Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery

By John Schoffstall, illustration by Michael Ryan

one

Christopher:

I got your voice mail. You ask, why do I hate you? Have you forgotten? Perhaps you have had an alcoholic blackout.

You got drunk. You hit on my sister Heather, at my party, in my apartment. You then threw up on Heather while humping her on my bed.

You now have the temerity to forget all about this. You have not made a good faith effort to apologize to my sister, or to me, and I'm the one who had to clean your Seagram's-7-Coca-Cola-and-pasta-puttanesca vomit off Heather while she was having hysterics. Also, every time I see my sister I can't help thinking about your dick in her cooter, which chills the warm feelings Nature intended siblings to have for one another.

Do not call me again. I will delete, unheard, all further messages from you.

Hating you,

Jessica


Christopher:

I received a letter from you today, expressing contrition for your past bad behavior and requesting a reconciliation with me. It was written in blue felt-tip pen, with big blurry spots that I think you intended to be taken as the marks of tears. However, when I burned the letter those spots did not produce the characteristic yellow flame that indicates the presence of sodium. I conclude that you made those stains with water drops, or some other aqueous liquid. Definitely not tears. Therefore, I am unconvinced of your sorrow, but reassured as to your guile, insincerity, and general incompetence.

Still hating you,

Jessica

P.S.: All further tear-stained letters will go directly into the In-Sink-Erator.


Christopher:

I have received a dozen red roses, or rather what was left of them after having transited the U.S. Postal Service from the Village to the East Side. You had tied them together with twine, and pasted postage and an address label directly on the stems. Most of the petals were gone, the rest were mangled. There were a few buds on the stems, and I have placed them in water in a vase.

I have also received a magnum of Moët, empty, again with Priority Mail postage and an address label pasted directly on the bottle.

I realize that these are traditional gestures of male romantic affection, and express a desire for forgiveness. They are not nearly enough. You are trying to melt the glacier of my anger with the Bic lighter of your contrition. You are attempting to scale Everest while wearing sling-backs. Give it up, Christopher. Your cause is hopeless.

The letter carrier who delivered the roses and Moët bottle was cheerful. He had alcohol on his breath. He reminded me that it is Postal Service policy that all packages must be wrapped.

Hating you as always,

Jessica


Christopher:

I received a notice from the Lenox Hill post office that a package was waiting. When I got there, I found you had mailed me a ski, affixing the label and postage to the ski itself with transparent tape.

It's one of the pair of skis I left in your studio after we went to Vermont last winter, isn't it? We had a lovely time. That was before I discovered you were hateful.

The postal worker at the pick-up window was unhappy about the ski. He said that the originating post office should have refused to accept it. He reminded me that packages must be wrapped.

Waiting for the other ski to drop,

Jessica


Christopher:

Today I received your letter with an invitation to your gallery showing a week from Saturday. No fucking way. Just send me my ski.

Don't forget I hate you,

Jessica


Christopher:

I received a slip in my mailbox, informing me the carrier had left a package on the street. By the time I arrived home after work, the package had disrupted foot and vehicular traffic for several hours. It's Kuro 19, isn't it? I saw pictures in the Times when it was installed at MoMA, although that series tends to run together, and I honestly couldn't tell Kuro 17 from Kuro 24.

It reminded me of why Schneeberg in the New Yorker called you a "positive space Louise Nevelson." I also think I'm seeing references to Rodin's Gates of Hell. By the way, did I tell you that Lou wants me to edit Schneeberg's second volume of collected criticism? I've been hip-deep in classical and medieval for years, and it might be interesting do something with modern sensibilities.

Kuro 19 is thirteen feet tall, and will not fit into my apartment. However, my landlord has agreed to exhibit it in the courtyard at the center of my building. One of the crane operators who helped move Kuro 19 off the street chipped some paint off the plinth at its bottom right corner as he was moving it, and I bit his head off. Not literally.

You might want to get some flat black exterior paint and touch up the chipped place, it distracts from the effect of the piece. However, if you get anywhere near my apartment I'm calling 911.

I still remember how irritated you were with that Schneeberg review. And how you brushed me off rather than tell me why. It's because he compared you to a woman, isn't it? And even though I know you love Nevelson's work, you couldn't stand being compared to her, because she's a chick. Honestly, Chris, you're so twelve years old sometimes. Why didn't I realize that before? I always made excuses for you, even in my own mind. Hating you is good. It brings clarity.

