It was official. Martin McClintock was scheduled for recall. Recall was his name for it. He’d also heard revoke, the big take back, shit outta luck (that was the sinners’ special), and the Rapture. That was a favorite of the bible thumpers. Whatever it was called didn’t matter though. His number was up and he knew it as soon as he opened his mailbox.
His letter, which from what he’d seen on the news and heard about town was the customary way of notification, arrived on a Tuesday. No trumpets. No fanfare. Just as unassuming as any bit of junk mail, there was no way anyone outside of Martin would know what it was unless they read his mail and that was a crime. He, however, knew immediately.
There was no return address, no postage stamp, and no post mark cancellation indicating that the letter had been places in order to get to him. All there was, was his name hand written in flowing penmanship. The script was lovely and light, almost like a lover had written it to another lover and inside discussed something trivial, whimsical, like a recent visit or a party, not a man’s death.
No, Martin, not death, he reminded himself. On the news, scientists and psychologists and anyone else calling themselves experts said it wasn’t death because there were no bodies found or anything to confirm that anyone was technically dead. The people just weren’t there anymore. Instead, the know-it-alls called it Supernatural Evanesce and swore up and down that one day, under correct conditions, those people might return. Martin McClintock called that horse shit. Not a single solitary person had returned since this whole thing started. Not one.
Martin had been on the porch thumbing through The Sun News, perusing the list of letter recipients the newspaper had taken to printing every day. Some days the register was short; others sometimes were so long the list continued on another page. Mr. so and so. Mrs. who’s-it. Date of birth. Age. Date of receipt. Sometimes other family members’ names were listed as well under the heading “remembered in the physical by.” The whole thing was morbid and black, like staring at a car crash expecting to see dead bodies, but it had become a part of life, second nature.
August 20th. There were six today.
He put the paper down when he realized the mail had come.
His letter was right on top, ready for him as soon as he opened the mailbox door. He was taken aback for a moment. Then he found himself frantically searching for the mail man who had rolled in his motorized buggy to the next house. Because there were no other houses beyond that one, the vehicle turned around and traveled up the opposite side of the street. Martin waited for it to pass, waited to see if perhaps the deliverer of his finality was a demonic beast or an angelic being, but it was neither.
It was Raul, the same kid who always delivered the mail. The same kid whose merengue spilled out of his headphones when he brought large envelopes or packages up the walk to the front door. The same kid who stalled at the gate, then came up and offered his condolences when Martin’s daughter Shelly went missing.
Raul smiled and waved. Martin returned both gestures. Then he realized that where Raul had a purpose, to deliver the rest of the mail, he suddenly had nothing. What exactly was he supposed to be doing, to be feeling, now that he was certain he had received his walking papers? Walking papers? Martin was sure he’d never heard that one before.
Going back to his paper seemed futile. Soon enough someone would be reading his name in print in the same fashion. “Make sure it is what you think it is, before you go all dust in the wind, Martin,” he whispered. Dust in the wind? He chuckled. “I should be writing these down.”
Opening the letter in the yard seemed wrong, like exposing himself in public, so he decided to escape to his tool shed off the side of the house. He had meant to paint the old shack years ago, but things always seemed to come up: the car needed repairs or the playoffs or the search for Shelly. Always something.
He slid the wooden door open, walked past the paints, the lawn mower, the weed whacker and sat at the work bench in the back. Dust preserved tinkerings he hadn’t touched in years. This used to be his favorite spot, a kind of watering hole for him and his male neighbors. They used to exchange tools and talk shop and shoot the shit but it had been a minute since any of them were anything more to him than hi and bye.
On the shelf in front of him sat a plethora of junk and a brown wooden box engraved with the words the end of the world. At the time of naming the box he was trying to be funny, not thinking there would be an end, at least not one that he would see coming. Inside was a petrified joint, an Air Force emblazoned Zippo and a mini bottle of Wild Turkey.
