The Mailman

They had voted to use pressure tactics. The easiest was to distribute the mail so that a neighbour down the street got yours. He knew the neighbourhood well, and he felt bad about it. He had his idea about his clients. He didn’t like the old man, for example, because he reminded him of his dad. However, the old woman treated him well, offering him coffee or chatting him up.

There were some single people on his route. The slim shy baker, the outgoing farm girl with a taste for the bottle, the two middle-aged sisters, the retired fireman. Why each ended up alone was a mystery to him. His plan was to get them acquainted. There was no harm in playing matchmaker. Maybe something good would come out of this strike! By the looks of it, he thought the fireman and the farm girl had a chance. He was old-fashioned so he delivered Jacqueline’s mail to F Cooper. They both subscribed to Lee Valley which seemed a good starting point. As a bonus, the old dear would probably tell him how things were going. He misdelivered a few days in a row to force the issue.

The old lady stopped him on the street. She held the offending catalog and mail in one hand, the other she used to point at him. She chided him for being absent-minded. “Young man, you will lose your job if you don’t pay attention!” He tried to explain about pressure tactics but she just wouldn’t listen. She handed him back the mail. “Frank was upset. He asked for my help.” Here, she made herself taller. “Make sure they go to Jacqueline now. ” He had never felt so humiliated. What a poor matchmaker he made. He thought about the baker but he seemed too shy for this hearty girl. His plan was unravelling fast but he still thought it was a great idea. If only they didn’t get the old lady involved.

He had gone past Jacqueline’s house and had to backtrack. He was pretty sure the old lady would check up on his delivery. He decided to try pressure tactics the next street over, where he wouldn’t run into the old lady. All the while, he had been greeting people out in their gardens or washing their car. It wasn’t even a holiday. Were they on vacation? Retired? He felt suddenly exposed. He gave up on pressure tactics that day and was reprimanded by his colleagues. What an impossible situation to be in. He slept poorly, he was miserable and bleary-eyed the next day and made delivery mistakes he did not bother to correct, happy to report back early that he had botched the job. Disheartened, he went for drinks with a few colleagues.

It felt like they were playing hooky, something he had never done in his life. He felt unmoored and unhappy. He didn’t share his matchmaking idea with his mates. It was bad enough that it had backfired. The others were putting on a brave face, joking around, but he was a people watcher. He knew when people were pretending. They drank too quickly and spoke too loud to be happy about the situation. He went home, going over his route. He felt his idea slipping out his grasp, things going too quickly. It seemed to him that once you stopped following the rules, order could never be restored.

He heard the metallic clank of his mailbox. He was hardly ever at home to hear his mail being delivered. It felt odd being on the receiving end. He got up, curious to see what mail he had received. He lifted the lid. The letter was addressed to one Evelyn Wilson, three doors down.

His heart beat faster.

The Myth of Sisyphus revisited

It’s a little-known fact that Sisyphus was married. Condemned to roll a boulder to the top of a mountain and see it roll down the other face, and have to roll it up again day in, day out was his punishment for cheating the gods. He was ashamed at having been tricked into this eternal punishment and had not confided in his wife. He was always late for supper and she was sick and tired of his excuses.

One day, she followed him surreptitiously to find out what he was doing all day. She suspected he had a mistress since he came back in a funny mood and too exhausted to take care of his manly duties. He must roll a heavy boulder up a mountain for eternity… Having finally understood the issue, she took pity on him.

When he came home, he ate a simple but filling meal. She had prepared a hot bath with herbs for him to soak in and loosen up his muscles. He relaxed into it gratefully. He was so tired that he fell asleep, dreaming of the thunder of rolling boulders. While he was sleeping, she ran to the mountain to analyse the situation.

First, she had a good long look at the boulder. It was immense, and she could not budge it. She wondered again how he managed to find the strength to roll it up but, more importantly, how he had the willpower to start over every time. She loved the fool dearly and wanted to help. There was no one on the mountain and she started the steep ascent slowly, looking right and left for clues. She could see his habitual path, well worn and devoid of pebbles, all crushed into sand under the enormous weight of the rock. She shuddered and kept going, all senses on alert. He would need better sandals, for one. She made it to the top, after much effort. There was little room to rest. It was a peak – no wonder the boulder could not stay on top. She looked to see if there was any way to flatten it, so it would rest. That would be a big job.