The mail carrier who delivered Kuro 19 said it should never have been accepted for mailing. It is over the Postal Service's weight and size limits. He also reminded me that packages must be wrapped.

Where's my ski?

Jessica


Christopher:

I received today an inflatable love doll with an address label and postage taped to its arm. It was recognizably dressed in Heather's clothing, but had a photographic print of my face pasted to its head.

I called Heather, and she confirmed that she had given you some of her clothing for this purpose. I am disturbed that she would even speak to you, since she's the one you hurt the most. Or at least that's what I thought. It's always been one of Heather's weaknesses that she can't hold a grudge. She just doesn't care deeply enough. She never has. I can't believe she has forgiven you already. Are you still shtupping her?

The doll is enigmatic. I have placed it on the Le Corbusier chair in the living room, the one everyone refuses to sit on. I wish you had signed it, because then I would be able to sell it, although thematically it doesn't fit easily into the rest of your oeuvre.

Still waiting for that other ski,

Jessica


Christopher:

I received notice of attempted package delivery today. It was too big for me to pick up at the post office, so they left it in the vacant lot on York where that brownstone used to be, the one the homeless got into and stripped.

I thought that was odd, so I walked down there. I found that you had sent me Harold Angel's Bar. It looked exactly as I remember it, when we left Chapel Hill six years ago.

I don't know quite what to say. Maybe something like "You can't go home again" would be appropriate. Or, more simply, "Grow up." Still, the feelings aroused in my breast when I saw the gold-leaf angel on the window, the one that Rod Wrenn from Carrboro made for Harold in 1996 just before his accident, and when I peeked in the window and saw Joy tending bar, and Harold greeting people and working the register—I would be lying to you if I said I felt nothing.

I felt nothing.

I'll go down there tonight after dinner and say hello to everyone. Don't come. Don't even think about it.

No ski yet.

Jessica


Cristohpher:

Hereld's angle was nice. egveryone was nice. I clried on herald. He was sad we slpit up. I was ssad too. Jo9y swaid she'd talk to you and fix things up and i siad aI'd lkkilll her if she did that. hehe.

tHERE WAS A GUY PLAYIHJG A GUITAR IN THE BADK JUST LIKE WE USDE TO LISTEN TO oops cap loc anyway there are a lot of new pop;e who come nhow nowadays and i got to talk to some of them before i got tooooooo drunk and i was kinda sad we left chapel hill becuase life used to be more fun. not that i'mj uynyhappy now, just saying. i meand i was satified with you as you are whichw as a mistake becdaut you 're a shitl. you dcheated on me and i didnt' say ainything at least you did once that i know of with that chick owh came to your amsters's thesis exhibition at the Ackland. and poly amoery isz fine i'm opehn minded about stuff like atha but it has to be two way if you know waht i mean.

i hoped you'd grow up anhd mature becaust you're a fuckijng great sculpute even if yo think you are but fuck if i want to be with somjeone who is stilll 12 yeras old at age 31. the wordl iss full of aritstic genouses genious gieniousus how elver you spell it whyo are totlt shitgs lik e jackson poloock who drank like a fish that was a pun or tenesee williams whosde lifw was one catamite afrer another once he got famous and rich and his playw3riting went to hell. i'sll even spot you thye occasional catamkite but nnot my ficjking sister. fand you drink to much and i kdon't want to make making hyou A NO CODE in some hospital ER atfer an auto accident like theyd id to poor Rod Wrenn. and i kdnon twant you to get dylan thomas's liver.

andn it sn 't bnecause I vloe you becaus e don't i hate yhou hate hat e3hate you.

so i me et this cute gguy who was impressed i edit for sim ona schuster and had read books i edityed and i thought about blwoing him in the bathroom but i'm no togoin got tell you whether i did or not.

fuck yuo, you skiinapper

Jess


Christopher:

Thank you for mailing me the Motrin. It helped a little.

Jessica


Christopher:

I HAVE HAD IT WITH YOUR PLAYING GAMES WITH THAT DAMNED SKI. I CANNOT LIVE WITH ONE SKI IN MY HOUSE. IT'S EITHER TWO SKIS OR NONE.

