Postcards to Jennifer

by Anna Breslin

The wind was blowing the contents of black clouds against his window. There was a constant tapping sound as if the heavens had opened up and was knocking on the panes telling him it was time. He should get ready to meet his maker.

Henry couldn’t remember the last time there was sunshine flowing into his little home. It used to wake him up in the morning. That was before he needed sleeping pills to fall asleep. The long empty days made it impossible to sleep. He was at an age when there was nothing much he could do other than long for the purpose his life no longer contained.

Then one afternoon, Henry thought about his will. He was leaving everything to Tara, his niece. He looked around his home at all he had accumulated and realized he was leaving her a burden and not a gift.

What would she do? Clean it out herself or hire someone to do it for her? It was his stuff; he thought he might as well be the one to sort it all out. His face was surprised when he smiled, but his heart found it could beat a little stronger, thinking of making his home nice for Tara.

Henry looked around the living room and decided to start with the desk in the back of the room. He thought back to the nights he used to spend at it working on reports while Jennifer read a book. It was dusty and covered with unopened junk mail. Piles and piles of things. He shuffled his crooked body to the kitchen in search of garbage bags. He was relieved to find he had a new box.

After remembering to sort what could be recycled into a separate bag, Henry soon saw the top of his desk again. It was dirty, so he found a sponge and scrubbed it and decided that later when it was all done, he’d give it a proper oiling.

He began clearing out the drawers. Pens, pencils, rubber bands, paper clips. It was full of things he had no use for any longer. He selected one pen, two pencils, five rubber bands, and ten paper clips. He deposited them into the appropriate slots in the front. Then he threw the rest into an old box he retrieved from the garage so he could donate them.

His side file drawer had one important folder he kept in the front. It was his Last Will and Testament. He pulled that out and placed it in the top center drawer. It was in a blue envelope that declared its contents in old English-style letters. Then he found the deed to the house and the canceled mortgage and placed them in the same drawer underneath the will.

The other files held the repair records of cars he no longer owned. There were manuals for things he gave away. The records of about the timeshare he had foolishly purchased the year before Jennifer died.

What was he thinking of buying a timeshare when she had cancer she had asked as she looked at him with her sad blue eyes. He had told her it was so they could get away when she was better. After she passed, he took her ashes there and released them over the clear blue Atlantic Ocean. Then he sold it back for a fraction of what he paid.

Ever since her death, he felt like he was sleepwalking through his days. It got worse after he retired last year. They threw a party for him. Most of the people there barely knew him, but they all got a slice of cake and a chance to leave their lonely cubicles for twenty minutes on a Friday afternoon.

Now he just shuffled from room to room. Sometimes he still felt like he could hear Jennifer in the kitchen or even smell her roast chicken in the oven.

Henry opened the bottom left-hand drawer of his desk and saw the box of postcards he’d been collecting since he was nine. He pulled it out carefully. It was heavy as he lifted it out and placed it on the clean desktop.

Opening the lid, he saw them all. Museum artworks. Photographs of buildings and bridges around the world. Some he picked up when he traveled with his salesman father. Others he bought at flea markets or when he traveled with Jennifer. She used to ask him if he was ever going to send any of them. But he just liked to look through the pictures and remember his journeys through life. There were hundreds of cards now, and he never looked at them anymore.

He picked out a stack from the middle. There were Picasso drawings of doves and flowers, a Matisse, a Monet, London Bridge. He opened the center drawer and took the blue pen in hand and began writing. Then he took another, and another until he had somehow managed to fill a hundred cards or more. The rain had finally stopped. It was after midnight. What was he thinking? What would he do with them now?

Henry shuffled off to his bathroom, where he tried to empty his bladder. Then he realized he forgot to drink anything all day. He also forgot to eat. The nurse at the doctor’s office would be mad at him if he got any skinnier. He vowed to eat and drink the next day, even if it meant ordering a pizza and a bottle of soda from Domino’s. That thought made his stomach roar for a second before Henry sighed, and it quieted down for him.

He picked up his toothbrush and brushed for two minutes and then carefully flossed so the assistant at his dentist’s office wouldn’t be mad at him for letting the tartar build-up on his teeth again. He always thought of her scolding him every time he brushed his teeth. She smiled at him too, but he knew she meant it. She told him that flossing could prevent heart disease. Even though Henry thought his heart had died with Jennifer, he was afraid of a heart attack.

After he was ready for bed, he took his sleeping pills. As he drifted off, he thought about the postcards he filled with blue ink. He wrote love notes to Jennifer. He wrote quotes from books, movies, songs, and poems as best as he could remember.

What would he do with them now? Would his niece find them and like them better that way? Would they leave her feeling annoyed or perplexed? Maybe he shouldn’t save them. Perhaps he should send them out like Jennifer said he should. But to whom could he send them?

The next morning, Henry opened his refrigerator because he remembered his vow to eat and drink. It was empty, so he used the computer Tara got him and ordered some food from the grocery store just like she showed him. His order would be delivered in a few hours. His stomach was growling and impatient.

