P. O. Box 136 – Part 1
Andy was not a fan of night clubs, and especially not of this one. The music resonated in his lungs, the flashing lights made him feel even queasier than the alcohol alone and he could feel his shirt clinging to his back with sweat, rubbing against that raised mole he kept meaning to get checked out. He had no idea how much he had drunk, but was at the stage where he was confident that if he danced hard enough he would have burnt it all off by the next morning. His friends had gone somewhere, so he found to his embarrassment that he was doing this on his own. The people around him did not seem to realise how ironic he was being with his exaggerated ‘moves’. Andy was not a fan of night clubs. He was, however, a fan of women.
That was not to say that he was a womaniser. He had somehow earned that reputation, which clearly flew in the face of his actual track record. He preferred to think of himself as a voyeuristic connoisseur in the dashing way, not the perverted one. Besides, it had been nearly a year since he last had a girlfriend, which was why he was in the club tonight.
The talent wasn’t too bad. There were some blonde slags he’d seen earlier who were quite fit, although clearly with enormous men, all bound up in tiny skirts and designer corsets, but they’d moved on now to some trendier place he had never even heard of. Most of the rest came in packs, with one hot one surrounded by women showing a bit too much of the flesh they had a bit too much of. Judging by the spectrum of blue and white and anchors in little love hearts, it seemed that sailors were back in fashion. As the women gyrated, the stripes made them look like a bulging optical illusion. Or maybe that was was just the drink.
“Hey hey, looks like Andy’s found his bird for the night!”
Jeremy was beside him suddenly, shouting in his ear and forcing a shot of something into his mouth. It took more than one gulp to keep it down. He hadn’t even realised he’d been staring at her until then. She was about 10 metres away from him, swaying in and out of his vision wearing an outfit that looked like it was entirely made of blue and white PVC tape. But it wasn’t that which had mesmerised him. It was the lips. Even in the inky-bright flashes of the dance lights, they were a brilliant glistening red like fresh blood, slightly parted and curved into a self-indulgent smile as the girl threw her hair about. It was as though they were the anchor on the world, and everything else was just spinning around them to show them off to best effect.
“Go on, pull her!” Jeremy shouted, and he pitched forward as someone shoved him hard. He stumbled around to see them laughing and pointing at the girl with the red lips, who was so wrapped up in her dancing that she didn’t seem to notice them.
Why the hell not? He was an attractive man, and he was here to pull. He tried to wipe some of the sticky residue from his chin and blundered a path to her. He danced next to her for a bit, not quite sure if she knew he was there until she looked up from under a fringe and smiled.
“Do you want to make out?” He found himself yelling in her ear.
“I don’t kiss boys.” She replied.
“What are you a lesbian?”
“No. It just spoils my lipstick.”
He didn’t know what to say to this, so danced at her a bit more. He could hear Jeremy and the others sneering behind him.
“Can I have your phone number?” He leered at her.
“I don’t have a phone.”
“I don’t!” She was leaning close to his ear to make herself heard, those red lips catching on his badly-cut hair. “You can have this though.”
She pulled a white business card from her purse, flicked her gaze between it and him, and then pressed it to her lips.
“Here.” She dropped it into his sweaty hands. “Keep in touch.”
He tried to read it, but even had the lights not been swirling he didn’t think he could focus his eyes well enough. When he looked up, she was gone. Then his mates were there, ruffling his hair, taking the piss, and forcing another shot down his throat.
He didn’t remember about the card until the following afternoon, some time after he woke up for the third and final time. He was still wearing last night’s shirt, collar smeared with someone’s lipstick, but it was pink rather than red. He took his best guess at what the mobile number smudged across his forearm was meant to say and sent the woman a text. It was then that he remembered the card.
It was quite a boring piece of card. Cheaply made, with no name or email address or any sort of telephone number. All it had was an address, and not a very good one at that. P. O. Box 136, at some relatively local post office, and the bright crisp outline of red lips across the top. He put it in a drawer, and concentrated on feeling better.
By the end of Monday, Andy was still thinking about it. Who nowadays used a P. O. Box, apart from drug runners and children’s art competitions? And why go to the trouble of carrying around cards with the address on to give out to people? A mobile phone number would be much easier to give out. Women could do with cards for those. There was no reply from smudged-number woman, so he assumed he’d got it wrong. It was a pity, he thought, that he hadn’t written all the possibilities down before washing his arm.
