In the Weightless Service of a Child

It came in the mail. At first he didn't open it, holding it with disinterest, caught in the simple vise of thumb and forefinger, and later, farther into the house, with caution, delicately balanced on the fingertips of his right hand, as if he knew what was written inside and found this cause for delicacy.

The envelope betrayed nothing in its weightlessness, in its conventions of length and width. Its sterile white display was creased and folded in all the right places. It bore proper signs of its processing--stamp and postmark, two addresses in bold typeface. He checked the return address: Downtown. He studied the acronym and embossed logo of overlapping crosses, red over pink over yellow. He paused. He remembered. He verified his own address in the suburbs and paused again. Of all the statements and bills and promotions that constantly circulated around him, with all of their proffered acceptances and denials, this letter felt different. He hesitated. He balanced the letter on the fingers of his extended right hand and its contents found a way in, through paper and skin.

He stood in the foyer and stared at the letter. In the room before him, the family room, his wife lay on the couch with her eyes closed, nursing a headache. At his feet, the dog panted in expectation of her evening walk. These things he could sense outside the letter. In the city, or wherever her life had taken her, she would be twenty-four years old. Inside the letter, he could almost see her. He could almost hear her questions. He could sense her agitation.

The house was quiet. There were too many bedrooms for just the two of them. There were not enough TVs to create sufficient noise, the noise of people talking, filling space with words and passing time with conversation. There weren't enough phones ringing. Where was the laughter of children, shrill and grating and irresistible, or the volume of stereos playing music too loud for the tastes of adult ears. He could feel these things in the air, but he could not place them. He could not draw them from the air to settle around him like dust and memory. The dog, Pearl, had three circular doggie beds spread throughout the house and chew toys in loose abandoned piles at every corner.

More letters on the table: statements of transaction and standing; notices of gains and losses, of services rendered, of mortgaged utility and space; extensions of credit; offers to fulfill unmet and unknown needs. These letters traveled in massive teams through commercial channels, in safe and impenetrable numbers. They blanketed, they blunted. And they exposed this single letter balanced on trepid fingers to its vulnerable distinction. Every day delivered more and each had something to say. Each was equipped to announce at least one thing, if only given the chance. After twenty years, he was nearing his chance.

He would like to think that the social workers at the adoption center had counseled her in this, explained to her the difference between active and passive registries, taken the time to impress upon her the import of her actions. She had set something in motion. He would like to think she was ready for what might follow, as he had been for too long to remember, as his wife had been for even longer. They were registered and waiting. All they needed was a letter in return. Pearl followed closely at his heel, wagging her tail against his pant leg, as he now walked over to his wife with just such a letter at his fingertips.

He spoke to her: Honey or Darling or Hey. And he asked, "Did you see this?" And when she rose up to sit against the back of the couch, "Do you know what this is?" With her fingers rubbing slow circles into her temples, yawning herself awake, she craned her neck to see the face of the letter. He opened it, and they read it together. Then she straightened her neck, eye to eye with her husband. Life circled back and set them down like two feathers, waiting for the next breeze to blow them gently forward.

About the author:

Marc lives in Denver, Colorado, where he edits a website, Wandering Army, and publishes things here and there online. The day his parents adopted him as a newborn remains the best and luckiest day of his life.