Monday, February 25, 2008


This story was inspired by a retarded woman who did deliver the mail and did have a crush on one of the managers where I worked many years ago. He was extremely kind to her, as was everyone, and she was probably one of the most caring employees who really worried that she wasn't doing her job well enough., but she was talked proudly of having her "career" just like her sister. I wanted to try capture the dignity and hopes of a person who does not quite fit into mainstream society, yet has to meet challenges and disappointments.

She collected sounds: not ordinary sounds like rain on a roof, but exotic sounds that most people wouldn't notice like the poff of a breaking pimple. Each sound had a code. She kept records in notebooks, hundreds of notebooks. They were all the same, black with white marbling and a printed label that said: "This notebook belongs to_______." On each of them she had printed Heather Davis and the dates she had started and finished. These were filed in chronological order on the bookshelves of her rented room. Each page's entries were perfectly aligned, each letter, each number exactly the right size.

She had started her collection when she was eighteen with ordinary sounds, a singing bird, the dishwasher filling with water. That wasn't too long before her parents had died. They'd gone to their graves convinced that she'd never be able to care for herself. Heather had proved them wrong.

She thought she had a wonderful job delivering mail at a bank, a few blocks from her room. It was more than a job, it was one of her careers. The creak of the left cart wheel that she used for the white external and brown internal envelopes was recorded in her 187th notebook. Her left wheel made a 6-E-Yellow but the right was 7-E-Yellow. Although she never did composite sounds the squeak of the two wheels together had been marked this way: 6-E-Yellow (7-E-Yellow)7-E-Yellow (6-E-Yellow).

Her favorite stop was the Mortgage Department. Allan, the manager, always smiled and thanked her as she placed his mail in his in-box. She thought she might be in love with him, but she knew he had a girl friend. He kept a picture of the woman on his desk. The same blond lady sometimes stopped at the bank to borrow the keys to his car, a red two-seater.

That car was the kind that made people turn their heads when he drove by. The sound of the engine turning over was coded as 17-J-Green. She'd rushed out one night to listen as Allan was leaving and had stood behind a large rock and heard first a click, 9-P-Purple, followed by a rev, 17-Q-Teal and the hum which was a 2-J-Aqua.

The same night when she entered her daily sounds, she pretended that some day she would ride in his car, a multi-colored scarf in her hand which she would hold out the window like she had seen the blond lady do.

Then she concentrated on the sounds of the day: five keys attached to a penguin key ring hitting a tile was 19-K-Blue, a fork scraping up the last mashed potatoes and gravy, 16-Z-White. She thought she had rated a lot of silverware over the years and they usually were in the 16-17, X-Y and some times a Z range, but always, always white.

Heather was tired. There had been three mail deliveries to sort instead of the usual two. She was late delivering the president's mail. His secretary had frowned at her. Then ten minutes before she was due to leave the heavens had opened up. Lightning. Thunder. She didn't chronicle those sounds any more, she'd heard them all, written them all. Her rain coat was back home. She started out on her three-block walk at a fast trot.


She turned to see Allan, holding his car door open. Should she get in? Wet his upholstery?
"Hurry up. You're drenched and you'll catch cold," he said.

She didn't need another invitation. The interior was even more beautiful than she'd imagined. The dashboard was polished wood, the seats were butter-soft leather. She wasn't sure of the hue of the lilac.

"Do you live far?" he asked.

"Oak Street, number 22," she said.

The traffic was so heavy the car sat immobile, imprisoned between other cars. She didn't care because she was sitting next to him and she could pretend she was the blond lady. Heather wished she had a multi-colored scarf, but even if she had she didn't want to open the window and get the inside wetter than she already had.

The light changed, but Allan could only move the car three lengths before the signal returned to red. Even with the traffic, all too soon they pulled up in front of the house where she rented her room

"Do you want to come in? I just bought some Girl Scout cookies. Chocolate mint." If he said yes, she could show him her notebooks. She had never shown anyone. He probably had never guessed that she had outside interests beyond her banking career. Those notebooks were her legacy to humanity: a complete encylopedia of noise. But she couldn't say, "Do you want to see my legacy to humanity."

