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The Reaper

Waterfowl and Darko
Jane Mount, (left to right) Waterfowl, 2003; Darko, 2004. Courtesy of the artist.

Sergeant Daniel Burkhart’s letters fly over two oceans and two states in a plane. They fly in cargo and wait in trucks. When they finally make it they sit in the mailbox at the end of Beth’s driveway. Cars drive by.

On days Beth gets home before her mother they are safe. They are still white, still whole and unopened. Sometimes there is only one. On good days: two.

On days when her mother is not home she runs inside and hides the letters in the drawers that are built inside her platform bed. The bed matches the walls and the walls match the curtains. Everything is mauve except for the carpet which has a big white spot on it from nail polish remover she has spilled.

Her mother waits for her to get home. She sits on the couch the way she did when she found the diet pills.

“Beth,” she says. “You got three letters today.”

Her mother holds them out to her. They are not opened.

“I want to know what’s going on,” her mother says. “Is he writing to you dirty?”

Beth does not answer. She walks up the stairs and locks her bedroom door. She lies on her stained carpet and lines up her letters on the floor.

They do not reek of the heat that Daniel Burkhart has written in. All three smell of the cold fall air.

Beth has wine stains shaped like two islands: birthmarks on her face. One circles her eyeball. The other one is a red dot, spotted on her cheek like the make-up of a clown.

The birthmarks have lightened since she was born. They still turn purple in warm water.

When she is home alone she takes blue and gold and purple eye shadow and colors her birthmarks in. She looks for countries on maps that might be shaped like them. She searches spills, clouds, and leaves.

There had been talk of burning. Doctors had mentioned using a laser across her face. But then there was fear of hurting her eye.

She would rather see. Read the letter. Let the kids call her Creeper.

In her mother’s bathroom, she looks at herself on the side of her face that is clear. She puts another mirror on the other side of her face. Her profile goes on and on, clean and pretty. The other way shows a million girls all looking at the girl with the spots on her face next to her.

When the war started, her father put a clear sticker on his back window.

“I Support the Troops!” it said.

Her mother did not support them and drove another car.

When the letters come up on a frozen-dinner night her father supports her mother.

“So what’s this Mom’s been telling me?” he asks.

“I’m doing an assignment for school,” Beth says, looking down at the low-cal sauce drying up into what looks like a red scar on the chicken skin.

It is true. Beth is writing to a soldier so she can get extra credit for a Psych class she is trying to avoid failing in advance.

“What kind of assignment?” her father asks.

Her mother looks at her with hard eyes and pursed lips and a blond moustache that she bleaches every Friday.

“For Psychology. We get extra credit to write letters to a soldier,” she tells him.

“Tell him how many letters,” her mother says, looking at her father, then at her.

Beth tells her father that she has written a few, and that he has sent a few back.

“A few? Elliott, she gets 2-3 letters every day!”

Her father, with his hands on the table, with his close-cropped nails, with his gray hair, looks at his daughter.

“What is he saying to you, Elizabeth?” he asks.

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