At writers’ group last night, we set ourselves a challenge to write a story that included three prompts: a telephone, a black overcoat, and a Post Office. Here’s what I came up with:
Jack stumbled in through the door of the Post Office, tripping over the welcome mat on his way.
“Honey, I’m home!” he declared, sounding cheerful at first, but finding himself unable to stifle the catch in his throat over the word ‘home.’
It was an old Post Office from the 1940’s, no longer open the public. The place his grandfather had worked in all his life, and now the place where Jack lived. The ‘open’ sign still hung in the window, though it had faded beyond all recognition.
Staggering past precariously high stacks of books, Jack made his way to the small working kitchen in the back. The door fell off the fridge when he opened it, making the glass milk bottle in the door shatter, and two-week-old milk flood to the floor in clumps.
Two weeks. Was that really how long it had been? God! Jack sank to his knees, his head bending to the floor as sorrow weighed him down, before snapping up again as the smell of the milk clogged his sinuses. It sobered him, a little.
In the other room, behind the old customer counter, the phone rang, and Jack got to his feet once more. He took his time crossing the distance – pausing to wrestle his overcoat off his shoulders – having no doubt who would be calling him.
There were only two people in the world that called Jack, and one of them was gone, never to call him again. A fresh stab of grief jabbed at his breast, threatening to knock him down once more, but Jack fought it, managing to stay upright. Just.
Finally in the back office, he lifted the receiver and slurred a ‘hello.’
“Hello,” returned the voice on the other end of the line. The voice that could not be. That could never be again.
“Bernie?” Jack whispered, not daring to believe his ears.
“Yes, Jack, it’s me,” said the voice.
“Bernie!” Jack repeated, this time an exclamation. His face became animated, eyes focusing for the first time in a fortnight, before he paused. “But how?”
“Never mind that,” said Bernie, “It’s time.”
Jack smiled, making the corners of his eyes go up along with the curve of his mouth and releasing tears down his cheeks and onto his dried lips.
Slumping to the floor as he held the receiver to his chest, he recited Bernie’s name over again, reverently as his eyes closed.
“Bernie. My Bernie. You came back.”