Fiction by Timothy Day

      The other day I noticed that my neighbor’s mailbox had been painted.  
This would have been no big deal, except that when I complimented her
about it, as she emerged with a pitcher and a sun hat to water her garden,
she looked at it and said oh my! and claimed to have no clue who had
painted over the standard white with that vibrant flamingo pink.  She liked it,
but still, this was new.  As no other mailboxes on the block had been painted,
this was clearly not some new post office initiative to brighten up our mail-
getting experience.  But just to be sure, I got up early the next morning and
watched the mailman through the binoculars my bird-watching sister had
gotten me for my birthday.  His behavior was anything but suspicious; he
even balked a bit as he noticed the pink mailbox, clearly taken aback.  At
work that day, I could hardly focus on
To Kill a Mockingbird or the cute
new physics teacher and my students mostly just read their books and
highlighted and I thought about how I was somehow still the class slacker
even when I was the teacher.  When I got home I went right over to my
neighbor and asked if there was any news.
      I pointed to the mailbox.
      Oh, she said.  Just bills.
      I explained that this was not what I meant but she just looked at me
and shrugged and I walked back to my house and checked my own mail in
my not-pink mailbox.  The only envelope inside was from my sister, her
latest batch of photos, this one filled with shots of South American birdlife.  
There was a note on the back of each with the name of the species and a
word here and there like
beautiful! or wow! or sorry about the blur.  This
was, in essence, the way Zoe had always communicated.  When we were
both sixteen and her best friend Margot had gotten a boyfriend and stopped
hanging out at their tree house in back of the park, Zoe had spent days
perched on the windowsill in her room, window wide open, screen removed,
one leg dangling out.  It was, in a way, the loudest she had ever spoken.  
That night I took a picture of the pink mailbox and wrote
origins? on the
back and sent it to the return address, somewhere remote in Argentina
where mailboxes probably hadn’t been invented yet and people didn’t have
to worry about this kind of thing.
      The next day, I left the house and found that my mailbox had vanished.  
I walked onto the very spot of concrete where it had stood and just existed
there for a moment, pivoting this way and that, looking over at the pink
mailbox, wondering why mine couldn’t have just been painted blue or
something; a complete disappearance seemed rather aggressive.  At work I
continued to exist as someone who did not have a mailbox.  Fortunately,
people could still see me and hear me and I still got into trouble for letting my
students have recess even though this was high school.  It was silly, yes, but
they were all just making me so upset, sitting there doing their work, leaning
over to each other and asking about grammar.  My lectures hadn’t been
disrupted the entire year.
      After work, I went to the post office and informed them of my situation.
      How do I get a new one?
      I’m not sure, the attendant said, an older man with horn-rimmed
glasses.  We don’t really keep any extras around.
      So how will I get mail?
      The attendant scratched his chin.
      We’ll figure something out.
      When I arrived home, there was a small pile of envelopes stacked
neatly on the exact spot of ground that my mailbox used to stick out of.  The
hole from that morning was now smoothed over and the spot just looked
like more sidewalk.  I went inside and had dinner and thought about the cute
new physics teacher and her perfect posture and how she always wore
goggles even when she was drinking coffee in the staff lounge.  I would go to
her on Monday and tell her about my disappearing mailbox and the sidewalk
that was able to replenish itself.  The subject of physics would surely have
something to say about it.
      That weekend, I took a stroll around the neighborhood, looking to see
if any more mailboxes had been altered or just plain wiped off the face of the
earth.  I had walked ten blocks and they were all the same and I was about
to give up when I came upon a tall, thin house with two mailboxes in front of
it.  I was almost disappointed; I had not expected it to be this obvious.  A
quick examination of the mailboxes was enough to be sure that one of them
was mine, likely the one that was leaning to the side, concrete cracked and
jagged underneath it.  I knocked on the door and an older woman answered.  
I recognized her from somewhere but I set that aside for the moment in the
name of justice.
      Excuse me, I said.  Where did you get your second mailbox?
      She looked at me distantly, gathering something in her eyes, before
clapping her hands and pointing at me.
      Owen! she said.  Owen Kitts!
      It was her voice that did it, as I remembered all of those physics
lectures and sympathetic mentions of
good effort! as she handed back my
exams in high school.  I laughed a little and said hello and asked her what it
was like receiving mail in two boxes.
      Luxurious, she said.  Like I’m famous or something.
      Back on my block, my neighbor was getting her mail.
      I’m having a barbeque next week, she said.  BBQ Monday.
hmmed in response and bent down to pick my mail up.  At the
bottom of some coupons and advertisements was another letter from my
sister containing a pack of gum and a photo of a flamingo.  Another note on
the back of the picture, reading
hope this helps.  I kept the two items next
to me all night before finally realizing their purpose.  At one a.m., I went
outside and crept over to my other neighbor’s plain white mailbox, opening
it and placing the photo and bubble gum carefully inside.  The next morning,
I peeked out my window to see that nothing had changed; the mailbox was
still white and regular, and the gum and flamingo had done nothing.  It
seemed possible that the items had to be inside before midnight to do the
trick, but I was content to let this loose end dangle.  Somehow I knew that it
was not the answer.
      On Monday, I took the case to the cute new physics teacher in the staff
lounge.  We had said hi to each other on three occasions now and mailbox
disappearance seemed like an appropriate next step.  She was sitting at the
lunch table eating yogurt and I made myself a bagel and sat down across
from her.  
      It’s funny you should say that, she said, stirring her yogurt into purpley-
blue swirls.  My mailbox has started moving away from my house, she said.  
Roughly three feet at a time.  
      Her eyes looked pensive behind her goggles, and I decided not to eat
the bagel in my hand because I hate the way I look when I chew.
      Like it’s running away? I said.
      She pointed her spoon at me.
      Or! she said.  It’s trying to lead me somewhere, like a dog.
      That’s nice of it, I said.  Mine’s more like a bird.
      That night, smoke rose from my neighbor’s backyard, and I wandered
over to the barbeque to ask the other guests if they happened to be painters.  
Strings of lights reached from my neighbor’s roof to her fence, low enough to
require ducking at each interval as I traversed the space.  To my surprise, I
spotted the cute new physics teacher leaning against the tree in back, still
wearing the goggles, which she explained without my asking, pointing to the
smoke and then tapping on the shell of her eyewear.  I nodded.  
      I couldn’t find it today, she said, and then I got a call from this woman
who had my mail.  
      She led me to the little space behind the big juniper shrubs in the corner
of the backyard, and we stood there together and looked at the mailbox,
tucked in and nearly hidden behind a veil of green.  I reached over and took
her hand and it was warm and receptive and the lights glowed between us as
the air grew still.  

