The Back of Beyond

by Wyndes

The latest envelope was getting dirty.

There was a smear of orange in one corner that Mia thought was probably carrots from the time she’d let the baby gnaw on it. He hadn’t managed to chew through the not-quite-paper with his one lone tooth, but he’d left dents. A brown ripple was probably chocolate milk from the day one of the twins—she thought Caro, but Caro claimed Ally—had spilled chocolate milk on the table. Theo had drawn on it with crayon one morning—an interesting swirl of red and blue across the address. And the edges were turning gray from being handled too much by hands sticky with detritus from her long days.

Not that she wanted to handle the envelope. But it would keep appearing.

She sighed as it popped back onto the center of the table while she was sweeping the crumbs off into a damp cloth.

It was getting aggressive. That always happened when the date of the invitation drew near.

Mia glanced at the calendar taking up half the limited space on the kitchen wall. Tuesday, so Ally had violin lessons, Caro had soccer. Wednesday, Justin had a dentist appointment; she’d need to remind him of that tonight. Or maybe send him a text. The Mommy and Me class at the Y was at 11—she could take the baby to that and then if she was quick, she could get the grocery shopping done. But she’d need a better list; if the baby didn’t get down for his nap by 1, the whole day would be thrown off. Milk, eggs, salad greens, was she out of dishwasher detergent or just getting close?

The envelope jiggled in her peripheral vision.

Right, that’s what she’d been thinking about. That damn envelope.

There was no point in tossing it in the garbage. It would be back, scented with rotting food, within the day.

Ripping it up didn’t work and neither did cutting it. The not-quite-paper was not-quite-indestructible. The dents and the stains proved that damage could be done, but she’d never managed destruction. Even burning it didn’t work. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. Three, maybe four years ago, half a can of lighter fluid, a flame high enough that she thought she might have charred her eyebrows when she tossed the match on it, but when the flames died down, the envelope had merely been sooty.

That had been in July, of course. The grill had been handy. Now it was early March. Two small lines appeared between Mia’s eyes as she gathered the breakfast dishes she’d stacked at the edge of the table and carried them over to the sink.

Early March. It was none of the holidays. Not that she would have expected that: the family had given up on her presence at the holidays at least a decade earlier. She hadn’t seen a solstice invitation since… she thought back as she started the water running and began rinsing the dishes. Before the twins were born, definitely, and they’d be ten at their next birthday.

Could it be a birthday? But the Family didn’t celebrate birthdays except on the decennials. As she absently stacked the dishes in the dishwasher, she ran down a list of relatives in her mind. None of the elders. Grandmother Eola had celebrated her 90th last year and she was closest. Maybe one of the littles that she didn’t know? But why would they invite an unknown aunt to a tenth celebration? No, it couldn’t be a birthday.

The envelope wasn’t black, so it wasn’t a funeral. She would have opened a black envelope. Reluctantly, of course. But she would have wanted to know who she should whisper her good-byes to when she performed the weekly rites.

Dishes in the dishwasher, she paused, staring blankly out the window at the bird feeder. A squirrel was sitting on it, trying to get the scrapings of sunflower seeds still trapped at the back of the tray. She should add more seed to her shopping list. Oh, and she was almost out of detergent. Good, she’d add that, too. Did they have enough fruit for school lunches?

Mia turned to the refrigerator to check the fruit supply and took an abrupt step back. The envelope had moved to the clip on the fridge door. She bit her lip.

It was sitting still, not moving, but she could almost see it radiating urgency. The envelope wanted her to open it. Wanted it badly.

A naming ceremony? That was no more likely than a birthday. And it wouldn’t be urgent.

Maybe an adulthood ceremony? That was possible. She tried to remember the ages of the littles she knew about. Could her sister’s eldest really have come into her powers?

Tentatively, she plucked the envelope off the clip. She stared down at the name and address.

The Family refused to accept that she’d changed her name. Instead of Mia Thompson, wife of Justin, mom to Theodore, Caroline, Allison, and Devon, the name on the front read “Damiana Seraphina Eakinua,” and the address… Mia’s lips curved in a reluctant smile.

“The Back of Beyond, Nowheresville.”

Who would have written in that curving script, added the sarcasm to the address, chosen the deep black of the ink and the ivory of the not-quite-paper?

Carefully, she tucked the envelope back into the clip with the school lunch menu, the soccer tournament schedule, the permission slip for the field trip to the art museum and turned away from it.

And then, impatiently, she whirled around, grabbed it again, pulling it off the clip so roughly that the other papers fell, drifting unnoticed to the ground. She stared at it again for a second, then another, then shook her head and slid a finger along the flap.

It didn’t matter what it was. She wouldn’t go, of course. She’d made her choices in life and she’d chosen normal. Real. She’d chosen Justin and their life together. The house, the yard, the kids, soccer tournaments and field trips. Those were her choices. The magic of family meals and bedtimes, the glamour of school buses and grocery stores. The delight of safety and comfort and the sure knowledge that tomorrow would be just like today. More or less.

She shook the card inside the envelope out into her hand. A sprinkling of red dust came with it and she froze, feeling her legs go cold.

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