How to Handle Your Mail During a Pandemic by Serena Jayne
CW: Grief over death of an adult child
1. Visit your mailbox once or twice a week. There’s plenty of room in the rectangular locked box to hold junk mail, bills (since electronic payments make you twitchy), condolence cards, Maya’s forwarded mail, and those shiny baubles you impulse buy, hoping to summon sparkle into your life.
2. Carry the mail to the designated opening zone near the kitchen trash bin.
3. Discourage the cats from sitting on the mail as you carefully open each envelope and parcel with the special pair of scissors you use for this particular task.
4. Toss the junk mail and excess packaging into the bin while sequestering the keeper pile in garage for a week-long quarantine period.
5. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.
6. Take a shower and a valium.
When you cross paths during one of your rare outings, your cousin Bill wants to know why you’re still wearing your face mask even though you received your second vaccination ages ago. He shoves his phone in your face. “We missed you at the gender reveal party,” he says. “The kids call this picture ‘proud Grandpa.’”
In the photo, Bill’s Cheshire cat smile seems to hover in a cloud of pink particles. He informs you of his daughter-in-law’s decision to name his grandchild Maya, and tries to embrace you in the bakery section of Walmart.
“The world needs more Mayas,” he says, as though stealing a name from a dead girl, your dead girl, isn’t a crime.
Surrounded by bulk bagels and birthday cakes, you can’t breathe. You imagine those pink particles from the photo filling your lungs and slowly suffocating.
You stop answering Bill’s calls, texts, and Skypes.
In the latest batch of mail, you find a bill from the funeral home. They’ve included a reminder that Maya’s virtual memory book will be archived should the invoice not be paid in full within thirty days. You hope delaying payment means you never again have to see the teary cat emoji cousin Bill posted in your daughter’s memory book.
You go to the quarantine section of the garage and retrieve the precious parcel from the funeral home. You open the box, which was too big for the mailbox and yet achingly too small, and unearth an urn from a pile of packing peanuts. You don’t bother sanitizing or taking a shower or a valium. The cats brush against you as you cradle the ashes of your dear daughter, the only Maya who matters.
When she isn’t trolling art museums for works that move her, Serena Jayne enjoys writing in multiple fiction genres. Born under the sun sign of Leo, she is naturally a cat person. Her short fiction has appeared in the Arcanist, Shotgun Honey, Space and Time Magazine, Unnerving Magazine, and other publications. She tweets @SJ_Writer.