Monday, April 3, 2017

Lattice Entertain You

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

People tend to like the characters I write into my fiction, in part because they seem so real. Well, to be fair, in part they are. I meet people every day—quite often on my route at work—who form the basis for characters who then find their way into my writing. I mean, let’s face it: sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about—and not even that extreme an example.
There is an older woman who moved to my route a couple of years ago. She’s not gone whackadoodle, as some older folks do, wearing her underwear on the outside of her pants, or forgetting the pants entirely (I’ve heard of both) or anything like that, but she does have one quirk: though I park in front of her house, and as soon as I have my mail bag on my shoulder I’m going to walk straight to her door, she feels the need, when she sees me, to pop out of her house like a life-sized jack-in-the-box as soon as the truck grinds to a halt. She marches right up to my door to call in my window, “Can I have my mail?”
She doesn’t necessarily want to talk—some people do, they’re friendly and just want to say hi—but she needs her mail. ASAP. Now, if not sooner. She’d oft-times get it quicker if she weren’t crowding me, making it harder to get out and around to the rear of the vehicle where her mail actually is. Sometimes, though, I’m speedy enough, or she just doesn’t see me until it’s too late, or maybe the weather’s just too awful, and she instead meets me at her door, opening it a crack to thrust her claw through the gap with a cry of “I’m right here!”
Then there are the rare, rare times when she misses me entirely, and I actually get to use her mailbox. This had been one of those times.
Now, I can understand why she tries to meet me at the door, especially on cold days or when the weather isn’t otherwise especially human friendly. There is a sort of arbor over her door, a roofed but lattice-sided box about three feet deep forming a sort of outside entry hall. The former tenants had their mailbox mounted inside this arbor, beneath the small roof and right beside the door: open the door, stick your hand out, grab the mail. Hell, they could have done it naked—probably did—and no one would ever know.
The woman in question, however, despite my suggestion to the contrary, afixed her mailbox to the wall of the house outside the arbor, necessitating a walk out and around the lattice wall, a full-body immersion into a cold winter day or complete exposure to wind and rain when fetching the post. I don’t blame her for not wanting to make that trip, if she can avoid it . . . which leads me to a couple of weeks ago.
We had snow. Not a whole hell of a lot—not nearly as much as they’d predicted—but enough to be a pain in the ass for working outside in. I parked, filled up my mail satchel at the rear of the truck, started at the jack-in-the-box’s house, then walked about delivering the whole street. When I got back to my truck I heard a call from behind me, thin and reedy and fairly familiar: “Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I called back, slung my truck door closed, turned, and stopped.
There she stood, one foot inside the house, the other out. Not wanting to step out into the dusting of snow on the ground, she’d managed to worm one large and bony hand through the lattice, her spindly wrist—about as thick around as two broomsticks lain side-by-side—fitting quite comfortably in the gap. She’d opened her box, grabbed tight her mail . . . and then discovered her fist, which was probably as large as mine, wouldn’t fit back through the hole. Even as I watched, she twisted her hand this way and that, looking for the magical angle which would let her squeeze that big bundle of knuckles back through the lattice while still clutching her prize.
Now, she could have dropped the prize, then simply stepped around the lattice to retrieve it once more. Barring that, she might have put the mail back in the box—it was obviously within reach—keeping her mail out of the snow and her from having to bend to pick it up. None of this occurred to her, however. So focused was she on having that mail, I think that if I hadn’t come back to my truck, or if she’d tried the stunt after I’d driven away, she might have stood there until her daughter came to visit; half-in, half-out of the house, wrist stuck in a handcuff the size of her house.
I took the bills and junk mail from her trapped mitt and she easily pulled her hand back through the lattice. I stepped around and handed her the bundle, which she accepted with a smile. “Thanks,” she said. “I won’t try that again!”
And she hasn’t. Yet. But I make sure now, when I get back to the truck after delivering her street, to take a peek into her arbor, waiting for the day I hear it again: Excuse me, could you hand me my mail?
So, at some point in the future is the can I have my mail lady going to wind up in a story? Sure, if the story calls for a perfectly normal person with just one little quirk, one odd obsession. I may change it some—maybe write a man who’s just like everyone else, except he’s got one particular brand of gum he needs, or a woman who needs to stop the car so she can get out and smell wild lilac whenever she drives past it—but I’ll probably have the can I have my mail lady in mind when I do.
Because truth is stranger than fiction.

Talk to you later!

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