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The Letter

A Flash fiction short story

    The letter floated through the system from a mailbox to a warehouse. A plump woman sorted it along with thousands of other postage-bearing slips of paper into white, plastic bins. It then rode along a conveyor belt through the poorly air-conditioned building with its neighbors, mostly bills. On the letter's other side sat a thick magazine advertising its lifestyle as the fittest and the most glamorous.

    The letter didn't look like anything special. The address of its final destination written across its face in thick, black ink seemed nondescript enough. At least it had been for the pudgy woman sorting it from the other million letters in the warehouse.
     Conveyor belt to conveyor belt, the letter rode through the building without fan fair. It dropped into a box at the end of this leg of the trip. There, a stringy, pimpled man just old enough to have graduated high school loaded into the back of a truck.
     This truck carried the letter and its dire message along the highway to a nearby airport. Security let the truck through a wheeled gate adorned with razor wire along its crest, as though the information transported through its gates day after day were the secrets of life itself. Strangely enough, the usual shipment wasn't anywhere near as earth shattering as the security imagined. However, today was not a typical day.
     There were five or six men and women who generally loaded the letters, parcels, magazines, and other miscellaneous sundry items into the belly of large, white planes. That was unless the lone couple of the group had snuck away for a quickie in the bathroom or a cigarette afterward. Suffice it to say, the workers loaded the letter and its compatriots onto the plane bound for another state in another time zone.
     Some five hours later, the stiff pilot dredged himself and his over-wrinkled white shirt and tie out of the cockpit. Paperwork changed hands. It was an inventory along with a punch card containing information about the flight input in an outdated manual form. Large forklifts lined themselves out at the back of the plane, waiting for it to disgorge its contents. They jockeyed back and forth, unloading the cargo compartment, which in this case, ran the length of the whole plane.
    Finally, the last forklift hefted the container holding the letter. The whole process had moved much quicker than the sender had planned. In most cases, this would have been cause for a brief, yet sincere celebration. Most hand-written letters nowadays were birthday cards, anniversary cards, or Christmas cards. This letter was none of those, and so its author would be less pleased with its rate of transferal. The timing was everything.
     The forklift deposited the container in another warehouse, this one attached to the airport. Workers filed into the room after the heavy machinery drove away. They set about the days task of sorting the mail, sending them on their way, and drinking their paychecks into oblivion.
     Sorted, packaged, and moving again, the letter rode in the back of yet another truck along a bumpy and pothole-filled stretch of road on the outskirts of the city. After another hour, it turns into the post office's parking lot. One last sort and the envelope landed on top of a stack bound for a small, but elegantly adorned office space on the third floor of an equally elegant building three blocks away from the United States' Capitol building.

***

    It was a race then. The author of the letter, tracking its movement since the beginning of the journey, drove as quickly as she could without drawing undue attention until she found a parking spot. It was farther away from her destination than she would have preferred, but the letter was close now. The woman would have liked to use the buildings loading dock, but someone else had already taken the lone spot. She would have to hurry instead.

    The mailman's truck must be out for deliveries. Her phones app told her so. She had driven a rental all through the night. She couldn't very well have taken a plane with the size of the luggage she needed to bring with her. Shipping it would have taken longer than she had the patience for. No, the letter had to arrive at just the right moment. She also needed to keep her timing precise, but had to bring her luggage with her the long way.

    She got out of her truck and opened the large doors on the back. Heaving under the weight of her burden, she pulled the length of canvas out until it flopped on the ground. She again checked her phones tracking application, courtesy of the postal services new website. "Delivered," the screen said. The woman looked around herself wildly, but she had neither seen nor heard the mailman's car. She hoped there was a glitch in the system and hit the refresh button with her thumb.

    It flashed with a spinning blue circle for a moment before updating itself to say, "Delivery expected in approximately ten minutes." She breathed out a sigh half-frustration and half-relief. She wasn't late, but she only had ten minutes to make it to the roof with her canvas. The door to the building's elevators was around the back, next to the occupied loading dock.

    It came down to a footrace. She, the turtle, against the mailman's four-cylinder hare. She turned the corner to the back of the loading dock, and the smell of sweat and old food asserted itself against her senses. She didn't pay it any attention, entirely focused on her goal.

    Elevators typically come in two sizes. They built this one for moving large objects up for loading or unloading into the various apartments on each of the building's four floors. The woman had picked this building for a specific purpose. Her canvas was large enough for everyone in a square mile to make out its message. The building was a floor taller than all those immediately around it, and it was in full view of both the Capitol building and the letter's delivery address.

    The elevator dinged and opened its doors. There was only one small flight of stairs left to get to the roof. Sweating from exertion now, the woman hauled her burden up the steps and opened the door to the gravel-covered roof.

    The woman rechecked her phone, this time frantic. There had been no reception inside the heavy metal box, which had carried her to the roof. The application told her she had an expected wait time of less than a minute. Unsure of the application's accuracy since the last glitch, she refreshed the timer again. This time the wording remained unchanged.

    The race was drawing to a close. The woman needed to finish her task in the next sixty seconds. She couldn't have done any of this earlier. She was sure someone would have taken her canvas down without the effect she wanted- no, needed- to elicit.

    Her hands trembled, and the canvas flopped around in the breeze at the edge of the roof. Cars passed by, unaware beneath her, and she smelled the shit of a hundred thousand pigeons on the metal railing. Pulling out a pair of zip-ties from her pocket, she looped one through the brass grommet on each corner of the canvas before tightening them to the edge of the circular railing on the edge of the building. Finally, she let out a breath. It was the moment of truth.

    She could just barely make out the form of a short, skinny man in an expensive business suit in the third-floor window of the building across the street. A woman came in, holding a packet of mail in her hands. He smiled, gave her a peck on the cheek, and sat down at a wood corner desk.

    The desk had minimal adornments. It was quite the opposite of the style of the rest of the office. There was a computer under the left side, and a flat-screen monitor sat in the middle of the desk. A metal basket labeled, "inbox," sat next to the monitor. The only other object of any permanence on the desk was a large placard with the words, "Harry Mason. United States Senator."

    The woman knew all the details on the senator's desk not because she could see them from her vantage point, but because she had bought him the desk and the placard as a present when he had first won his senate seat ten years ago.

    Now was the moment she'd driven through the night for. It was her turn to pull back the curtain for the world. She knew the letter would elicit a dramatic response, one she would have been able to witness even from the distance at which she stood. She waited for it.

    When finally, the senator, Harry Mason, opened her letter, he spun his short saggy office chair around and looked out the window and across the street. He couldn't see her with the sun in his eyes, but she could see him looking for her. With a vengeful smile, the woman flipped the canvas off the side of the building, revealing to her husband and the world his abuse, corruption, and infidelity.

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North Carolina, United States