She saw the sun set. She had very little daylight time left and hurried down carefully. There was no point in spraining an ankle. She would be of no use to him. She came back in the house. Sisyphus was snoring in the tub, and the bath water had cooled. She roused him and put him to bed where he slept the sleep of the dead.

The next morning, he was out the door, a little less stiff, grimly determined to do his duty lest the gods seek revenge on his family. His wife had prepared him lunch and given him coca leaves to munch during the day, to dull the pain. There was a good breeze at the top of the mountain and it cooled him off and dried the sweat off his body. Heading home, he was almost happy for a good day’s work. He was starting to feel pride in his work and was less tired than usual. Also, his wife had been uncommonly nice, and he felt a certain tenderness in his heart.

By the door was a new pair of sandals. He did not wish for visitors and was a little irritated. The table was set for two and his wife was in a great mood. Seeing he wasn’t, she inquired at his displeasure and was happy to understand he was jealous. She explained his sandals were worn out and she had decided to call in a favour from the sandalier. They were his. Ashamed at his thoughts and touched by her kindness, he explained what had happened to him and that he was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for eternity. They cried in each others arms, harbouring no thought of trying to deceive the gods again by planing the peak or wedging the boulder. The next day was better than the previous. Sisyphus had the strength of his wife’s love to add to his courage.

The gods were getting restless. They had thought to punish this human for his craftiness, but he was outsmarting them by submitting meekly to their folly and rage. To add insult to injury, the couple was growing fonder in adversity. Unbeknownst to Sisyphus, his wife had decided to petition the gods. She figured they needed a way to save face if they were to release him from punishment. She thought she would use reverse psychology, as the gods were not as smart as they thought they were. She managed an audience with Zeus. On her knees, she explained how deeply unhappy she was that her husband had turned into a workaholic. He took pride in rolling this stupid boulder up the steep mountain. He said he was getting a workout and the girls were admiring his new body. He was looking forward to work, and loved nothing better than admire the sunset at the end of each day. Zeus thought long and hard and came up with the worst punishment he could think of.

Sisyphus was called to Zeus and ordered to immediately retire. He was to spend the rest of his days idle, a life of leisure devoid of meaning. And thus modern society was born.

Love at sea

They met underwater, snorkelling. They were watching a grey-brown nurse shark resting on the ocean floor. They had spotted him from above and decided independently to dive down to get a closer look. He was not flamboyant, did not have interesting colours. Yet, here they were, like kids in a candy store, with that peculiar excitement that comes from seeing something alien and beautiful. The rest of the group had moved on, after a selfie or two. It was relaxing to watch him munch on a coral reef, sometimes catching a fish or a shellfish. The strong jaws crunched rock-hard shells. The pair did not stay long, could not breathe under water. When they surfaced again, eyes gleaming, they looked at each other curiously.

After the activity, the group was herded back to shore and given choices for the rest of the day. They did not exchange anything more than that glance as they were shedding their equipment. He was not so much tanned as weathered. She was bleached by the sun and the wind. They both wore wedding bands but had come alone to the activity. They met again a few days later, early afternoon, each by themselves again, wearing their wedding bands. She was watching a beached jellyfish with sorrowful eyes. He spoke like the rough seas, his words cresting white on the fringes. “Those things sting,” he said uneasily. She replied, abruptly, “They’re not things.” His shadow fell on the jellyfish. “Dead or alive, they still sting,” he said in a gravelly voice. She did not answer. He started walking away. She followed in his footsteps. He was taller than her, his stride longer. He shortened it so she would not need to hurry so much. He could hear her panting. He stopped. “Maybe you could walk in my shadow? The sun is harsh.”

She moved to his side and looked at him. She was using his shadow to shield her eyes and get a better look at him. His face was craggy, distinctive. He wasn’t young, either. She offered, “My girlfriends told me to wear a wedding band so I wouldn’t get hounded at the bar.” He smiled. “And, did it work?” She smiled back, “I don’t hang out at the bar.” They had been walking in an easy silence, trying to adapt their differing strides, passing seashells without giving them a look.  They weren’t good at small talk, decided not to try, were grateful for the quiet company. They parted after over an hour, sated.