"I would really like to, but I'm already later. Daphne will kill me," he said. Then he looked at her face. "Perhaps if you've any left bring them to work. We can eat them at coffee break."

"Oh yes." Heather jumped from the car and forgot to thank him for the ride. Inside her room she tore some cling film, making a 6-K-Green sound. She wrapped eight cookies, then reopened the packet and made it 12. Allan was big, he could easily eat six or eight. She'd have whatever he left.

After she'd dried off, she took her notebook and her multi-colored felt tipped pen set and began writing down the day's sounds. Someday when was famous for having catagorized the most sounds, Allan might even forget Daphne. Tomorrow she would take the notebook, to show him when they ate their cookies. No, not the current notebook. Number 79. That was the one she had taken when she'd gone to the beach with the sounds of waves, the flap of blanket, the click of a sun umbrella being opened and charcoal hitting the barbecue. It was her favorite.

On her way to work the next day, she stopped to buy napkins at the paper store. They had yellow roses all over them. She saw a yellow round candle, but thought it might be too much for just a cookie break.

At ten she ran upstairs to his office with her cookies and napkins. Because he was with a client, she waited.

When he came out the door, he shook the man's hand. "Heather?" his voice sounded surprized.

"I bought the cookies." She held up the bag. "And these pretty napkins."

He looked confused and then glanced at his watch, "OK. We've time before my next appointment. I'll get my secretary to bring us some coffee."

Heather wanted to dance. "I'd rather have milk."

"Right." He ushered her in the office and picked up the phone. "Can you please bring me a coffee and get a milk, please."

Heather opened three napkins, one for him, one for herself and one in the middle, where she arranged the cookies in a circle. By the time the secretary arrived, Carol had everything perfect.

Never had cookies tasted so good. Within two days she had ridden in his car and now they were eating together. Maybe he'd forget Daphne. A knock on the door (9-K-Brown) not worth entering as she had knocks on wood, glass and metal already) interrupted her train of thought as she was trying to think of some way to tell Allan about her sound collection. The notebook stayed in the plastic bag that had held the cookies and napkins.

Daphne put her head in the door. "Hello Darling, I was down town and wanted to stop in to see if you'd be free to....Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know..."

He stood up and introduced them. Heather's mouth was stuffed with cookies and she mumbled, although she knew she shouldn't talk with her mouth full.

"Allan has told me about you," Daphne said, holding out her hand.

Heather felt all warm inside. He cared enough to mention her to others. She took the hand, although her fingers had chocolate on them. Daphne reached for a napkin. Heather grabbed it, upsetting the rest of her milk on Allan's papers. The sound of the glass hitting the desk was 14-U-Black.

"Oh, how clumsy," Daphne said.

"It's all right, Heather," Allan said grabbing a handful of the napkins and patting the milk. "Look, nothing has run."

"Your papers. They'll smell sour," Daphne said.

"I can photocopy them. No original signatures. Heather, if you had to spill the milk, you choose the best place."

She knew she was blushing from the heat on her cheeks. She backed out of the room. In the ladies room she washed her face which was blotched from crying.

Her supervisor came looking for her, "What's the matter, Heather?" she asked.

Heather shook her head.

"Well you better get going, you're behind," the supervisor said.

Heather never wanted to go back to the Mortgage Department, but then she remembered: her notebook was still there. She debated abandoning it, but the sounds were too special.

She put four interoffice envelopes in Paul Graves' basket exactly in the middle as always then passed Allan's secretary who was talking with Daphne.

"Really, he shouldn't encourage her, the poor thing," the secretary was saying. The milk-stained papers were in her wastebasket.

"Allan always takes in strays. Even his dog he found abandoned along the side of the road. At least he won't bring Heather home," she laughed. They both look up and saw her.

Am I a stray, Heather wondered. No. I have a home. She walked up to Allan's door and hesitated. How could she ask for the notebook? How could she give it up?


Allan saw her through his window and came out. "I'm glad you're here. You forgot this." He handed her the black notebook.

His big smile didn't melt her this time. For some reason he was only nice to her because he felt sorry for her. He had no right. She was a good as he was. Better maybe. She had two careers, he only had one. She hugged the notebook to her chest. Nothing mattered. She had her life's work and when she was famous, she would show them all.

No comments: