Every day, Mom went out to check the mail. Dad tried to get her to stop. It was December; we needed to keep the door closed to conserve heat. She was eight months pregnant with Baby Number Six; she needed to rest more. But Mom wouldn’t listen to him, even though the mail hadn’t come in two weeks and it wasn’t coming again for the foreseeable future. So, when all else failed, Dad decided to make it a family affair.
Every day at two o’clock, we would wrap ourselves in every scrap of clothing we could find and run outside. Even inside we wore our winter coats and at least two pairs of pants. Even Owen, who at thirteen wanted to be as manly as possible, had borrowed a pair of Mom’s workout leggings to wear under his jeans. But when we went outside, all the clothes we owned went on. Gloves beneath mittens. Snow bibs. Hats underneath our hoods. We had to stay as warm as possible, because there were no vents blowing hot air or faucets delivering warm water to warm us up.
When we’d go outside, Meg and Bennett would immediately start running around and playing in the snow. Sometimes, Brooke and Owen would join them—Brooke because she was young enough, and Owen because he was a boy and boys never really grow up.
Mom would walk as if she was in a trance. Down the driveway a quarter mile to the mailbox. Up a quarter mile back. The silent forest surrounded us; birds and foxes watched us. And I would go with her, a pistol in my pocket, while Dad protected the house and the other kids with his rifle.
Sometimes, we would meet Mr. Davis at the mailbox. He lived across the street in a ramshackle house that was always falling apart around him. Dad always offered to help him repair it, but Mr. Davis was often described as a Stubborn Old Coot and always declined. I always thought it was because he didn’t want us in his house. He’d started collecting guns and ammo after he served in World War III, and he didn’t want us stealing any of it.
Today, though, there was no Mr. Davis. Mom opened the mailbox, shut it again, and began the trek back to the house. The trip back was always slower since it was uphill, and Mom would stop once or twice along the way to catch her breath and rub her back or her belly.
I started to worry about her.
Regardless of how much I worried, we’d always get back to the house safely. Then we might enjoy the bitter fresh air for a while, and I might even join Dad and my siblings in a snowball fight or a snow-fort-building competition. But we’d always go back inside and hole up in the living room again, our feet cold and our faces red, dreaming of what we’d do the next day at two o’clock
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.