Hating you all over again,

Jessica


Christopher:

Today you sent me Saturday. The postman had me sign for it, and departed in good spirits. He must not work weekends. I was headed out to the office, of course, expecting it to be Thursday—which generally follows a Wednesday—but when I realized it was Saturday I turned around, changed clothes, and called up Ruth Jacoby to see if she wanted to do some shopping and have lunch.

We went to Christian Louboutin and got new sandals which you wouldn't deign to notice or comment on if you saw me in them, which you won't. Then we ate a shiitake risotto with pancetta at the East River Café, and Ruth told me to forgive you.

Suppose I did. What would you have to do in return, Christopher?

Nothing. That's the deal killer, Christopher. All you have to do is make promises, to do better the next time. Promises are nothing, they disappear into the air as soon as they are uttered. Maybe you'll sleep with my sister again, next week, whenever I make you angry about something, or even just when you've had too much to drink. And in return, Ruth says I should forgive you. I have to open my heart and rip out a piece, and hand it to you. No. I won't. It's too much to ask, Christopher, it's not a fair trade.

Forgiveness is difficult in a post-Christian world.

Tomorrow is Friday, so I still have one more day at the office before the weekend, but it was thoughtful of you to send me Saturday early. I hope the rest of the city enjoyed it, too. I'd like to think I am accusing you unfairly of not paying attention to my shoes, but I don't think I am. I would like to think that an artist would be more sensitive to such things than the common joe, but maybe not. Well, actually, definitely not. Randall Jarrell—that's a poet, Chris—once ate dinner with Willem de Kooning, and do you know how he described him afterward? "A barbarian," he said. De Kooning was a barbarian. Chris, I'm just fed up with the constant piss and shit of loving a barbarian. I mean, what kind of man reads comic books at age 31? Yes, I've read your Scott McCloud book, and I still think it's all petitio principii reasoning, and I don't buy it.

I've put the ski under the bed where I don't have to look at it. Maybe I'll forget it's there.

Jessica


Christopher:

I received a package from you today, labeled as "Human Male Generative Organs." The postal clerk informed me that it was against regulations to send human body parts through the mail, but that the Postal Service was making an exception in this case, because they thought the contents might be of sentimental value.

Inside the package I found your cock and balls, cushioned in white foam peanuts in a Reebok box. As I lifted it up, your cock stiffened in my hand. I teased it a little, because it reminded me of the good times you and I once had. The skin was as velvety as I remembered. While touching it, and remembering things, I found I had become slightly achy in the bits, and I wondered whether having sex with your cock alone would be considered intercourse, or merely masturbation. I think that would depend on whether your cock was still part of you, partaking of your essence, homoousios, or a separate being, of separate essence, merely similar to you, homoiousios, the latter possibility bearing obvious similarities to doctrine advanced by Arius of Alexandria, which was ultimately condemned as heretical by the Council of Nicaea (325 AD). While I was still pondering this delicate issue, your cock erupted its own warm and sticky metaphysics all over my hands.

I have washed off your parts, dried them, and put them in the drawer with your copies of Maxim and the PlayStation 2 you left in my apartment. Do you need them back soon? I don't know whether you are dating other women, but if you are, you obviously aren't getting past the preliminaries as long as I have your stuff.

I guess this is your way of telling me that you aren't still boinking Heather. It does confirm that your intentions towards me have a certain gravitas, and I appreciate that, although I hold with the Council of Nicaea, and am definitely not ready to fuck you, or even just your dick, at this time.

Jessica


Dear Chris:

This morning you mailed me Spain.

No, no, no, no, no, no. No.

It's way too much. It's not fair to the Spaniards. It confuses world geography (which has been an awful mess since the dissolution of the Soviet Union anyway) if we now have Spain floating off Long Island. It leaves the French with no place to take their holidays except to crowd into Italy, which would make August on the Tyrrhenian coast even more intolerable than it is already.

Just no, for so many reasons. It was a sweet thought, and the imagination and extravagance of it are among your redeeming qualities—but it's not practical. I hope you understand.

I know you'd give me Spain if you could. Or wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Or the moon, the sun, and the stars. That's not the problem between us.

I refused the package at the post office window. They'll just have to send it back.

Jessica


Chris:

This morning I found waiting for me at the Lenox Hill post office a man astride a horse, his walet lay biforn hym in his lappe bretful of pardoun comen from Rome al hoot. A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot, no berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have; as smothe it was as it were late shave, I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.

