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Highwayman by Cezerija Abartis

Andrea imagined she received a Valentine card from Tommy: it showed a dimpled pink Cupid shooting an arrow at a shiny red heart. The inscription would’ve been “You’re the best.” She put her hand over her heart and smiled. She could feel it thumping and winging toward Tommy.

Tommy was shorter than Andrea but was the best student in algebra. He was shy like her. His older sister was studying to be a nurse and was nice.

She turned off the news about the Watergate Hotel break-in, which was endlessly boring. She put down the Grimm Brothers’ book. Her parents liked that she was a reader and did not mock her for choosing fairy tales. She fantasized that she would marry Prince Charming or become an ambassador to some exotic country–Egypt perhaps or Malaysia or Moscow. Wait, that was a city.

She heard the mailman’s step on the porch. She ran to the mailbox and lifted the lid: a telephone bill, an A & P advertisement. Hershey’s chocolate was on sale. She would ask Mom to buy some. She could share it with Tommy. He would be so grateful he would ask her to tutor him in spelling and geography. He would read and admire her essays; he would be her close friend for life.

There was snow on the ground and the air felt wet. “A damp chill,” her mother would say. Across the street was Caroline’s house. They had lace curtains. She probably got a Valentine from Danny. He was considered a dreamboat by all the seventh-grade girls. He was in the eighth grade, and Andrea once imagined he liked her when he gave her a kiss on the cheek on her birthday. But that was politeness, she realized. He was practicing to be grownup and she admired that. He didn’t run around wildly except in regular schoolyard games; he didn’t cry like a baby; he chose Caroline, the best girl in the seventh grade.

Andrea knew the difference between reality and imagination. She did not see a Valentine from Tommy. She had not mailed him one either. Perhaps he would give her one in class on Monday. Or perhaps someone stole it out of the mailbox, purloined it and intended to steal Tommy’s affection.

She imagined she had a sword and would save a kidnapped Tommy. He was taken by a wicked magician and whisked away to the Forest Perilous, where it was always midnight and there was a stench of sulphur, where the bones clattered and the owls shrieked and the trees had blood-dabbled leaves.

She was beginning to scare herself and needed to stop.

She became a highwayman robbing the mails in the bright sun. A plumed hat appeared on her head and a vermilion frockcoat on her shoulders. She would go up and down Third Street, looking in mailboxes for her misdirected or stolen mail. She needed to steal it back.

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Prime Decimals, Underground Voices, Wacccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 list of flash fiction of 2011. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.

© 2012 Cezarija Abartis