This is a work of fiction.
The next two weeks pass by in obscurity. I have nothing to do all day long. Worse still, I don’t feel like doing much, but I know Aunt Bev would not approve of this idleness. She’s left me her home, her money, and her legacy of love, but I’m sitting here on the couch letting it all go to waste.
By the beginning of the third week, I’m out of food. I’ll have to go to the supermarket and restock the cupboards, fridge, and freezer.
I force myself to get off the couch and go to the front door. My shoes are still where I tossed them after the funeral. Normally, I line them up neatly, but I’ve become so sloppy and careless.
I put them on, realize I’m not wearing socks, and don’t bother to go and get a pair.
I make sure I have my wallet and keys, and then I open the door.
The mailbox is full, with envelopes sticking out of it. If any more mail comes, there won’t be room for it. I’ll take it in with me and the groceries.
I drive to a supermarket far away from the house. I don’t want anyone who knows us to see me. I don’t want to hear their kind words or see their sad faces. All I want is to buy food.
I fill a cart, and then I fill another. This way, I won’t have to leave the house again for quite some time.
As soon as I climb the front steps, I see the overstuffed mailbox again.
I unlock the door and toss the bags I’m carrying inside. I go back outside, grab the pile of mail, go in, and toss it all on the couch.
I empty my car, unpack the groceries, put everything away, and then make myself something to eat.
After that, I go back into the living room and see the pile of mail on the couch.
I sigh and sit down beside it.
Most of it’s probably either junk or sympathy cards. The cards are nice, but I’ll have to call or write to the people sending them, and I have no wish to do that.
There are cards from most of the people who worked with Aunt Bev at the salon. These cards are from the ones who didn’t bother to show up at the funeral and express their sympathy in person.
One even has the temerity to say that if I need anything, to give her a call any time.
Besides, she’s neglected to provide me with her phone number.
I rip the card to shreds.
I discard the rest of the sympathy cards, but don’t bother tearing them to pieces.
I’m not going to reply to any of them since I’ve got nothing to say.
There’s a phone bill, a bill for cable TV, and an electricity bill.
I should have opened these before I left for the supermarket. Now I’ll have to go out again and pay them.
I check the bills over to make sure they make sense, and at the bottom of the phone bill, there’s a note.
For the next bill, they’re switching to electronic billing. If I want a paper bill, I’ll have to pay for it.
They’re doing this to save the trees, but I can’t read electronic bills.
There’s a notice from a shipping company saying that I’ve missed a delivery. I have fifteen days to pick up my package from the date of the notice, which was the date of Aunt Bev’s funeral, fifteen days ago.
I have no idea what the package might be, but maybe I’d better call the company in case the notice was put in the wrong mailbox.
I call the number and read the tracking number to a woman.
She confirms that the package is being sent to my address.
I thank her, pick up the bills, and put my shoes on for the second time that day.
A branch of the bank I use is near the shipping company, so I pay the bills first.
At the large warehouse, I present the notice and show some ID.
A nice man helps me load a huge box into my car.
I drive home, and there’s nobody to help me, so I open my trunk and cut the tape on the box right there.
The box is packed with books and also two smaller boxes, one shrink-wrapped and one not.
One box says it contains a Dell computer, and the other one says it contains a MacBook Pro.
I look at the book titles. Many of them are about computers.
Oh, right, I did order all this, but it feels like so long ago. I was somebody else back then. I was a better person who wanted to learn things, but now? Now what am I?
I carry everything inside a few items at a time and sit down on the couch.
There’s another envelope I haven’t opened yet. I don’t recognize the return address, and there’s no sender’s name on it.
There’s also the notice from the phone company about electronic billing.
I look at the coffee table where I’ve stacked my new books and computers.
I call the phone company.
A man answers and says his name is Rick.
“Hi. I’m calling about electronic billing. So, um, how does it work?”
“Oh, it’s really simple.”
Why do people always say that when they have absolutely no idea how easy it might be for somebody?
“You create an account, or we can do that for you, and then you log in using your e-mail address and password. You can pay your bill online with your credit card.”
