The letter was smooth in her hands, the thin membrane of plastic over her name crinkling as she fiddled with the envelope. Her father had tossed it carelessly on the counter and she had looked at it, drawn to the noise it made as if it was one of the shiny fish they pulled from their small creek. It sat against the tan linoleum, a fat, white whale with her name clearly visible.
“Probably just junk mail.” Her father had said, his voice gruff and distant as he read over a bill. But it didn’t matter to her. It was hers. Someone had sent her something. Jessica Graves typed in neat, straight font.
She had slipped it off the counter, stared at it as she imagined what secrets it held for her. Her fingers struggled against the corner, trying to slip open the mouth smoothly as she had watched her father do hundreds of times. The envelope ripped in a jagged line, like teeth threatening her to take the letter.
Jessie slipped the letter free of the danger. She dropped the shell onto the counter, pushing it into the shedded carcasses of its kin. The letter was folded twice, a small accordion that slowly fell open without a sound. With the lessons of her teacher in her head, Jessie read the letter closely.
Dear Ms. Graves,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Deep Learning Science Center. After your exemplary performance in the Lincoln Elementary School science fair your teachers reached out to us. They sent us a copy of your report on ‘Intracortical Connections and Cybernetics’. You showed to have a grasp of the material that far exceeds expectations and upon further inquiry, we found that you have shown this type of mindset since the beginning of your schooling. We would like to offer you our beginning robotics kit with the hope that it will continue to foster your interest and mind. Please send the amount listed on the attached page to cover shipping and handling. You will also find what comes with the beginning robotics kit there. Congratulations on you win and we hope to hear from you soon.
Assistant Vice President of Research
Deep Learning Science Center
Jessie’s head popped up. A grin already spread across her face. She waved the letter at her father, a white flag of surrender to her future. The rest of her dreams: being a vet, a teacher, or a race car driver dashed against the counter between them, their broken pieces swept into the refuse of discarded ads.
“Daddy! Daddy! They want to send me a robot!”
Her father laid the bill on the counter. Jessie glanced down and saw the name of the hospital. Her grin faded. Reality closed in and the sight of her mother hooked up to tubes, the whispered conversations between her parents when they thought she was asleep, the final morning saying goodbye, a whispered I love you, Peanut filled her mind. She placed the letter next to the bill, Maureen’s flowing signature looking like the vital signs of her mother trailing off into nothing.
Her father picked up the letter. His lips moved as he read it, as they always did, murmuring the words. “Just shipping and handling?” He flipped to the next page. He handed the pages back.
“How much do you have in your piggie bank?”
“Ten dollars,” Jessie replied, her voice small as she read the amount they wanted.
“Tell you what, Peanut. Help me this weekend in Ms. Hanna’s garden and I’ll pay the rest.”
Jessie’s eyes drifted to the hospital bill. The numbers after numbers printed at the end of a long list of procedures even she didn’t understand. “You’re sure?”
A small, broken smile crinkled her father’s face. “Let’s get you that robot.”