Up early, sipping coffee, it occurred to Celia it might not sit too well with the Federal government if reality television came in and outed their witness protection people. Be none too healthy for the witnesses neither. Hmmm.
She stared at the conspicuously blank scouting forms, undecided as to how to handle this conundrum. The gang, the only term she had come up with to address them, collectively seemed not only happy but interesting genuine people for whose existence she did not wish to be the instrument of destruction. The show would be a little different from Mr. Woodchipper. She resolved to give herself at least the day to think about it. “Tink about’t”
Miles's regularity with the mail was astounding. If everything ran as perfectly as Miles ran his little tumbleweed P.O., well, who could imagine. He was not from this place, she thought. Couldn’t be. Ardensville might make an Irma or Morrow but Miles, Penny, the gang? Never happen.
Celia, the mail, and her one true love Mr. Stephens hit the road again, not only another day more familiar but bearing an entirely new insight. That being: if things seem they are not or could not be what they seem to be or say they are, good chance they’re not. Or are. Or are lying about it, maybe. You betcha.
Close to noon, Celia heard the lunch bell and looked forward to going into Torado’s and seeing the whole thing in a new light. A great theatre piece in which this crew, crew yeah, maybe “the crew,” hid from the reality they embraced. Indelibly.
“Que se dice, Mike?” Celia hailed.
Mike seemed to move slow, but his eyes were like lightening. As some civilians were in earshot, maybe, he opted to respond to that in Spanish.
“Muy beeyen, y tu, como estan?” Mike smiled his smile which looked like a one-side lip raise to show a gold tooth.
“I don’t want to blow your cover Mike, but that’s about the worst junior high Spanish I’ve ever heard.”
“Aye, fooled you! I took French. What a ya havin young lady?”
Celia closed her eyes. She was no longer the type to look for answers on a menu. “Hot soppressata, turkey, mozz, lettuce, tomato, red onion, chopped olives, roast peppers, oil n’ vinegar on black bread,” Celia considered her answer and gave closure to it. ”Yup.”
“Aye, son ofa bitch, that’s my sandwich! How da ya like that?! Where did ya say your people were from?”
“Connecticut, if memory serves.”
Mike had that sandwich standing tall and wrapped with a pickle in a New York minute. He reached over to hand it to her but as she grabbed it Mike did not let go.
“Mary tole me to aks if ya wanna come by tonight for cards?” Mike let go.
“Yeah sure, ‘at id be great. Should I bring anything?”
“Hows bout ya pay.” Mike showed the tooth again.
After this monumental lunch, half a day’s work still stretched out before her.
Her last stop was Delbow Hickles. She had delivered mail to this name but only to the mailbox on the road. The house could barely be seen from this distance, and on this day she had a substantial package. She proceeded up the unpaved drive to deliver the package.
“Hello, Mr. Hickles, anybody here, hello-ooo.” Celia hollered getting out of the jeep. All quiet. She carried the box up the porch steps, and setting it down provided hands to knock on the unlatched screen door or ring a bell, which could not be found. She called into the house and the answer was the same. She turned and left, resolved to leave the package on the porch and call it a day. At the bottom of the steps, she froze in her tracks.
She was surrounded by wild animals. Each as big as a watermelon with pointy faces and fierce claws that glistened in the sunlight. Evenly spaced in a circle around her and erect on their haunches, they seemed ready to pounce, simultaneously. Classic pack behavior. Were these the dreaded wolverines that terrorized the west in the 19th century? Her cook was goosed. How would the obit read. Shit.
“Don’t leave, I’m coming,” a voice called from behind the house. The devil dogs dispersed. Didn’t run away. Just went about their business, sniffing things or rolling in the gravel. One jumped in a low-hung tire swing.
The voice came out from behind the house and it was attached to a man. He carried upon his shoulders some piece of farm equipment that seemed impossibly heavy. Had he carried the tractor required to pull it, it would have appeared no more improbable. He wore those genuine farmer overalls with one of two straps unattached or fallen. Beneath that he wore no shirt. His body was covered in agriculture and sweat and dust and motor oil. His was the physique you did not get in a gym. Toned, tanned, and supercharged. Nothing but gorgeous. Celia almost swallowed her tongue, which would account for her sudden loss of the gift of speech.