I only have a vague idea what an e-mail address and password are, I don’t know how to pay online or even that you can, and I don’t have a credit card.
“I like to pay at the bank. Can I still do that?”
“Oh, of course, but online payments are much more convenient. Do you have any other questions?”
“Um, yes. You mentioned e-mail. I don’t have that.”
Thank goodness he can’t see me blushing.
“You can create a free e-mail address and we can use that to set up your account.”
“Okay, so how do I do that?”
“Your Internet provider should have set one up for you.”
“Um, I don’t think we have Internet.”
“You can use it at the library.”
He sounds impatient, and like he can’t wait to get me off the phone and out of his work day.
“Okay, sorry to bother you.”
I hang up on him.
I imagine him sitting at a desk with a phone, clapping his hands with glee now that I’m out of his life, hopefully for good.
The feeling is most definitely mutual.
Aunt Bev loved the library, and it loved her back. She did buy some books, but most of the time, she borrowed them. If I go there to use the computer, people will feel they need to express their sympathy and regret, when all I’m trying to do is set up electronic billing.
I call directory assistance and ask the operator to find the Internet provider in my city.
It’s the cable company.
I call them.
Rachel, a friendly-sounding woman, takes my call.
“I’d like to get Internet, please,” I say, after she’s asked how she can help me.
We arranged for somebody to come and install it in three days.
I thank her and hang up, thoroughly sick of the phone.
I pick up the unopened envelope with no name on it.
The addresses and my name are computer-printed right on the envelope.
I open it.
Inside, there’s a single sheet of white paper, also computer-printed.
At the top, there’s the same address with no name, and also my name and address.
We’re sorry about your Aunt Bev. You don’t know us, but you’ve been seen in the neighborhood, and we read about your aunt in the paper.
You are truly alone in the world, and so were we, but in a different way.
We would like to invite you to our house, which is located at the address on this letter, at 2:00 p.m. on the first Saturday in August. No need to RSVP, you can just show up. You don’t need to bring anything, and there’s no dress code.
The O’Brien Quadruplets
I read the letter again, and then for a third time.
The use of the passive “you’ve been seen” bothers me, and the sentence about being alone in the world upsets me. The whole thing intrigues me in a vaguely frightening way.
How were they alone in the world? If there are four of them, then how can they ever have been alone? Even if their parents are dead, they’d still have each other. How come I don’t know they live in my neighborhood? I’ve lived here all my life, and there were no quadruplets at school, just a couple sets of twins, and those not even in my class.
The most important question, at least in my mind, is: will I go to their house at 2:00 p.m. on the designated day?
I simply can’t answer that, so I put their letter aside and start the housework I’ve been neglecting for far too long.
The next morning, I get a call.
It’s a man named Terry, and he says there’s been a cancelation, so he can come and install my Internet now, if that works for me.
It does, and thirty minutes later, he rings the doorbell.
I open the door and show him into the living room.
While he gets to work with tools and wires, I sit on the couch and watch him.
A while later, he takes out a laptop.
“What’s that for?”
“I’m just checking to make sure I’ve set you up correctly.”
“Yep, you’re all good to go. So, your new e-mail address is Alexis dot Freemont at—”
“Can you write this down for me please?”
“Oh, sure. I’ll also write down your wireless network name and password.”
He glances at the coffee table.
“Are you studying computers?”
I’m not sure if I am, but I’m not going to tell him about Aunt Bev.
“I haven’t started yet.”
“Oh, okay. Would you like me to help you set up that MacBook Pro?”
His expression is slightly covetous.
He sighs and looks at it with open longing.
Buy your own, I think.
“Sorry,” I say. “I have to go to the supermarket. Do I owe you any money?”
“No, it’ll be on your next bill.”
He writes down the information I’ll need, packs up his equipment, and with one last look at the box containing the MacBook Pro, he leaves the living room.
I follow him to the front door and wave goodbye as he walks to his truck.
Now I feel bad that I didn’t let him help me set up the computer.
He was a nice guy, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have laughed at me for my ignorance.
I’ve become such a jerk since Aunt Bev died.
I go back into the living room and pick up the box containing the Dell.