This piece is my one-hundredth post on Signals to Attend:
He wondered about the letters. They couldn’t stuff them in the box anymore and couldn’t—not after all this time—expect someone to retrieve them. Protocol, rules, maybe laws decide what post offices do. Procedure dictates all.
The key sat somewhere in his bedroom, but his desire was selective. He couldn’t muster energy to find it, didn’t want to, so he pulled out stationery instead. Every day, strangers sent him letters offering him things or telling him which causes he ought to care about, and he threw away the windowed envelopes and used open spaces on the pages inside. The messages that didn’t go onto the back of the sheet were best.
Putting pen to paper always scared him, initially. After years of missives, what did he have to write about? But maybe that was the answer. People stretch a sore muscle, speak when they’ve lost their voice, tongue the gap in their teeth. They aren’t soothing themselves. They’re confirming a wound, making sure it’s still there.
He wanted to know his pen still moved and that, starting, it would continue. He dreaded—and desired—the day it wouldn’t. He wondered if emptying himself at last would mean relief, ratification of a different sort.
As a boy, he received a diary with a locked clasp, and dates appeared at the top of every other page. Though he’d tried to keep up with them, he’d failed. Within a month or two, the diary sat taunting him on his bedside table. He resolved to pick it up again and planned, fitfully, to make up deficits. He hadn’t. He stared at it until it stood for disappointment he had to accept in himself.
He filled these daily pages—with news of his whereabouts and tasks, his conversations, his thoughts, his daily operations. He measured success by whether he could convince himself of their importance.
Today, he watched cursive ripple across the page. He supplied words like notes for a ready rhythm—words mattered less than placement. They fulfilled space, which didn’t make them nonsense but made them tones sensible only to themselves, compulsion.
He wrote how pen and paper met each day and never sparked sustainable flame. He wrote about actions with no more specific name than “action.” He wrote about birds barely seen, lurking in thickets, flightless and colorless. He wrote about what words are. He asked questions that stopped hoping for responses. He cast nets into darkness. He wrote about silence.
When he’d filled the space, he stopped. He knew the post office box number without knowing it, addressed the envelope and affixed the stamp without notice. Another person might have worried about the expense, but his job paid for stamps. A job was good for that. On the way to work, he’d drop this letter in a mailbox down the street and, like the others, try to forget it.