Gladys sat in her rocking chair, letting the blanket she was knitting fall across her knees. Henry jumped into her lap, pushing his furry head between her and her project. He tried to bat away the ball of yarn, but she caught it before it could roll away.
“Is it that time already, Henry?” Gladys asked. She set aside her knitting and stood, sending Henry leaping off her lap. He scurried to get out from underfoot.
Gladys shuffled to the front door and grabbed the tattered yellow umbrella that stood next to it. The rainy season had come early this year, and she didn’t want to get her hair wet. She still had a week before her next hairdressing appointment, and she didn’t want to spend that time with flat hair.
She stepped outside and snapped open her umbrella. She grabbed hold of the hand rail and made her way down the front steps and along the concrete path to the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
No one wrote to her anymore. Kids these days, and even the grown-ups, they were too busy. They texted each other or e-mailed or something called snapchatted. She didn’t understand the half of it.
She opened the mailbox, expecting the usual bills and grocery store fliers. She was surprised to find a white envelope addressed to her. The handwriting seemed familiar, but there was no return address, and it was postmarked from the city.
Her shuffle carried a little more energy as she made it back in to the house. She set the junk mail onto the table but kept the mysterious letter clutched in her hand. She took a seat on the sofa and with shaking hands tore open the envelope.
“I’m watching you.”
Her hand flew to her throat. She dropped the paper in her lap and took up the envelope again, searching its exterior for some clue. She stared at the handwriting. So, so familiar.
“George? Is it you?” she asked in a whisper.
It wasn’t logical, some part of her brain knew that. She didn’t care. She made her way into the bedroom and pulled a battered shoe box from under the bed. She took off the lid and pulled out a stack of weathered envelopes.
Love letters from her husband, before he was her husband and later, while he served in the war. Tender words from a not so tender man. She cherished each one of them and had read them over and over again since his death.
And the handwriting was identical to that on the letter she received that afternoon.
Tears misted in her eyes. She put the letters back in the box and added the new letter to the top of the collection. She giggled, then slid the box under the bed and rose.
George was watching her.
She kept an eye on the mail more closely, hoping for another letter, although she knew that was silly. The first had been miracle enough, hadn’t it? Yet, hope, even silly hope, was more important than air when you were old and alone.
Three weeks after the first, she found another letter in the mailbox. The same plain white envelope. The same handwriting.
“I’m coming for you tonight.”
Her breath caught in her throat. Yes. Yes, she thought, I’m ready. She yearned so much to be with him.
That night before dinner, she dressed in her favorite lavender dress. She fluffed her gray hair and dabbed red lipstick on her lips. She cut a fresh white rose from her garden and pinned it to her bodice. It was just like the one he had brought her on their very first date, when he had taken her out dancing. She hoped he’d remember.
She made chicken cattiatore for dinner, his favorite; it didn’t dawn on her that maybe she should prepare her own favorite, seeing as it was her last meal and all. She picked at it while she waited, but he didn’t come. The hours drifted past, and still he didn’t come. Two hours past her usual bedtime, she finally got up from the table, threw the remaining food down the sink, and made her way to bed.
Disappointment blinded her so that she missed the movement next to the bed.
“I told you I would come,” said a deep voice.
For the smallest moment, hope soared once again, replaced quickly by confusion. She searched the face of this young man dressed in dark clothes, wearing a dark knit cap. She didn’t recognize him at all.
The light glinted off the blade raised over her head. Understanding finally sunk in as she saw red drops of blood darken the petals of her white rose — understanding and disappointment. She wouldn’t be getting love letters anymore.
Today’s prompt is from The Midnight Society’s Top Scare Flash Fiction contest. The benign noun for the month is “mailbox.”