The off-white envelope sat on his lap like a Bible. For a moment he contemplated not opening it at all, letting the chips fall where they may, so to speak. What could possibly come from knowing? But then he remembered a story on CNN about a man in New York who was beaten to death by an unknown group of assailants. “Assholes is more like it,” Martin had told his wife Susan. When they searched the man’s belongings, the police found his still sealed letter. His date was March 24th. He died March 25th. No way in hell that was a coincidence. And there were other stories just like that. People who didn’t open their letters or tried to outsmart the recall and the result was violent, swift. Martin had to open it.
Heavy and crisp like resume paper, folded neatly in three sections, there was only a date hand written in the middle of the page. August 28th. “And this will be the day that I die,” he sang out. He imagined he should be upset, angry, something about his recall, but he wasn’t.
The people he’d seen on TV who got their letters were either devastated or rejoicing. He’d only seen one man, a gray-haired gentleman from down South, who seemed to mirror Martin’s feelings. When asked by a reporter what he thought after he got his letter, the man simply replied, “it is what it is.”
“It is what it is,” Martin repeated and reached for the end of the world.
A few hours later, Martin sat at his dining room table with a bucket of fried chicken Susan had picked up on her way home from work. She was complaining about some woman from the office when he, mid chicken breast, began giggling uncontrollably. Susan paused her story and stared at her husband. She couldn’t help but chuckle as well although she looked unsure as to what they were laughing about.
“Shelly the vegan,” he replied to her questioning expression. He snatched his napkin from his lap and wiped the jubilant tears that began pooling in the corners of his eyes.
Susan smiled at the memory. “Yeah, all because of that smelly, greasy, Earth Day boy she met that summer. Remember he would only wash once a month and wore that all-natural deodorant?” She put a fork full of mashed potatoes in her mouth as she shook her head.
“Yeah, Onion Spice,” he chuckled. This time the tears fell unopposed.
Susan suddenly laughed, showing a mouth full of white that she quickly covered with her napkin.
“Re-remember we had steaks for dinner that one night and he gave us that speech about how we were eating once living creatures abused for human consumption?” Martin said it with the same haughtiness that Onion Spice had used.
“He wouldn’t eat and neither would she,” Susan interjected, grinning ear to ear.
“An-and remember we thought we heard a burglar that night, but…but,” he could hardly contain himself to finish the story, “it was her sitting on the kitchen floor, eating cold steak in the dark like an animal. The three of us screamed so loud when you flicked the lights on that the neighbors called the police.”
Susan exploded, laughing with such vigor she almost fell out of her chair. He loved seeing her like this, happy, tossing back her blonde locks peppered with gray a little sooner than they should have been. In this moment she looked so much like the daughter they hadn’t seen in years.
The sounds of cheerfulness gradually subsided and then a more familiar Susan reappeared. “I miss her so much.” She sighed as if the pain was fresh, new. “Do you think she was recalled too?” She’d probably been holding on to that glimmer of hope since this whole Supernatural Evanesce thing started but Shelly had left long before that.
She always wandered back home though, usually with a story to tell or a new boyfriend or the last time with a drug addiction that her parents wondered if she’d had all along. She was a free spirit. They had somewhat accepted that, but it’d been 7 years now. Not a word from her. She was dead, not ‘one day she’ll return’ dead like the people on TV said. Martin knew in his heart she was dead, dead like ‘burying with her their hopes and dreams of graduations, story book weddings, and grandchildren’ dead.
“I just don’t understand why she won’t just come home,” Susan said.
To this Martin nodded. Gazing at his coleslaw, he felt guilt. He wasn’t sure why, maybe it was the weed he’d smoked earlier or maybe it was because he would be one more person to leave his wife without a real explanation.
Then Susan, staring into her plate, swirling peas around with her plastic spork said, “remember that time she wanted to be Goth so bad she used that black Sharpie on her lips and got that terrible rash?” And the two of them laughed again so joyfully that Martin decided tomorrow would be a better day to tell his wife that the time was coming when he wouldn’t come home again either.