He also had a bunch of crap with him that he said was the veil of the Virgin, and pieces of the True Cross, and some body part of St. Peter, knucklebones or something equally disgusting. He started in on whether any womman, be she yong or old that hath ymaked hir housbonde cokewold, which is just insulting, seeing as how you're the one with the zipper problem. I gave him your address, and sent him clip-clopping off across Manhattan towards the Village.

Try again. You're not understanding the forgiveness thing.

The postal window clerk was irate, claimed that the transportation of livestock was contrary to USPS regulations, and referred me to the Domestic Mail Manual, Standard 601, Section 9.3.6, "Warm-Blooded Animals." He said you were abusing the services of the United States Postal Service, and the USPS Board of Governors had you on their watch list.

Be careful, my one-time love.

Regards,

Jessica


Dear Chris:

Heather came to my apartment late last night. I wasn't going to let her in, because, you know, she still hadn't apologized. But I could see through the fish-eye in the door that she was dressed in a black ninja costume, and was carrying a round metal can with a very tiny opening, some towels, and a coil of rope.

I admit, my curiosity got the better of me. I said, "Who are you supposed to be?"

She pointed to the love doll you sent me. "Who do you think that is supposed to be?"

"I don't know. It's creepy."

She rolled her eyes. "While you're thinking," she said, "put on something black and come with me. We're going to burgle the Lenox Hill post office. Chris sent you something, but it was intercepted by the postal inspectors. It'll be shipped back to the Prado soon, so we have to get to it first."

"Heather," I said, "you can't burgle the post office."

"Sure I can. I have ether, rope, and an attitude."

Heather is adorable when she's determined. I hate her for it.

"You don't have an attitude," I said. "You've never needed an attitude."

At night a deserted loading dock is like the nave of a ruined cathedral open to the moon: lifeless geometric surfaces lit by halogen floods, depthless black shadows. We hid in the dark below the post office docks until a truck backed in. Heather dowsed a towel with ether, and told me to turn my head away and hold my breath when I stuck it over the face of the truck driver. She held his arms and legs until he stopped struggling.

We undressed him, tied and gagged him with the rope, and dragged him into the back of the truck. Heather honked the truck's horn until a postal worker came out onto the loading dock, and we did him, too. Their clothes fit us adequately, although the pants were a little tight across the hips, and Heather had to roll up her trouser legs. My guy had a ring of keys.

"What are we looking for?" I asked.

"Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights," Heather said.

The uniforms proved adequate disguise: the few half-asleep postal workers present at that hour ignored us. We finally found the Bosch in a locked room in the back, surrounded by confiscated cases of firearms, counterfeit watches, and rugs from countries accused of human rights violations.

"I'll bet you think Bosch is creepy, too," Heather said.

"Yes," I said.

Heather and I removed our clothes, because in the Garden of Delights nakedness is the rule, and wandered through the garden in the center panel of the triptych. The grass was soft and coldly damp on our bare feet, and a scent of cherries and strawberries pervaded the air. Annoying bagpipe music played.

Heather stretched, inhaling deeply and rising up on her tiptoes. "Lots of cute guys here," she said. "See anyone you'd like to prong?"

One man was tongue-kissing a large puffin. Another dallied with two women in a red tepee that unaccountably sprouted pollard branches from its side. Others, with bored expressions, copulated with women white or Nubian while riding giant boars around a circular track. All were pale and vegetal as the roots of mandrakes pulled from the ground. "No," I said.

"Very well," Heather said. "Let's see what Hell has to offer."

two

In the triptych panel on the right, satanic mills released roaring jets of steam and spattered the dark clouds with light. A sow in a nun's wimple pressed her affections upon a reluctant man. A man with a flute in his rectum groaned. He carried a giant trumpet on his back.

A white, ferret-like creature with the wings of a moth, about the size of a Great Dane, approached, embraced me, and attempted to penetrate my sex with its furry member. I pushed it away. A hawk-headed twenty-foot tall demon swept me up in its claws and shoved me into its mouth entire. I passed through its stomach and intestines and out its anus, and tumbled the ground at its feet. I stood up and cleaned myself as best I could.

"Damnation not doing it for you either?" Heather asked. Something halfway between a periwinkle and a hedgehog jammed an immense corkscrew through her chest and cranked it around enthusiastically.

