by Brian Druckenmiller

The mail lady came at different times every day, as if she never had to wait for anything ever.

It was hot as hell, but the retractable awning blocked the sun’s intimidating glare. Sweat dribbled from everywhere like the condensation on my warming glass of ginger ale and whiskey. I should have been drinking water in such heat, but water isn’t a good mixer.

My daughter, Kat, was inside watching God knows what on the television. It sounded like a cartoon, although I figured she had outgrown those. She was turning ten or twelve or something that started with a “T” later that week.

I never really knew her considering Bethany, that bitch, never gave me the chance to be a father. Instead, she convinced stupid lawyers and a stupid judge a long time ago that she was who Kat needed. The most recent legal mumbo-jumbo had too many words for me to read, but I knew this was the last time I’d see her legally. Right before her birthday too, which meant no cake for me.

“Soda!” she shouted from the couch next to the kitchen, but I could barely hear her. She had the volume jacked-up so damn loud the mesh of the screen door slackened and the holes stretched.

“Go ahead, sweetie,” I said, raising my voice to compete with the television.

“But I’m busy.”

She had been “busy” since the divorce.

I set my drink down on the plastic patio table, then ran inside to grab a glass and a two-liter. The liquid fizzled and popped as I poured.

“You let a bug in,” Kat said as she swatted at the air.

“It’s only a bug. It won’t hurt you.”

“Mom would kill it.”

I handed her the drink while staring at the ripped laminate flooring and its ugly floral pattern and went back to the porch, holding the storm door open until the small mosquito found its way out.

Then, tires mangled the dirt and gravel of my street as the puke-green jeep pulled up to my lot’s mailbox, its brakes squealing obnoxiously, brown dust drifting behind it. The mail lady, a wrinkled woman with visible blue veins and flabby skin, reached into the box while I bolted towards her so fast I tripped over a plastic chair and spilled my drink. She had a smile on her lips but not in her eyes.

“Good day for mail,” I said, getting back to my feet. I spruced myself up quickly, fixing my hair and rubbing the grass from my Levis. I shuffled towards her, leaving my glass in the yard.

She didn’t respond.

“Well,” I continued, trying to catch my breath, “maybe not for you. You must hate it. You see it every day. Do you ever get mail? Do you ever look at anybody else’s mail?”

No reply.

“Do you like your job?”

She put the jeep into gear and I slapped my arm, squashing a hungry mosquito.

“It’s something,” she answered. “Better than nothing.”

She drove away with her arm dangling out the window. She glanced in the side mirror and lifted her hand in an almost-wave as the jeep slowly approached the next trailer, followed closely behind by the tumbling cloud of filth.

I opened the mailbox quickly and flipped through the bills and junk and Final Notices and got to what I was waiting for: an envelope from my brother. I kissed it and traced my fingers down the edges of the check inside. My brother knew this wouldn’t be a loan, although I’d advertised it as such. It was rather the price to never hear from me again. I didn’t want that; I just wanted to prove Bethany wrong.

I knew the world would find us weeks later, most likely at some smelly, windowless motel halfway across the country. I knew she’d get her birthday and I’d get my cake. I knew we’d have embarrassing conversations about the boys she missed and the teachers she didn’t. I knew she’d miss her mom, but I’d remind her that she would go back whenever the bitch decided she wanted to find her.

I also knew Kat would likely forget about me. I’d be in jail and she’d erase my existence. I just knew she would. But as the sun set and I scratched and scratched at the fresh mosquito bite, the skin eventually busting open and hot blood removing all friction between my fingers, it was amazing to feel like the father I knew I could be.

Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Druckenmiller has lived many lives, including that of a Thai chef, award-winning karaoke singer, and professional wrestler. His fiction is published in Cleaver Magazine and Fiction Vortex, while others loiter in various slush piles. He now resides in Conway, SC, where he teaches composition courses at Coastal Carolina University.