Elizabeth Zero

We learned about her through the mail, forlorn letters that came to our house every few months with “Elizabeth Zero” printed on the envelope. My husband didn’t feel right throwing the mail away, so we kept it in a little pile in case Elizabeth Zero ever came to visit her old house.

Soon we found she’d left some of her things behind as well. A single cup way in the back of the kitchen cabinet, a framed drawing of a lake on the closet shelf. They were nothing special in themselves, but I could tell from them that Elizabeth Zero must be a good person, a calm woman with simple tastes and an eye for beauty.

Sometimes when I was down, I would imagine Elizabeth Zero moving through our house, humming a little song, tidying things in that effortless way she had. She made me feel as though I, too, could gain a graceful sort of control over my life.

On a Tuesday night in April, Elizabeth Zero came. She wanted to retrieve her ironing board, something we had not found and did not have. My husband invited her in and made her a cup of coffee. She laughed when she saw her little pile of mail — a loud, brassy laugh.

“Look at my stupid name,” she said. “People think it’s funny, but it’s hell, let me tell you. Everybody has to make their joke. And don’t get me started on school.”

She made a face that looked like a duck. I went to clean the lint out of the dryer.

After she left, my husband said, “Wasn’t she funny? She was just what I expected.”

She had forgotten to take her mail, so I threw it all away.

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