I can't remember where I began.
Oh yes—the girl.
there are things that are impossible
and I'd like to be one
and a child shouts I'M TRYING TO
FEEL THE EARTH MOVING and I
looked out and wanted it too.
they wrote of her:
her voice was cold concrete but not a scraped elbow.
her eyes were lemons; her feet were wooden boards.
she had truck-driving hips
and her knees were orphanages
she didn't know her shoe size and
she shot down UFOs
she was movement
she was fluid
she was wild
she was sea-born
showcased in a fish tank
and under the stage lights,
he wanted to marry her.
Where was it I began?
Oh yes, the girl, and next?
How about the son?
he is not an astronaut
but he belongs in space
(she wrote of him, after)
they say we know more about space than the sea,
but we went swimming
over the sister of the Marianas Trench—
it was so, so deep…
oh, his father? those two were—
locked together like prisoners or the deadbolt on the front door
stuck like prehistoric birds in a tar pit
tied with a windsor knot
I and my father are one
painted into wet cement with a fingertip, maybe a stick,
I and my father were one
I pretended, still, there was a thump,
The woman would mail things to that house daily.
It seemed as if no one had lived there in years, but as the mailman still seemed to be delivering, she saw it a fit opportunity to leave behind a memoir. She had her reasons.
The walls showed no sign of neglect, but weeds were beginning to overtake the front yard. The mailbox of that abandoned house filled with letters and pictures and other things, a testament to the life of this woman that continued until her death.
The last letter was dated February 29th. That was her birthday, and she lamented that she could only celebrate every four years.
She had a friendly attachment to a neighborhood cat with one white ear, and would always leave flowers on her husband's gravestone. Only the blue kind, because he’d shunned flowers as being too feminine. She'd been saving for a trip to some foreign island, but had long resolved to never spend the money without a partner to journey with. She only listened to music popularized in the year 1959 and according to her, her backyard garden was something to marvel at. There was no proof to support this.
She always told people she helped the community but reluctantly and humorously confessed that to be a lie. She hadn't renewed her driver's license in twelve years, and yet, at least one-eighth of her letters complained about the poor driving of others.
She was up every morning to watch the sun rise and every Sunday she attended the service of a different church. She purchased more fruits than cake, but where the cake was quickly eaten the fruits were normally left to rot. She sang frequently (and obnoxiously, considering what the neighbors said to her) and her stereo system was the only bit of technology she was ever able to work on her own.
She told herself she was bilingual but hadn't said a word in French in ages. Every wall in her house had crown molding, she had a bearskin rug, and the only time she ever went fishing she fell asleep, fell in, and had a swim among all the fish she was unable to catch.
She never wrote about her son, but she sent over 250 pictures of him to that house over the years, and most were of him accepting medals as a child for winning spelling bees. There were no pictures of him over age thirteen.
It was Caprica who found the woman's stash of letters— in that box she also found the woman’s will, leaving all of her property and the money that never went to an overseas vacation to whoever it was that found her life, tucked away in a mailbox.
"Buy this house for me, will you?" was her very last request. And Caprica certainly tried.
She'd been walking by, killing time, when she saw the mailbox overflowing. A pick-up truck half-packed with old furniture sat in the driveway. It was despicable. It hadn't been touched or even looked at in at least four years. No one was around. She emptied the mailbox into her duffel bag, and ran. Someone who never leaves the house to check won't miss it, right?
She reached her apartment and rifled through the letters. She was floored. She made plans to develop the materials into a book. She'd always wanted to be an author. She stuck the inheritance money into a savings account. Caprica checked up on the woman's property, but it had already been taken back when she was found dead without a will. She saved. She peeked her head into the real estate market and found that there was in fact someone still living in the house with the letters and the mailbox. He was not young. Caprica gave an agent five dollars to text her if the house ever went back on the market. Until then, she kept the woman's legacy going. She started out writing through the possibilities of the woman's life. She wrote of friends and failures; she studied the character and filled in the gaps. She wrote into the future. Eventually the letters transitioned into Caprica's own questions. She questioned the man in the house. She questioned the house. She wrote her theories, she wrote her frustrations.
Dear mailbox woman,
I wish you'd given your name.