What was he meant to do with this address? He could hardly send a quick note saying ‘Want to meet up sometime, send me a postcard?‘. He wondered for a minute if she might be hoping for some sort of gift, but eventually decided that P. O. Boxes were probably not big enough to get flowers in, and if she ate anything random drunken men from clubs posted to her she must be crazy.
On Wednesday evening, Andy decided to write her a letter. It couldn’t hurt, after all, and he was at a loose end. Besides, despite forgetting almost everything he might have known about her, he couldn’t get those red lips out of his head. He saw white teeth biting down on a smile, a gentle pout in the darkness, but didn’t know if those were memories or half-dreamt fantasies. Aside from the lips, he could remember virtually nothing about her. Her hair had been dark, he reckoned, and he recalled thinking that she had a good body, but by that stage so much had been drunk that he didn’t know what that might mean in real money. But on Wednesday evening Andy sat down with a cup of coffee, and began for the first time since high school to write a letter.
It began. He stopped. He still hadn’t remembered if she’d told him her name, and the lonely ‘Dear’ looked very old fashioned, like receiving a letter from an uncle. He threw the sheet away.
That was better. Less formal, and no need for a name. He had to throw that piece of paper away too, though, as he’d forgotten to put my address at the top. There was only one sheet of paper left, so he turned the radio off to concentrate better.
You might not remember me, but I saw you in (I tried to recall the name of the club, but failed) a club, and you gave me your card. I hadn’t realised people still used P. O. Boxes! Do you have to go and check it, or does the post office send things on to you? Anyway, I hope you are well.
I’m sure you can’t have forgotten me, but just in case I was the bloke with the short dark hair and the white shirt (Brilliant work! That’ll uniquely identify you) who danced with you like a bit of an idiot. You know what it’s like when you’ve had a bit too much to drink! My name’s Andy.
It read like a child’s year 4 exercise. Why had he only got three sheets of paper? It was so hard to get everything down right when you couldn’t go back and move it! He realised too late that he should have drafted it on one of those abandoned sheets before beginning, but there was nothing to be done now. The letter was disgustingly short, squat into the top of the page, but he didn’t know what else to say. She might have already given up on the messy scrawl and thrown it in the bin by this stage.
What did he even want to get out of this? To see the girl again? She might be in that club again on Saturday. She hadn’t seemed to be with any friends, he realised. Ask her out on a date? But he didn’t know anything about her! The signs were already pointing to mild lunacy as it was. Was it even a good idea to give her his home address? He thought of using a friend’s, but the idea of trying to explain why to any of them was ridiculous. He went for a shit whilst he thought about what to put next , and then carried on in slightly larger writing:
I thought you were a very attractive girl. I can see why you wouldn’t want to ruin your lipstick by kissing people! Do you go out clubbing a lot? I prefer Manchester for a night out myself; it’s massive! Will you be out again next Saturday? Perhaps I’ll see you again – I could buy you a drink. It’d be good to get to chat to you for a bit.
I am sorry I did not make this letter longer, but I am afraid I have a very busy life at the moment what with work and social commitments. You know what it’s like! I hope this gets to you okay, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
He read it through carefully, and winced. The weird mixture of friendly and formal jarred horribly, and he wondered if she would be offended at being called a ‘girl’. Still, too late now. Best not to mess with it any further. He had to check Wikipedia to find out how to finish it off properly.
“Yours sincerely is used when the person who is receiving the letter knows the author well and they can call each other by their first names.
Yours faithfully is used when the person who is receiving the letter is not known by name (i.e. the recipient is addressed by a phrase such as “Dear Sir/Madam”).”
Damn! And he’d done so well not letting on that he couldn’t remember her bleeding name. He eventually settled for the rather unsuitable, but at least pleasingly ambiguous:
He sealed and addressed it, hoping she would think the envelope had got grubby in the post, and put it in his coat pocket to remind myself to buy a first-class stamp the following day. The extra 9p was worth it to show he was making an effort.
It was nearly two weeks later when the reply arrived.