Henry walked into the living room and looked at his desk. The postcards were scattered all over and covered with his neat handwriting. What would he do with them?

He grabbed his coat and his keys and walked down to the drug store where they sold groceries. He bought some bread and butter. As he was checking out, he asked if they sold stamps, they did. He bought a dozen books.

After fixing himself coffee and toast, Henry opened up the computer again and looked up his wife’s name. He wondered what the search would give him in return. It listed hundreds of women with her name. He was overwhelmed.

He never realized other women might share the same name with the woman he loved. Then he added the word address. What was he expecting, his fingers wondered? The address to Jennifer in the next world?

Henry saw the addresses of all the Jennifers and, without a second thought, began placing them on the postcards. He spent the rest of the day writing, alternating between writing words and writing addresses. By the time the groceries arrived, he had a stack addressed, stamped, and ready to go.

After fixing himself a sandwich, and having two cans of the protein drink, Tara told him he must have every day, he got back to work. At midnight he was finished.

After brushing and flossing, his hands were ready to unscrew the sleeping pill bottle, but his eyes told them not to bother. They were heavy and ready to lie down with Henry’s body on the bed. They promised they wouldn’t open all night.

The next morning, Henry felt more awake and alive than he had since the last time he saw Tara. He gathered his postcards into an old New Yorker tote bag and debated taking the bus or driving his car. It had been at least six months since the last time he drove it. He didn’t want to mail the cards from one single place. He didn’t want to send them close to home. Where should he go?

He drove to Virginia that day and made deposits in all the boxes he could find. When he lifted the door to the box a second time to make sure they had all gone down, his neck was surprised about being turned sideways like that. So surprised, it didn’t even mind.

The next day he visited West Virginia. He stopped at diners to eat, and his stomach loved all the food finding its way in. The blood vessels in his cheeks remembered how to be rosy and smile at waitresses. They called him “hon” or even “love.”

On the third day, Henry looked at the stack that was left, and his eyes glistened. He took them to Pennsylvania, where he spotted blue mailboxes through old forgotten towns where the factories were closed, but Walmarts were still open.

He never mailed more than a handful of cards from any single box. He knew it would take days to finish his task, but he was okay with that. Every morning he ate a big breakfast while he spread maps out over the kitchen table and, with his blue pen, marked a route for the day.

Every night his back was delighted when he sat down in his old recliner and put his feet up. He was tired. It felt great. Henry thought about traveling, and then the next day, he did. He had forgotten what it was like to make plans and execute them. His body was more upright; his feet felt lighter. He no longer shuffled from room to room, feeling like he had absorbed gray clouds and old rocks.

Henry finished on the seventh day of his journeys. He was in a small town in Maryland near the river. He went to a diner and had a crab cake sandwich. The waitress had red hair and a yellow uniform. She called him “doll” and winked at him. His mischievous heart loved making his cheeks beet red for her.

When he got home, he was tired. It was the kind of tired that only comes from completing a mission. With the cards gone, he could get back to cleaning out his house so that Tara wouldn’t have to do it after he died. Then what? Maybe by the time, he finished he’d be dead. He didn’t know when he’d die or how long it would take to clean out his house. Could he make both things happen in just the right order?

Tara had helped him clear out Jennifer’s things and took her clothes to Good Will for him. She kept the jewelry and handbags and said she’d pass them on to her daughter when she had one. He wasn’t certain she would, but decided to believe her. Jennifer did have good taste, and her things were very nice.

He decided to clean out his own clothes and couldn’t imagine he needed more than one suit. The black one, in case he had to go to another funeral or maybe he’d wear it to his own. Would it matter what he wore to his funeral? He had strict instructions that there should be no open caskets and that he should be cremated just like Jennifer was. Jennifer hated graveyards. She called them human garbage parks. It was the only thing she had ever said that made him cringe. He remembered visiting his parents, and he liked the big oak tree that gave them a nice slice of shade in the afternoon.

He was out of groceries again, so he opened up the lid to the computer and then clicked on the icon for the browser thing. He decided to look over the news. Henry was stunned to read about his postcards. It turned out that a mother and daughter, both named Jennifer Carson received his cards. They wrote about it on that Facebook thing, and other Jennifer Carsons wrote about how they got cards too.

Henry’s ears were surprised when they heard him laugh, so were the walls. Everything in him and in the old house was used to his silence.
It turned out that at first, his cards made husbands, boyfriends, and even some girlfriends jealous. Then people started sharing the cards on Facebook, and everyone could see that the cards were sent to hundreds of Jennifer Carsons all over the country. People posted them, and they got all kinds of likes. Someone started a website to collect all of them. It had over two hundred cards so far. It was called postcardstojennifer.com

Henry’s face felt an unfamiliar downpour of salty rain as he began sobbing. Maybe he couldn’t reach his Jennifer, but he had reached so many other Jennifers and thought maybe wherever she was now, she might know how much he still loved her.

Image Credit: KittyKaht CC BY-SA 2.0

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