Bert Crenshaw was the type of man one hardly noticed. He was as non-descript as they come. He had shaggy brown hair, but not shaggy enough to comment on. His eyes were a mud color, bland and dull. He had a job he didn’t mind in the IT department of Poles and Murphy; he got a small sense of satisfaction out of reading over his resolved issues list. He liked football, but didn’t play. He enjoyed the first days of spring just like everyone else. He read, but only the books you see everyone read. In short, Bert Crenshaw was a man who had never had anything spectacular happen to him. He was not the type of man to ask questions.
So when a strange package appeared on his doorstep one Saturday morning, he chose to ignore it at first. Every Saturday morning, he poured himself a large bowl of cereal and sat in his boxers watching cartoons until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Then he would masturbate, take out the garbage, still in his boxers, and pick up the rare mail that he received. On this particular Saturday, he opened his front door to find that he had received several items. He scooped up his mail; a menu from the Indian takeaway down the street, two bills, and an envelope from his mother, sure to contain an article that she had carefully clipped out about a place that he would never go. He barely noticed the box at first. It caught his eye as he stood back up, sitting large and lumpy to the left of his door. He studied it for a second. One corner was banged in, and there were stickers all over it, as if it had been forwarded many times.
He picked up the box and went back inside, closing the door gently behind him. He didn’t want to wake up Evelyn, his downstairs neighbor. She played in a band on Friday nights and stayed out very late. He rarely saw her. He only heard her moving around her apartment in the few hours when they were home at the same time. Sometimes he could hear her singing. She had a rich mellow voice, like warm summer sunshine or the feeling you get when you drink hot cocoa on a cold day. Of course, Bert would not have described it this way. He just thought she had a nice voice, when he could hear it.
The box was neither light nor heavy. It felt solid in his hands. He didn’t recognize any of the names on the stickers. Most of them just said “Forward To” and his name, scrawled in various sets of illegible handwriting. He went back into his apartment, tossed the letter from his mother in the trash and left the rest on the table. He placed the package on the table as well, next to the three empty coffee cups of varying shapes and sizes that were already sitting there, scummy rings of film building in their bases.
He sat back in front of the television and idly ran through the listings. There was a marathon of Law and Order on, so he switched to that. It wasn’t until he was three hours into the marathon that it occurred to him to wonder who might have sent the package. And not only who might have sent it, but why it had such a difficult time getting to him.
He had only lived in two places. 42 Sullivan Drive, the house where he was born and raised. He even lived at home through college to save money. Although, his mother would have kept him home longer if the commute to Poles and Murphy hadn’t been so far. And then there was his apartment now. A good solid apartment. One bedroom, a smallish living room and separate kitchen. No dining room, which was fine with Bert, as he didn’t “dine” per se. There were no dinner parties for Bert.
He had not even travelled. Moreover, he didn’t think he knew anyone who had. No one would who would have sent him a package along such a circuitous, convoluted route. Certainly no one would have sent him something if they didn’t’ know where he lived.
He heard Evelyn moving around downstairs. First the high-pitched sound of a kettle boiling, and then the ding of a microwave. He wondered what she ate. She was a tiny thing, built like a little hummingbird and constantly in motion when he saw her. Her lips were always painted a striking red, a color that stood out against her brown skin. It was hard to imagine that such a big voice came out of such a small, flighty looking girl.
At hour five of Law and Order, he finally got the itch to open the box. He stood up and shuffled over to the kitchen counter and pulled a knife out of the drawer. Carefully, he cut the thick tape off of the box. It was wrapped every which way, as if someone had used an entire roll of tape to go around the whole box. Finally, he managed to get the lid open. He flipped open the box, to find a green packing peanuts. As he leaned over the box, he was suddenly hit with the smell of vanilla, suntan lotion and the ocean on a summer’s day. The smell made him close his eyes. He remembered being a little boy on Rye Beach with his mother and father, begging his father to buy him an ice cream cone. Finally, his dad had given in, walking him over to the ice cream truck and letting him pick out whatever he wanted. He had chosen a plain vanilla cone with a stripe of chocolate on top. He remembered the first cool bite on that hot summer day. The smell in the box was that memory.
He shifted the packaging around, and the smell shifted to coffee grounds and chalk and sweat. He was suddenly hit with another memory. He was 19 and was asking Jane Conway from his Stats class out on for coffee, having finally worked through the bundle of nerves sitting in the pit of his stomach. The classroom was empty save for a janitor cleaning the board. Looking up at him shyly, she had said yes, but he was too tongue tied on the date for anything to happen, and he hadn’t had the courage to ask again.
These memories were painful for Bert, who was, as far as he believed, quite content with his unmemorable life. He almost stopped digging, but then realized he had to know.
His hand closed over what felt like the edge of a book, and he tugged, pulling out a dark blue leather bound scrapbooking album. For a second, he was disappointed. Who would bother to send him a scrapbook? And why?
He walked back over to the couch and sat down again, placing the album in his lap, still closed. He heard the double clinks that meant the hot water was turning on, and a few moments later, Evelyn’s voice rose up through the floorboards and filled his apartment. He looked down at the book. The words “your life” were embossed in tiny gold lowercase letters across the front. He opened it.
Only a few of the pages had pictures pasted into them, and there were no other embellishments. There was a picture of Bert on the beach with his mother and father, holding an ice cream cone. There was a picture of him riding his bike for the first time with his father proudly watching from the driveway. There was one of him from a camping trip two of his high school buddies had talked him into, when he had woken up too early and caught the sunrise. There he was asking Jane Conway out. And winning at trivia night for the first and only time. And then there was one of him hearing Evelyn sing. He could tell that’s what the picture was, because it was him alone in his apartment, only the look on his face was something he’d never seen in the mirror. It was his face transcendent; at peace.
There was no note with the book. Nothing else. Just six pictures of the only moments in his life when he had felt truly alive, like his existence on this planet had meaning. The six moments where he was happy.
He closed the book and brought it back over to the box. The box was ready, and a new name was suddenly inscribed on all of the labels that were stuck all over it. Without thinking, he jammed the book back into the box, and, grabbing a roll of tape, rewrapped it.
He brought the package back downstairs and left it for the postman. Then he went to knock on Evelyn’s door to ask her out for dinner.