A letter carrier learns the intimate details of his customers’ lives. He knows when it’s their birthdays because of the cards, when the electric company threatens to switch off their juice thanks to that added yellow strip on the outside of the envelope, and when they haven’t paid their house taxes for the previous year—that one owing to the deluge of certified letters thrust upon mailmen by the town every March.
In short order, Keith learned the private details of his new route’s customers. He discovered that Celeste in the red Cape Cod house at 17 Maple Street was battling some form of medical ailment by the plethora of correspondence from various health care providers, which she received daily; that Taylor David Nyquist at 21 Maple Street was into music according to the tunes Keith often heard upon approach to his mailbox and the musical catalogs; and that the attractive blonde who might or might not have been Chris Wolcotte at 27 Maple was in danger.
It was one of those perfect early June mornings in New Hampshire—dry, no humidity, the sky a cloudless wash of blue the color of comfortable denim. Even so, Keith knew he’d be a sweaty mess by the time he finished his new route.
Keith drove the mail truck to the base of the hill, parked it in its usual spot along the curb where Maple Street began, and grabbed the mailbag. The shoulder strap exerted more pull on this morning because of a couple of packages that he was sure were books—for the writer who lived in the craftsman bungalow at Number 31.
He donned his ear buds, dialed up the playlist on his pocketed phone, and trudged up the hill to his first stop, leaving the weekly shopping circular in the red wooden mailbox with the colorful maple leaves painted across the sides.
On this glorious day, Keith wore the expected shorts. By the time he reached the top of the hill, he was sweating, aware of the burn in his calf muscles and of the mileage being tacked onto his body. In his early thirties, Maple Street’s hill wasn’t a problem, which is why he’d taken it over from one of the older veterans. But he doubted another decade of hard winters would be so easy or kind. Still, on this day …
He delivered Celeste’s stack of medical bills, the musician’s latest catalogs, and pressed forward to the tall house painted in a color that reminded him of coffee with cream. The mailbox was fixed to the outside of the house’s screen door, which led to a sun porch. In his short time with the Maple Street route, as with the mail, he’d gotten to know the house’s sun porch—the wrought iron garden table and, in particular, the blonde woman who was always there, waiting for the day’s mail.
Keith spotted her, her long hair tumbling past her shoulders, not just pretty but beautiful. She stood up from one of the two chairs at the garden table and hastened to the screen door, opening it. Despite the sweat and burn of his muscles, a lightness washed over him as he pounded up the driveway, nothing but the circular in his right hand.
“Morning,” he said, aware of his smile.
She smiled too. On his next sip of breath, he smelled her floral perfume, and his insides melted.
“Thanks,” she said, her own smile dropping to low and then vanishing. “Is this it?”
He trotted out his usual response to the question. “At least it isn’t a bill, right?”
She flashed a version of her earlier smile but it looked sharp on her lips.
“There’s always tomorrow,” he offered.
She nodded, her smile back at half its already spare level.
Keith continued on, around the driveway to the back of the house, crossing into the driveway of the next stop in line. He passed the weedy, overgrown patch he assumed was a vegetable garden in previous years along with the carport where the red sports car was parked. The highlight of Keith’s day was over. He trudged down to the next mailbox and from there to the hundred after that.
You couldn’t help but pick up on certain private details—that one customer had bad spending habits if the amount of credit card bills they received were to be believed or that their water was in serious jeopardy of being cut off, so said the hot pink notice visible through the little plastic window of the demand because the mailman had to look at the mail before he dropped it into a mailbox.