Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line

Next.

While waiting in line at the post office is nobody’s idea of a good time, it’s particularly demoralizing on tax day. I wasn’t there to mail my annual love letter to Uncle Sam. After the year I blew it off and ended up spending half my patrolman’s discretionary income on penalties and fines, I enacted a hard and fast rule—one of very few in my life—in which I finish the damn paperwork by April first, or stay up all night trying.

No, it was a present that had me cooling my heels in the longest line I’ve seen since Donut Emporium was giving out free holes. Not just any present, but an anniversary present for Jacob’s parents. It’s a strange thing, this desire to please my boyfriend’s family. If it were anyone but Jerry and Shirley, I’d email them a gift card and call it a day.

As happens with most disasters, everything had fallen into place just so. There we were, Jacob and I, poised for a hearty Wisconsin dinner with the Crown Vic gassed up and something called an Instant Pot in the backseat, when duty called—his, not mine—and before I knew it, I was alone. With a box that weighed nearly as much as the cinderblock in the alley that I keep tripping over whenever I take out the trash.

The longer I spent in this dismal public building, the more I regretted taking initiative. Every five minutes or so, I quelled the urge to admit defeat, peel out of line, and troop back out to the car, cinderblock in hand. But it’s not as if there was anything to do back at the cannery, with Jacob out saving the world. And so I shifted the heavy package to my other hip, and I waited.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the woman behind me didn’t keep sighing. I could practically set my watch by it. Four, three, two…and there it was again. Her lung-exhaust settling all over the back of my coat. And the guy in front of me might’ve been entertaining—he had some kind of app on his smartphone that involved matching colored thingamajigs and watching them explode—but every time I thought I got the knack of it, he shifted his hand, and I’d miss the final swipe that brought all the thingamajigs crashing down. It was probably just as well. I’d barely restrained myself from pitching my phone out the window the last time the Sudoku app razzed me for putting too many eights in the same square.

Next.

Finally. I rounded the table piled high with stacks of bureaucratic specialty forms and a bunch of chains that used to have pens on the end. I’d expected to meet this milepost maybe half an hour ago. In fact, I could’ve driven to Wisconsin by now. And, once again, I warred with the urge to break free and go home. But when I saw the length of the line snaking away behind me, I knew I was too stubborn, and I’d come too far, to give up now.

Unfortunately, it was then that one of my fellow queue shufflers finally started to crack.

“You really shouldn’t wait until the last minute to file.”

Clearly. If someone hadn’t figured this out by now, there wouldn’t be so much sighing going around.

“It’s always a good idea to leave at least two weeks of wiggle-room in case you come up against a snag.”

Had Captain Obvious been dispensing advice all this time, and I was too distracted by the colorful thingamajigs to notice? Or had he just now developed the sudden urge to pontificate after an hour and a half of waiting for his turn at the window?

“If you’re in a bind, ask for form 4648. It’ll give you six more months.”

I tried to ignore him. Truly, I did. But the longer he berated everyone for their last-minute filing, the more tempting it was to bail.

Next.

But the end was in sight. I was the second-last person in line. And, by golly, I hadn’t stood there for two freaking hours to go home just because I was irritated. Then the next guy stepped up. And then the one in front of me with his alluring explody-thing game, and finally it was me. I was next. And, holy crap, it was 5 o’clock and what if they closed, and I’d spent my whole afternoon there for nothing, holding an Instant Pot that now weighed at least three hundred pounds?

“Of course, when October rolls around, you’d actually have to do your taxes, not procrastinate—”

It takes a lot to make me snap, but his know-it-all tone twanged my very last nerve. “For cripes sake, do I look like I’m mailing out my tax return?”

I swung around to deliver that line with the most withering look I could muster, and sent the sighing woman staggering back a step, right into an old guy who’d been dozing on his feet.

The source of all the unsolicited advice?

Nowhere.

And then I realized I was standing in a cold spot. Now everyone behind me was considering bailing on the line, too. Not because they felt the cold spot, but to get away from the tall, gawky guy who’d finally gone postal.

Next.

The clerk at the window was giving me the side-eye. I did my best to ignore it and act like I hadn’t just snapped at thin air. After all, I probably wasn’t the crabbiest customer they’d seen that day.

Once the Instant Pot was winging its way up north, I ducked into the vestibule and relayed the ghost situation to my boss. Hard to say if it was a repeater or a sentient spirit, but it didn’t seem prudent to just leave it there where it could sneak under an unsuspecting medium’s skin. Even if the worst thing it did once it got there was balance their checkbook.

A few minutes later, Laura Kim messaged back.

Meet Carl there at 8pm for after-hours cleanup.

Better safe than sorry, I supposed. And with Jacob occupied by his own urgent business, it wasn’t as if I had anything better to do.

Only one question remained.

Go grab dinner…or get back in line?

 

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Crossing the Line © 2018 by Jordan Castillo Price. 
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