The next day, she joined him as he was watching the sun rise on the sea. It wasn’t that early, she couldn’t sleep and had decided to go for a walk on the beach. He had found a spot and was watching expectantly. She stayed a few steps back. He motioned her closer. He was wearing a plain white cotton shirt and khaki shorts, holding his sandals in his hand. She was dressed the same but her white blouse covered a blue bikini top. She looked at his wedding ring finger which was bare and tanned. She raised an eyebrow. The sun was rising, an event that filled her with joy every day. She exhaled, suddenly realizing she had been holding her breath. They let the beauty of the moment fill the space between them, the morning light bathing their surroundings. She took off her clothes and went swimming. He followed.

It took some doing after the vacation. They exchanged emails, spoke at length on the phone. It was funny that they had spoken so little when together, and so much while apart. They enjoyed those leisurely conversations. They shared the minutia of their lives, they made each other laugh and cry. It was frustrating, all this technology between them when they longed to be together. He lived near the water, she in the city. He spoke of the sea like you would a mistress. He abhorred labels, did not consider himself a surfer but rather someone who enjoyed surfing. The sea brought him much joy, in all her moods, though he knew enough to ride her only when safe. He had an app on his phone that indicated where sharks were hanging out. He was still intrigued by them, kept a respectable distance from them.

She had a sister that needed looking after, with whom she shared a condo. He was as free as a bird, having little contact with his brother, and being estranged from his parents. Over time, he had dealt with the important relationships in his life and made up his mind about the time he was going to spend on them. He wanted to be with Stella, that much he was sure of. Uprooting himself to a faraway city, that he was not prepared to do. Luckily, Stella was as eager to be with him as he was to be with her. She came for a short visit, a long week-end to which she tacked a few more days. He introduced him to his surroundings, and to a lone friend. They met him at the pier, Diego a carbon copy of Charles, except darker. Charles had a catamaran and moored her there. His lodgings were sparse, Spartan even, except for the books. He had curbed that habit, as much as he could, being a regular at the town library. He surfed, beachcombed, sailed lived simply and fully. Was there room for her? For a future together? They both thought so and resolved to make it so.

She asked for a transfer at work and got it. Her sister kept the condo, but Stella kept paying her share of the condo fees until her sister’s boyfriend moved in. The transfer went well. She had worked remotely with the colleagues at this branch and they got along. She had a place to crash, furnished, boyfriend and all. The honeymoon phase lasted until she found herself unexpectedly pregnant.  She wasn’t sure about having a baby, but he was thrilled. He confessed to having amassed enough to last them a lifetime from his previous incarnation in high tech. He proposed by the sea, on his knees, with the sun rising on the horizon. Instead of a diamond, the ring held a black pearl. Her heart said yes, her mind held her back because she was much younger. Her heart won.

They named their boy Christopher, for Christopher Columbus said one, for the boy Christopher in Winnie-the-Pooh, said the other. Christopher was home-schooled and curious. The three of them sailed together with Diego on the catamaran. Christopher loved the sea. He loved music. His loves combined into a career in marine biology. He thought of becoming a sound studio engineer, after hearing whale sounds. Pragmatism took over. He wanted future generations to experience the beauty of these behemoths first-hand, not just through music. He became their champion, pure of heart and of tongue. He begat two girls, a replica of her mom’s family. He got custody of his daughters, and she felt lucky to babysit them.

They had grown old together, united by their love of the sea. She told Christopher that she had been attracted by his father’s voice, a mermaid’s call that had enticed her to run aground in his arms. Charles confided that he had been charmed by her quiet company. His temper would sometimes flare, like a stormy sea, but she navigated expertly around the reefs, until the calm returned. There was a buried treasure in his words, a lost childhood of gold and ducats that she was privy to. She always saw it shining, even when he lost sight of it.

