...To The Mailbox
The sun broke the barrier of miles, refuting all laws of time and order. To turn your eyes up was to get lost in the infinite azure, a virtuous expanse unmarred by clouds or birds or even the exhale of a jet plane. It was just there, spread in front of her like butter on toast, dripping down the sides of the earth until it was pinned to reality through an influx of tree branches, roof peaks. It trickled on down the outlines of windowsills and rain gutters until it pooled into truck beds and against bicycle handles. That's where the trance ended, at least for Jude.
She walked, her hair loose and down against her shoulders. She missed the few inches that had come off only a week ago, right before break commenced. She was in her green jammies, worshipped to the point that they were pilled and faded and now mostly see-through. She had a carton of apple juice in one hand, in the other every last one of her hopes and dreams, aspirations; a catalogue of all her hard times and the triumphant.
The grass was dead and colorless beneath her feet, the only remnant of a harsh winter. The garden, her Ma's pride and joy from April to October, was nothing but a tangle of weeds and dried-out tomato stalks. A few shoots of something-or-other had cropped up in the absence of the unpleasant cold, but they were sad little plants, nothing to marvel at.
They lived on the side of the road that got the most traffic--the right side, as it was--and she had to stop at the end of the driveway to let a parade of cars pass: a sparkling-new Honda Civic, which her uncle helped manufacture in New Mexico, a Range-Rover with the passenger side mirror duct-taped to high Heaven, and an old rusty blue neon. Jude waved at whoever was in there; she had no idea, but it seemed a nice thing to do, and so she did it. The windows were tinted, so she couldn't see if they returned it.
She was just about to step into what her Ma had dubbed "The Danger Zone" so many years ago, when she was dumb and three and just learning about crossing the street, but somebody called her name.
Jude let out a sigh, turning to the noise. She placed the bare foot she'd raised back on the itchy-scratchy lawn. "Huh?"
It was Mike next door. He was close to her age, younger by a year and a half or something, she'd never gotten around to figuring it exactly. They'd never quite become friends, because a year's difference in girl-boy time equated to much more than just that in maturity, may as well have been eons.
He was always friendly, though, as evidenced by the fact that he was taking a detour on the way to his beat-up front door to say hello to her. He was wearing his McDonald's uniform, she saw. Coming from the night shift. He still had the ridiculous black visor on and had it pulled low and tight on his forehead, pressing his bangs flush against his skin. Jude nodded hello.
"You're up early," he noted, like a question.
"Mmm," she answered noncommittally, because it was definitely an anomaly for her to rise before ten a.m. on a Sunday, but not one she felt like explaining.
Four cars passed in that time before he spoke again, but they did speed like fools down this little road, so that didn't mean much.
Mike cleared his throat. "What for?"
"Oh, you know."
"What?" He leaned against the chain link fence his father'd put up a few years back, when he was two feet shorter and a lot chubbier and little-voiced. Jude smiled at that picture of him, at the image she'd probably always have of Mike, even when she was ninety and reminiscing about the good-old days.
"Something funny?" He asked.
She shook away her quirked lips. "No. Nothing."
"If you say so."
A car shot past especially quickly, sending her hair whirling around her face, making whips and lassos of the brown strands. Little pinpricks danced across her cheeks and nose.
"Well." Jude lifted the hand, the wrong hand, she saw, as the sun glinted off the little foil strip at the top of the juice box. "I have to...to mail this."
"And who's the recipient?"
"What?" She'd gotten a halfway decent start to the road again, was forced to step away once more to avoid being pummeled by a Toyota. Then his words caught up to her, and she glared. "I meant the envelope. Obviously."
His eyes darted to it, tight in her fingers. "It looks important."
Mike leaned further forward, until half his torso was technically impeaching into her territory. "And you're going to leave the contents of it a mystery to me?"
"You're really something, Jude."
She quit moving entirely, not because his words stung, but because they made her buzz. Glow. She felt it in her arms and fingertips, her knees and ankles. That was all she really wanted to be, after all. Something.
"Is that a good thing?" She thought to throw out over her shoulder, but Mike was already walking away, and her words were too softened with surprise to be heard. He went inside and shut the door quietly behind him.
She waited a few seconds so she could play that phrase--really something--back in her head, and also so she could make sure there weren't any cars coming. Then she walked across the pavement, cool on this early morning, and came up to the row of mailboxes on the other side.
There was 133, and 135, and then hers, 137. She opened it and stuck the application in there, leaving a couple inches poking out, so the mailman would know. She knew she'd be glued to the window today either way, anticipating his arrival, watching reverently as she slid it into his mail bag to be taken to the postal office, sorted and stuck in a truck that would drive it to the next town, and repeat this process until all the sudden it landed in the lap of Coastal Carolina University.
She kissed her fingertips and touched the letter. Then she turned back around and stared at the sky for a little while more, willing her eyes to seek out something, anything, to make it seem real. A flaw, she realized she was searching for.
But there were none to be found. In this morning, in this place, in her.
There were none.