. George also carried the mail when she started receiving placards for lawyers. Specifically, ones that handled car accidents. Specifically, ones that handled lawsuits involving death. George carried the mail when she’d jammed a stack of it back into the box, the word deceased scrawled across the top. She’d underlined it three times and circled it too, as if to say, please don’t ever deliver mail with this name on it here again. George obeyed her request then too. This was many years before Peggy started showing concern about her grass. She started smoking after the loss of her husband, and she would spend hours on her porch, puffing her life into a pack at a time.
George also carried the mail when Mr. Reid’s dog was nearly struck by a car. He was making good time on Perimeter Ave, the busiest road on his route, when he saw him, a brown dachshund zigzagging from yard to yard. George recognized the dog as belonging to Mr. Reid, an elderly man, who let the dog defecate in the front yard. George had become well acquainted with them when his foot had landed in the wrong spot one morning. The dog, Felix, appeared to be having the time of his life, with no qualms surrounding the cars zooming past him. George swung his satchel over his back and abandoned his duties to catch Felix and return him.
George was late returning that day, which landed him in great trouble with the boss. He told him about the dog, and how he would have been struck and killed if George hadn’t intervened. You should have called animal control and kept moving. But even with the cold response George received, he didn’t regret returning Felix.
This is because George carried the mail when Mr. Reid was told his son had died in combat. He also carried the mail when Mr. Reid registered Felix as his emotional support dog not long after. George knew that Felix was not a loss Mr. Reid would have been able to handle, and he carried that too, ensuring Felix was secured in the gate whenever he passed.
George carried the mail when Julia Smalls was assaulted by her husband. They didn’t have a delivery that day, and he was only passing by their home when he heard it. He stopped, unsure if he should call the police, unsure if he’d even heard what he thought he did. He was fortunate when he called and was told that one of the neighbors had already done it for him. When he passed by on the opposite end of the street, Mr. Smalls was in handcuffs, spitting obscenities at the ground, drunk in the midafternoon. George knew that Julia had been having an affair. He’d seen the man leaving in the early hours of the morning. It was always when the car they owned was gone from the driveway with Mr. Smalls away at work. He briefly wondered if that was what had caused the argument, but knew that didn’t justify what Mr. Smalls did. He carried both of their pain.
George lost his route after fourty years when he fell ill. Arrangements were made to replace him while he was out, assuming it would be a temporary arrangement. The residents of West Sagamore thought nothing of the new young man crossing their yards to toss the mail in their box. With the exception, of course, of Peggy Waters, who made sure to whip the recruit into shape the first time she caught him stepping in her lawn.
George made banter with coworkers about retiring. After all, he’d done his time and he was able, but he liked having something to fill his day. He enjoyed the outdoors. He enjoyed having purpose. Most of all, he enjoyed serving the community of West Sagamore and seeing their friendly faces. But retirement had been waiting far too long for him and cancer beat him to it.
George passed with no flowers at his bedside, surrounded by white walls and white noise. It came as a shock when the news was delivered to the station. They huddled and said words that are said when anyone dies, about his kindness and his dedication. When they said them about George, they were true, but a stranger wouldn’t have known the difference. The people he served almost daily wouldn’t have known. Still, he carried their skeletons, as they say, to the grave.