As I walked to the mailbox that Monday, the clouds were the color of nickel, round and silver and rumbling just a little, like the rattle of a piggy bank. I glanced at the sky as two or three drops of rain splashed on me. I was not surprised. It seemed like it had been raining on me since I got out of bed.


The storm had started when my thirteen-year-old son, Bob, and I had argued earlier that morning. He’d wanted to wear an old, faded sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves to school, and I insisted on the nice, new shirt his grandmother had given him for Christmas, the kind with the button-down collar and blue monogram on the pocket. I’d pointed to the letters. “It’s not everybody that has his initials on his shirt,” I said reasonably.


He had rolled his eyes to the kitchen ceiling. “Nobody wears initials on their shirts, Mama. Nobody!”


Soon we were shouting. He said awful things. I said awful things. Finally he’d yanked on the grandmother-shirt. As he picked up his books, I’d reached over to give him a hug, but he stiffened and drew back.


The truth was, I wasn’t sure how to deal with Bob since he’d entered the world of adolescence. He’d scarcely arrived in it, and already we were skidding into little puddles of rebellion that left me feeling exasperated. He was a fine boy, a good son, but there were days he questioned everything I said. Days he seemed to test me deliberately. There’d been so much conflict and quarreling between us lately I was ready to throw up my hands and quit.


Shaking away the morning’s events, I sighed and walked on toward the mailbox, which looked as defeated as I felt. Ever since a car had plowed into the side of it, the pole had been bent and the door hung ajar.


Reaching inside, my hand brushed against a stack of envelopes—then something peculiar, like broom bristles. I peered inside. The day’s mail sat on top of a small collection of weeds and pine straw. Somebody’s idea of a prank, I decided.


As I raked it out, a drop of rain splatted on my face. I shuffled toward the house, not bothering to hurry.


That afternoon Bob breezed in from school and disappeared into his room. “How was your day?” I said, tagging behind him, trying to ignore the rift between us.


“Okay,” he said, pulling off his shirt. He tossed the monogrammed thing on the floor at my feet. I glared at it, like he’d thrown down a gauntlet. He rummaged through his drawer for the inevitable cutoff sweatshirt. I wheeled around to leave, then turned back.

“Did you put pine straw in the mailbox?” I asked.


He gave me a confused look. “What?”