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SunLit

In “Wesley Yorstead Goes Outside,” the sheltered protagonist finds his existence disrupted

Author Stephanie Harper introduces the title character and the apartment that is his world. And then an unexpected visitor arrives.

It’s mid-morning on a Sunday in mid-September and the persistent knock at the door can only mean one thing. Angel’s arrived with my groceries. Angel works for Lafferty’s Neighborhood Market, a small place run by a boisterous man of Irish descent. The store has existed for four generations, since the original proprietors came over from the Emerald Isle. The original is in Manhattan. The current Mr. Lafferty’s parents brought a satellite store to Denver, or so it says on the website. I’ve never met the man in person, but the sturdiness of his voice suggests he hasn’t missed too many pints of Guinness over the years. What’s important is that he’s willing to send a delivery every week, and he doesn’t ask a lot of questions. This makes his service indispensable. 

CBA finalist for General Fiction

Angel’s the stereotypical grocery boy. He makes his deliveries in uniform black slacks and white button down. He’s got slicked back hair and a gold chain around his neck. If I were to sketch him, he’d sport oversized jeans that hung so low he’d have to waddle. Maybe that’s unfair. He’s been delivering my groceries for a while now, and he seems like a decent kid—always polite.  He’s quiet and unassuming and he gets in and out as fast as he can, which I appreciate because it means I don’t have to struggle to converse with him. He comes in and puts my brown paper sacks on the stainless steel counter in the kitchen, then stands silent, looking at his feet. A month into our arrangement, he asked if there was anything he could do to help me. I sent him down to the mailbox to get my mail. Now, that’s part of an unspoken agreement. I hand him my key and start to organize my groceries while he runs downstairs. I feel bad, making him run up and down, but he doesn’t seem to mind and it’s a federal offense to make a copy of a mail key. Not that I’d give him one anyway.  He comes back and after I reopen the door he hands me my mail, always with the key on top. Then, he waits for me to produce the magic checkbook and send him away with a little piece of paper, my signature scrawled across the bottom. 

Stephanie Harper is the author of ”Wesley Yorstead Goes Outside” (Propertius Press, 2020), as well as a poetry collection entitled ”Sermon Series” (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. She’s written personal essays and articles for many publications online and in print. She currently lives in Littleton.

“How much?” I’ll ask after I’ve checked that all my groceries are here. He recites the amount he’s been given with an unobtrusive certainty and tosses me a sheepish grin. I return a small smile before ripping the check out and handing it to him. Then I’ll open the locked box where I keep cash and slide a generous tip across the countertop. He’ll take the money and disappear as inconspicuously as he entered, and I’ll relock the doorknob, deadbolt, and chain behind him. 

The buzzer rings again. This is unlike Angel, who might stand and wait all day if I chose not to answer. I don’t bolt out of my chair.  I’m in the middle of inking a preliminary sketch for my To Kill a Mockingbird project. It’s jarring, being pulled away from my work like this. It reminds me where I really am. I place the cap back on my pen and blow across the fresh lines enough to ensure they don’t go anywhere while I’m gone. 

 I take a few long strides across my front room, stretching as I go.

“I’m coming,” I call out, though it’s not entirely necessary. Where else would I be?  

 Before I answer, I pause to straighten my polo, check to make sure the collar is still turned down. I run my fingers through my light blond hair. It’s easier for me to just trim the edges with a pair of scissors than to try and buzz it. Right now, it’s a little long, and it falls in my eyes more often than I’d like. I smooth my gray slacks, careful not to mark them with any residual ink on my hands. I’ve always dressed professionally, even here in the apartment, when I’m the only one to see. It’s one thing I can do for myself.

Angel pounds on the door. This is unfamiliar protocol, certainly not part of our well-oiled routine.  I unlock the knob and remove the chain. Why is Angel behaving so aggressively? Perhaps he’s running late with his deliveries. Maybe something’s happened to make him upset or angry. I consider what I might say to him, how I might address his behavior, and I begin to feel that familiar pulling of taffy in my stomach at the implications of such a confrontation. 

I have to be careful when I open the door. I have a peephole but someone, kids probably, covered it with black spray paint and I can’t see through it. It was a surprising act of vandalism in my small building and mine was the only one. Despite daily messages to the superintendent, it hasn’t been fixed. I think he neglects me on purpose. Perhaps he resents my persistence. I crack the door, expecting to see Angel with my sacks of groceries dangling from each hand like bunches of bananas. 

 A pale figure stands in the spot where Angel should be. A woman. She has natural red hair, curled to frame her round face, and she wears a yellow knit dress, ruffled in the front and hugged tight against her narrow hips. She’s several inches shorter than my six-foot-one. She is not a grocery boy. My bags sit on the floor at her sandaled feet, her toes accented with black nail polish. This thin paper is all that separates the food I plan to ingest from the forest green carpet of the outside hallway, which is vacuumed perhaps twice a month. This means at any given time, upwards of two weeks’ worth of my neighbors’ filth has polluted the ground with dirt and bacteria. Not to mention that I know for a fact that there have been a couple of degenerates running around, filthy, with their can of spray paint. It’ll take at least three harsh scrubbings to ensure the fruits and vegetables alone are safe to eat. I can’t afford to get sick, given my situation. House calls are expensive. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

“Finally.” She bends over to retrieve the bags and pushes her way into my home. Her hair brushes my arm as she passes, so close I can smell the residual aroma of herbal shampoo. “Any longer and I was going to leave these in the hall.” She places the bags on the counter in the kitchen and props herself against the edge. Her thin wrists contrast with her long, lean arms. They’re delicate, contoured like flowing strokes on a canvas. 

 “Where’s Angel?” I’m careful to stay on the other side of the island. She must be from Lafferty’s. She carries bags with the name printed across in looping cursive, but my palms begin to sweat as I watch her, revolting against her uninvited presence. 

“He speaks.” She smiles but I don’t look at her face for long. I settle on the length of her figure, the way her torso is the longest portion of her body, almost too long, because her legs are a little short. But she would be striking in a sketch. Not that I would do that. I’ve always preferred the freedom of creating figures in my head over the unpredictable intimacy of live models. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Who are you?” I ask her. Mr. Lafferty hasn’t notified me of any changes in our agreement. Now I have a stranger in my kitchen. She’s intrusive and her dress is ridiculous. Angel is trustworthy, dependable, and monochromatically clad.  This girl could be a thief, or some other imposter.  Sure, she’s arrived with the same bags my groceries come in each week, but that doesn’t mean anything. The way her wrist bends as she pushes a stray strand of hair out of her eyes is deceptive in its tenuousness. My chest tightens. The safety of my apartment has been compromised. I squeeze my damp palms into fists. 

“My name’s Happy.” She touches her long fingers to the center of her chest as she says this. I could keel over at the irony that this young woman, wearing an absurd manifestation of highlighter yellow, has a name like that.

Published by Propertius Press, 2020.


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