Ralph left the baggage claim and went outside to hail a cab. He asked to be taken to the nearest drug store.
“Which one?” said the cabbie.
“Doesn’t matter. Whichever is the closest,” said Ralph.
When they pulled up he asked the cabbie to wait. “I’ll only be a moment.”
Not three minutes later he came out carrying a small paper bag he had brought himself. It was rare to find a drug store that still stocked the small paper bags, and he preferred them to plastic bags. It was all plastic now, and plastic wanted to go in every direction at once.
Ralph walked toward a public mail box at the far corner of the parking lot. As he walked he removed a small, padded, yellow envelope and placed the brown bag inside it. The envelope was pre-addressed and the brown bag had “#100″ written on it, both in a woman’s hand. He drew a small heart on the back of the envelope, dropped it in the mailbox, and walked back to the cab.
The cabbie whipped back around in his seat and pretended to fiddle with the radio. Ralph saw this.
“Please take me to the Marriott on 7th,” said Ralph as he was buckling his seatbelt.
A few days later Ralph’s wife, Maxine, checked the mail to find the package. She walked in the house and put the rest of the mail away, then headed to a China cabinet in the living room. Ralph had built it himself from a kit. Preferring the natural wood, he didn’t stain them. She passed her hand over the heart on the back of the envelope and smiled, then turned it over to see “#100″ above the address where the name of the recipient usually goes. She had been expecting this one.
Ralph had left town with the last three pairs of envelopes and paper bags she’d numbered for him. He was going to be gone for two weeks, touring plants across the country so she wanted to send him off well stocked.
She opened the envelope, carefully unfolded the paper bag and turned it upside down over her hand. A shiny new pair of fingernail clippers fell into her palm. She placed it in the last remaining balsa wood stand in the exact center of the top shelf and removed the small strip of paper sitting in the lower lip of the stand. On it she wrote “Surprise, AZ,” then returned it to the stand and closed the door. She reached around to the back of the cabinet and rolled the little wheel on the cord to turn on the lights Ralph had installed. One hundred pairs of unused fingernail clippers sparkled in the soft light.
Maxine stepped back, took a photo, and texted it to Ralph. He replied a few seconds later. “Pack it up. I love you.”
She spent the next few hours wrapping each pair of clippers and each balsa wood stand in newspaper, returning them to their place on the shelf, and filling the rest of the China cabinet with newspaper. It was cheaper than the packing paper from the hardware store and the stands on the street corners were brimming with the stuff.
When she had filled the last shelf of the cabinet, taped the door shut, and bubble-wrapped it, she wheeled it out to the garage and put it in the bed of her small, import pickup truck. As she drove across town with her elbow hanging out the window she thought about all the different cities she’d written on the little cards. Rockford, IL, Cincinnati, OH, Big Spring, TX – Ralph said it smelled terrible there because of the refinery. Maxine had never been out of their home town, a reality with which she was at peace. She enjoyed imagining the long journeys the fingernail clippers took, and one time even tried to write a little poem about a pair of them but never finished it, telling herself, “The world only needs one pining Emily Dickinson.”
She pulled up to Bob’s U-Store, entered her code and snaked back through the rows until she arrived at #37, a 10×10 storage unit. She removed the padlock and raised the door. Using the dolly they kept in the unit, she removed the China cabinet from the truck, wheeled it a few feet into the unit and situated it with the others. Each unit could hold 12 China cabinets, and this one had room for two more. She and Ralph had the keys to eight units, #29-37.
Ralph sat in his hotel room in Arizona eating mediocre room service and admiring the photo Maxine sent him of the cabinet full of clippers. He opened his laptop and ordered another China cabinet kit with next-day shipping. He was planning to take a week’s vacation when he returned from this trip, and he looked forward to spending it building another cabinet and scrapbooking drug store receipts with Maxine.