31. Early Spring

IT WAS THE END of winter, and it was strangely warm, one of those February hot spells that get you to thinking things aren't right with the world. I was just finishing making deliveries in the suburbs along the Interstate. There was one last parcel to deliver, to an address in a gated community, one of those developments where every house is whitewashed and has a double garage. I rang the doorbell twice, with no reply. It was twilight already - across the street a streetlight was lighting up a tree in full white bloom in such a way that the tree appeared to be consumed by a white fire. Under the tree were two ducks picking at the wet grass. I remember wondering if ducks ever lose their way. I was stepping back into the truck when the front door opened slowly, revealing a small girl, maybe four or five years old, wearing a ballerina's tutu, half hiding shyly behind the door. I asked her if her parents were home, but she said nothing. I asked her again, and she said no. Then a man appeared behind her out of nowhere, a man in his fifties with a bowling ball belly wearing a bathrobe. He took the parcel, and while he was signing the paperwork, I looked past him him and all I could see along the corridor was paper, waist-high piles of paper all along the corridor, paper as far as the eye could see. That's all there was to it, but for some reason I couldn't explain it left me with a bad feeling, like maybe something was about to happen to that little girl, or something had already happened, not necessarily any one single big thing maybe but a whole bunch of little things, that maybe it was already too late for that little girl, maybe her fate was already sealed, maybe I was the last one who would ever see that little girl alive, other than the man with the big belly in the bathrobe. That's the kind of feeling it was. I even thought about ringing the police, but what would I say to them? I told myself I probably just imagined the whole thing. Maybe I was tired or something - I get premonitions when I'm tired, and I'm certain I'm right, and then it turns out I was wrong all along. So I told myself that it was really none of my business. I got back in the truck and for a minute I just sat there, trying to snap myself out of it, looking at those ducks under that tree, fooled by the early spring, wishing I could believe in something for once in my goddam life.