 

Appropriately, Charles was lost at sea, on his precious catamaran. Only the catamaran was found, drifting, with no sign of him. He would have been happy to have gone that way, embraced one last time by his mistress. Stella’s eyes grew dim, her face lined, her hair lost their shine. He had been her beacon, and losing him she had lost her way. She remembered the salty taste of his sweat, the curls of his hair, his sweet tattoo. For their 10-year anniversary, he had gotten a nurse shark, she an oyster. She had joked, “You crack me up!” Now the shell hardened, the pearl hiding deep within, with no intention of being seen. She dreamt of sharks all the time. They were tender and shy, in turn unassuming and voracious. They cracked shells and spit out their contents or swallowed them whole. Once, instead of a pearl, a green fog had filled the shark’s mouth. She woke up uneasy, wondering if his soul was at peace, what message he was trying to deliver.

She found solace in her grandchildren, especially Sandy, who looked a lot like her grandfather. They spent time together, and she was happy to reminisce because the child did not interrupt, playing intently at her feet, looking up if she stopped. She was like a sponge, absorbing all this information, asking questions days later to clarify a point she could not make sense of. They grew close, the child her old age stick. Stella seemed to regain a bit of her youth, in the child’s presence.  Sandy never tired of hearing the story of the twin tattoos. For the child’s birthday, Stella had showed her another tattoo. It was a pearl, hidden behind her ear, under her hair. “Four people know of its existence: the tattoo artist, me, your grandfather and now you. Happy birthday, Sandy.”

Nobody could beat that present. Sandy kept pirates at bay, protecting the loot fiercely. She confided in her granny when she decided to become a geologist and study fossils. She would regale Stella with her field work and her discoveries. Without Sandy, Stella would have sunk, become a bottom-dwelling being.  It was not a surprise when Sandy inherited the house and its contents. It was hers from the get-go, a house where both grandparents were kept alive, finally able to end their lives together.

Silence

You would have thought they were mute, were it not for their public exchange of vows. Marge and Tom went by the axiom « Silence is golden » and revelled in each other’s quiet company. Their lives settled, devoid of sound. They communicated through exchanged glances, and gentle touches. They laughed a lot, thinking their own thoughts. They were well-liked, not ones to spread gossip but always extending a hand for those in need. They wrote down detailed instructions when that would save time and just left each other notes. It was like a prolonged courtship.

They really did nothing extraordinary, except keep quiet. They went to parties where they both played the fiddle, in perfect counterpoint, one assisting the other, responding with speed and an uncanny sense of beauty. People loved being around them, pouring their hearts out to these willing receptacles. They were thought very wise, with the twinkle in their eyes, and everybody enjoyed their silent company.

They were of even character, and not prone to outbursts. They had reserved one hour a week where they actually spoke to each other. The rarity of the occurrence made it that more much precious. They realized that the things that had made them mad during the week were often trivial and not worth mentioning, just a surge of emotion with no real foundation. They thought deeply on what they wanted to share orally in this limited time. They rarely found a reason to go back to something in the week to clarify, or ahead, for that matter. They had no inclination for idle chatter. They played music together, or cards in the evening. They read in companionable silence, leaving bookmarks or annotations for each other. They would exchange witticisms in the margins – their library was enriched by their joie de vivre.

One week, Marge proposed they get themselves a songbird. She had been reading about it and was enamoured with the idea. She floated the idea, full of hope, but did not press her point. She was ready to wait for his answer, as their schedule was paced weekly. Of course, Tom gave it serious consideration. Anything that was brought up in that hour gave them food for thought for the week ahead. He had time to research it, think things through, answer his own objections. He also observed his wife and saw that she was not anxious, nor pressing him in any way.

Unfortunately, his father fell very sick. Tom’s mom had already passed away and there were no surviving siblings. Father was uncaring and mean, but he was still his father. No neighbour wanted to care for him, and so the couple took him in. The songbird discussion was put on the back burner as they did their best to salvage the mean man. He was loud and obnoxious, and the strain showed on the couple. When Marge would come to tend to him, he sometimes hollered “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” Being quiet was no longer a joy but a necessity, as they found themselves riding on negative emotions.