Fiction by Timothy Day

      I stand alone in the front of the room, leaning against a section of wall
that is so close to the door it is like I could be the coat checker.  This is my
location for the first hour of parties; I do not become a part of anything too
quickly.  These people in the blue-lit room before me, they go all-in
immediately.  They are like dogs, or really bad poker players.  Over the
course of this first hour a few people have approached me and attempted to
strike up conversation but really I am just here to see if Kelly is here and all
of these approachers are just a bunch of not Kellys to me.  The hosts are a
couple old friends who invite me to their parties because they think I am a
recluse.  The truth is that I go out plenty; I have stood next to several bar
entrances.  I don’t invite them because they take away from my mysterious
loner vibe and also because all they ever do is talk about old times, which is
like wiping your mouth with a used napkin.  Each party they throw I ask if
Kelly will be there and they say maybe and even though I know this means
no that maybe sticks in my head like a tube of toothpaste that must have
some left in it, somewhere, if you pinch that corner or squeeze that crevice.  
My drink has been empty for about five minutes and the drink table is
crowded and far away and pouring myself a second is a higher level of
participation than I want to demonstrate but finally I give in and move across
the long central area of the room and there I am at the drink table.  The
people who are returning to someone pour fast and the people like me pour
slow and then stand there, as if getting their bearings in this new and strange
space.  Another not Kelly approaches beside me.  I recognize her from
somewhere.  She pours fast but then lingers and my ego swells because she
is obviously blowing someone off for me and I make a comment about the
little birthmark on her cheek that looks so much like a kissable mushroom.  
Anyone can say nice eyes or nice dress or words like lovely or beautiful or
wow!  These are things that can be passed from anyone to anyone.  They
are like greeting cards with no writing inside.  But me, I compliment
birthmarks and hair frizz and that little stain they were hoping no one would
notice and maybe they think I’m an ass but either way the air between us
becomes the most intimate air in the room.  Whether this air is negative or
positive it is air that I want because that other kind of air is just poison that
doesn’t kill us.  This girl whose name I can’t remember says oh, thanks, and
returns to wherever.  I am now neighborless and I think about how I have a
bad neighbor history and maybe this was the universe, finally realizing I
wasn’t meant to be adjacent.  It had not paid attention to every day of
school ever, when my desk-neighbors had to lend me paper and pencil
because to bring those things felt like a surrender I couldn’t bear.  One of
my host friends gestures in my direction now, mouthing
c’mere, and I wait
one minute before slinking my way over.  He is with his old dorm buddies,
whom he thinks of as
our old dorm buddies.  They are talking about old
times.  What they don’t know is that while we may have lived in the same
building I may as well have been planting ferns on Jupiter, and these
experiences to me were like things seen through a super blurry pair of
binoculars that I was forced to hold.  I nod twice and smile when they laugh
and then I retreat to the drink table.  Now the birthmark girl is back, she is
hovering, and I look into her glass and it is still full.  
      What’s your name again? she asks.
      And I give her a fake name, not because I am sleazy but because we
have not talked enough for me to say the real thing.  This is also why I was
always marked absent during roll call on the first day of school even though
I never was.
      No it’s not, Birthmark says, it’s not that.
      I shrug.  I tell her I don’t remember her name either.  Now she starts to
cough because some of the food or drink went down the wrong way and I
think about how she has one of those faces that looks like it’s smiling even
when it’s not.  She excuses herself and goes to the bathroom and the
coughing is getting bad and I go after her and stand outside the door.
      I know the maneuver, I say.  The anti-choking one.
      Heimlich, Birthmark coughs back.
      Right, I say.  I’ve done it before.
      This was a lie but the idea of been-there-done-that makes everyone feel
more comfortable.  To go against this I only go to doctors and dentists who
