It was Thursday December 11, and Jonah sat dejectedly at his old mahogany desk, trying to remember how many children Caroline had. She was pregnant last he saw her, but that was nearly a year ago. She could have had that one and another by now. Maybe the last one was two, or even three. Add those to the two she already had, and she probably had a vanful by now.
He decided to vaguely refer to them as her “lovely children” and leave it at that. Now he had to try to remember the husband’s name. Robert? Richard? Mister it would be. Hopefully they were still married.
He tore up the card and started over. He would address it to Caroline Millerson and Family and leave the specifics out. Jonah knew how Caroline felt about him, how she only thought of him when she needed something. Why spend more time trying to prove he cared about her family, about their well-being? Either she wanted him in her life or she did not - there was not much else he could do to convince her.
Except maybe there was. He added a few lines to the end of the card, promising to do better, to offer her more of his time and energy next year, to expect less from her in return. Their relationship could grow. They could see each other more often. He hoped she would accept. All he could do was hope now. He shoved the card in the envelope, sealed it shut, and slapped a spit-riddled stamp on it.
He chucked the envelope towards the shoebox next to his desk, but it bounced back out when it hit the already over-flowing pile of cards addressed to women and men all over town.
Just after 5pm, it was pitch black outside, despite all the holiday lights strung from porches and trees all down the road. Plus it was cold. And icy. A walk to the mailbox could be deadly in these conditions. Jonah happily decided it was best to wait until tomorrow to walk his shoebox of correspondence to the mailbox.
Friday, the twelfth, Jonah woke up bright and early to a dastardly snow storm. The wind seemed to blow from every direction, and the snow clung to anything it could touch. He turned on the radio to hear that the blizzard had shut down the entire town. A sort of local emergency was declared, and all public transportation was stopped. Jonah set the box at the front door, hoping to catch the mail carrier if it were true that neither rain nor snow could stop the mail. He settled into his old recliner and watched the storm swallow the neighbors’ houses.
Sleep borrowed Jonah for a bit, and he was only returned when his stomach asked for a word. It was already after 2pm, and Jonah peeked at the slot at the front door. A small pile of soggy bills lay on the mat. He had missed the mail carrier but was impressed there was a delivery in this snow.
He made his way to the kitchen and popped the lid off a can of soup. He swirled it a little, scrutinizing the number of chicken bits, before dumping it into an extra large coffee mug that came with a tank of gas fifteen years ago.
The microwave’s spinning tray was almost hyponotizing, slowly lulling Jonah back to nap time. He struggled to hold out for the ding, which seemed to take much more than three minutes to come.
Jonah wrapped his mug in a dish towel and slowly made the trip back to his recliner, careful not to trip on the old shag carpet or the piles of magazines stacked around the living room. He set his mug down to turn the recliner towards the television and then settled in for some slurping and surfing. He appreciated his alliteration and almost wished someone had been around to share it with. Almost.
He sipped at his luke warm soup and debated getting up to give it a few more minutes in the microwave but deemed it not worth the trip. The chair was warm, and that was enough. Soon he was sleeping again, the darkness outside contrasted by the glow of the television.
Jonah was up before the sun on Saturday, the thirteenth. After napping away most of Friday, he was rested and ready to catch the mail carrier this time. He put on his slippers and the ancient Aran sweater he bought on his honeymoon to keep warm on his little indoor camping trip. With his radio tuned to an old jazz station, Jonah kept watch at the front door, his shoebox of holiday cards sitting in his lap.
He watched as the plow methodically trudged down the west side of the street and then back down the east. He could hear his neighbors clearing their sidewalks, scrapping their shovels against the concrete as they tried to get under a layer of ice. No one seemed to be shoveling in Jonah’s direction though. This could prove problematic for the mail carrier. What if today’s delivery went to the box at the end of the walk instead of the slot at the door? Jonah knew his usual guy would come to the door, but what if they had changed routes or something today?
Jonah set his shoebox on the mat and creaked and groaned his way to the phone in the kitchen. He called the neighbor across the alley and asked if their boy Tyler could come shovel. After a bit of haggling and some digging in his jacket pockets, Jonah agreed to pay the kid his last $6 to shovel just enough to ensure the mail carrier could get to the door.
Jonah watched from the kitchen window as a lanky figure in a hoodie and ski boots trudged across the alley and reached over the fence to finagle the lock open. An avalanche of snow shook from the posts as he slammed the gate closed and headed towards the front yard, giant snow divots marking his trail through the yard. Jonah grabbed his money and headed to meet him at the front door.
Imagine his frustration when he found a pile of circulars and more bils on top of his shoe box! The mail had already been delivered.
The side gate clanged shut and Jonah knew he had only one more option to get those cards in the mail. He leaned out the door and shouted for Tyler, who was already shoveling the walk, and tried to be louder than the plow and the small army of shovels fighting the snow. It was not working. He grabbed a handful of snow and packed it into a loose ball. He meant to toss it at Tyler’s feet, but he hit him between the shoulder blades with much more force than intended.
