Grandma Ruth’s U.P. Truck Stop
Rachel’s last semester at the University of Michigan would have been easy if not for the news that reached her six weeks before her final exams.
It wasn’t a phone call — the phone lines were still down from the most recent blizzard to hit Paradise, she guessed. Instead, a rumpled-looking envelope appeared in her mailbox, the ink of her address slightly smeared. She didn’t recognize the return address at first, but anybody mailing her a letter from Paradise must be someone she knew. Paradise was a small town.
Overwhelming curiosity forced her to open the envelope before she could even reach her front porch; in her haste, the sharp edge of the paper sliced into her fingertip, staining the letter with droplets of blood.
“Shit,” she said, sticking her finger in her mouth and sucking. She managed to pull the letter from the envelope with her uninjured hand and flipped it open with a flick of her wrist.
I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but your Uncle Stuart has passed. I know it’s been awhile since you’ve been home, and this will probably be painful for you. Stu’s service will be on Friday at 10am at Our Lady of Victory. I really hope we’ll see you there.
Please let me know if you need anything, hon. You know we’re all here for you.
Finishing with the letter, Rachel became acutely aware of the rancid copper taste in her mouth left by the blood. She pulled her finger from her lips and wiped it on her jeans, leaving a small streak of scarlet.
Uncle Stu is dead.
The realization sent electrical jolts into her eyeballs, which began vibrating in her sockets as the tears rolled out. She hadn’t seen Uncle Stu since her parents’ funeral four years before. Her mother’s brother had been an enormous source of comfort as she grappled with the most severe tragedy of her short life. Stu had acted as gatekeeper in the living room, accepting gifts of casseroles and condolences from neighbors as Rachel worked through her grief in her second-floor bedroom, twisting her sheets into knots and screaming into her pillow. He’d forced her to eat even when…