I really wish you were here to tell me I was getting it all right. Guessing is still guessing, and I hate uncertainty. I want to know. I want you to tell me.
I sent the first half of your memoir to you last week. It's on a flash drive, I hope you can figure out how to use it.
I have plenty. I think I have enough. I'm just waiting for the house. I'm just waiting.
I look for you in town. I imagine you'd wear a floppy straw sun hat tied with a blue ribbon. I look for your sun hat.
I walked around and saw the tree house in the backyard. Well, it was really more of a tree deck. It was a floor with no walls. It was definitely in the tree though, so it's a tree something. Maybe they ran out of wood. Maybe there was a bad storm. Maybe it was intentional— like, for birdwatching. Maybe it was made to jump off of— it was a reasonable distance from both a trampoline and a kiddie pool.
I could've climbed the fence to get a closer look, but I figured that would be a little too criminal of me. Well, no, it was because I saw a snake sunbathing on the trampoline one day, and the grass is too tall for my comfort.
Anyway, please tell the man in the house I've attached a photo of what his truck is supposed to look like, clean. Ask him to come outside; the weather's been really nice lately.
This was the only letter to which she received a response:
The house can never be empty.
She got the text from the real estate agent twelve days later: House is up. Meet me.
So she did.
Then she met Gideon.
"You're some writer."
"You read them."
"No, you can’t buy it— don't look like that, I haven't finished. If you want, you can live in it with me. I need help paying for the utilities."
"Do you need help moving in?"
"I don't have much."
He handed her a yellow plastic squid with a chipped golden key hanging from it.
She began. “So what should I know about you?"
"I'm afraid of bees, I'm fluent in Portuguese, and I'm allergic to strawberries."
"Strawberries? God, that's awful."
"Thanks. What about you?"
"I already knew that."
"Well, that's about it, really."
"Wrong answer. Try again."
"Uh, I like finding things?"
"Good. Tell me more."
one day, a fox
and another a chainsaw.
what is it you’ve done to me?
once, a tap on the shoulder
and next a deportation.
where have you gone?
first, a moonshot
and then a sleeping pill.
what do you ask?
you made a deal for a golden timepiece
and now you’re the captain.
where is your head?
I checked in the attic
but it was buried in the fridge.
what do you say?
you could keep tearing out the carpet
or you could come to me
Three months later.
"They keep rejecting my manuscript." The Woman in the Mailbox.
"Keep trying, Cap."
"Yeah." She paused. "How's—?"
"Oh! God! I almost forgot! I found something in the fireplace today!"
"You actually got near it?"
"I wanted to see if it'd seem somewhat less combustible when clean. Anyway, hold on, let me get it—" He came back from his room with an oval-shaped something slightly larger than his hand. It was a sepia-toned picture of a guy in a hat that was a cross between a fedora and a Stetson. His suit was wrinkled. His tie looked out of place. One hand was on his hip, his other arm hung awkwardly at his side. The background was kind of ambiguous; it appeared as if the man was floating in a lukewarm bowl of chicken broth. The frame was charred, but intact. It used to be covered in cheap gold paint.
"Who is he?"
"I was gonna ask you. Theories?"
"He's a mailman. Remember you said the front room used to be a functioning post office?"
"Yeah, before my dad turned it into a home gym." Which consisted of an elliptical and one rusty dumbbell.
"Right. So he's haunting this place. The old town mailman. He's trapped in there. One day he snooped in the wrong family's mail."
"How do we free him?"
"We'll need a bowl of 2% milk, our best chanting voices, some old baby teeth, and a matchbook from a sketchy motel."
They laughed, but they weren't that far off.
Gideon had previously lived in the house for a little less than a year. His father had moved them there his senior year of high school before his eighteenth birthday. This is why he knew that pulling the candlestick on the left side of the mantle over the fireplace made the bookshelf fold open to reveal a nine-step spiral staircase down into what could only be described as the lair of a demented evil scientist who had rejected modern medicine. On the official floor plan, it was listed as a basement.
They spent a lot of time looking around down there.
It was the kind of place that you'd think all the lost things in the world would end up. Not just the basement either— the whole house.
