ADDRESSED TO ME by Sahar Abdulaziz
Despite having already wiped the kitchen counter down the previous night, I cleaned it again this morning. More like scrubbed. I leaned over, annoyed to discover a slight, barely visible faded stubborn orange stain refusing to be scoured away. A metaphor for the kind of week I was having, starting with four days ago when a letter arrived addressed to me, but with my vile ex’s last name. The same last name I had stopped using faster than a speeding bullet, or in my case, a newly issued driver license, and social security card. Although in all honesty, the racing bullet image rang a hell of lot truer.
Along with the arrival of the letter, a brand-new stack of bills. I opened the bills first to get the pain over with.
Damn! How’s it possible for one person to use this much electricity?
I made a silent vow to start taking advantage of natural sunlight during the daytime, candles at night, and maybe, throw a few extra blankets on the bed instead of ramping up the thermostat. Perhaps I could even start eating raw foods to eliminate stove usage.
I snorted. Who am I kidding…
I slid the next envelope with the see-thru plastic window on the front, open––a freaking water bill of all things. I shrugged, defeated.
With the way we're destroying the planet, water will soon be too expensive to drink no less bathe in. Then again, with what it costs, daily bathing might become outlawed altogether...much like thinking for one’s self or holding an unpopular opinion.
I cringed, utterly mortified, unwilling to fathom one-second longer such an appalling, distasteful prospect. I’d sooner give up hot food than hot showers.
Next, from the top ten ‘I Hate to Pay Bills’ pile––cable. My absolute favorite statement to hate. I mean hate, as in despise with every red blood cell still managing to circulate unimpeded through my aging, out-of-shape body. Paying extortionate fees for passive entertainment had always left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Internet, I understood. Still loathed paying it with a passion, but not nearly as much.
I poured myself a glass of water and took a long, hard swig, then started coughing. And coughing. Eyes watery and face flushed, I gasped for breath, saddened by the realization I had nobody close by to tap my back or ask me, are you okay?
Living alone over this past year had proven challenging on many accounts. It had its perks and disadvantages. Paying bills, a total disadvantage. Not having to answer to anyone, most assuredly an advantage. Almost drowning in my own phlegm: definitely a disadvantage.
I spent the next few minutes opening, sifting, sorting, and tossing a stack of unwelcome solicitations, cursing at all the unnecessary tree fatalities it took to create this pile of bothersome mail. Meanwhile, I kept side-eyeing the hand-addressed square-shaped card envelope with the rude no return address.
Since my messy, contested on every despicable lowdown nasty level known to humankind divorce, I had learned rather judiciously not to open specific types of mail, especially anything sporting the words ‘court’ or ‘attorney’ on them. Naturally, I knew this small, insignificant act of defiance did little to nothing to alter or sway much of anything, but emotionally? Emotionally, it felt empowering. As if finally, I had learned to seize for myself a modicum of control. Not control, as in ‘now I can manage my world, watch me’ –but closer to being selective about what and who I allowed to screw up my life further and to what degree. It didn’t make sense. I understood that, but it’s what I did, and continue to do, most of the time. Nonetheless, four days ago, I should have done it again.
But I didn’t.
And now, fuck me.
I picked up the card, shook it, then turned it over as if expecting a name and address to materialize suddenly out of nowhere. I held the letter up to the light but couldn’t make out a thing. I rubbed the tip of my finger across the length of the envelope as if I were some braille expert.
Lastly, with not much else left to try in my lame attempt to sniff out the sender, I inhaled the card––one, excessive, long useless whiff. Then I sneezed my brains out. Not because of the card, mind you, but all these damn allergies of mine. They were killing me, leaving me in a perpetual state of itchy eyes and runny nose...less than attractive.
I groaned. Not only did I have a card from a cagy sender to contend with, but now the same envelope had a sheen of snot sprayed all over it along with half the other already opened mail––the story of my life.
In my haste to end the drama, I tore the mysterious envelope open, taking no care whatsoever to save its plague-ridden covering.
I looked closer, clutching my throat, and gasping for air.
What I held in my trembling hand wasn’t a card at all, but a black and white photograph flaunting an empty, overgrown countryside field, imprinted on hard backing. The displayed image looked comparable to where my older sister had been found earlier this year, or what was left of her. To date, her killer, or killers have yet to be caught.
What in the hell?
Heart pounding, hand quaking, I squeezed my eyes shut and flipped the photograph over. On the count of maybe a solid two and a half, I opened my eyes, practically losing the rest of my shit. There, scrawled on the back, two ominous words.