Sunday 14 August 2022

An Exercise in American Pragmatism by Ara Brancamp, four shots of espresso iced with a splash of cream

 One envelope said If you say YES and the other said If you say NO. Both had arrived in the pile of junk mail that morning, neither with any context. There was no question printed anywhere. There was no label or address on either envelope. I had thrown them both out twice, only to retrieve them from the recycling in vain curiosity. Were they a sales gimmick? A clever invitation to some exotic party? None of my friends were that interesting. Maybe a serial killer used the envelopes to choose his victims. Would Yes mean Yes, please kill me, or would refusing him with a No send him off? How could the sender be sure I wouldn’t open both envelopes? Why hadn’t I opened both envelopes? It was a ridiculous situation. They were envelopes. It wasn’t as though one contained a bomb and the other a genie. What if anthrax had been on the rise again? I googled recent anthrax letters and saw a page full of “2001” articles, felt embarrassed, then googled envelope serial killers. Why would a serial killer pick me though? There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about me. I ruled out murder, secret society and terrorism. Could there be any other harm in opening one or both? I still didn’t know the question. I wasn’t keen to say yes to anything that wasn’t a sure bet. But what if I was saying no to the chance for a Caribbean getaway, or for my mortgage to be paid off? That kind of thing didn’t happen though. It was something everyone dreamed about while they stayed in debt until they died and never saw any of the oceans. Were the Caribbean islands in the Atlantic or did they have their own sea? I never paid much attention in geography. I knew I’d never need it. Had the postwoman delivered the envelopes, or were they put there before the mail arrived, or after? I decided to wait until she came the next day to ask her. But what if she didn’t tell the truth? How could I be sure she wouldn’t lie or that she wasn’t the serial killer? We always assume it’s a man, but it could be a woman. I googled female serial killers. Wow, they really did exist. I was hoping we’d been exempt from that. Crime of passion felt more feminine. What would the postwoman have against me? I had never been one to tip around the holidays. But it was Fall, so the holidays had been almost a year ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they deserved something extra. But then you get into the politics of it all. How do you tip the trash people? You can’t just leave an envelope on the can. It seemed fairer to forget the tipping altogether. So, it could have been the trash guys. Damnit, Cynthia, yes or no?


About the author

Ara lives in the Ozarks with her blue heeler, Simone. She holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University and is currently deep in the middle woods of her first novel. 


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