Hard Cheese, a short story by Adele Evershed at Spillwords.com
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Hard Cheese

Hard Cheese

written by: Adele Evershed



Bryn ran his callused fingers over the address on the front of the envelope. He didn’t recognize the writing, but there was an American stamp, so he guessed it might be from his sister.

Bryn remembered the first thing his sister had sent him after leaving home. It was a large rubber key ring from a shop called Surelocks for Homes. When Dai the Post had knocked on his door and presented him with it, he’d said, “Bore da. Here you go butt, this is one of the strangest deliveries I’ve made. Not the strangest mind, I once had to deliver live grasshoppers to Mrs. Thomas. Her son Gwilym had a lizard see, and grasshoppers were its snack of choice. Still a key ring without an envelope that is a new one. Any idea who it’s from?” Bryn had held it gingerly between his finger and thumb like it was a ransom note. Turning it over, Bryn let out a sigh; the sticky label with his address was written in elegant cursive that belonged to his sister; her G’s were elongated just like Bron herself, and she dotted her I’s with a fury that left a dimple in the paper. “Thanks, Post, it’s from my sister.” Bryn started to close the door.

Dai pulled his dentures down with his tongue, making a sucking sound that had the tang of disapproval; he clicked them back into place and said, “Mmm, Bronwyn, you say. I hear she’s moved to Manchester?” And when Bryn nodded, he added, “Never saw the attraction myself, living with a load of English. They’re the sort of people who send something without an envelope.” Bryn bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. “Anyway, give my best to your Mam and tell Bronwyn to use an envelope next time.” Bryn watched Dai almost skip down the garden path; when he got to the pavement, he did a quick step ball change and then grapevined onto the next house. Bryn went into the best room and found his Mam watching Dai through the shandy-colored net curtains. Without turning, his Mam said, “Oh, Dai the Post always was a lovely dancer for such a large man. Nothing like Dai the Drive; he was as skinny as a stick of licorice, but he had two left feet and sweaty palms. Did he bring a letter from Bron?”

On Sunday, when Bronwyn made her weekly phone call, Bryn told her that her key ring had been delivered. Bryn thought he heard a muffled cry, and they were disconnected. When Bron rang back, she told him she’d heard on the radio that someone had sent a Kraft cheese slice through the post, no envelope, just a sticky label with an address, and the Royal Mail had delivered it, so she had sent the key ring as an experiment. “Well, don’t you go getting any ideas about sending cheese,” Bryn admonished, “I think that would finish Dai the Post off.” Bron giggled and said, “Here lies Dai the Post. He lived a gouda life, but now he’s gone to a cheddar place.” Bryn laughed and said, “You’re so punny.”

After that, Bron often sent him a photo or keepsakes that caught her fancy, never in an envelope to Dai the Post’s evident disgust, and Bryn started putting them in boxes labeled with the place she had sent them from. After Manchester, she’d spent time in London and sent brightly painted menus for Indian Restaurants. Later, a beautiful egg-shaped box from Paris with one exquisite truffle nestled like a jewel, and from Italy, a round pizza box as big as a bus wheel. Each time Dai would pass them over with an eye roll and a comment along the lines of, “That sister of yours is taking the piss a bit, boyo.”

When Bron was living in Thailand, their Mam contracted pneumonia and died. She didn’t return to Wales for the funeral, telling Bryn, “It’s a sixteen-hour plane ride, and I’ve only just started this new job.” Bryn couldn’t bring himself to talk to her after that. On a Sunday, he let the phone ring out like a keening until the answering machine picked up. And there were no more oddities through the post.

All these years later, Dai the Post had long since gone, and Bryn no longer knew the name of his postman. As he opened the envelope, he caught a faint whiff of Lily of the Valley, Bron’s favorite scent, and it took him back to the day she left. Their Mam was in the garden, hanging out the weekly wash. Bryn had arrived home early, and as he walked through the front door, he smelt his sister long before he saw her. Bronwyn was hurrying down the stairs with a little pink suitcase. When she saw him, her face blanched, but she squared her shoulders and said, “Now, don’t you go saying anything. I told you I can’t live here any longer. This village is too full of Sundays; there’s no joy, just duty.”

Bryn started to argue, but then he caught sight of his face in the hall mirror; the whites of his eyes were like a shock of cold water, and he realized Bron was right. He worked in the mine like his father and grandfather before him. If Bron stayed, she’d marry one of his fellow miners, know each day of the week by its chores, and only sing on a Sunday. Bryn said, “What about Mam?” Bron gestured to the hall table. There were two envelopes, one for him and one for his Mam. As he air-kissed the top of her head so she’d be free of coal dust, he said, “Promise you’ll keep in touch.”

Bryn bitterly regretted their later estrangement and felt a tiny flicker of hope that this letter might be an olive branch. He took out a thin piece of paper and a sepia photo. His eyes blurred as he read.

My Dear Uncle Bryn,
I’m so sorry the first thing you will know about me is from this letter. My Mom, your sister, peacefully passed away in her sleep on March 1st. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this news in a letter, but Mom insisted that I wait until after she died to contact you. You see, Mom was pregnant with me when she left Llangorwell, and she believed if she stayed, she would have been shunned as an unwed mother. That seems remarkable now, but things were very different when you were young. Mom wanted me to tell you she wished a thousand times she could have told you, but she was ashamed.
I’m enclosing my phone number if you would like to talk more and a photo I found in a box that had your name on it. There are several things that I couldn’t possibly send through the post even though Mam had written your address on each one. There’s even a slice of cheese with a stamp as if she would send it through the post to you. Some of the things seem like garbage, and towards the end of her life, Mom did become a little confused. She started calling everyone Dai…

Bryn crumpled the letter and looked down at the photo. It was a sign that said Mapleton Taxidermy and Cheese Store. He turned it over and read in his sister’s beautiful hand, ‘Two ways to ensure you’re well and truly stuffed.’

He smoothed the letter out and picked up the phone to ring his nephew.

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