Here's an example:
They ran out of the clean towels that they knew of so Caprica went hunting for one. She opened the first door in the hall and reached to the top shelf and swatted her hand around, eventually knocking a face towel, an unopened can of cashews, and a photo album to the floor. She threw the towel through the open door of the bathroom, popped the lid off of the cashews, sat cross-legged against the wall, and flipped through the photo album. She stayed there long enough for Gideon to come by and find her.
"Want some?" She threw two and he caught one.
"Where'd you get these?"
"Top shelf." He spit it into his palm and discarded it on the floor.
Caprica snorted. "Hey, is this your family?" She angled the album toward him.
"Ah, no, it's another one of those things the last owners left. Most of the stuff in this house was not initially ours."
"We didn't have much."
Caprica's lip twitched up. "Hey look, their kids' baby pictures and footprints!"
Gideon smiled, leaned down, and turned the page. "And uh, their social security cards?"
"Oh God, well that's not terribly safe." She was laughing into her hand.
"Sometimes I wish we were worse people."
She was clutching at her stomach, head thrown back against the wall. "Man, Gideon, how'd you end up living here?"
"The owners left the country."
"Left or fled?"
"Ha, I'd put my money on fled, Cap."
Caprica went back to the album. After the page with the locks from the kids' first haircuts was the page with the sonograms. Next came the overwhelmingly large collection of two postcards. Gideon picked up the first, reading:
"It's a desert." Caprica was not impressed. She flipped to the end of the album, and tucked into the flap on the back cover were old report cards from an elementary school in California. Caprica was still not impressed.
But back to the basement. It was mostly filled with books. Initially, they looked to pick up stories and a bit of adventure, but that turned into anxious research when they began to find hints that something was off. It wasn't the Freemason membership certificate that had them suspicious, but what was taped to the back of it: "The man is trapped!" On a crumpled sticky note accompanied by a used tube of Chapstick and a birthday candle.
They decided to free the mailman.
They knew they'd regret it, but they checked the chest first. The chest of bad smells. They'd opened it once and had been assaulted by old smells. Ancient smells. Smells of death and ugliness and the first of humanity's mistakes. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad this time? But oh, it was. They closed it again, immediately. We'll look again some other time. They continued to avoid it, as best as they could avoid a large chest used as a coffee table in the living room. It wasn't a problem when it was closed!
They finally went through the cluttered drawer in the kitchen they'd been ignoring, and found sewing supplies, TSA airport confiscation notifications, a revolver, and an old comic titled Major Inapak the Space Ace. They left the sewing supplies, folded the TSA notifications into paper airplanes, and set the comic aside for later reading. Gideon checked to see if the gun was loaded. After finding no bullets, he waved it in Caprica's general direction and said bang. She yelped and dove under the dining room table, hitting her head on the way down.
"Ah, sorry, sorry!" He was laughing but he was concerned.
"Ah, no, don't worry, I just startle easy— I mean I saw you check it and all." She mumbled, on her knees, looking up underneath the table. "Hey, come down here a sec?"
Gideon obliged. Carved into the wood where Caprica was pointing were the words For our own good, we have imprisoned this man. "Who carves something under a table in cursive?"
"Someone who needs to tell a secret without anyone knowing."
"But we know."
"We're not the ones the message was supposed to be hidden from."
"Hand me your phone? Mine has a shit camera." Again, Gideon obliged. Caprica crawled out from under the table and handed back the phone as she walked to the breadbox. She'd noticed the little sword in there before, about the length of her hand, and she pulled it out to stare at the tip. "I thought it might be sharp enough."
"It's a letter opener."
"I'd never looked that closely, okay?"
That night they'd fallen asleep on the couch wrapped in a tapestry of Taz the Tasmanian Devil they'd found hanging in the basement. They spent most of their free time after that trying to solve the mysteries of the house. It became an obsession.
It was all devolving quickly; the hands of the wall clock had started to move. We checked, and there were no batteries. The toaster rattled at night. We had to hide the Beanie Babies and cover the heads of the ducks on the fire pokers. They were looking at us. We didn’t like them looking at us.
They found out if both candlesticks were pulled together, a hatch opened and a rope ladder dropped from the ceiling. Don’t ask me about the physics of that.
“I feel like we’re in one of those ‘escape the room’ games.”
“I think we are.”
Up there, they ended up finding a heavy, important-looking book; unfortunately, neither of them could translate what seemed to be a cross between Hebrew, Arabic, and Egyptian hieroglyphs.