Tyler whipped around, pulling an ear bud out and throwing his hands up in the air. Jonah waved for him to come to the door and quickly asked him to change tasks. After explaining to him where the mailbox was and how to put his cards in it, Jonah watched Tyler bound through the snow with the shoebox like some sort of awkward gazelle stealing packages.
Jonah kept watch at the front door for a bit, but then realized his mistake. Tyler had no reason to come back this way. He would head back to his own front door, a path Jonah had no way of watching. He would simply have to trust him.
And he was right to do so. Tyler headed straight to the mailbox and dutifully dropped handful after handful of cards into the slot. He opened and closed the flap a few times, just to be sure nothing was trying to sneak out, and then headed home $6 richer.
The mailbox was emptied into a postal sack late Sunday evening, the forteenth. The sack was dumped onto a conveyor belt early Monday morning, the fifteenth. Everything was sorted and ready for delivery on Tuesday, the sixteenth -- everything except for a few stray envelopes that missed the belt and landed on the floor. Those were picked up late in the evening and went out with the mail on the seventeenth. Jonah’s card for the Millerson family was in that delivery. After six days, everything Jonah had to say to Caroline was sitting in the basket under her front door mail slot on the seventeenth.
But a week before Christmas, the mail, with its endless bills and sale circulars, were not top on the to-do list. Caroline’s holiday cards went out the third week of November. Decorations were up the day after Thanksgiving. Her shopping for the three children was done by the first week of December. She and her husband, Raymond, had decided not to exchange gifts and to plan a family vacation instead. That was already done, too. All of Caroline’s focus was now turned to the baking for the family’s sweets exchange on the twenty-forth.
Ray was in the basement helping the kids make their ornaments for the tree, so Caroline was focused on making candies in the kitchen. A tray of fudge was cooling in the refrigerator and several jars of peppermint bark sparkled on the counter. She was just about finished with the last batch of turtles when she realized there would be some pecans left over. This would be her treat for her hard work! She toasted them with a little honey and cinnamon and marveled at how delicious the kitchen smelled. She gently closed the basement door, hoping to keep the wolves at bay so she could have just a few bites to herself.
With a mug of hot chocolate and a bowl of candied pecans, Caroline grabbed the mail from the basket and settled on the couch to watch the news for a bit. Her first pecan was pure heaven, sweet and savory and just perfect. The second pecan had something to prove, and cracked Caroline’s bridge work right in half. She yelped and spit a bit of tooth and crown into her bowl. Her tongue slid around her mouth, assessing the damage and the pain. The damage was pretty bad, but the pain was surprisingly not. Perhaps it was the anger at this unexpected holiday drama or maybe it was the sheer bliss of the holiday spirit, but something seemed to be helping her cope. She left the mail on the coffee table and went to clean out her mouth and clean up the kitchen.
A few hours later, the Millersons were all tucked into bed and sleeping peacefully. The eighteenth and nineteenth came and went with little excitement beyond the oohs and ahhs that Caroline’s treats were earning in the kitchen. Ray had taken it upon himself to test every batch of everything. All but one batch of snickerdoodles earned his approval. Never one to be wasteful, he volunteered to eat them all, not letting the children suffer the agony of eating some of the softest, gooeyest cookies he had ever had in his entire forty-two years.
By the twentieth, Caroline’s baking was done and it was time to clean the house from top to bottom for the slew of guests who would be piled into her home for the sweets exchange. The kids were in charge of their toys. Ray was sweeping and dusting. Caroline’s job was staging, making their home look like one on the front cover of a magazine. She had only managed to fluff the pillows on the couch before she was curled up on it, an ice bag against her cheek. The blissy buzz had worn off, and her missing tooth was somehow pummeling her from beyond the void.
She fussed and rolled on her side, suddenly noticing the pile of mail that had been sitting on the coffee table since she bit that damn pecan. She stretched a bit to grab at the pile and rolled on her back, ice bag tucked between her cheek and shoulder, and started tearing open envelopes.
She gasped when she found the card from Jonah, sucking in cold, painful air. She had forgotten about him. She excitedly read the card, studying the last few lines, pouring over every possible interpretation and hidden meaning. She thought about the last time she saw Jonah. It was over a year ago. That was not a pleasant meeting, but she could not hold it against him. She had made her own choices.
She sat on the couch, rubbing her cold cheek and wondering if things would be different this time. She would have to find out.
She reached for the phone and hoped that he would answer. He did, and he was so happy to hear from her, even though he knew she would not have reached out first or at all if she did not need something from him. This time of year, he was happy to be thought of in any circumstance. He wondered just what in the card made Caroline agree to meet him. Would the others respond as well to the rest of the cards?
Caroline and Jonah spent just a few minutes talking, mostly making arrangements to see each other the next day before breakfast.
By the evening of the twenty-first, Jonah had replaced Caroline’s year-old bridge with something much more likely to withstand her famous candied pecans. His handwritten cards had brought back several patients, and he spent the next week writing New Year’s cards to all the neighbors who might be new patients next year.