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Project Muffintop: the First 1000 Words


Saturday, Nov. 24

“That blasted idiot!” Daddy’s rage reverberated up the steep wooden stairs and along the uncarpeted hallway to my room, startling me into swiping my chin with lipstick.

During my first sixteen years of life, I’d never heard my quiet, gentle father yell but three or four times. And never as harshly as he’d just done. Not only did his tone scorch the air so severely it nearly blistered my ears, I almost panicked at what his anger might do to his blood pressure—and what his blood pressure might do to him.

I glanced at my cell phone. No time to worry about the mark on my chin now. I grabbed my backpack, threw the phone, lipstick, and a packet of tissue inside, and crept down the steps as quietly as I could, tiptoeing to the living room doorway.

Would it be safe to go inside?

Daddy was looking through the front door. I couldn’t see his face, but sweat was dribbling down his bald spot and drenching his shirt collar.

Although I could reach the back door unseen, my helmet was hanging on the living room coatrack, and I dared not leave without it. Why couldn’t Mom and Daddy have given me a car instead of a motor scooter!

I’d have to stay put, peek in occasionally, and break for the door when things calmed down more. I wanted to text Jason that I’d be late and have him pray for Daddy, but rummaging through the backpack for my phone would probably draw unwanted attention.

Daddy stepped back from the door before slamming it so hard the knickknacks in a nearby shadow box rattled and bounced dangerously close to the edge. Just as they’d done during the small earthquake that shook central Virginia several months earlier.

He growled. “That stupid...”

Although I peeked through the doorway just as he turned to face Mom, he didn’t see me. I muffled a gasp. I’d never seen his face looking so dangerously red.

He narrowed his gray eyes and shook his head several times. Then he extended his right hand, the fistful of envelopes and magazines threatening to fall to the floor. “That idiot mailman.”

I took Mom’s squint to mean, That’s all that’s bothering you? She and I seemed to be on the same page. How could our mailman have upset the neighborhood’s most placid man this much? Surely Daddy wasn’t blaming the quantity or type of mail on the carrier. He had too much sense to do that.

Mom wrinkled her forehead. I could tell she was prompting him for an explanation, but he didn’t take the hint. After several lengthy and very silent seconds, she must’ve given up. “The mailman? What did he do?”

Rather than respond, he began pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. Like a caged animal.

“Did he bring something worse than bills today, Tip?” He still didn’t answer. “Did they forward the junk mail from Williamsburg again?” No telling how often the post office had done that since we moved back to Richmond six months ago. “He’s not responsible for that, you know.”

Daddy stopped pacing and snarled. “I wish it was just that. It’s the mailman himself. His attitude. Bad. Disrespectful.”

Our mailman? Couldn’t be. He attended our church—chairman of the deacons, I think—and his daughter was in my youth group. They were both super-nice.

Daddy resumed his pacing. After several near-misses, Mom snagged him by the shirttail and pulled him awkwardly to the sofa. She sat down beside him and looked into his eyes. “Okay, sweetie. Tell me exactly what the mailman did to upset you this much.”

“Not what he did, Val. What he said. What he called me.” He stopped as if those twelve words explained everything.

Mom looked as confused as I felt. “He’s a Federal employee. Surely he didn’t call you anything improper…”

Daddy cleared his throat. “He said (and I quote), ‘Have a pleasant afternoon, Mr. Muffintop.’”

Mom smirked once, and then the eruption of giggles zoomed from slightly tickled to over-the-top raucous in seven seconds flat.

I tried to keep from laughing, but I couldn’t. Too loudly to remain unnoticed, it seems. I didn’t have to see my face to know how red it was, and my inability to stop laughing didn’t help.

No matter how late I’d be for youth group, I couldn’t leave. Not after Mom motioned for me to come in and join them.

I slipped across the room and plopped down on the ancient, undersized rocking chair that faced the sofa—the chair my little brother, Chipper, usually sat in. I swallowed hard—several times—to force the laughter back. “I could hear you all the way upstairs, Daddy. I was worried.”

Don’t let my laughter mislead you. I’m still worried.

He looked away. He was proud of being a peaceful man, and he cared deeply what his family thought of him. Other people, too.

Mom put her hand over her mouth as if trying to hide one final snicker. Then she touched his arm. “Tip, look at me again, please. I’m sorry. So is Cassie.” She gave me a you’d-better-look-convincing wink.

I nodded. This whole thing was no longer laughable.

When Mom pointed at the stack of mail in his hand, he reluctantly placed it in hers. She barely glanced at the top piece before snorting. “Did you notice this, dear? The way it’s addressed?”

He practically tore the envelope from her hand. Although she frowned at his brusqueness—Daddy was normally a perfect gentleman—he didn’t appear to notice. He was too busy scanning the envelope. After doing that several times, he shook his head. Slowly. In confusion. If someone had made an addressing error, he didn’t see it. Or couldn’t see it.

Unable to read the envelope at that distance, I leaned forward. “What’s it say, Daddy?”

Mom smiled. Gently. Almost shyly. “Go ahead, Tip. Tell her.”

He looked at the envelope again and narrowed his eyes. “It’s addressed correctly. To 1044 Appletree Lane, Glen Allen, Virginia.”

Mom pursed her lips. Whether she was losing patience by now or not, I couldn’t tell. But I sure was.

He shrugged. “The zip code is right, too. 23060.” He gave her a so-what’s-the-deal-with-this-envelope look.

She put her hand to her mouth again. Several seconds later, she plopped it in her lap. “No, dear. Not the address. The name. Did you notice the name?”

He narrowed his eyes and looked at it. “It’s addressed to ‘Mr. Mullin—comma—Tip OR Mr. Resident—comma—Current.’”