They recruited an "esteemed professor" they found through an online chat site.
They might have been a little desperate.
The professor said it'd take him a week or so to translate, so they checked out the rest of the attic. It was mostly empty and very dark. Even with a flashlight, Gideon tripped over something. It was a railroad spike.
"I feel like you should get a tetanus shot just from holding that."
On the ledge in the back where they'd found the book, they saw a spiral notebook they'd glanced over the last time. Caprica saw a dead rat soon after and promptly left the attic with the notebook. Gideon found a pair of gray and peach paint chip cards that looked great together. They later decided to paint the interior of the house those colors. They got through two and a half rooms before they ran out of paint and motivation.
Gideon climbed down from the attic and discarded the rat. As he washed his hands in the kitchen sink, Caprica asked,
"Do you know a Natasha Whorf?"
"My grandmother. I never met her though, she and my dad weren't close. Why?"
"I think she's the mailbox woman."
Gideon shut the water off and dried his hands on his pants as he joined Caprica on the couch. She handed him the letter. "It was in the notebook."
"My name is Natasha Whorf, and I'm trying to reach my son."
"Your dad must've taken the first letter inside."
"She just wanted to talk to him. Why wouldn't he talk to her?"
The book's title translated as Book of Deals. It was a collection of contracts from those who had sold their souls to the devil. The newest entry was headed Theobald Whorf. Gideon lost his shit.
“I— wha-? How!? I don’t—“
“Read this. How is this? How could I have forgotten…?”
I deal with the devil to bring back my son, to trade his life for mine— and may it be a good life!
“Hey, you would’ve remembered dying, right?”
“You would think so…”
“So what’s the verdict?”
“Old man must’ve left a prank for me posthumously…” His voice couldn’t find its pitch. His teeth were tight.
“It has to be.”
Caprica tapped Gideon’s shoulder with a folded paper, edges rough.
“It’s another page from the notebook.”
God forbid you read this note, son. I tried to get you as far from this house as I could. It’s… unholy. You must’ve felt it too. I just couldn’t bear it with you gone; we all make mistakes— and you were meant to be more than a statistic, I just know it. You were in a car crash. After the divorce. You shouldn’t remember this now— but you crashed high, on god knows what— a mess of a cocktail I’m sure. But you deserved a chance. I did it. I did as the ledger says. Ever notice there were no baby pictures around? New life, new body. But you were breathing, and drug-free. We had to move after that… I had business to do with my broker. Forgive me, and be well.
"It’s my fault. All of it." He was still. His face was glass. And then he flung his iPhone into the gold leaf western-style cactus landscape hanging above the couch.
"He gave me this life because I ruined mine. He got me into Stanford— he got me through Stanford. He got me my job. Even you. I didn't do any of it, didn't deserve any of it!" His knees became carpet. "Everything I have—"
Caprica looked down at her hands.
“He probably died from all this— the deal, the business…” His voice dropped soft, “he’s in hell for this. For me. He damned himself because I was a fuck-up. How can I…? God…”
Caprica pulled Gideon into bed and left a cup of tea and two Tylenol next to the kerosene lamp on his bedside table. She went back to the professor's PDF and skimmed earlier contracts before returning to the one with Gideon's dad. Her chin rested heavily on her hand. She blinked a few times. The light from the laptop was getting to her. She clicked back to the previous contract. Theodore & Maurice Talbot. The names were familiar, and she knew where to look. They still kept the photo album on the top shelf of the hallway closet with an almost-empty can of cashews. Caprica went straight for the report cards, and there were the names. The two sons made the deal? She returned to the contract. "...To prevent the inevitability of our parents' divorce, we deal with the devil so that our family may always stay together..."
On the inside of the book's cover was an inscription (translated by sticky note, of course):
"We make deals to bring out the best in us, but
The devil brings out the worst in us."
Around noon, Caprica left Gideon a sandwich and a note.
Maybe someday you'll love yourself the way I love you.
He stood in the backyard, looking at the half-buried anchor chain near the miniature cannon, sans cannon balls. "I know this all used to be ocean, but wasn't that like a million years ago...?"
"Maybe the house is a million years old."
Gideon's smile didn't reach his eyes. "Thanks for your words."
