'Mr. Postman. You gave me the wrong letter!' Jillian Hampstead held out an envelope toward Joel. It was a standard airmail envelope: light blue with red and blue hashmarks along the edges. It looked like it had been through a washing machine. It was faded and tattered. Six stamps were missing, leaving behind dark blue shadows. Six stamps remained-pale yellow ziggurats, mustachioed men, splayed fruit.
Joel studied the elaborate cursive script on the front. It was addressed to Ms. Wickks.
Joel said, 'Sorry, Mrs. Hampstead. I got all mixed up yesterday when I looked over at your neighbour ... you know, Ms. Wickks ... and noticed that she was ... kind of dying ... on the sidewalk. You are right though, I should've been more careful with your mail. Sorry.'
Joel was the king of passive-aggressive. Another reason why he was now single and would probably remain single for the rest of his life.
Jillian continued holding the letter.
'Sorry,' Joel said again trying to sound sincere.
Jillian said, 'Anyway I opened it by mistake, you know, an honest mistake, I just open up whatever comes into my house, don't think about it, you guys should be more careful.'
'No worries. I'll slap a damaged sticker on it and the UMO can RTS it.' UMO stood for 'undeliverable mail office' and RTS was short for 'return to sender'. Joel hated jargon, but it had its uses. It was good for bypassing coherence or meaningful engagement.
Jillian clutched the letter. 'Started reading it, didn't make much sense. All squiggly wavy lines ... realized it wasn't addressed to me. Still don't make sense.'
'That's okay. Life doesn't make sense.' Joel stifled a yawn. He was tired. Socrates [his blue-eyed cockatoo] had spent many hours late last night 'securing the perimeter' and being otherwise inconsolable. Her behaviour had probably been triggered by the scent of butter chicken on his breath from dinner at Lenora's house.
Delicious, delicious, murderous butter chicken.
Joel's face shimmered between a half smile and a full yawn. 'Anyways, I have to carry on, deliver the rest of the route you know ... neither rain, nor shine, nor misdirected mail.'
'Aren't you gonna read it?' Jillian asked.
Joel shook his head. 'Not allowed to ... privacy issues ... could be fired.'
'Well, it's mighty queer, you know.' She stepped backwards into the house and shuffled toward the kitchen.
Joel hesitated, then followed her in.
Jillian's kitchen needed a makeover, or maybe a blowtorch. Joel seated himself at a 'country kitchen' table, probably purchased at some discount department store many years ago. The knobby spindles on the back of the chair rubbed against every incorrect pressure point along the length of his spine. The fridge and stove, harvest-yellow derelicts from the '70s, had broken knobs and dented surfaces. The kitchen countertop, off-white Formica with badly pitted chrome edging, was a petri dish of encrusted grime and forgotten sauces.
The walls and the cabinets were painted pink-thawed, cadaverous pink. It did not have a calming effect.
Above the sink was a large window. It was hazy outside. The hydro towers stretched into the distance and disappeared beneath the horizon. Black hydro cables spread out like spider silk.
The letter addressed to Evelyn Wickks lay open on the table. Joel looked at it. Sentences of tightly wound Cyrillic, slithering Anglo-French, and maybe some Spanish or Italian sprawled across the page. Worse still, odd pictographs and odder symbols popped up in those same sentences.
Most letters are written as an act of communication.