Their weekly hour was all the more sacred. They would leave the house and walk together, unable to avoid talking about the man who had invaded their intimacy. He was weighing them down, robbing them of their joy, of the quiet. Madge asked about the songbird, Tom acquiesced, desperate to atone for the presence of his father. “Do you want me to buy it for you next time I go in town?” They could no longer drive in town together. There must be someone at all times with the father. She agreed. They hoped that the bird would cheer them up and make this difficult period more bearable.

Tom prepared himself for the trip to town. Lists were made, edited, thought about. Getting the bird was a little luxury. They felt they owed it to themselves to take steps to lighten their mood. Their house was small. Father’s bed was near the kitchen stove to warm his brittle bones. Still he coughed and complained. Cats roamed at will, coming in the house for a change of scenery. They had made themselves scarce since the old man moved in.

Finally, Tom came back with a magnificent lyrebird. It was an odd choice, but the bird man had convinced him that the exotic bird would be a perfect companion. It could sing better than any other bird alive. This particular one was a youngster, still listening more than whistling, but if the couple was unhappy with the bird, they could return it, no questions asked. They made him a place with the chickens, and he roamed as he pleased with them during the day, feeding on small insects and the occasional frog. He learned to cluck like his fellow mates and was a joy to behold with his gorgeous tail. He liked Marge’s company and would hang around the kitchen window, sometimes following a fly into the house and eating it.

After a long agony, Father finally passed away. They lived in a small community. They laid him to rest in a casket in the front parlour, where their friends came to pay their respects. The whole town gathered and there was much noise, but a deathly silence fell when his voice was heard “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” The lyrebird had chosen this time to display his talents.

Discovery

– I turned myself in at a hospital’s psychiatry unit.
– I kissed Conrad under the bleachers and let him fondle my breasts at thirteen.
– You had breasts at thirteen?
– You were in a mental asylum?
– We said no questions.
– You started it.
She relents. “Your turn.”
– I learned to fly a plane.
– I can do a 360 in a car, on ice.
(Technically, she was in the passenger seat and saw her ex do it. But she knows the technique and if he can do it, she certainly can.)
– I’ve done it with two girls.
– I fell in love with a girl.
– I almost got myself killed once, he whispers.

Her eyes grow wide in alarm and instantly fill with tears. She chokes. “I don’t wanna play anymore.” She cuddles in his arms, his warmth slowly relaxing her. Try to stay in the moment, she tells herself. She can’t bear the thought of his nonexistence. All the colour would drain from her world. She breathes deeply. It will take her years to tease out the stories behind these revelations. She is studying to be an archeologist. She has what it takes. The smarts to see when a shard is part of a bigger piece, where it fits, if it’s of interest. The patience to understand it. The imagination to weave a story in which the vessel has a place. Was it broken intentionally? Initialed? Part of a series? She loves puzzles. Mostly of the inanimate kind. This relationship is a whole new ballgame.

She’s got herself a certifiably insane bigamous pilot who almost got himself killed once. She… doesn’t have that much baggage. He’s got the bad boy look she craves. Her heart is already bleeding from the hurt she will undeniably suffer. She’s doing the dishes and whistling. Her keys whistle back. She hates the stupid gadget. She doesn’t actually tend to lose her keys but she could definitely lose the gadget. A gift from her ex-boyfriend. Emphasis on “ex”. Except she despises waste so she’s been hanging on to it, waiting for the battery to run out. She’s tried giving it away, but the few friends she has don’t like gadgets either. “Chuck it,” is their advice. Like she chucked her ex, without even a look back. Her new boyfriend is the One. She feels it in her bones.

He’s picked up the dish towel and is drying the dishes, and putting them away. Nothing sexier than an unassuming muscular guy. The ordinariness of his actions in an extraordinary package. Package? Did she even think that? She chuckles. He comes closer, drapes the dish towel over her face in a slow caress. They are part of the same puzzle, some pieces don’t look like they fit but eventually find their place, surprisingly. She can’t see yet what the final picture will be, she’s flying blind and she doesn’t care.

Blind

She disagreed that the eyes were the mirror of the soul. Had this been the case, her blind mother’s soul would have a faraway, disinterested feel. No, she knew hands did the trick. The way her mother held her close, gently, lovingly, as though she were an egg – yes, fragile, and full of life. Her mother’s hand unconsciously looked for hers when they went outside. They were attentive, in tune with her changing moods. You could have a conversation with those hands. They were animated and strong. They laughed and sang. My mother was full-blooded Italian. There was nothing shy or retiring about her. She owned her blindness. It did not own her by any stretch of the imagination.

