“Where’s my chocolate?” asked an impatient Alex, tugging at her mother’s sleeve.
“The one you bought me yesterday.”
“I threw it away.”
“What do you mean you threw it away? There was one left inside,” Alex said.
“The trash is already outside. The garbage collector will be here any minute.”
“I hate you!” Alex screamed, her short arms uselessly flailing at her mother like a feather would at a tree. She stomped away from her and pushed the front door with an incredible force one would not expect from a ten-year-old.
Sandra sighed. She teared her eyes off her daughter and continued to beat the single egg that was alone in her fridge this morning. The yolk spattered off the bowl and landed on the pile of letters to her right. Every two days or so, that pile welcomed yet another letter. Today was that day.
Maybe you deserved to get divorced.
Who divorced who, Eric?
You should burn in hell.
Yeah, right. It was almost comical. Sandra didn’t remember her ex-husband being such a jerk. It wasn’t like she cared, though. The luxury of being able to not give a shit was exactly why she went through her divorce. As long as he stayed away from her and Alex, she was fine.
She stopped reading the letters after a week. But she collected them, anyway.
She looked up at the small, textured window on the front door, not that she could see through it. Was Alex was still looking for her chocolate?
Not really. She used to, but then she heard the rumbling of a huge truck approaching. It must be the garbage collector that her mother told her about. She ran to the side of the house and peeked ever so slightly from behind. She didn’t like strangers. Her mother taught her not to like strangers.
The garbage collector had a uniform on, neon yellow — or green, if you may — with a silver stripe in the middle. It hurt Alex’s eyes. It wasn’t the thing bothering her the most, though. The woman was not acting like your typical garbage collector. Instead of heading straight towards the garbage where Alex was near, she cautiously stepped towards the mailbox, keeping her eyes on the house as if someone was about to step outside any minute. She took out the envelope that was inside, reached inside her pocket, and replaced the letter with an identical one. Alex’s mouth opened. The woman finally walked back towards the garbage, which is when Alex ran to the back of the house and waited for five minutes or so until she was sure the woman was gone.
Freya took one last glance towards the house. She was sure that Sandra was there, but she also knew that she wouldn’t give a damn about an ordinary garbage collector. If there was one good thing that came out of Freya’s career, it was meeting Sandra. Not personally, nor directly. When she laid eyes on Sandra, she became all she cared about. She always lingered in front of the house, hoping that she would run into Sandra, hoping that she would say a single thank you. But she never did, Freya was just a garbage collector, so this was the most she could do. Fake letters until you make it.
The woman was indeed out of sight when Alex returned. She eagerly opened the letter. The first few paragraphs were nothing but hasty scribbles of random mean words that Alex could not figure out. She skimmed through the exhaustingly long and aggressive letter until she reached the last paragraph.
It’s been a while since I sent you a letter and honestly, I don’t care if you break down after reading this because you deserve it, Sandy. You took my money and job away from me, and because that wasn’t enough, my daughter too. Forgot she was also mine, didn’t you? I hope you don’t feel safe for long, because I’m going to take her from you. I am.
Alex wasn’t really sure what he — or the woman impersonating him — was talking about, but if she knew one thing, it was the word daughter and the fact that she was the one the letter mentioned. She stood there on the front lawn, letter in one hand, deep in thought as her chocolate continued on its journey to disposal, long forgotten by its owner.
Maybe she should tell her mother about the woman. Maybe she could help figure the whole thing out. Or maybe she didn’t want that. Her mother often cried out of nowhere, not just silent crying, but hysterical sobbing. She didn’t like seeing her mother like that. It made Alex sad, too.
So she put the letter back inside and walked back home with hands in her pockets like nothing was out of the ordinary.
Between school and more bars of chocolate, the woman was not the most interesting nor important topic Alex’s mind dwelled on, until exactly a week later on a sunny Tuesday, she observed a letter sticking out of the mailbox on her way to school. She knew it wasn’t from the garbage collector, because that woman wouldn’t be here until at least ten minutes later.
To say the least, the letter was not what Alex had been expecting.
Sandy, why haven’t you been returning my letters? I told you, I’m sorry that you felt I wasn’t the man for you but I’m ready — I’m a different person than I used to be. Please give me a second chance. Please tell me that I deserve you. I don’t know how many times I have to say this.
Alex shoved the letter back into its envelope. Her head was spinning. She had read enough to know that the woman was deliberately replacing these letters with angry ones because she cared about Alex’s parents’ relationship. But why? She was too young to understand. Just adult things.
This time, she was ready for the garbage collector. She hid behind the bags of garbage and waited until the weekly truck made its way down the street. She watched without a sound as the woman walked towards the mailbox again, as leisurely as if to tell the world that it was perfectly normal behavior.
Alex emerged. She waved the letter in front of the woman’s face. “I know what you’re doing.”
The woman yelped, but quickly regained her posture. She smiled, but even Alex could tell that she was nervous. “What do you mean, sweetie?”
“You have a letter in your pocket,” Alex recited. “You’re going to put it in the mailbox. My mom cries every time she reads your letters.”
The woman’s face turned red. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m going to tell her, then.” Alex swiftly walked towards the front door.
“No, wait, wait!“ the woman whispered, grabbing Alex’s shoulder. She turned around. The woman knelt, looking Alex directly in the eye. “I know that you’re a good girl.” She fished something out of her pocket. A candy, bright red. Alex’s eyes widened.
“Promise me not to tell your mom, and I’ll give you this.”
Alex squirmed. “But she —“
“Shh. She never has to know.”
After a tense second or two, Alex finally nodded. The woman handed her the candy. Alex happily started to remove the wrapper.
It was a mistake for the child, but an intended one for Freya. She watched, making sure that the child was out of view from the house. She swallowed the candy in whole. It didn’t take her long until she started to choke. Good. Her legs shuddered, then she fell to the ground. White foam formed around her mouth. Her eyes dimmed.
Freya knew this was her only chance.
“Somebody help!” she screamed. She rummaged through her pockets and fished out an old eye drop. There. Now she was crying. There was a series of hurried footsteps as Sandra rushed out of the door, stopping in her tracks when she saw her daughter’s head in Freya’s hands.
Freya deliberately met the grieving mother’s eyes to display the fake tears flowing down her cheek. Her heart took up its pace when Sandra looked back. Face to face. She never would have thought. A minute spent with her. Maybe she didn’t deserve it. But she had it right now, and that was what mattered.
She shook her head. She had to keep acting. She couldn’t forget that.
“I saw a man give her a candy, but I didn’t know — I wouldn’t have known —“
“What man?” Sandra asked, her voice barely a whisper. It was like she already knew the answer.
Freya sniffed dramatically. She recalled a photo of Eric and Sandra together. “Tall… he had thick glasses… I think he also had some sort of a beard —“
“Eric,” Sandra said.
“It’s nothing,” Sandra muttered under her breath.
She cradled Alex for the last time and rose to her feet. “Please…” her voice broke. “Call the ambulance for me, if you won’t mind, I won’t be long. Please take care of her.”
“Sure.” I’ll do anything for you.
Sandra ran to her Prius, started the engine, and drove onto the road to hunt down an innocent man. Freya watched as she disappeared behind a building. She sighed. Then she turned her attention back to the girl, who, by then, had stopped making gurgling noises. The candy was effective as hell.
Freya smiled. “You look just like your mother, Alex.”