Mikel sat in his car in front of the post office, staring out across the street and at the limbs of the trees blowing. The December bleakness that he usually loved felt like it invaded his skin. He watched two young men struggle to load the back of a utility van as they moved inventory from the store across the street. The virus claimed it, too. On previous visits to the post office, Mikel saw a constant stream of customers there. Over the last few months, the visitors dwindled. Like everyone else, Mikel fought against the waves of untimely news and reduced optimism that permeated his life.
Mikel went inside and put his key in the lock. Inside his box were a dozen Christmas flyers and an orange notification slip, one marked 12-18 and advising him he had a package he could pick up inside from one of the clerks. Mikel loved the moment between discovering he had a surprise and finding out what it might be. As he grew older, the likelihood of something noteworthy seemed to diminish, even as his optimism continued to trick him into believing something magical could be waiting.
He needed a surprise this year. As it had for many, 2020 continued to hit him with needless changes and shocks. He had the virus in early May. In June, he lost his dream job, the one he planned to keep for the rest of his life. In July, when he started the new job, he met someone who found him to be interesting, funny, and worth being around. She liked him to call her “Flan,” due to her ability to consume ten of the desserts in an afternoon. Several times they went out, she proved that her nickname was well-earned. She also demonstrated her incredible range of curse words in Spanish, which was both funny and endearing.
In October, Flan’s Mom had a mild stroke and needed medical care. Within a week, Flan moved a few hundred miles away. Just like that, Mikel earned another 2020 kick in the face.
In the last few weeks, Flan started calling him and writing as her Mom improved. They fell in love all over again. Three days ago, Flan called to tell him that her Mom had the virus but wasn’t critically symptomatic. “Be careful, Flan,” he told her. He knew Flan was exposed. “I am. I made you something, Mikel. I hope you like it,” she said devilishly. “Check your box every day!” Those words echoed in his head.
The clerk handed him a soft package. Mikel thanked him with a “Merry Christmas, Burt!” He laughed. “My name is John,” the clerk hollered back and laughed from the thick sheet of plastic hanging between them. Mikel walked back out into the lobby to open the package. For a second, Flan’s real name Marcy confused him when he saw it in the return address. His excitement growing, he placed his items on the long table in front of the window, Mikel started to tear open the package. His phone rang, surprising him. Distracted, he swiped the notification and answered.
“Is this Mikel?” A raspy voice uttered the question.
“Yes, this is Mikel. Who is this?” Mikel loathed calls from people he didn’t know.
“This is Angela. Angela Thompson. Flan’s Mom.” She spoke with no tone whatsoever in her voice. Mikel swallowed down a short gulp of apprehension.
“I hate to tell you this, Mikel. Flan passed away this morning.” Her voice cracked as she forced the words out.
“What? How? I just talked to her three days ago.’ Mikel’s voice became thin as he spoke. He could feel his head start to pound.
“We both had the virus. Flan was more or less okay until yesterday at noon. I called an Uber in the evening, and she went to the Urgent Clinic and then to the ER at the hospital. She went down fast. I’m so sorry.” She stopped talking. Mikel held the phone to his ear, trying to process that Flan was dead.
“Mikel? Are you there?” Angela asked.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“If you’ve not opened the surprise she sent you, it might be better if you don’t. Or wait a few days.” Angela told him.
“Okay… I won’t,” he said, looking at the package and knowing he would open it as soon as he got off the phone. “Thanks for calling me, Angela.” Mikel clicked the ‘end conversation’ button. Since he was in shock, it didn’t occur to him to ask about a funeral, arrangements, or to offer sympathy to Angela.
Mikel picked up his keys and wallet from the long counter, grabbed the unopened package from Flan, and walked outside. The wind hit him as he left the post office. He didn’t notice. Climbing inside his car, he sat with the engine idling. He used his keys to rip the liner of the package and tear it open. Inside, there was a long, soft scarf made of vibrant colors. He pulled it out of the package, laughing. Flan often teased him about his aversion to scarves. There were days she said she could wear four simultaneously. “You’ll love them, you’ll see!” she would say to tease him.
As the scarf came free of the package, a piece of paper fluttered to the passenger seat, face down. Mikel reached for it, knowing it was one of Flan’s infamous notes. She always had a flair for humor and saying the wrong thing in the most right way possible.
He turned the note over and held it above the steering wheel:
Dearest Mikel (spelling doubtful, though you claim it’s correct):
Christmas is here, whether your watch tells you it is the 25th or not. You can feel it in the air! I know 2020 interrupted what would have been a torrid love affair for the ages. Note: I’m talking about us! I know you didn’t have the nerve to ask me the question. So I’m going to do this right. Mikel, though you didn’t tell me, I know you love me. Here’s how to claim this offer. Put on the lovely scarf I made for you (even though you say it will itch) and take a picture with it on. Send it to me with a thumbs up. Once you do that, I will move back after New Year’s. Or you can move here. Either way, we’re going to be together. Whether it is proper or like two love-crazed lovers doesn’t matter. My answer to the question you didn’t ask is “Yes.” Love, Flan
P.S. I don’t know why you are still reading this stupid note. You should be taking a picture by now and saying “Yes” back to me! We’ve wasted enough life already.
Mikel re-read the note. He put it down on the passenger seat and then picked up the scarf and pushed his face into it. Within moments, he was sobbing.
When his eyes had no more tears to share, he sat up and looked out at the cold street in front of him. He imagined Flan sending him the note and scarf, excited by the idea of waiting for a “yes” from Mikel. She even shared her plan with her Mom. Now, she would never get her answer. They’d never share the joyful moment of acceptance. 2020 claimed another life and another love.
Mikel sat in the car in silence.
He would need a moment, maybe a lot of them. When the shock wore off, he would call Flan’s Mom back and tell her everything that needed to be said.
He knew that thousands of people, all across the world, were living moments just like this.
For Flan. For you. For all of us.