Kevin Adler’s fiction has appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, Badlands, and others.
He carried letters, walked the same route for years. In dreams he walked this route.
Same period last year. That’s when it happened.
A Johnny Foreigner or Jane Doe squatted in a clapboard house. Forty-two Lakewood. The ramshacklest house on the route. We’re talking boarded windows, mossed-over siding, maple sapling sprouting from the gutter this one red leaf. First comes the mail. Parcels, postcards, magazine subscriptions, all addressed to the anonymous resident at 42 Lakewood. That caught management’s attention. “Get us a name and a signature.” That’s what they told him. No signature: No identity. No identity: No existence. No existence: No route.
No route: No you.
There were things management didn’t know. Things the carrier didn’t convey. For example, no deliveries were received. Not technically. Whoever was squatting at 42 Lakewood had heaped those parcels and postcards outside, by the woodpile, and let them sit through rain, sleet, and snow.
Things changed after the carrier pulled a curious parcel from the morning bin. The package depicted a pair of Coke bottle glasses. “This is it,” management said. “Confirm delivery.” They slapped it with a bar code and sent him out.
At the stoop of the ramshackle house, the carrier knocked and waited. He scanned the box-brown yard and the heap of discarded parcels which breathed thin blue steam. When no one answered, he left the parcel against the door. He backed down the drive toward the inlet that was dug way back. Who remembers why. A crew team came through carving a sharp V-wake toward the lake’s mouth. In front, the captain bellowed lines through a bullhorn which the rowers repeated:
“Rather would I [lift, stroke], in the Sun’s Warmth Divine [lift, stroke].”
The carrier sometimes read mystery stories during break and today’s concerned the Mary Celeste. A passing merchant ship found her drifting crewless on the Sea of Gibraltar. When they stopped to inspect, they found nothing in the way of storm damage, pirating, mutiny. In the cabin, the captain’s table was set, pipe and tobacco pouch at hand. The Mary Celeste. The carrier liked the name. He said out loud. “Celeste.” Across the inlet a woman inserted one hand into a makeshift pram and cupped the other to her ear. That was the last they heard of him.
There’s a record of him, though, clocking in at the end of his route, at a home for the terminally old where residents line up along a wall of lock boxes. The carrier enters a hallway behind the wall and plugs letters into the open-faced boxes. Tumblers fall into mail key divots and atrophied hands probe for the letters of once-familiar names. But there’s a reversal. Today a hand delivers something to the carrier—a photograph of a young woman with long hair, tied in the back. In bold, it reads: Celeste—42 Lakewood.
He doesn’t dally. In short time he’s standing again at that ramshackle house. The pile of rejected parcels whirl in an ovation of flames. Autumn leaves swell in the updraft. The front door opens a crack and the carrier enters.
This is where his story ends.
Inside, the table is set for two: utensils, napkins, tobacco. He takes the place designated by a pair of Coke-bottle glasses, fastens the wire around his ear. In comes a slender woman from the kitchen, long hair bunched in the back. She sets down a silver-plated roast, garnished with citrus wheels. They alternate carving and serving, then move to the bedroom and conduct long, silent love, blind to each other’s names. He vows he’ll neither ask it nor, when they hear a knock at the door, answer.