P. O. Box 136 – Part 2
It was nearly two weeks later when the reply arrived. I read it on the bus to work.
How lovely to hear from you! I am so very glad you got in touch. No; I do not expect that I shall see you in Suede again. I do not often go out clubbing. As such, I shalln’t take you up on your kind offer of a drink at one of them. I find the noise rather too much for any sort of conversation, and you never know what to do with your coat. I only really go in summer when you don’t have to take one out with you in the first place.
I apologise for not replying to your message sooner; I have been working hard organising a music festival and have not been able to call in and check my P. O. Box nearly as often as I would have liked. My evenings will become a little freer now, though.
In answer to your question, you do have to go to the Post Office to pick up letters delivered to a P. O. Box, and there are still a fair number of people who use them. It never ceases to amaze me what services the Post Office offers! Did you know that now they will give you money for your old mobile telephone? I am not a fan of the adverts with the ants though. I could never understand how they reached the Post Office Currency Counter in the first place.
But then, maybe none of this interests you. I apologise if so. So few people actually go to the Post Office nowadays, and when they do they want to leave as soon as possible. My Mother always told me never to go in on a Thursday, because that was pension day and you would end up stuck in a line of old women. I never understood that myself. I think being in a line of old women is fascinating. You can look at every single one and try to guess what they’ve done with their lives and what sort of people they might be. It’s like living inside a giant poetry book! I liked the meandering queue as well. I always imagined I’d been eaten by a snake and was being digested by it, ready to pop out at the other end.
Speaking of popping, have you seen in the papers about the helium shortage? Apparently there’s a good chance that we’ll run out of it altogether in ten years. It seems so silly to think of us wasting it in balloons for weddings and things when sticks would work just as well as keeping them up, don’t you think? I suppose people will have to use hydrogen again. It’s just as well that you can’t smoke inside any more or goodness knows what might happen. They might find some more helium in Zambia, though, so we wouldn’t have to worry.
I hope to hear from you again.
There was no signature, but in the bottom right-hand corner was a tiny sketch of a dragon who seemed to be talking to a ladybird. The handwriting was slanted slightly to the right and flowed along invisible lines, and I recognised the scratches as being those of a fountain pen. The paper was thick and cream, the back of the final sheet marked with a small grass stain, but there was no smell on it. I was studying the illegible postmark before it occurred to me that I was probably being weird.
As for the content, I didn’t really know what to make of it. She hadn’t ruled out a meeting, but hadn’t made any suggestion of an alternative. Should I ask again? Should I just make conversation? I Google-ed the helium shortage whilst I mulled it over, but the articles all got a bit scientific too soon so I just looked at the pictures of bearded men looking serious.
It did not occur to me at any point that I might simply not reply. There’s was nothing in her letter that demanded an answer, after all. I waited a few days so as not to seem desperate, and bought some proper writing paper. It was shockingly expensive. On Saturday morning, I replied.
Glad to hear you’ll have a bit more free time now! What was the music festival? Did it go well? I’ve always envied people who can be that organised; there’s a woman at work who does everything for us, and without her I reckon the whole company would fall apart. What kind of music are you into?
I know what you mean about clubs; I don’t really like them either, although it’s easier for us blokes! I always think that women who go out in winter must be freezing. I far prefer going to a nice pub and having a drink with some mates.
I agree with you about old people; they’ve got some great stories to tell. I used to listen to my grandad’s ones all the time when I was young, some about the war but he mainly talked about bread! He got a bit funny in his later days. I do still go to the Post Office sometimes, to do car tax and stuff like that, but I guess you’ve got to go more often if you have a P. O. Box.
The helium shortage thing is really sad, I thought. I wondered if I should buy a bottle of it now, then sell it on to my friends when they get married at a premium and make a fortune, like some sort of helium tycoon, but decided against it. It’s people stock piling which will drive up the price in the first place, right? Maybe they’ll find some way of containing the hydrogen more safely in new balloons. Necessity drives invention, after all.
What do you do for a living? Or are you a student? I work in I.T. (boring, I know, but it pays the bills!). My mum never quite forgave me for moving down here, but you’ve got to go where the work is I guess.
Anyway, let me know where you like hanging out and maybe we could meet up some time?
He used another of his first class stamps to send it.
It was over two months before they actually arranged to meet, and several letters later. She had not given him much definite information about how she spent her evenings, so in the end he guessed blindly. She had replied by postcard that bowling would be nice, and agreed to the time and date. It was cliche, he knew, but it seemed a safer bet than a pub. He still didn’t know if she drank a lot.
He did know a lot of other things about her, though. She danced (she mentioned breaking a ribbon on her ballet shoes), she enjoyed violin music, she was always busy on a Wednesday night, she enjoyed wittling, she could write poems but didn’t think much of them, and she had used weird punctuation marks to indicate goodness-knew-what. She talked about snakes more than once, so he wondered if she might have one as a pet. She seemed a bit political (she went on some march) but he did not know what about, and whilst she lamented the loss of the helium she was not not particularly environmentally active. Most of all, she never gave a direct answer to his direct questions, so whilst he was pretty certain she had a job he had no idea what it was.
Her letters were never the same, although as he got none from anyone else he always knew they were from her. Sometimes they were scrawled in biro on a torn sheet of lined paper, sometimes great caligraphic letters swooped about the recycled paper so his eyes felt as though they were on a rollercoaster, and once her letter was entirely in the form of a cartoon between the dragon and the ladybird.
The ladybird was called Stuart, but he still did not know her name. It was far too late to ask now.
Nor could he admit that he couldn’t quite remember what she looked like. If she wasn’t wearing that bright red lipstick he was screwed. He was careful to wear similar, but not identical, clothing to that night of clubbing, so she might at least stand a chance. As usual, he arrived too early. He positioned himself by the door to the bowling alley, and fastidiously avoided looking at anyone approaching for too long so if he didn’t recognise her he could claim he hadn’t noticed her arrive in the first place.
By five past, he was about ready to leave or be sick.
‘Hey Andy.’ Came a voice from behind him. He couldn’t help but jump There was no trace of the vivid, smooth scarlet splashed across her face. Her lips were cracked black.