When Mr. Jones died and Mrs. Jones retired she retreated more and more into her home. She took to making the majority of her purchases online. Each time that a new package arrived she carried it into her kitchen and opened it reverently, like a precious Christmas gift. She always marveled at the clean brown boxes with their neat ninety degree corners and pristine cardboard. When Mr. Jones had been alive he would rip open the crisp parcels with relentless speed in his urgency to unveil his new acquisitions; now, Mrs. Jones took her time opening the bundles, taking extreme care to preserve the packaging.
One day, when her neighbors, the McKinley’s, were out-of-town the brown UPS truck stopped outside their homes and when they were unable to make a delivery next-door, the uniformed delivery person rang the Jones door bell. Mrs. Jones hesitatingly opened up.
“Good afternoon, ma’am; would you take a delivery for the McKinleys?”
Now Mrs. Jones didn’t like taking deliveries for her neighbors for it meant that later on in the day she would have to make herself presentable so that she could complete the delivery, but she nodded and accepted the proffered package. The delivery person lingered after he had handed over the package, he backed up a few steps stood on her porch and looked intently at her.
“You’d better watch that one carefully. It made our whole truck stink. Can’t imagine what’s inside?”
His pose and comment seem to imply that he expected Mrs. Jones to know what it contained or, at least, what to do with it. Mrs. Jones was hardly listening to him and merely stood clasping the package, hoping that he would go away. When the man was unable to engage her in conversation he turned and sprinted up her drive to his vehicle. She quietly closed and locked the door.
She put the box on her hall table in readiness for her to take it next-door in the evening. She went back to reading a book in her living room. Soon an obnoxious smell began to waft through the house. Mrs. Jones put down her book and went to the hall table. The box sat innocently on the table and she gave it a more thorough inspection. It was cube shaped, about a foot in each direction. Unlike most packages, it looked grubby and worn on the outside. She picked it up and estimated it to weigh several pounds. She shook it, holding it close to her ear, but nothing rattled inside. She examined the label, but most of the shipper information was obscured by dirt. As far as she could tell the package came from the United Kingdom. One word stood out “LIVE,” but Mrs. Jones could not decipher either the words before or after it.
Mrs. Jones called her daughter to ask her whether she could think of anything which could travel through the mail “live” and not rattle. After discussion, they both surmised that the smell could only mean that what was “live” was now dead. They discussed whether Mrs. Jones should refrigerate the package or place it in the garage or even outside, anywhere where the smell would not permeate the house.
Mrs. Jones decided on the garage option and after she had placed the unwanted package next to her car she opened the windows to fumigate her home. When the air seemed clearer she closed the doors and windows and, feeling more secure, returned to her book.
But the stench still managed to enter the house. Mrs. Jones went into the garage and stood arms akimbo to stare at it. She wanted to open it but something held her back. It was probably not respect for her neighbor’s privacy, but more a belief that the box was some kind of test perhaps akin the Pandora’s box. And last she took it outside and put it on top of her dustbin. She spoke to it,
“Well, you two can stink together!”
She returned to her book and, as she read, dozed off. She dreamed of boxes of dead worms, after all the McKinleys were avid anglers, shaking her head for surely even dead worms would rattle. She dreamed of a kidnapping in which Mr. McKinley’s right thumb, well-packed in bubble wrap, was mailed to his home, shaking her head for even Mr. McKinley’s thumb wouldn’t weigh several pounds. She dreamed of a box of maggots and awoke in a sweat.
That evening she put on make-up and clean jeans and when she heard the McKinley’s car pull into their drive she darted out to retrieve the box. She carried it over to their house and rang their door bell. Mrs. McKinley answered the ring. She smiled when she saw the package and inhaled the smell.
“Oh thank you!” she exclaimed with glee. “It has arrived at last. What a delicious smell. I can’t wait to eat some on crackers.”
“Excuse me?” questioned her neighbor.
“Stilton.” She breathed in deeply as if to get and extra waft of the box. “It’s my live blue stilton. We get one every year direct from the UK. Quite delicious! This one smells divine. You must come over and join us when we enjoy eating it.”
Mrs. Jones shook her head and hurried home.
Copyright © October, 2013 Jane Stansfeld.