by Nicole Matos
I brought you, for one thing, a penpal in Antarctica. The covers of those splashy books, ‘101 Things to Do – For Kids – for Free!’ We were certainly interested in anything that could be done for free. But the agencies, the oversight, send your letters in-care-of? It was an idea best taken under independent consideration. It was wise for us to always use a payphone, it was wise to have first called the Post Office for the numbers of more distant Post Offices: we knew so much about succession, the layering of small steps.
‘We-are-calling-for-a-school-project-how-you-send-a-letter-to-the Queen-of-England? The-guy-in-Hawaii-who-sits-at-the-top-of-the-volcano?’ – though our list actually said, ‘Volcanologist,’ always better to play dumb. The Head of Endangered Species, on behalf of underappreciated lichens. The publisher of our social studies textbook, to let them know when they wrote ‘Abraham Lincoln’ we added ‘Towncar’; when they asked, ‘Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?’ we wrote ‘At the bottom’ – that we mocked, in short, their childish récite. Could you address a letter to an astronaut on a satellite? Could you address a letter to not a particular person, but the sort of person you wanted? Could you put, Khoi Tribesman, Kalahari Desert, could you put, A Nice Grandmother, Somewhere in Croatia – would the Post Office sort of help you out like that? We smoothed them out, question by question. We brought them back to postage, and we hung up and called someone else, and put the pieces together.
Of the letters, there is nothing. We sent them all. No return address – they’d have to be opened to ever be returned. What does it count as, that we scribed them out – during school, after school, we had nothing but time – and mailed them, keeping nothing for ourselves. ‘It counts as normal,’ I can hear you snort, say. The writer’s cramp, muscle memory of my numb hand. We were wrong to write them separately, in the same rooms, mostly, but lost in our own heads. Not enough just to mail them together, in piles, that creaking of the mailbox drop a sort of final salute. But anyway, anyway – ‘Anybody, Antarctica,’ was the crown jewel, Best in Show, and that one was mine – my throw was the farthest, and the only ball returned, both, and so that gift, at least, I brought to you.
We figured on the slow procession of time, not on the startling gap between the letter written – crystallised in just that moment forever – and the late, late, miscast, far behind the unimagined future, reply. ‘Anybody, Antarctica’ dramatically increased this factor. So when my sister placed our reply in my lap, in all its red and blue army and airmail packaging, we’d long ceased checking the mail. The return address was ‘Matt, Anybody, Antarctica,’ and then a drawn-in smiley face, but the effect was oddly chilling. Too little, too late. We were already that changed. That letter, whatever he returned, I need to tell you, I never thought to keep, or to share.
* View Nicole’s story on Tapestry *
– Nicole Matos (http://about.me/nicole_matos) is a Chicago-based writer, professor, and roller derby girl. Her recent writing credits include Salon, The Classical, THE2NDHAND txt, Vine Leaves, Chicago Literati, and others. You can catch her blogging for Medium, publishing tappable stories on Tapestry, and competing on the skater track as Nicomatose #D0A with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby, too.