A little something inspired by a dream.
Blackness blanketed memories. Hedy Bryant’s lungs filled with water, eyes closed, heart stopped. Thirty-eight years ended with one last fight for breath and the thud of a fist against unyielding glass. With a thought left incomplete, Hedy Bryant was dead.
The man was certainly not someone you’d expect to find at Hedy’s door. His tattered coat hung loose over hunched shoulders, the soles of his shoes flapped with each step, and on his face sat a pair of glasses with no lenses. Mr. Paff, he called himself. What kind of name was that?
Hedy stared between the door and the jamb, her eyebrows twisted up like they were independent from her face. A long moment of silence crawled between them. When she at last thought to speak, he spoke instead.
His voice was surprisingly pleasant, reminiscent of a grandfather’s soft, yet rumbling, tone. “I have a gift for you, or maybe it’s a curse. Perhaps it’s both. It’s very special in any case. I chose you to receive it because you seemed so sad.”
“Sad? I supposed you would know.” She looked Mr. Paff up and down, noting the wilted daffodil in his front pocket. “Look, sir—”
“Look, Mr. Paff, I don’t know if you just escaped an insane asylum, but I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
He smiled with a winning grin, pearly white teeth defying his haggard appearance. “Of course, Ms. Bryant. I will leave, but please be sure to read this.” Pinched between his clean, well-trimmed fingers—which stuck out from a sock with five holes where toes belonged—a neatly folded note waited for her acceptance.
Hedy puckered her lips, chewed the inside of her cheek and looked from Mr. Paff to the note and back again. “What’s it say?”
“If I told you, you wouldn’t need to read it. It’s important that you do though, or your gift won’t work.”
She sighed and shrugged. “I guess there’s no harm in a note.” Just as her fingers touched the paper, Mr. Paff pulled it back. She frowned.
“Before you read it, Ms. Bryant, I must tell you something. The gift is non-returnable. You cannot exchange it or ask for a new one. This is a one-time only opportunity, and not very many of us get the chance. Trust me when I say that it is a dangerous reward.”
Mr. Paff smiled again and pressed the note into her hand. “When you open it, you will know.” With that, he turned and walked down the sidewalk, flapping all the way. A curious tune drifted in his whistle. One Hedy had never heard.
She watched him for a time before closing the door. Even as she returned to her living room, she moved with hesitant steps. Her eyes lingered on the folded note in her hand, her name written across it in beautiful cursive lettering. After thinking the strange encounter over, she plopped it down on a side-table and walked away.
Hedy made it to the kitchen and stopped. She could not keep herself from looking over her shoulder, eyes glancing back at that note. It almost seemed to beg her to read it. Back and forth she paced between the living room and the kitchen. She’d look at the note, shake her head, and walk away only to return again. Ten minutes passed, and at last she gave in.
Soft, dingy paper unfolded with her shaking fingers. She held her breath and peered down at the page. A frown crossed her face.
The note was blank.
She flipped it over, seeing only her name, and again back to the blank page. She groaned. “That’s what I get for accepting notes from homeless weirdoes named Mr. Paff.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say about Mr. Paff.”
Hedy spun to see the very same strange man standing in her living room. Though, he was dressed differently and his hair was much longer. Instead of a wilted daffodil, a perfect rosebud sat in his pocket. His fancy black suit wore no holes, and his polished black shoes shined.
She dropped the note and reached into her pocket for her phone. “I’m calling the police.”
“Okay, but while they are on the way, I have a gift for you.”
She frowned. “I’ve heard enough about your damn gift. Now get out of my house.” She started to dial 911.
The odd man in her living room blinked at her and tilted his head. “But I have not mentioned the gift to you before. I’ve never spoken to you.”
“Do you have Alzheimer’s? You were just at my door. You gave me a blank note!”
“Oh! That was Mr. Paff. I’m Mr. Taff.” He reached out his hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Hedy.”