“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting. Guess you’re the new mail ahh, woman ahh, mam, mailmam. Well, I’m Delbow Hickles but folks just call me Bo.”
Celia was as if turned to stone, unable to speak in the presence of the living Apollo.
“I hope the chucks didn’t scare you. They think it’s their farm but you can relax, I’m sure they already like you.” Bo smiled and his perfect teeth glinted in the sunlight. He remembered he was shouldering this farm thing so he let it down slowly with an amused little groan and leaned it up against a tree. The tree was not so amused. Celia had not yet found her tongue. Bo started to consider if this woman had a disability or something. He raised his voice and spoke slowly.
“You must be the new P.O. woman Miles mentioned. Welcome to Ardensville. How’s it workin’ out for ya?”
Bo took a rag from his back pocket and briskly tried to wipe all the day's work from his hands and chest. Celia watched and imagined she was that rag. Bo waited for any response and was starting to worry.
“Fine…fine I mean yeah, fine. Everyone’s been warm and moist in me, ahh for me, to me, since I came, ahh arrived, got here, yeah, fine. Me’s your hail, here’s your mail, ahh mail, your letters, ahh package. Bo, how do you do you do me. Fine yeah, yes, okay.”
Bo wondered, did the P.O. have a program for employing...challenged minds?
“Are you okay Mam? Can I get you something cold to drink? Might you like to get out of the sun?”
“I didn’t get what you said.”
“Celia, my name is Celia. I’m the new woman, P.O. woman.”
Celia was starting to speak in sentences again and Bo was relieved.
“You’re the new PO woman. Your name is Celia, and I think I’ll get you a glass of water and a beer for myself.”
“Beer works for me!” Celia was coming out of it now that Bo had gone in the house for the beers, and the milling about of the woodchucks captured her attention. He returned with a tee-shirt on that failed miserably to conceal his sculpted awesome body. He sat on the second porch step and handed a very cold bottle of beer to Celia, who took a seat on the top step which afforded her eye level with Bo. The chucks came to check her out in no time. One deposited a small dead snake right where Celia had momentarily parked her beer.
“U-huh. I know my chucks alright. Sybil has taken to you, you betcha.”
“Yup, that’s Sybil, Douglas by the tree, Davy in the birdbath, GET OUT THE BIRDBATH DAVY!! Jennifer sleeping in the tire swing, and Steve in your jeep.”
Sybil was in her lap by now begging for belly rubs.
“I hope he’s not going to screw with the mail. It’s a federal offense you know.”
“No, mail’s safe but look out for small dead snakes in your mailbag,” Bo smiled, sipped, stretched, and flexed in a simple country, not self-conscious modesty. Celia almost crushed the bottle.
“Are you alone here, Bo?”
“No, I got the chucks. Watch this. HAWK!”
The chucks instantly fell and played dead. They didn’t even seem to breathe. After 30 seconds Bo said “clear” and the animals just resumed what they were doing, unperturbed.
“You train your woodchucks. Wow, Bo. I’ve never seen the like. You must be from around here I imagine?” Celia started poking around.
“I was born right behind this house,” Bo beamed.
“Why not in the house, may I ask?” as Sybil pulled on her shiny buttons.
“Ma was riding the old tractor that day and couldn’t make it to the house in time, and Pa was birthing a calf, so it was just me and Ma behind the house.” Bo killed his beer.
“Are they here with you, Bo?”
“Oh sure, right out there by that stand of willow trees. Plus a sister, 3 grandfolks, 2 aunts, 4 uncles, and a fella named Bob who came one harvest time and didn’t see a combine coming. He don’t take too much space.” Davy had knocked over an empty bottle trying to get the last drop of local brew from the bottle.
“I’m so glad to know you, Bo, really.”
Celia was smitten by a man she could have never imagined and would not have found attractive if she had imagined him. He was the genuine article. Apparently intelligent, in place and at peace in his home, without artifice or vanity (considering he was the most visually spectacular man Celia had ever known), mild, self-reliant, and unquestionably decent. A decent man. Imagine that.