"You still haven't eaten."
"Uh, so there's a massive nest of wasps near the light on the front porch."
“There’s no way this is a fucking movie. I am not the protagonist.”
"Well, it's Murphy's Law. Anything that can go wrong—"
"Will go wrong." Gideon reluctantly grabbed a canister of Raid and a garden hose.
"Wait, you hate bees."
"Those aren't bees."
"I'll do it." Caprica aimed the spray and the hose and she prayed.
They fell together because otherwise they thought they’d fall apart, but in falling together they really did fall—and while she walked away with a broken arm and a headache, he didn’t walk away at all.
He refused to eat and so she fed him.
or at least she wanted to.
his worth was visible bright as a halo keeping close to the skin.
it was distracting, although it might've just been her who could see it.
it was really quite dim like his confidence and thin like how he aspired to be, but she had a trouble of sorts in that she fell in love with potential.
that's what he was to her.
a dream, lost in the folds of the memories they shared as companions while she tried to justify her actions of sitting at the starting line of a marathon the competing runners had already stayed to the finish.
she didn't even know what to say to him.
Lord, she didn't even know what to call him anymore.
to her, he no longer had a name.
it had been lost in translation, gone like his appetite, dwindling like the numbers on the scale till it faded to unrest, similar to the state of his health.
but why couldn't they rest together?
she would scream until all the lightbulbs in her brain had burned out and she was thrown into a fitful sleep full of him: refusing life, refusing her, and refusing to change the lightbulb. He would linger at the edges of her mind and threaten to cliff dive spinning into nothing away from the comfort she always wanted to give but never could.
she wanted to feed him because he refused to eat.
so she fed him empty words meant to help but seldom changed a mind once made,
and she knew it! she did! but she thought it'd be worth it to try anyway, for him.
he used to whisper to her in languages she didn't know as they lay side by side under the stars and while she liked to think he could translate her heartbeat, she spoke so little of it aloud he was never able to pick up the vocabulary.
their only communication was through broken glances and half smiles and uncertain laughter, and looking back at what she could have said it was no wonder she wasn't able to save his life.
he had been a falling star upon which she hesitated with her wish,
but the time passed
and so did the possibilities.
There was a snake, a crossroads, and a sad, sad boy.
Caprica was on the kitchen counter to grab a bowl on a high shelf when she saw the snake. She screamed and fell off the counter and onto her arm. Adrenaline had her running to the door where Gideon met her. I think I broke my arm. He drove her to the ER. While she was getting her cast on, Gideon gave her cab money and said he’s head back to the house to try and get the snake out. When she got back to the house there was no snake, but there was also no Gideon. She walked out to the crossroads. The devil’s place, where deals are made. And there she found the book in the dirt with its newest entry: Gideon Whorf.
She went back to the house and ate a big plate of strawberries.
…so I may make things as they should be, I trade my life and soul for the freedom of my father’s.
If she’d never said anything, she’d still have him.
But she knew that wasn’t true.
She’d put the Suicide Hotline into his phone, stayed with him, loved him the best she could. But still, Caprica blamed herself. She blamed herself because he blamed himself, and so she should’ve done a better job of convincing him otherwise. It was imaginary. It’s imaginary. I’m imaginary.
Focus on the house, Cap.
stay in the present
keep steady, come on
stay with the rhythm
keep calm, move along.
I don’t exist. Her arm was in a sling but she danced anyway. She danced while holding the picture of the mailman in her good hand, hoping he'd tell her secrets. Motion was her morphine; a distraction from her mistakes. In motion, she had to pay attention to where she was going which allowed her to take her mind off of where she had been. Who she had been with. Who wasn't around anymore. She was everywhere. She looked over, in, and through all of it. She needed to find the answers. She needed the answers more than she needed sleep. Her pride would not allow her to fail. Her pride blinded her. She would write meaning into her life.
