Bookcase Short Stories


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009


When Tessa shoved open the door, she glimpsed half of a red envelope sticking out from the letter box. It had "confidential" stamped across the top. She grunted and dropped the shopping bags she held in each hand. She took it in both hands. To Mrs Draggan. "Mama, the results from the DNA test are here!"

A rotund woman came jogging from the kitchen. "Oh my, I hope you didn't break the eggs!" she said when she saw the lopsided bags on either side of Tessa.

"No, ma, it's just the bread and the produce. The milk and the eggs are still in the truck.” She held the envelope out to her mother. “Don't you want to read it?”

Her mother snatched the envelope from her fingers. “You've probably bruised the apples. Make sure you're a bit more careful next time.” The chiding words clashed with the absense in her mother's voice. She walked back to the kitchen, turning the envelope in her fingers as she went.

With a perfunctory “Yes, ma,” Tessa walked back to the car to get the eggs and the milk. When she brought them into the kitchen, her mother was still there, closed envelope by her side. She was making coffee.

“Make sure you leave the cake dough on the counter. I'll bake some for dessert.” Her mother opened one of the cabinets. The door hid her face. “Decaf today?”

“No, ma, you know how I like it.” Tessa glanced at the envelope while she unpacked the eggs. “Aren't you curious?” She picked up the envelope. “I won't be getting my own results until next week.” She didn't say she looked for a red envelope every time she passed the letter box and every morning when she went to get the paper.

“I'll open it in a minute.” Her mother went around her. “Don't leave the fruit to warm on the porch. Your brother is so set on saving energy, he won't like it if you put warm tomatoes in the fridge.”

“Like he'll know.” But she went to bring in the shopping bags. The coffee was done when she returned to the kitchen. Her mother didn't pay it any heed. She was staring at the envelope. Tessa pushed the button. “Just open it, ma. It doesn't bite. It's just test results.” She poured coffee in two cups. “Sugar?”

“No, thanks. I'm being careful.” Her mother turned over the envelope. Its back was white.

Tessa set the cups on the kitchen table and sat down on a sun-heated chair. “Come sit down, ma. We can look at it together.”

“You forgot to put away the fruit.” Her mother put down the envelope again and opened one of the shopping bags. She put two oranges on plates and the rest in the fruit bowl.

“We can do that later, ma. Come on. The bananas won't rot if we leave them in the bag for ten minutes. I want to know what the results are.”

Her mother gave a small nod and walked over to the table, the two plates in her hands. She sat down and picked up the coffee. It still steamed. She put it down again. “You forgot the knives, ma.” Tessa stood up and grabbed two knives out of a drawer. She brought the envelope too. Only when she offered it to her mother did she see that the wrinkled hands were shaking. “Ma?”

The elder woman shook her head. “I remember your grandmother receiving an envelope like this, just ten years ago. Same test, same hospital.” She balled her hands into fists.

Tessa felt pity. In a soft voice she said, “I know, ma, that's why the doctor had us take the test in the first place. But you need to open it sometime. Postponing it won't change the text in that letter one way or another.”

Her mother shook her head. “No, but it'll change the text in my mind. Don't you remember how Grandma felt when she heard she'd be dead within the next decade? It's like a death sentence, Tessa, knowing when you'll die.” She paused, biting her lip. “I don't want to know, one way or another. Life's coming at me fast enough. I don't want death chasing me as well.”

Tessa didn't know what to say, so she simply nodded and put the envelope on the other side of the table. “Alright, ma.” They drank their coffee in silence. Her mother left the kitchen after that, to check on the laundy. Maybe she also wanted to be away from the glaring red envelope.

After Tessa'd put away all the groceries, she sat down at the table again. She picked up the envelope. She turned it around.

She slid a finger under the flap and ripped it open. Only one piece of paper inside. She slipped it out.