“The Envelope,” a short story

Posted by on Apr 18, 2012 in Fiction, Writing | 0 comments

I was tired of staying late at work—three days in a row, the last to leave. Shutting down my computer, I grabbed an environmental law book, and walked to the parking lot. What looked like a ticket was stuck on my windshield. I pulled it out from under the wiper blade; it was an envelope with my name typed on it: Aaron Strickland. Inside was a one-page summary of a psychiatric diagnosis from Dr. Dirk Bueller.

This had to be a mistake—or a joke. I wondered who would pull such a prank. The form looked authentic. North Country Mental Health Services was printed in professional script at the top. In the middle of the page was my diagnosis: Dissociative Identity Disorder. The form was signed at the bottom: Dirk Bueller, M.D. I drove home in shock.

After a sleepless night, I stumbled into work. I closed my office door and did a little research. Dirk Bueller was indeed a psychiatrist practicing locally. I considered making an appointment to see if he played a role in the psychiatric hit-and-run prank, but rejected the idea. How could a legitimate doctor put a diagnosis on the windshield of someone’s car? I looked up Dissociative Identity Disorder and learned it was the same as Multiple Personality Disorder. Its key feature, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, “was the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states . . . that recurrently take control of behavior.”

I looked in the mirror in the bathroom and saw a tired, thirty-three-year-old face—a little haggard, but not crazy looking. The late hours and pockmarked sleep were catching up with me, but it was the same old me.

When I arrived home, the phone was ringing. I didn’t feel like answering, but picked it up anyway.


“Hello Aaron, this is your brother, Mark,” said the slow, drawling voice of my older brother. A mistake answering the phone.

“Yes, what do you want, Mark?”

“How’s your mother?”

“Do you mean, ‘our mother?’”

“Your mother didn’t seem well the last time she visited here,” he said.

“Well, who would feel well visiting Bakersfield?” The town’s gateway sign reads: Sun Fun Stay Play – a suspicious invitation.

“Your mother complained about you.”

“What did our mother say?” I asked.

“That you don’t like how she folds napkins.”

“I never said that. And who cares anyway?” A momentary silence.

“Any more acts of self-love in public places these days?” he asked.

“Why did you call?” I asked again.

“Only one of us is living a righteous life, you know.”

I hung up. Fuck him. First the psychiatric diagnosis, then my sermonizing brother. Could things get weirder?

The next day, I ran some errands. I went to Olsen’s Grain and bought some dog food and cracked corn for the ducks. Thinking of the waddling ducks at the pond—Almond, AFLAC, Pony, Mange, among them—made me forget about my brother and the prank, but when I came out of the store and looked up, my heart raced. I saw a white envelope on my windshield. Please be an advertisement. But my name was typed on the envelope as before and the same goddamn diagnosis appeared inside. This time there was a sticky note on the form. It read: “You are very sick. You need to get treatment as soon as possible.” A faint acetone odor entered my nostrils.

* * *

“Good morning, Aaron,” said Dr. Bueller, smiling politely. He had the air of a successful professional, neither old nor young.

“Good morning, Doctor.”

“What can I do for you?”

“Well,” I began tentatively, “someone put a psychiatric diagnosis on my car windshield.” I swallowed. “It happened twice, actually.” I handed him the diagnosis.

Dr. Bueller looked puzzled. “What’s my name doing on this? I didn’t produce this form.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said.

“Have we even met before?”

“No.” I considered asking if he thought I could use psychiatric help, but how would he know?

“I don’t know what to say,” the doctor said. “You seem fine, but there would be no harm in conducting an examination.” He smiled.

I said an examination would not be necessary, and left his office more anxious than ever. How did his signature get on a diagnostic form with my name on it? Someone went to a lot of trouble for a stupid prank. Was I being watched? I decided to limit my trips away from home and keep a vigilant eye on my car. I wanted to catch the prankster.

When I woke up the next day, the world seemed different, not quite right, but nothing remarkable happened. No medical diagnoses came my way. I spent an awkward amount of time hanging around the coffee machine at work, looking out at the parking lot. I parked right in front of the large window in the office kitchen where it was easy to keep an eye on my car, but hard to stay focused on work.

That night I dreamed I was lost on the ocean, floating alone on a tiny lifeboat. Searching the horizon for a long time, I suddenly spotted a black dot in the distance. The dot grew larger, taking shape as a black mamba snake, but larger than anything found in the jungle. As the beast rifled toward me, its head rose six feet out of the water. I tried to paddle away, but it was too fast. The snake lunged forward over the boat, its fangs shining like diamonds, and struck—not me, but someone next to me. Wasn’t I alone? I turned to see who it was and saw myself with my mouth wide open as if silently screaming. I awoke, breathing hard and sweating.

* * *

“I’d be okay if I never saw you again.” Kind of a harsh thing to say to one’s mother, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing between Mom and me. The above words were triggered when mom refused to hug me goodbye. I let it rip. But there have been good times as well, often taking place around bodies of water. The play of sunlight upon the water, the dance of grass in the breeze, the sweet, algal smell—my mom and I have found peace in such places.

“Almond!” my mom shrieked. I looked where she was pointing and saw an Indian Runner duck paddling fast toward us. We had not seen Almond in months and were worried about her. Because Indian Runners cannot fly, they are especially vulnerable to predators. But here she was, on shore now and running fast toward us.

“Don’t bite my finger!” Mom said to an excited Almond eating from her hand. Other ducks soon adopted Almond’s boldness and began eating from piles of cracked corn we poured on the grass.

“I could do this everyday of the year and never tire of it,” my mom said.

“Me, too,” I said. “Remember the two kites in A Christmas Memory?”  It would be hard to forget Truman Capote’s story where “a lost pair of kites” symbolized two hearts forever linked. My mom looked out over the water, smiling. The ducks were full and sauntered away. Our tensions followed them onto the sun-drenched water like ducklings following their mother, leaving us cleansed and peaceful.

The next few days went by uneventfully. No envelopes, doctors, or black mamba snakes. But dark flood waters eventually returned. Getting out of my car one morning at work, I had a queasy feeling something wasn’t right. Was I being shadowed? From the parking lot, I looked into the big kitchen window. For a moment, I thought I saw someone standing by the coffee machine, but realized it was just a reflection of me from the outside. I grabbed the environmental book, closed the car door, and looked again at the window. I saw reflected there a man removing an envelope from my windshield. Or was he leaving an envelope? I squinted. My eyes remained fixed on the window. Someone was watching me, but I could not tell if I was placing or removing an envelope.

~ by Nikolai Lash

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