You almost don’t notice it at first. One afternoon, you push through the front door, overladen with your sustainable shopping bags full of produce from the farmer’s market, and you nearly step over the tiny card that’s jammed into the bottom of the door frame. With tiny, nearly unreadable script, the card says:
Sorry I missed you.
The card is doll-sized on cream card stock, and the shaky letters are somewhat Dickensian. On the other side is an image, a small ferret of some kind with a top hat and unbearably sad, moist eyes. Below the portrait, it reads: Sorrow.
You figure it must be something your son picked up at school, maybe something from the book fairs he loves, or an art project of your daughter’s. You forget it quickly, but then the next week, you find another card, this one stuck to the door like an antiquated UPS sticker:
I will return. Monday, Tuesday, Friday. There are little blank checkboxes beside each day.
On the other side, again, is the impossibly miserable polecat thing. This time its suitcoat can be seen in the portrait, a little watch tucked into his breast pocket, a character from a low-rent Alice in Wonderland. It says: Sorrow.
For a few days after, you wonder about the cards, what the sorrow could mean. It’s easy enough to imagine–since you’ve turned 40, it’s been inescapable, all the ways sadness could creep into your life. Car repairs, lost friends, your children’s grades, species extensions, global starvation, various cancers. You keep the cards strangely tucked into your bag, behind your cards and ID, and find yourself thinking of them frequently. Eventually you start examining the porch before you go into the house, peering under the juniper bushes or beneath the drought-conscious decorative rock you’ve used to replace the lawn.
Soon, you can’t go inside the house without first spending an half an hour sitting in your Subaru, staring at the door, checking to see if anything’s coming—anything short, or soft footed, or black footed, sneaking morosely around the corner. For weeks, after you think you’ve seen a shadow flicker across the welcome mat, you speed up, drive around the block for an hour. You start parking two blocks down and sneaking into the house through a back window. You start avoiding unnecessary trips altogether. Your son and your daughter start riding the bus to school (lower carbon footprint anyway) and you start ordering your groceries online (an unfortunately higher carbon footprint). On the weekends, you start living under a blanket, huddled on the couch so you can peer out of the single, busted slat in the blinds. You spend all day searching for the horrid messenger, the tiny deliverer of little cards.
One day, your eyes drift shut for a moment, and suddenly you hear it—a little knock at the door. Soft and slow, near the bottom. After a moment, there’s a tiny cough.
You pull the blanket over your head. Don’t let it in, you whisper to yourself, madly. Don’t let it in.