He saw the mailman coming down slowly in his pickup along the road that hadn't been repaved in thirty years. He stepped down off the ladder that leaned against the north wall of the house, and set his brush in the paint tray that lay at his feet.
The mailman was new, having only had this route for two years, and neither had yet introduced himself by name. Simple greetings were exchanged with the mail, which was passed out the window of the pickup.
He turned back down the driveway and began flipping through circulars and catalogs as he walked. Then he came to a letter, addressed in the unmistakable print of a boy whose handwriting never seemed to have improved after the third grade.
Twelve years he had lived with his son in this house. They had moved in when the boy was six. Their old house had held too many memories of his wife. The bay window where she sat in the morning and wrote. The herb garden she had planted one summer outside the kitchen window. The landing where she had lain, viciously twisted, for two hours before he came home from the office and found her. Seven years ago the boy left, went back to the city, thinking himself a man. The boy was too young, still a boy, but he had to let him go.
He set the rest of the pile down on the porch, and held the one letter in his hands. He turned north and looked out over his land. There was the tree where he had built the boy a tire swing. There was the hill where the boy had broken his arm sledding. There was the barn where he kept the tractor, where he had walked in one day and found a poorly fashioned noose hanging from the rafters. The boy had tied it sloppily and his head had slipped through when he stepped off the overturned bucket beneath him. The boy had run from the barn, terrified by what he had almost done, and had forgotten to come back and take it down before his father came home from work. They had spoken of it once, that evening, and then never again.
His hands shook as he opened the envelope. In it, a single page. Four words, written slowly, by someone who had all the time in the world.
The letter fell. He looked down at his hands, hands which became fists that connected with the wall, again, and again, until his knuckles bled, and chips of paint stuck to the blood. Then he sat down on the porch step and wept.