You almost don’t see it. One afternoon, as you push through the front door, overladen with your sustainable shopping bags full of produce from the farmer’s market, you nearly step over the tiny card that’s jammed beneath the door. In microscopic 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 ferret with a top hat and unbearably sad, moist eyes. Below the portrait, it reads:
You figure it must be something your son picked up at school, maybe something from the book fairs he loves, or an earth science 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 a UPS sticker:
I will return: Monday, Tuesday, Friday. Blank checkboxes sit beside each day’s name.
On the other side, again, is the impossibly miserable ferret. This time it’s wearing a brown suit coat, complete with a little watch tucked into the breast pocket. You’re reminded of a character from a low-rent Alice in Wonderland.
The card says again: Sorrow.
For a few days after, you wonder about the cards and what 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 extinctions, global starvation, various cancers. You keep the cards tucked into your bag, behind your cash and ID, and find yourself thinking of them frequently. Eventually you start checking the porch before you enter 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 even go near the house without first spending a half an hour sitting in your Subaru, staring at the door, checking to see if anything’s coming. Anything short and 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 and 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 outside 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 weekends, you live under a blanket, huddled on the couch, spying on the neighborhood using a busted slat in the blinds. You spend all day searching for the horrid messenger, that fuzzy prophet of cards.
One day, your eyes drift shut for a moment, and suddenly you hear it: a knock at the door. Soft and light, near the threshold. 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.