A single long line stretched in the middle of the hallway back out into the atrium, men and women holding bundles of boxes and parcels. Only three of the fifteen windows were open as the cerulean staffs behind the counters, stamped, ticketed and ushered the delivery through express and priority mail. Fresh flow of human traffic spilled out into the gloomy foyer, snaking against the back walls like bamboo curtains as I maneuvered past them and stood in front of my locker number: 74493
I fished the key out of my front pocket and slotted it in the hole, turning it to the right, and bent down to take a better look. Inside the narrow compartment, I saw the crisp, white envelopes stacked to one side but no small packages or yellow slips signaling a present as I leafed through the mail. I called my mother, right away, and she picked up on the first ring.
â€śMom,â€ť I said. â€śDid you see any packages inside the PO Box?â€ť
â€śWhy? Where are you?â€ť she said.
â€śIâ€™m at the post office, trying to find a gift a friend of mine sent from New York.â€ť
Unnerving silence from the other line, and I shifted my position, checking the transmission bars. Healthy and nothing wrong with the reception, yet I still shouted into my cell-phone: â€śMa? MA? You there?â€ť
â€śYes, son. Iâ€™ve got it.â€ť
I swooned a little, but held my footing, heart jack-hammering against my ribcage in nauseating, pixilated thuds.
â€śDid you open it?â€ť
â€śYes, I have.â€ť
The interior of the post office turned slightly gray and my breath caught halfway in my windpipe.
â€śWhat was in there, Ma?â€ť I said slowly, swallowing hard, thinking: I knew I shouldâ€™ve come on Saturday, I knew it!
â€śI canâ€™t believe you would do this to me, Chris Haggard. Did you think you could get away with this?â€ť
â€śWhy do you have it? Thatâ€™s for my eyes only. It says right there on the front seal!â€ť
â€śTalk to me when you get home.â€ť She said with an ominous, flat voice. I scratched my hair, feeling the itch of new dandruff sprouting, and wiped the sweat off my brows with a shaky hand. I coughed.
â€śMom, I swear. Thereâ€™s nothing going on between usâ€”I donâ€™t even know herâ€¦ Hello? Hello?â€ť I was talking into a dead phone.
The following night, when the frogs began to croak at the first glimmer of dusk, and the stars grinned their Cepheid light, my mother joined me in my bedroom like a nicotine patch wanting a juicy talk.
â€śWho is she?â€ť Mother demanded. I sat at the foot of the bed, fidgeting my fingers.
â€śSheâ€™s just someone I met online, Mom.â€ť
â€śHow do you know her? Give me her number so I can call her up.â€ť
â€śNo, youâ€™re not doing that, Mom. Will you stop it? I told you sheâ€™s just a fan! A fanâ€”and nothing more!â€ť
â€śA fan?â€ť she asked, pointing to the direction of the ripped parcel and the secret goodies hidden inside. â€śA fan? You call that a fan? How long has this been going on?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t know, Ma. What does that have to do with anything? Itâ€™s only been three months, I swear.â€ť
â€śThat looks more than three months, cupcake.â€ť My mom hollered. â€śI cannot believe you, Chris! I pay good money to send you to school, and here you are flinging around with a girl you donâ€™t even know! Have you lost your mind?! Youâ€™ve met her, havenâ€™t you?!!â€ť
â€śNo, Iâ€™ve never met her, laid eyes on her, or even touched her for crying out loud!â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t use that tone on me, boy!â€ť
â€śFineâ€¦ No, I havenâ€™t even seen her in real life, I swear to God.â€ť
â€śYet she sends something like that through the mail?â€ť Surely, my mother looked like she was going to rip her hair out. And I wished she had. â€śHave you proposed to her?
â€śNo,â€ť I lied.
â€śHas she proposed to you?â€ť
â€śDoes that look like a ring to you, Mom?â€ť
â€śNo, itâ€™s not a ringâ€”but itâ€™s close to one.â€ť
â€śHow can it be close to one?â€ť
â€śThis is why you begged me to change phone companies, didnâ€™t you? Because you were racking up the bill with the text messages with her! Werenâ€™t you? What were you thinking for Christ-sake.â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť I lied for the hundredth time. â€śI told you I wanted to send the phone pics to my e-mail address. I sent a hundred of those, and thatâ€™s why the phone company decided to charge extra sixty one dollars on top of that hundred you usually pay, not because I was texting her or anything like that.â€ť
â€śGive me your phone.â€ť
â€śI said, give it to me. Youâ€™re living under my roof, therefore under my rules. And now I want the phone back.â€ť
I crawled on my knees. â€śMa, please donâ€™t do this to me. please, Iâ€™ll be your good boy. Iâ€™ll be your good son. Just donâ€™t take away the phone. I need it. How am I going to be in contact with you?â€ť
â€śIf you want your phone back get a job. Pay the bills. Grow up and be the man you say you are.â€ť
“Please, I beg you. Don’t do this.”
â€śDo you promise to end all relationship with her?â€ť
â€śYes, I promise.â€ť I lied for the quadrillionth time. â€śWhat about the gift? The Valentine’s gift she sent me? What are you going to do with them?â€ť
â€śToss them in the furnace.â€ť
â€śOkay.â€ť I said, dourly, reaching a hand out, hoping beyond hope sheâ€™d hand them back to me.
â€śI said–Iâ€™m tossing them in the furnace.â€ť
â€śOkay, I got.â€ť I cheeped, thinking of Daniel the prophet who was tossed in the furnace and came out squeaky clean and not a blister on him, and sighed. I had survived for another day.