are just starting out; everyone else is too afraid of them and they are so
grateful that they often offer to make my next appointment free and I smile
and say thank you but I am moving soon and likely won’t see them again,
ever.  Good luck with everything.  Sometimes I’ll see one of them around
town and have to jump behind buildings or hide beneath produce stands.  It
has been a while now since another new doctor has sprouted and soon I will
either have to move for real or give myself up.  
      Have you been to a doctor? I ask.
      Dr. Young, Birthmark says.
      And I nod even though there is a door between us.  I remember the
name; I’d gone to Dr. Young five years ago when I’d first moved to town.  
She was fresh out of medical school and she was very young and she’d given
me a lollipop from a jar that was practically overflowing with them.  Before
leaving I had put the lollipop back, making sure that she saw me, because this
wasn’t to be an ongoing thing and I didn’t want to give her any false hope.  
      Next to the bathroom, Birthmark and I are leaning against the wall.  Her
voice sounds clearer as she tells me about how last week, for no reason, she
suddenly felt terrified to get her mail.  By the end of the week her box was
overflowing and when she opened it she put all of the mail straight into the
trash and then came back later to dust out the box a bit.  I tell her how I
never get mail and also how I clean my sheets every other day and she just
looks at me with that neutral-smile face only now it is really smiling and I
lean in and kiss her on the mushroom.  I feel eyes on me and I look across
the room and the hosts are watching me from their circle of couple friends
like they are parents watching their kid play on the playground and I say
goodbye to Birthmark and I leave the party and walk back to my apartment.
      At home I begin to cough violently halfway through a pizza.  The pizza
is from a trusted source and none of it is in my throat so that isn’t it.  I
expect the cough to stop after a few bouts but instead it seems to grow
exponentially more intense and I throw away the pizza even though it is
faultless.  I drink glasses and glasses of water.  I brush my teeth because
sometimes things you wouldn’t expect to do the trick do the trick.  Finally I
go to the phone book because this is it, the moment I have to come clean, to
confess, to set a second appointment with Dr. Young who I suddenly
remember had a birthmark and was probably definitely the girl at the party.  
I pull the book out so fast that I drop it and it falls page-first to the kitchen
floor and when I pick it up Kelly is the only name written on the pages.  I
think that following the mystical guidance of the phone book is as good an
excuse as any, so I go over to the phone and peck out the numbers under
her name, which are written out clear and with enough space between them
to ensure that they don’t feel overcrowded and leave.  Three rings occur
until Kelly picks up.  Kelly.  The same Kelly who was not at the party.  The
same Kelly who’d dated me for nine months before saying that she thought
we had run our course, that she couldn’t become another one of my
doctors, that we didn’t have to get married but for God sake why couldn’t
we visit the same restaurant twice?
      Kelly, I say.
      Hi, she says.
      You didn’t become a doctor did you?
      Teacher, she says.  That would have been quite a turn.
      What are you doing tonight?
      Going to a bar with Tom, she says.
      And I nod even though there are at least two doors and likely several
walls between us.  In my head I make plans to buy a new phone book.
      Why? she asks.
      I wanted to egg some houses with you.
      No, I mean why did you ask if I was a doctor?
      I sit down on the floor of my kitchen.  I think about Dr. Klein, who I’d
pretended not to recognize when he spotted me buying a new light bulb at
the home improvement store.  Of all places to be caught in a lie about
changing homes.  
      Well, I say.  I’ve got this cough.  


Timothy Day studied creative writing at Seattle Pacific University.  His
fiction has appeared in
Fiction Fix and is upcoming in WhiskeyPaper
and Petrichor Machine.  More information is available on his website.    

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 9, Number 2
(Fall 2014)

Copyright © 2014
by Leah Browning, Editor.

All future rights to
material published
in the
Apple Valley
are retained by
the individual authors
and artists.