My mom’s best friend was uncle Thomas, her baby brother, always at her side. He was sighted and took care of her. Mom said that she didn’t do much before he came along but when he did, they became inseparable. They climbed trees together, way high. She was not afraid of heights and she was uncannily good at finding foot- and handholds. He loved heights and was a daredevil. He pushed her out of her comfort zone yet was also fiercely protective of her. They made a good pair. When they were teenagers, she learned to apply makeup using him as a mirror. He was her confidante. She was strikingly beautiful with long black hair and dark eyebrows. She had many friends, but no boyfriend. They lived in a small community. Thomas would accompany her to the dance hall even though he was underage. He would get a Coke for himself, and a rum and coke for her. He was a good talker and a good dancer. They would meet up with her friends — he was never short of female attention. Still, he kept an eye on her while having a good time. One evening, she whispered to him “Thomas, who is the tall man?” He looked around. Sure enough, there was a tall man he didn’t know. “Do you want me to find out and invite him over?” “Yes. Don’t tell him I’m blind,” she added urgently. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied lightly.

He thought she must have heard something special in his voice. This was an unusual request. She never mentioned she was blind. It was as though it never occurred to her. But of course it did; she just didn’t make a fuss about it. Chastened, he headed over to the stranger who was talking with Charlie and Bruce. They greeted him and introduced him to Peter, Bruce’s cousin. “Good thing you came over, Tom. Peter was looking for a way to go talk to your sister. He’s a bit shy for a city slicker. You mind taking him over?” Tom looked at Peter. He looked friendly enough, did not flinch upon his gaze, did not look away. There was something frank and open about him that Tom liked. He didn’t grill him much, did not want to make him squirm. He also did not want to keep his sister waiting. He was curious. He tried to hit upon things they might both like to make the introduction easier. “Do you play any musical instrument?” he asked. We always marvelled at that when we heard the story. “How did you think to ask, uncle Tom?” “I must have been divinely inspired,” he would always reply. “I sing,” he replied. Well, that was unusual for a man to admit. “What do you sing?” asked Tom. “Operas, mostly.” “Would you like to meet my sister Bianca? She loves music.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Our house was always full of drama – between an opera singer and an Italian mother, there was passion and laughter, screams of delight and fury. Sparks, they called it. “It won’t start a fire, darling, don’t worry,” they would reassure me. Dad took uncle Tom’s place. Uncle Tom was his best man, and he was uncle Tom’s when the time came. The two families were close, blindness a side story, like a woman who was a bad cook or a man who loved to dress up as a woman. Something odd that you might mention when whiling away the time, but not scandalous in our little community. The fact is, mama was a beauty and all the men were jealous of papa.

Even in old age, her hands were still beautiful, having mellowed with time, the age spots like wrinkles at the crease of her eyes. Her long pale fingers read the faces of her grandchildren as a smile spread about her face. In her melodious voice, she told fabulous stories of all she had seen. The kids were puzzled: “How did you see?” She would gently tell them to close their eyes and listen. “Let’s go for a ride,” she would say. They would push her wheelchair about, “No peeking!”, and listen with her to the sounds all around. “I bet that’s Mrs Wilson. Hear how she shuffles her feet just so? And the birds stopped singing – I bet Dr Darcy’s cat is lying in wait.” They would open their eyes then. Sure enough, there was Mrs Wilson, and in the tall grass, tail awhippin’ was the calico cat, ready to pounce. “What else did you see?” they would ask, again and again, pushing her among the rosebushes of the cemetery. It was handy to stroll in the graveyard. No fast cars, gentle slopes, and greenery all around. They would always end up at papa’s grave. She would get up and put her hand on the headstone, trace the writing with her finger. On the return trip, she would be lost in thought.

Papa was her only blind spot. Even when I would point out his obvious faults, reminding her of their epic fights, there was no convincing her. She would say, pensively, “Funny, I always thought you were his favourite.” The fault was never his, her faith in him unwavering.