(This picture is not Hazel's, but close enough. I was too lazy to take the camera down there, and the locals would label me a commi spy. Hazel has a real roof and a better porch.)
I get my mail at Hazel’s.
I’d get it at the road like most other people, but the road is a half-mile away, Hazel’s is a mile, and a mailbox a half-mile from the house is only a target. I know. I was sixteen and bored once.
So I get my mail at Hazel’s.
So I get my mail at Hazel’s.
Hazel is old but beautifully so. Eighty-something old. It’s the only business in town. Hell, it is the town. No Hazel’s-no town.
I’m not from here, as all their looks will tell you, so I don’t know everything, but I know enough from pieces thrown in my direction to claim part ownership in the history.
Hazel sells things, lots of things. Or at least lots of things are for sale. Not sure about the selling part. Motor oil, cooking oil, cereal, bread, milk, candy and other assorted staples rest upon ancient tables and poorly crafted shelves.
I suppose if North Korea were to bomb my back yard next week, Hazel would do a booming business, but this week there is peace and I buy nothing because I never see anyone else buy anything. If I spied a Twinkie, I might buy it just to test the theory.
The store itself is just an old Southern house like all the others before fake brick and shitty thin tin were invented. You have to climb the wooden steps to the forever falling-off screen door that always makes the same sound. That sound will alert Hazel who is either reading the paper or lying down on the hard wooden bench. If it is winter, the little gas stove will be going and it feels good to put your ass to it and it's always easier to loiter as you rub your ass to a good fire. If it’s summer, the fan will be blowing a delightful swirl of dust around the room as if it’s chasing itself in hot boredom to a ghostly game of tag.
The trick, at least for me, is to not look at the goods but directly at Hazel as if I’m in a hurry and what could I need anyway. If it’s noon time, there will be a couple of forevers (as in forever lived here) sitting near the heater and they will turn to inspect the entrant and then silently formulate their gossip for when I leave. I smile, letting them know I know, then nod with a Jack Nicholson smile so they might fear me later.
Sometimes my guilt outsmarts my good sense and I buy something I don’t need for twice the price I’d pay if I did. But never one of the three loaves of bread that beg me as I walk by, as if they were from Rudolph’s island of misfit toys. What bread man delivers three loaves and where do the stale ones go?
I figure each purchase buys me another year of no purchase.
I don’t think Hazel really cares if she sells anything. I figure it’s all a front for the government money she gets for being a post office to the twelve people down Leatherwood Road. And it’s really not a post office anyway; it’s just a long wooden counter where she sorts through it all to find your stuff. Her record on mistakes is much better than the big boys.
Hazel and her husband never had children, and you’d have to ask her why as her husband blew his brains out in the store long before I came along. I know this because people are people and they still enjoy telling the story to anyone who might not know, as if it validates them as a Forever. As to why, the locals shrug and pretend to know the secret but I think their knowing is all bullshit.
But she opens every morning and closes every afternoon between one and whenever the hell she feels like it. She has her aches and pains but won’t bring it up unless you do.
She’s beautiful. She really is. She genuinely seems to like me and that’s strange behaviour in itself. And I like strange behaviour.
As for her story and why she keeps doing it day after day and what happens to the town when she dies or when the Postal big shots pull her plug-I don’t know. Maybe they’ll tear down the sign as it will no longer be a town. Maybe we’ll all suddenly have an appetite for stale bread. Maybe I’ll have to put that mailbox up for the local vandals to run over. But for now, I’ve gotta run and get my mail. She says four but she might mean two. I kinda like it that way.