At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, as the envelope clanked through the mail slot. Then I realized that it was only 8:30 in the morning, and I’d never seen the mail come before noon, no matter what the circumstances.
I picked it up and turned it over. There was nothing really remarkable about it; a standard envelope, probably 5″ x 7″ and manila. My name and address were on the front in neat block writing.
There was one odd thing, besides the time. The upper left corner of the envelope was blank. There was no return address and, I realized, no stamp or postmark.
I yanked the front door open and ran out onto the porch, heedless of the cold rain and wind. Down the front steps I went, wincing a little at the feel of cold, wet quarry stone on my bare feet. There was no one in either direction as far as I could see, and I hadn’t heard a car start up. I’m sure I would have noticed, this being a fairly quiet Friday morning.
After I closed the front door, I shook the rain off on the rug and went to sit at my computer. I studied the envelope for a few more minutes and then decided if I was really curious, I should probably just open it. I flipped it over and saw some very tiny handwriting on the flap.
I’m only 50, but my eyes still aren’t what they once were for close-up reading, especially fine print. There was a magnifying glass in the desk drawer, and as I fished it out, I gave some thought to the idea that this was a some kind of silly practical joke. Thing was, I had lived in the neighborhood for a long time and was familiar with my near neighbors, even including their handwriting. The notation on the front of the envelope looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Now, I know it was printed and not cursive, but even though people think that printing their letters is anonymous, that’s hardly ever true.
Adjusting the envelope and glass, I read “If you have any sense, you’ll find someone else to give this to and you won’t open it. But none of us have any sense, do we?” There was a minuscule drop partially obscuring the last word. I thought uneasily that it might even have been blood.
So someone got a paper cut? That’s hardly remarkable! I turned the envelope over in my hands a couple of times. There was no reason for me to open the thing. No one was promising me that the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol was about to show up on my doorstep if I did, and the way it was delivered pretty much assured me that it wasn’t a run of the mill letter.
Another five minutes decided me. I stood and went to toss the thing in the fire. Then I stopped. But what if it’s really something important?
My inner critic spoke up. And what if it’s not? What if it’s something bad and you start something you can’t stop?
I dismissed that immediately. For crying out loud! This isn’t the Twilight Zone and Rod Serling isn’t out the front porch smoking a cigarette! Just throw the damned thing away and have done with it! With a single determined flip of my wrist, I tossed it on top of the logs in the fireplace and went back to my computer.
Thirty seconds later I was back at the fireplace carefully retrieving the thing with the fire irons.
My critic was in full voice. You do realize you’re an idiot studying to be a moron? Or the other way around, whichever?
I silently acknowledged that I probably was. Yes, I had been warned. But they warned Pandora, too, and you know how that turned out. As I sat on the sofa in front of the hearth, I noted uneasily that the envelope hadn’t even been scorched, and that it had cooled rapidly. So now what?
The flap lifted easily — too easily? — and I shook out the only thing inside. It was a ticket, the kind you get when sometimes for raffles, the kind you used to get some places when you went to see a movie. On the front it said “WISH”. I turned it over to read, “One wish to a customer. No refunds. Wish must be verbal.”
See, it’s a joke.
“Shut up, already.”
And you’re talking to yourself. That’s another sign of mental instability.
Firmly, I stared for a moment at the ticket. But what if it was real? What could I ask for? I looked around the living room and acknowledged its shabbiness, the scant furniture. My life was simple, and I hadn’t begrudged it, had never thought that things were the most important, or put much focus on money. Now I was dazzled at the thought of enough to get the things that I’d pushed aside, the gadgets and equipment I had to ignore, new clothes, a new car.
But then I remembered the elderly man I’d seen begging for money downtown. The family of the little child who needed surgery whose story I had seen on the news last night. I could do so much good with this. Not for me, but to be able to give more than $10 — when I have it. I imagined a foundation where I could write checks and do good.
All the options swirled in my head, the acknowledged and unacknowledged, selfish and altruistic, possible and impossible. I remembered a story I’d read long ago about someone who wished for their son to come home — only their son had died, and what knocked on the door didn’t bear thinking of. Whatever choice I made, I had to be careful.
I must have sat for hours — the room was beginning to darken and I wasn’t any closer to making a decision than when I opened the envelope. Finally, I gave up. I LIKED my life the way it was. I didn’t want to be rich and while I wanted to help everyone I could, I knew I wasn’t up to running a foundation or doing good on that scale. Someone out there was and I wanted them to have this problem. Meanwhile, I had a deadline, my editor was on my case and I had wasted time I didn’t have on this thing. I knew what I wanted to do.
I got out a fresh envelope and dropped the ticket into it. I thought my anonymous benefactor’s advice had been good, so I copied it onto the flap, as they had, and sealed the envelope, slicing a fingertip. Lucky me. I grasped it in both hands and spoke aloud. “I don’t want this. I’m not together enough to do something worthwhile with it and I don’t want to do something selfish. So my wish is that I go back to this morning, forget this and the ticket goes to someone who can make the right decision.”
The envelope vanished.
Everything shook for a moment and I sat down, dizzy. The room lightened. Time to get to work.
There was a rattling noise and an envelope dropped through my mail slot. I glanced at my watch. Too early for the mail … I wonder what that is?