TIME TO SHRUG AND GO
Published 'Eulogy' 1995
time to shrug and go
A packet of pain. That seemed to be the most understated description possible for what was delivered to me that otherwise sunny day last June.
"Hello, Mr Gardner."
I stared at the mailwoman's spriggy face, guessed she must be a holiday stand-in for postman Dan and I accepted the sticky-taped wad that she proffered with a sweet surreptitious smile. I unaccountably resented it, because Dan was the regular feeder of my letter-box with all manner of orange envelopes containing rejections or contracts, jiffy-bagged packages with returned manuscripts or contributor's copies of magazines, adverts, fan mail , bills and, more infrequently, billets-doux from potential sweethearts.
"Thank you," I said, wondering how she knew my real name—until I looked at the label on the missive's bubbly wrapping. Gardner wasn't my pseudonym. Yet nobody in the publishing world could possibly have known I was called Gardner, especially as I hadn't called myself that for many years: a closely guarded secret, between self and a certain certificate I kept in a casket along with other private papers—simply waiting for the bio-riflers at some indeterminate point in the future. Although death was the most certain thing about life, it also remained the most uncertain.
Yet why was she loitering on my doorstep following the delivery of that snap-pod packet, too big for the door-slit? She seemed to await a reply for taking back to whomsoever had instigated the parcel's path through the mail maze. Her peaked cap suited her complexion, however—as did the bristly uniform, navy blue pleated skirt above even bluer stockings and shiny high-heels. Must have been a sore job tramping the post round in those patent leather teeters. The hair was as colourless as human hair possibly could be, and in endearing clumps. The mouth kissable but, in the context that day, decidedly unwelcoming, despite the half-smile.
I started to shut my door. A thank-you was the most she was getting from me. I hardly passed the time of day with postman Dan, at the best of times. So, she'd had her ration of pleasantries already, especially for a new face in the neighbourhood. I was eager to open the packet, in any event: to see who had the nous and, yes, effrontery, to address it to a Mr Gardner: felt like a book inside, a paperback. My work had never appeared in a pukka book: mostly magazines to date, albeit, in some case, posh ones.
So, I was quite excited to see my work printed in something that somebody might pick up at an airport and read on a journey ... which was not usually the case with the magazines I had previously frequented: frequented like an unshakeable demon.
I was intensely angered when the young miss had the bare-faced cheek to lodge one of her high-heels in such a position that the door jammed open, upon my trying to slam it shut. I felt the woodframe judder up my bad arm—the one with twinges of tennis-elbow—a snagging that made my teeth on edge, as if the heavy-duty doormat had sufficiently swollen to jar the hinges loose. I was crazy enough to look down to check it out—to see if my beaver-hair welcome mat was engorged with something other than boot-muck or, even, to gauge its capacity to incubate a bristly soul. No, the effect was purely due to the positioning of the post-lady's left ankle-joint, heel-drumming, impatiently sole-scraping.
"Would you mind..." I began.
This time the smile was broad—in the open. She doffed her cap, in a moment of mock politeness. The mouth's kissability was tangible, tasteable in sheer anticipation. The eyes spoke volumes or, rather, simple stories of fate and fatality. Here was stirring stuff to startle the most seasoned fiction writer. The words almost spoke for themselves. A bestseller before I'd bought off the worst. I had never been in a story in real life before. Everything, to date, had been from the inner workings of imagination, if thinly sown with nuggets of experience. And, like history, there was no arguing with it.
Mesmerised by her actual ability to exist outside the story which I was about to write, I invited her into my sanctuary with the merest tilt of the head. Since I had no better judgment left, I could not even act against it. She knew how to behave; after all, I was the one making her do what she did. I only had myself to blame. I wished postman Dan wasn't on holiday. I would've chinwagged with Dan for ages, simply to keep Dan on duty. All was forgiven, Dan. Come in for a cup of coffee, Dan. Have a freshly baked scone, Dan. How's Dan's wife? We should have a chat like this more often, Dan.
Nobody had been in my parlour since ... when? I could hardly remember. I saw my word-processor on the desk, just waiting for the imprint of my fingers: keyed up for the words to be delivered in description of the events now being physically reflected upon its black screen. Me and the thickly tweeded mail-woman. Dan's stand-in. Coming closer. Tongue speaking to tongue with spittly gutturals. My mouth wedged wide with a thicker, tougher wad than a simple human tongue. The front-door could go hang. I imagined the missive's bubbly prophylactic wrapping popping as the pods ruptured against the teeth. Tantalising the soft palate with snapped air-pockets.
I felt my mind's words slime down the gullet full of so much meaning they would burst that mind soon as they got back there. Slither words. Burst blood-blister words. Sex words. Reaching to the very backscreen of the brain, by-passing the eyes and, even, all the other senses. Yet I knew I was the perpetrator of the evil done to that poor lady who was postman Dan's substitute for someone else. Now her front door was to be lodged open by the porkiest pink parcel she'd ever likely to receive...
But, instead, the engorged gland bent back into his own rear-end, impregnating his tiny unsphinctered precinct to the point of lateral blow-out: bearing a sticky-label addressed to a man too mean to be me.
When postman Dan arrived with the same day's delivery, he discovered corpse fingertips straining through the letter-box, as if trying to escape the house. The fingers led to a man dressed in a navy-blue skirt and peaked cap, as if he had been playing at something to do with trains or airports, perhaps role-playing for real. A toy post-office set was discovered on the kitchen table, its rubber date-stamp dated with a date past the death-by date. Also sheaves of scrawl, evidently in some act of self-perpetuation or was it map-making? All gobbledy-gook. The man often received a lot of post—in really tiny pink perfumey envelopes from a strange woman (or so Dan naturally inferred, judging by the recipient). But, as Dan gradually became to suspect, they were all self-addressed and sealed with a loving kiss. Dan shrugged and went home to his wife who was interested to hear what had happened. Dan kept the grisly details secret from her and, in time, even from himself. Certainly a suicide, or as certain as one could be without the corroboration of a primary source. Suicides were, in any event, more unmemorable than murders: fewer participants.
And Mr Gardner had always been out of his arse, even at the best of times, hadn't he? Time to shrug and go.