My dog, Zero, and I are in the living room, staring out the picture window at our street-side mailbox. We're trying to determine if the mail has arrived yet. Normally we'd just walk out to look, but the neighbor kid across the street is in her yard, and she's a talker.
"What do you think?" I ask Zero.
He blinks a few times, feigning disinterest. He's definitely not jumping at the door.
"Me too," I tell him.
The neighbor kid's name is Mary Jo. She's maybe nine or ten. She stands at the edge of her yard, leaning hard against her mailbox. She does this a lot. The box appears to be growing out of her armpit, attached, cementing her to the ground.
"She's not leaving, you know that," I tell Zero.
He sighs, and reluctantly rises to all fours.
I open the door and we begin our walk, both of us trying to look focused, preoccupied with a specific mission, exuding great purpose. It doesn't work.
"Hey," she yells across the street. She stares at me through squinty eyes. It's overcast, but she still squints at me.
"Hi," I say, and keep walking.
She tilts her head back a notch and looks down at me, as if she's wearing bifocals. "You're a weird one," she says.
"You, with the postcards."
I look in my mailbox to see two new arrivals. It's a little unsettling that they're coming in pairs now: Luxembourg and Austria this time. I think about Gerald the Post Office Guy's warning of tricksters and look back at Mary Jo, who is clearly not exhibiting great respect for her mailbox — she's practically hanging on it. But is this the posture of a serious criminal? Can someone her age be a mastermind?
"How old are you?"
"Do your parents know you abuse their mailbox?"
"Mailboxes are the property of the U.S. Government," she says, "and I'm not abusing it. It's got a six-foot post that goes into the ground, and my grandfather put it there and he said even a tornado wouldn't move this mailbox."
"Where's your grandfather now?"
"Florida," she declares, as if I should be impressed. "I might go live with him someday, because there aren't any kids around here to play with, and I can't leave the yard while my parents are at work, but I do know every cat in the neighborhood. Do you have a cat?"
"Well," I start, and Zero grumbles, but she talks right over both of us.
"There are seven, and their names are Cinderella, Sparkles, Ginger, Sunshine, Sassafras, Unicorn, and Princess."
"A cat named Unicorn? Really? That sounds made up."
She squints at me again. "You're weird. You, with the postcards."
"What do you know about the postcards?" I ask.
"You know," she says. "Yooou know," she sings out.
I think about this. "You're funny," I say, circling my finger at the side of my head the way kids do to indicate crazy.
"Me," she says, practically in italics, then jabs her finger hard into her breastbone. "Me?" she says again, her voice laced with cruel implication.
Kirk Farber is a Colorado Springs-based author whose debut novel, Postcards From a Dead Girl, was published last month by Harper Perennial. Reprinted by permission.
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