where the writers are
The 5 Pound Note

Three boxes are stacked on the dining room table. Garnet Hill, it seems, has delivered Mere's Christmas present early. The familiar Amazon logo is on the middle box. At the bottom of the pile is the familiar red, white and blue of a large Express Mail package, dented and slightly torn.

I try to slip it out from under the other two boxes. They topple over so easily that I recognize their contents to be little more than packing pillows filled with air. But the bottom package did not move, not at all. I take a firmer grip on it and lift in a half-hearted, vaguely curious way, but it doesn’t budge. This box wants two hands to lift it and nothing less. Hmm. I wonder what’s in it. Who sent it?

I pull it over and read the address. It’s addressed to me and not my husband. I search the upper corner of the label for the sender’s address. It is there and the print, its sharp angularity, seems familiar. I look at the name and that, too, is familiar, as familiar as a brother’s or a sister’s. It is so familiar that at first I think nothing of it and then my brain catches up to my eye. I read it again. I examine the print, and the words, and do some sort of mental math to see if they match, if they really add up, if these inked notations match any words I know in my native tongue.

Shock is like that, you know. At a wedding in New Orleans, I saw my son, age two, fall into a swimming pool. I remember the jolt of panic that roared up and down my body, brain to legs and legs to brain with my mind sparking in a million directions with but a single result: my feet were frozen in place. There I was, the idiot mom, just standing there – next to the idiot dad, also just standing there. Thank god, the nanny could both think as well as swim. All ended well but that moment when the adrenalin hit and I knew I had to move but couldn’t, and time seemed frozen inside my body but also speeded up outside it – that feeling – I still remember it.

A similar shock froze me now. No panic, just this huge disconnect between my eyes and my brain. I read the name again and this time, my brain has caught up so when I read it again, I take pleasure in the familiarity of it. Could it be? I wonder. After all these years?

"Robbie,” I ask my husband.  “Did you see who this box is from?"

“It’s from Connie,” I whisper very quietly to myself.

I stay still. In my hands is something from an old friend I have not heard from since the Rodney King riots exploded Los Angeles a lifetime ago. I know that for a fact because Connie had moved West to make television, and I stayed East to inadvertently trade in a career for a Green Acres sort of life with my husband and child. I had called Connie so many times during those riots to see if she was alright. So many times. But she had never answered the phone, never returned a call, never sent a card. There had been nothing but silence.

"It's from Connie," I whisper again, a little louder, a little firmer. But my husband is already standing behind me, his hands on my shoulders, a smile in his voice. An unexpected comfort exists simply in the knowledge that there is the one person in the whole world to know precisely how I have missed her, and that person is here.

“Go on,” he urges. “Open it.”

But I couldn’t, not just yet. "Can it be?” I ask – dumbly, for her name is printed right there, return address and everything. “Do you think it really is?"

"Come on," he coaxes. The man had grown up with ponies, Vineyard ponies, but ponies nonetheless. You could just hear the sugar in his voice. "Open it."

But I hold it a moment longer, looking at the handwriting and the name of someone I have thought about and missed so much for so long. Then I pull out the inside box. It is brown with an orange Hadley’s logo printed on top. Attached to this is an envelope. I open this first and look at the card, at the picture she's chosen. I have to find her taste in it, to see if it holds the colors she used to like. Will her sensibility be familiar to me, like her writing? Or will it be new and unrecognizable?

The card she has chosen is an illustration of a desert landscape, bare but not barren, and disappearing into a rich sunset. I think I have found what I am looking for in the jewel colors of the sunset. They are not the same earth tones she used to favor but they are not so different, either. Finally, I open the card and I read her few penned lines like a blind person: I read them but I stumble over them – over their meaning ­­as I want to know what they say even before I have had time to read the message. It is short. It is good.

"So go on. Open it," urges my husband once more. But I don't need to for I knew exactly what the box contained just as soon as I had seen it. "It's dates,” I say, “a giant box of dates.”

"Wow," he says, hefting the package. "That's the heaviest box of dates I've ever seen."

And it is. It is heavy in ways we can’t even imagine.