You stick the key in the mailbox.
“Did you get it today?” Amelia shouts this from the second floor, across your apartment complex’s courtyard. Your sister waves, leaning heavy against the railing. You find two envelopes in the box: a credit card bill and the letter from your sister’s old college roommate. You hold it up and Amelia’s claps echo like a throng.
Your sister comes down the concrete stairs as you go up. The two of you hug without touching, as does everyone in your family.
“I knew it would show up today,” Amelia says and points to her forehead. “Psychic.” She snatches the envelope out of your hand.
You stare into your fridge at the sack from Con Amore, the place you go sometimes for take-out. Amelia sits at your tiny kitchen table, reading from the single-spaced typed page. “She totally nailed it. For instance, ‘you work best as an anonymous follower and never offer your opinions or want the limelight for successes or failures. You avoid making a scene, at all costs.’” Amelia goes on, reading more from her friend’s findings, about how you have a penchant for solitary tasks, less stressful. How you’d rather be an audience member than perform on the stage. “This is so true. I’ve watched you watching others, standing away from the group.” Amelia blurts out that the depth of your thinking keeps you quiet. Your worrisome nature keeps you isolated. Your sister is astonished. You are not astonished and point out that Amelia exaggerated to her friend; sure, you are shy, but not like all that. “I swear,” Amelia says, holding up three fingers like a Scout, “I never said a word. All I sent her was your full name and birthday and the time you were born. She used the powers of the universe to n-a-i-l it.”
You snatch back the sheet of paper. There is single-spaced type on the other side, too.
“There’s more! Read it.” Amelia settles into the cheap plastic folding chair.
It is a list of your previous lives. A bride of Christ in the fifth century. A soldier at the Battle of Hastings, then quickly following, a Norman duchess. A shipbuilder from Portugal. A merchant from Boston. Then there is this past life, listed at the bottom: you belonged to an indigenous tribe, living atop the Mogollon Rim. You were married and deeply in love with your spouse and had many children. You place the sheet of paper on the table.
“See, you know how to be married,” Amelia says. “You think there’s no one out there for you. ‘What’s the use of looking,’ you always say. Just maybe the love of your life has come back and is looking for you right now. You should think about that the next time you’re wallowing.”
You don’t wallow. And point out that you don’t believe in past lives. And you’re hungry, so you lie, telling Amelia that you have plans with some people from work and have to leave.
“That’s a great start.” Your sister rockets out of the chair. “Make sure you join in on the talking tonight.” You guide her out of the small kitchen. “You never know, maybe your past love will be standing right in front of you.” You shut the door on Amelia, still talking.
You stare at the list of your previous lives and then take the sack of leftovers out of the fridge, tossing it in the trash. After changing out of your work clothes, you do leave your apartment, for the grocery store.
When the glass door swishes open, you immediately search the registers and find the cashier you’re looking for at one of the middle checkouts. You wave, but the cashier doesn’t see you. You’ve spoken before. Meaningless small talk, grinning at each other. You move throughout quiet aisles. You heave several cases of bottled water into your cart. Bread, sliced turkey, lettuce, and some pears. Heading toward the dairy section, you become aware of a widespread pressure developing across your chest, stomach, seeping around to your shoulder blades. As if you are the meshed wire on the bottom of your cart, with the weight of cases and cases of water stacked on top of you. Finally you make it to checkout line, and the weight doesn’t lift, only increases. As soon as it’s your turn, the cashier notices you and smiles. Your mouth is arid, the stack teetering overhead. You nod. The cashier tries small talk while ringing up your groceries, and you nod and nod, and nod once more. When it comes time, instead of retrieving a credit card, you stare wide-eyed at the moving conveyor belt, the register’s vivid screen, the pile of plastic bags full of groceries in the cart.
“Is something wrong?” The cashier seems tired.
“Is it you?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Is it…you,” clearing your throat, a light cough into your hand, “I asked…you?”
“Yes. It’s me.” Now the cashier looks apprehensive. “Who else would I be?”
You push the cart toward the trunk of your car. You look at people pushing their carts toward their cars or unloading groceries or heading for the store. Couples. Others alone. The Italian restaurant, Con Amore, is in the same shopping center. You leave the cart and walk slowly across the parking lot. The dinner crowd is there. The door of the small restaurant swings open. The waiting area is crowded already. From the sidewalk, you smell garlic bread and marinara sauce and cooking pizza. You hear Dean Martin singing and murmurings and laughing, and a brief, loud cheer.
“Where are you?” A few waiting customers at the open door turn around. The tower swaying in the pink twilight above almost knocks you over, but you stand firm. You take in all the air your lungs can hold. “Where are you?” you call out again and again, blurry-eyed. Soon more people gather to watch.
Dan Crawley’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, CHEAP POP, Jellyfish Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and New Flash Fiction Review. Along with teaching creative writing and literature courses, he reads fiction for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at https://twitter.com/danbillyc.