Mom wanted to read it before I sent it away, but I wouldn’t let her.
“It’s okay, Margaret, you can admit it,” she said, staring violently at the sealed envelope in my hand. The chair groaned as Mom sat up. “You begged them to get you out of this small town, didn’t you.”
“No, I wrote about the horses,” I said. “About all I’ve done with the business. About our bond.” I shivered in the doorframe, one foot exposed to the air.
“I hope you know how much those horses love you, honey,” Mom said.
“I know, Mom.”
By the time I shut the door she had already turned up the TV. I could hear it outside, even from the coffee-stained seats of the car. The muffled game show applause dissipated as I turned the key in the ignition.
Mom’s Hottest Hits of the 90’s tape turned on with the deep click of the engine. I slammed my finger into the power button. The cassette had been stuck in our broken stereo since I was in elementary school, and it always started up with the car. It was the only thing to listen to—even the radio didn’t work—but I preferred silence, or at least the sound of sloshing, stale liquid in an old McDonald’s cup.
Of course there was always the ocean, but I didn’t hear it anymore. It was like my own breathing. I only noticed if I listened for it.
Visitors heard it, like Aunt Jane. She liked to say the waves held her tight all day, all night long, swimming in her ears, calming her nerves.
“Takes me back to the old days, on Dad’s boat,” Aunt Jane said. “The fresh air, the crisp wind. The picnics up on the hill by the lighthouse. I always loved it here.”
“Why’d you leave us, then?” Mom asked.
Aunt Jane never responded. She just scrunched up her lips and patted her hair like she always did, her cheeks flushing red. Then she grabbed the tapestry pillow next to her on the couch and asked how Grandma was.
But I knew why. I knew why Aunt Jane had left—same reason I was on my way to the Post Office.
Aunt Jane worked in a lawyer’s office up in Portland. I’d stayed with her for two weeks the previous summer. She lived on the second highest floor of a newly built apartment building overlooking the river. Although she didn’t brag about it around my mom, I knew Aunt Jane had made it. She bought designer purses at the mall, and vacationed in Florida once a year; she toured local vineyards on the weekends, and drank wine with friends as they watched the sunset. She was husbandless and childless at age forty-five, but few would pity her for it. I certainly didn’t. Her life sounded much more exciting than staying in town to start a family, like my parents had. I wanted to see what was beyond the Oregon coast; to become worldly and cultured and well-off. If I stayed in town, I would end up just like my parents.
Driving to the Post Office felt lazy. I usually walked, but it was raining and I didn’t feel like getting my hair wet. Ryan and his wife were coming over for dinner. I wanted to look decent—someone had to.
The ocean lingered beyond the cliffs like an impassable concrete slab. It absorbed pale swaths of rain, stacking grey upon grey until I could barely see the horizon. Near the edge of the cliff sat an ancient house that served as town Post Office. Behind its broken, mossy shutters, the windows were dark. I parked the car with the engine still running and ran to the door. It was locked.
I realized it must’ve been one of those state holidays where the banks and Post Office are closed and they don’t deliver mail. There was a slot in the door to slide letters through after hours, but that could’ve been dangerous. What if it got wet, or stepped on, or the sixty-dollar application fee was stolen?
There were three twenty-dollar bills folded in the envelope. I hadn’t asked Mom for a check because she would’ve shaken her head, handed me one, and said, “You’re wasting it. You’ve already got your associates degree. You’ve got a job. You can save up and get out of the house soon enough, if that’s what you want.” Why did she have to make me feel guilty for growing up? I was twenty, and it was about time I moved out.
I ran back to the car, shielding my hair with my hands, and drove home.
Check back next week for Part 2!