"I can't take Bosch seriously," I said. "We're moderns. Bosch is merely quaint. His paradise isn't alluring, his Hell isn't frightening."

"So what kind of Hell would frighten you?" Heather asked. I was silent. "How about what you have now?" she asked. "Why can't you make up with Chris? He loves you, and you love him, I think. What the fuck is your problem?"

three

"What's yours?" I said. "You still haven't apologized to me for fucking him, and right now I don't fucking care that he was drunk and threw up on you, I'm the one who needs the apology. You seem to be just fine with that behavior."

"And I'm not going to give you an apology," Heather said. "Even though I really want to. I'm not going to because you, Jess, need practice in forgiveness. It's something you are almost unable to do, and I'm exercising your moral capacity for it. Consider it a sisterly gift. It's hard on me, you know, because my natural instinct is to apologize, but I'm not going to do it this time because I love you."

"I'm not going to forgive him, or you, as long as you're the ones who screwed up," I said. "And take that damned corkscrew out of your chest while I'm talking to you." I pushed the periwinkle-hedgehog thing out of the way with my foot, and pulled the corkscrew out of her, dragging bits of muscle and viscera with it.

"Do you want to know why he came on to me?" Heather said. "Let me tell you. He didn't want me. He wanted you. He wanted to love you, but he couldn't, because you are a cold, judgmental, perfectionist bitch. He was drunk, and he picked me, just so he could pretend it was you, because he was so sick of failing to be perfect enough for you." Blood poured from the hole in her chest and ran down in sheets over her stomach and legs. She glanced around, found a demon trudging along on some demonic errand, carrying a knife as long as Heather was tall. She punched the demon in the face and grabbed the knife in both hands, then drove its blade into my chest.

four

With a grunt, she forced it downward, splitting me from throat to pubes. She pushed me to the ground, dug her hands into the opening, and pulled apart my chest. My ribs shrieked and cracked. She reached into my body and pulled up huge dripping handfuls of intestines, liver, lungs, kidneys, ovaries. "Look at all this crap," she panted. "Just look at it. Disgusting, oozy, icky, filled with shit and urine and slime. Look at all this crap inside you, Jess. How can you be such a perfectionist? How can you not forgive, roll the dice, and take your chances, like everyone else in the fucking world? How dare you demand perfection in others when you lack it yourself? How dare you? How dare you?"


We took a cab home. I dropped Heather off at her apartment and went on to mine. We didn't talk much.

It was late. I was tired and achy, and thought I'd take a bath before going to bed. I lay in the hot soapy water for about ten minutes. Then I got up, threw on a robe, and fetched your cock and balls out of the drawer. I took them back into the tub with me, played with them for a while, then used them in their accustomed offices. It felt good. We had fun together, didn't we?

Why is it so hard to forgive?


In the morning I unlock my door. I wrap myself in brown paper and two-inch-wide clear packaging tape approved by the USPS. At the usual time of mail delivery there is a knock. Twenty letter carriers and ten window clerks, male and female, march in. They bring in you, Christopher, wrapped as I am, and place us together on my bed. I can feel the contours of your body, and sense the warmth of it, but cannot touch it. While the postal workers stand at attention, Heather arrives, dressed in a short-sleeve powder-blue shirt with the USPS logo, gray polyester culottes, and sensible black walking shoes. She carries a pair of scissors.

"Should I unwrap you both?" Heather asks. "My advice is, 'Yes.'"

I say to you, "You're never going to remember to send me the other ski, are you?" I see movement within the wrapping paper, but I can't tell whether you are nodding or shaking your head.

I ask Heather to cut us out of the wrapping paper enough so that I can give you a kiss. And maybe a little more.

Love,

Jessica

Illustration

"Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery" copyright 2006 by Michael Ryan


John Schoffstall has previously had fiction published by the Fortean Bureau and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and is a Writers of the Future contest winner. He is bald. He keeps cats. He works nights, and lives on Hong Kong time in the Philadelphia suburbs. Friends and neighbors consider him him daft but harmless. For more about him and his work, see his website.

Michael Ryan was born and raised in Brea, Southern California, and recently graduated college in San Francisco. He still resides in San Francisco. Currently a freelancing artist, Michael receives commissions and exhibits work all across the country. You can see more of his work on his website, and you can contact him at email@michaelryanart.com.