She was home when the mail came. Unlatched the door, stood on the threshold and waited for a premonition. She imagined she should later be able to say something. “I knew it all along,” or “I never saw it coming.” She’d already prepared other carefully neutral comments – “I’m just glad to be done with the waiting,” and “You’ve all been so supportive.” – like she was entering a beauty pageant. Words that sounded nice no matter the situation.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
“I’d make beauty pageants a blood sport.”
That wasn’t fair. Aunt Maggie had done pageants as a kid, and she was all right. Anyway, beauty queens must look down on bookish girls for knowing languages and having life goals outside of reproduction. It’s all about perspective.
That was the lack of caffeine talking—and not even funny, besides. She used to be witty, back when she actually had to use her brain. When she had to read and study and think. Barista work was calcifying. And Aunt Maggie was great, really.
She considered not walking out to the box. Just going back to bed or checking job sites again. Maybe something had been posted overnight. But Dad would be home later and would check the mail, call her into the kitchen. Everyone would gather round and smile, all expectant. Open it, already! She couldn’t handle that. One foot forward. Now the other.
She sun was starting to recover its force after a short southern winter, but it didn’t touch her as she stepped out into the light. Wouldn’t be long before she had to start wearing shorts again, and then another endless summer. That used to be an exciting thought. She used to have exciting thoughts.
The mailbox had been missing a hinge for as long as she could remember. Had to be wedged closed and just hung there, slackjawed and surprised, when open. There was the usual half-rolled bundle of papers inside; no way to tell whether the letter was there. She hesitated and looked around before taking them into the house.
It was there when she spread them on the kitchen table: a blue tinged envelope with a smudged but official-looking stamp, and From the Graduate School neatly lettered below. She sat, waited to feel something: anticipation, fear, even dread would be healthy. Maybe if she made some coffee. No. Best to get it over with. Now, while there was no audience.
“What if it’s No?” she asked the stamp.
She knew the answer, of course. More of this; of this gradual stiffening, this narrowing. A slow climb upward: apartment, then car; a full-time job. Forget Chicago and Paris, forget all that French. Most of her old highschool boyfriends were still around. One or two might still be unmarried.
Even that didn’t work. These thoughts of a life here at home, once so repugnant, had lost their edge months ago. People lived these lives all the time, and were perfectly happy. It would be easy, once she found a job. Work, drink, tell travel stories. Settle in. Give those heavy coats to charity, go to church with the family.
She pushed back from the table, picked up the envelope. Walked it to the trash and stuffed it under yesterday’s coffee grounds. So long as she didn’t know, there was possibility. She thought she felt a twinge of something as she slid back between the sheets, wrapping the covers up around her like a cocoon. Maybe she’d wake up with a backup plan.