By John Thomas Tuft

Hot or cold, rain or shine, Marcie walks her little dog, Max up and down the block. The little Yorkie is frozen in time, so Marcie puts him in a small wheelbarrow for the journey. At some point Marcie got some old paint and stencils and turned the wheelbarrow pink with flowers strewn around the sides. Every day he rides like a conquering emperor in front of adoring throngs, Maximillius  Canine-ian the Third, Emperor of the Land and his Loyal Legions, Overlord of all points from the brick house at the end of the block to the cross street, Long May He Rule! The wheelbarrow has been in Marcie’s life since her third Christmas, part of a toy gardening set, and its child size means that Marcie has to bend low to grasp the handles. Fortunately, she is a tiny woman, thin and wiry and short, who always wears black. Always. With her dark hair piled up high in a beehive effect, painted on eyebrows and dark mascara, a spot of makeup giving her artificially rosy cheeks, she is a dark elf.

On the other side of the street from Marcie lived an elderly gentleman named Josiah. Josiah watches Marcie taking her walk every day and takes his in the opposite direction. Each day Josiah puts on a dress shirt, bow tie, vest with a pocket watch pocket, jaunty derby hat, and sets off with his polished cane for a daily constitutional. When he sees Marcie heading up the lane, he is out the door and down the street, takes a right, makes for the park with the small lake, does three laps around it and heads home before Marcie shows up with her dog in a wheelbarrow and stale bread for the ducks. It went on this way for the longest time, the two going their opposite paths, wearing their chosen armor and markings, weary world travelers on a speck in the universe.

One day Josiah was delayed by the fact that he had neglected to iron his shirt. That just would not do. He ironed the shirt and put it on, hoping that Marcie was far up the street by now. He selected a favorite cane and headed out the door, down the lane, and right, toward the park with the lake. As he completed the third lap around the lake he spotted Marcie sitting on a bench, staring off across the water. “Drat,” he thought, “now she’ll see me. I don’t want to listen to that crazy bat. I hope she’s not waiting for me!” He decided to ignore her but as he passed by she spoke, “You forgot your hat today.” Sure enough, so he had. Startled by this chink in his armor, he slowly came over and sat down on the bench.

A long uneasy silence ensued. Finally, Josiah could hold it in no longer. “Why do you push that ridiculous stuffed Yorkie around in a little girl’s wheelbarrow?” Marcie reached into the wheelbarrow, rooted underneath the bag of stale bread and drew out an unopened envelope. She held it limply in her lap. “Why can’t you leave the house without being perfect?” came her response. Josiah bristled, “I’m not perfect.” He gestured impatiently,  “Are you going to open that?” She shook her head. “Why not?” Josiah demanded to know. “It might hurt. What if it is filled with pain?” Marcie lifted the envelope as though weighted with all the cares in the world. Let it fall back into her lap. “Max understands.” Josiah laughed, “Max? What does Max know of pain? Max never got a letter in his life. Filled with pain, filled with joy. Never.”

Marcie looks at him with one drawn on eyebrow arched. Josiah sighs. “I got a letter from my son once upon a time. He was a Marine in Vietnam. A bright, strong, handsome boy. He was at the end of his deployment in country, telling me he would be home in two weeks. My wife and I were filled with joy. We prepared everything just the way he liked it. Put his things out so his dog would remember him. The day he was to arrive a telegram arrived. I didn’t want to open it. But I needed to be strong for my wife. Ripping open the envelope was ripping open our hearts…” Josiah cannot go on, so he fusses with the buttons on his vest, adjusts the brim of his nonexistent forgotten hat. “And your wife?” asks a tiny voice beside him. Josiah shakes his head as he stands up. “She took the dog and left.”

He collects himself and makes a small bow. “Unopened envelopes…that just cannot be allowed.” Marcie stares at her lap. She reaches with a shaking hand to touch Max, the fuzzy fur worn from years of touching and tears. “I’m afraid,” she says. There is silence. “I’m afraid of what it will not say,” she continues, her hand falling from the stuffed dog. “All I want…all I want, is for it,” she stops, gathers herself. “All I want for it to say is come home. Come home.” She looks up, but Josiah’s bare head is disappearing around the corner as he makes his way back along the way he came…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.