She used a broomstick to hit both candlesticks at the same time so she could get in the attic. She wanted to do a final sweep. She did. The dead rat had made a nest from pages torn from the spiral notebook. They were crumpled and some were destroyed, but enough were in a satisfactory condition to where Caprica could make a pretty good guess as to what was going on. She brought them downstairs and read them as she took a bath. The writing was Theobald's. She knew because among other things the pages discussed his mother Natasha and the letter she sent—the letters she never stopped sending. He wrote more of the deal, he wrote of the house, he wrote of the sacrifice. Once he made the deal he couldn't leave the house, not without dying or finding someone else to take his place. He wrote of the picture of the man and how touching it sent his mind into a downfall. He flung it into the fire trying to "kill it." The man is trapped. He was riddled with paranoia. He was convinced he had heart problems. He wrote of how he had a doctor come over to check on his heart, but the doctor said nothing was wrong. He didn't believe her. In his writing— he was losing himself.
The heart is in the chest. The heart is in the chest the heart is in the chest the HEART is in the CHEST THE HEART IS in the chest the heart is IN THE CHEST the HEARTs? Are in the chest—it went on for pages. It would've become illegible by the end if she didn't already know what it said.
My father died from a heart attack.
He worried himself to death.
She discarded the pages. The rim of the bathroom's bathtub was even with the floor. It was a crater. Caprica pretended she was sinking into the earth, where all the answers were. The heat from the water was turning her skin red. She was a volcano.
Gideon had written for her once, after they'd spent the afternoon throwing rotten eggs into the ditch behind the house.
She read over it, and she could breathe again.
The heart is in the chest.
What if Theobald had meant this literally?
She bought one of those masks that protect lungs from sawdust at the local hardware store and then taped a lavender-scented dryer sheet to the inside. She removed the almost-dead bonsai tree from the lid and then opened the chest of bad smells. It was not just one chest, but a collection of chests all stacked inside one another like matryoshka dolls. They usually couldn't make it past the scent of the first chest, but Caprica had turned the ceiling fan on and had prepared the rest accordingly. There were five chests. They fit nicely inside of each other but they were not a matched set. The smallest box was silver and was filled with poker chips. She closed it tightly and held it against her forehead, fingers clamped to the box. She opened her eyes and flipped the box over, running her fingertips along the playing card taped to the bottom. The ace of hearts. On it, instructions were written in a scratchy hand:
To free him—
She needed to find the ingredients. She looked over the living room again. In plain sight. Her eyes glanced over model ships, a little diver's helmet, a barometer, a full-sized ship's wheel. Caprica went into the backyard with a shovel and started digging up the other half of the anchor chain. She had a feeling. She was right. Thick red yarn. The string that binds our fates.
She had one wine glass in an otherwise empty display cabinet. She moved to the garage. There was a Coke machine between a stolen stop sign and a mechanical horse. She put a quarter in and hit the button for Coke. The thing still worked. Light the birthday candle. She retrieved the candle from where it was taped on the back of the Freemason membership certificate.
Burn the man. Caprica lit a match and held it to the wick of the birthday candle. She set it on the face of the mailman's picture. Pour. Sing. She popped the can and the Coke spilled into the wine glass. She dipped her finger into the glass and ran her finger along the rim until she had a steady tone going. And then everything was spinning. And then she was being pulled, a strong suction—
could I finally change my own lightbulbs?
And then everything was dark. And a body was decaying. And mouths were gaping. Gasping, gagging, Caprica clawed at the walls around her, climbing up desperate footholds, scratching, pounding, hitting her head on the . . . ceiling? No, there’s a latch . . . fumbling, scraping, pushing up—lights stung as the chest cracked open. Caprica lifted herself up from the opening, hanging with her full weight on her forearms, looking up at the mailman.
“Thanks for that.” He held up an oval frame, a picture of Caprica in shale gray stone looking back at her. He drops it to the ground with his teeth bared and leaves through the front door. Caprica watches him leave, pulls herself out of the chest, crawls to her picture on the carpet. She flings it into the chest and shuts it with her whole body. She leans with her back against the chest, hugging her knees, head down.
“You’ve made an awful mistake.”
Alexis Diano Sikorski is a Filipino-American seeking balance and good vibes. Her work has appeared in Moonchild Magazine, Vagabond City, The Regal Fox, Bombus Press, Queen Mobs Teahouse, SPAMzine, Sea Foam Magazine and more, with a piece forthcoming in Sigma Tau Delta's The Rectangle. She likes dogs, looking out of windows on airplanes, and things that may or may not exist. She was probably a sailor in a past life. @Sikorskidear