Boiling Point

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Miranda stood in line, the fingers of her left hand wrapped around six envelopes that she tapped with growing impatience against her thigh.  She shifted her weight and checked her watch and stepped briskly forward to fill the gap as the line inched slowly forward.  Annoyance turned to irritation as the wait stretched on intolerably and she fanned the letters out and back again repeatedly.

The envelopes, made of a crisp white linen, were addressed with the distinctive flourish of a proper, old-fashioned fountain pen.   Inked in red, each seemed to bleed the location of its final destination with an air of significant import that had apparently drawn the attention of the young man standing behind her in line.  He raised an eyebrow at her and nodded his head toward the stack in her hand as if to say he’d noticed the faraway place to which they were headed and she glared at him as a warning to mind his business.  He readily took the hint — Miranda had the appearance of someone that should not be tested.

She was not always this transparent with her feelings, more often holding them just slightly below the surface of her calm demeanor.  But she had reached the tipping point only a week prior and until she completed the ritual, she had no remaining capacity for tolerance.

The woman now at the front of the line fumbled in her purse for exact change before finally admitting defeat and handing another dollar across the counter.  Miranda rolled her eyes and felt her blood pressure tick up another notch when she heard the woman ask for a receipt.  She drew in a long, deep breath and steeled herself as the line advanced.  Next up was an old man who shuffled his feet as he made his way up to the clerk, a small slip of pink paper gripped between his gnarled, arthritic fingers.  The clerk took the slip and disappeared into the back, returning moments later with a small package for the old man who thanked the clerk and shuffled toward the door.  The line snaked its way through the velvet ropes, slowly advancing toward the counter.

Miranda’s fingers found the soft of her wrist and she stroked the thin red line that crossed it, ticking off the steps of the ritual in her mind.   “Let it boil!” she remembered her grandmother telling her, the anger like fire in her veins.   “Simmer it long and slow over an open fire in the glow of a full moon, hung low on the horizon.”  She’d taught her the words, ancient sounds that twisted her tongue and called upon the power of the elders.  “Ink the names of your enemies with your blood, thick and full of fury and they’ll pay for what they’ve done.”  And pay they had.   Miranda’s grandmother taught her to contain her temper, to hold her feelings tightly under wraps, collecting the energy and distilling it down to its essence.  With control came power.

“Next.”

Miranda lurched forward as her foot slipped from her shoe, its heel crushed under the step of the young man behind her in line.  “So sorry!” he mumbled, bending down to retrieve the shoe which he held out awkwardly in her direction.  She glared at him again, her patience so thin now she was sure he could see her pulse through the pale skin at her temple.  “Sorry,” he repeated, realizing she was not about to take the shoe in her hand and he placed it back on the floor beside her.  She turned and slipped her foot into the shoe without speaking a word.

Katie Osgood had been her first, telling the other kids at school that she lived with her grandmother because her parents didn’t want her.   Grandma gathered the knife and the pot and built the fire.  She showed her how to place the blade against her wrist and drag it quickly at a shallow angle.  She helped her spell Katie’s name and decide her fate and ink it on the special paper.  And as she wrapped the bandage around Miranda’s wrist, she told her the most marvelous story about the faraway place that belonged to the address they’d so carefully inscribed upon the face of the envelope.

Only one remained ahead of Miranda and she was quick with her business.  “Next,” called the clerk.

“Excuse me,” the man standing behind her tapped her shoulder as he spoke the words.   “Would you mind if I went ahead of you?  I’ve only got the one,” he said, holding up a bright yellow envelope, probably a birthday card by the looks of it.  “…and I see you’ve got a handful there and well, my lunch hour is almost up.”

There was Jason Oliver, the boy who said he loved her then let Anna DeLaney blow him in the parking lot after the football game.  And Justine Baker, her college roommate who’d gone through Miranda’s belongings while she was in class and eaten all the cookies from the care package her Grandma had sent.

“Next,” the clerk called out again.

“Seriously, it would only take me a second, I swear.”  He looked at her, his eyes pleading his case as he edged ever so slightly ahead of her, anticipating politeness.

Truth be told, they’d grown more and more petty as the years went by and even Miranda had begun to notice.  Last week it began with the parking attendant.  The meter had only just expired and she was making her way back to her car when she spotted him.  He’d refused to make an exception and handed her a ticket which she calmly folded and placed inside her purse, making note of the name written across the bottom of the paper.  Next was Mrs. Dorffman from down the street who’d let her dog relieve himself on the sidewalk in front of Miranda’s house and neglected to clean up after him for the second time in as many days.

“Next in line, please.”

By the end of last week her patience had worn so thin she’d gone out of her way to discover the name of a friend of a friend who’d interrupted her conversation at a party the night before.

The man who had been behind her in line now inched toward the counter, looking back at her, his eyebrows raised high on his face, pleading his case with shoulders shrugged.  “Ok?”

With control comes power.

She looked at him and softened her stance.  “Sure,” she said, her voice now warm and gracious.  “Of course.”  She took in a deep, cleansing breath and stepped forward as he finished his business at the counter and headed out the door.

“Postage please,” Miranda said to the clerk.  As he fished the proper stamps from his drawer, Miranda leaned ever so slightly forward.  A tiny, satisfied smile curled at the edges of her mouth and crinkled the corners of her eyes.  There, on the cart behind the counter, sat the bright yellow envelope… and she could just make out the name printed in careful handwriting at the top, left corner.

 

©Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com

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7 thoughts on “Boiling Point

  1. I really loved the way you wrote this, the descriptions were so beautifully detailed 🙂 you have done a lot with these characters in such a condensed word count! I loved it, really well done 🙂

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  2. I liked your details about the people in line and felt impatient (in a good way) to learn what Miranda’s errand was about. You did a great job bleeding out details slowly to build suspense. Great ending!

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    1. Oh…slowly bleeding out details…I like the way that sounds! Thank you!! I love putting attention to the details of the surroundings…its why I write. And if I’m able to offer a tiny little twist as I leave…all the better!! So glad you enjoyed it! I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know.

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  3. What a deliciously wicked tale! I am so interested to understand what happens to those that slight her, and I’d be eager to read more about her in the future. 🙂

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    1. Thank you! That’s the fun part about a short little piece like this…I don’t have to have all those details worked out to bring it to life and share it with the world. I get to focus on the moment at hand, much more directly, and getting people interested enough to wonder and to let their imaginations take over becomes the goal. Makes me so happy to hear that spark ignited in you! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

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