The knock at the door gets the dogs going; they yap and tumble across the ceiling above my desk, and then one of my daughters joins in, yelling at them to stop barking, except it sounds like she’s barking, too.
Someone knocks on your door when you’re not expecting it, and that’s very rarely good news. Usually, it’s someone selling something, or a neighbor complaining about something, or the guy who was in the cow suit at the birthday party last week, wanting a check.
I’m ahead of the game, wearing real pants and everything. I head to the stairs, and another daughter issues a report from the window: “It’s some guy.”
So I open it, and there he is, a man about my age with shaggy hair, taking a strange route from brown to gray. You’d have to get out the giant box of crayons, to find that color.
He’s wearing khakis and a black golf shirt, and he’s shaved so recently, I can see one of the cuts along his jawbone. His nervous green eyes take me in, and then he says, “Hello. My name is Marty. I used to live down the street.”
I check him for Watchtowers – he’s clean. Then I threat-assess him – he’s skinny with poky shoulders and he’s growing jowls.
So I step outside into the sunlight, and close the door behind me. He’s fidgeting with a small red envelope, in his hands at his belt.
“What’s up, Marty?” I ask him.
He says, “Three years ago, a Christmas card was delivered to my house, by mistake. I guess the mailman just screwed up, I don’t know. But I was on the verge of losing my house, and I had lost my job, and I opened the Christmas card before I even noticed that it wasn’t addressed to me.”
“Our mail carrier is a girl,” I tell him.
Still nervous, he shakes his face a little bit. That habit’s going to catch up with him, when those jowls grow out a little more.
Marty says, “I was in my car, when I opened it. Sitting in the drive-thru window at Sonic. And a twenty dollar bill fell out of it, right on my lap.”
“Yes. And so I put it back in the card, and then back in this envelope.”
He holds it out to me, and I frown at it, and then at him. “Three years ago?”
Fidgeting some more with the envelope, bringing it awkwardly back to his belt, he explains, “Well, I kept meaning to drop it off to you, but I had a long day that day, looking for a job, and it slipped into the crack between the seats. By the end of the day, I forgot about it.”
“I gotcha,” I tell him. “For three years. And then, you cleaned out your car before you sold it or something, found the card, figured, I’ll go ahead and deliver it.”
Not really buying it, thinking, if I waited three years to clean my car, I wouldn’t be able to get in it anymore. I’d have to sit on top of it, use ropes and pulleys to work the pedals and steering wheel.
Marty shakes his head and says, “Well, no. About a month later – I had a job by then – and I was up in Cleveland, out with some of the guys. And at the end of the night, I lost my wallet. Got separated from the guys and I had my own car, but I was in no shape to drive it. So, I remembered the Christmas card then, figured, well, I’d use it for cab fare, get back to the hotel.”
I bob my head around. I can see that happening, sure.
“But then, after I had it, I went into the nearest bar to call a cab, and I ran into the guys again, and we drank the twenty bucks. Never meant to, it was just right there in my hand, and no wallet, and…”
“Yeah,” I tell him. “That’s Cleveland all right. You want to stay out of Cleveland, if you can.”
“So, by then,” he goes on. “It was January. I felt really funny about giving you the Christmas card after Christmas. You know what I mean.”
“Sure, but, you know. Here you are. Several Christmases after Christmas.”
And he barks a little cough of a laugh and says, “And yes, I feel extremely funny right now.”
“So what are you, on Step Ten or something, making amends?”
Now his face explodes with relief. “Yes!” He says. “Yes, I’ve been dragging the guilt for three years, of stealing your Christmas card. So I brought it back to you, and I just wanted to say, I’m really sorry I stole it from you. I never wanted to admit, that’s what I did. I stole it. I’m sorry.”
We hold the eye contact for a few seconds, kind of downloading the sincerity from his brain to mine. He’s looking pretty sincere, all right, and I feel pretty good about helping him out.
So when he holds out the envelope again, I take it, look at the card inside, and the twenty dollar bill. Then I turn it over. It’s not addressed to me, because I’ve only lived here for six months. If I were on his side of this exchange, I’m thinking I would have cleared that up right away, the issue of whether or not I had the right guy.
I tell him, “This is from my grandmother. She’s passed away now.”
“Oh, my God,” he says, his face freezing, his eyebrows darkening somehow, like camouflage.
I nod sadly at him, putting the card in my pocket. “Listen, don’t sweat it. We all make mistakes. Consider yourself forgiven – amends made.”
“Now beat it,” I tell him, and I go on back inside .