By Joey Carney
Jim slowly walked out to the mailbox, late in the day in the early summer breeze. He could smell the things growing; life was all around, and it reminded him of other times when he used to walk by the river with a girl and smell things then, too. He opened the box, one of those old big country mailboxes with a little red flag and looked inside. Nothing, just a single magazine labeled Ruralite, which he’d never seen before. Sometimes he just left that shit there, but it always accumulated till eventually he couldn’t find any real mail.
Inside, the trash can was full, and he threw it on the kitchen table, forgetting about it all week till one morning he actually looked at the cover. It had a caricaturesque girl on the front in country clothes and holding a poodle, looking like a bad dog show with a green background of geometric shapes.
He opened it and idly flipped through the pages while eating a piece of toast and having a beer, the only thing he had to eat at the moment. Hmmm, calendar photo contest… Bylaw and director election results… A grey bearded guy who collects old mining equipment… A couple with old fashioned clothes who fix up old radios… Peachy ham roll ups recipe… A jitterbug flip cell phone with built-in hearing aid… Jim felt so useful. He gazed out the window at the mesas and flying dust in the distance, not really even thinking. What had he done with his life?
He suddenly felt sick and looked down in disgust at a section called Rural Mailbox:
W/C/F 88yrs young, seeks active companion in the 70s-80s for social life of dancing, traveling, casinos. Send letter, photo.
He read it again.
Social life of dancing, traveling, casinos.
A great barrel roll of laughter came from his belly. All at once he forgot about his stomachache and smiled. The Rural Mailbox section was notoriously small with only two entries. They usually involved motorhomes, Walmarts, gas money, or roadside RV parks.
On a whim, because he had absolutely nothing better to do, Jim found some stationary and wrote a letter, not really intending to send it.
I don’t read this magazine. I never ordered it. I hate old people. I hate this world. I hate my life. Enclosed is a photo of myself.
Jim then went to get an old polaroid camera he had buried in the garage, 45 minutes of digging to find it, and took a photo of himself pretending to dance (he couldn’t dance at all), waving his arms around, completely naked, all wrinkly like he was doing the twist. Giggling to himself as he looked at the stupid photo slowly developing forms and colors, he couldn’t help it. He stuck it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and left it in the mailbox. The next day he didn’t really remember much of it from drinking so much and threw the magazine away, staring out the window like he did every day.
About a month later, a woman showed up at his door whom he’d never seen before. She wasn’t particularly inviting, wore too much makeup, and dressed in gaudy, big hoop earrings and excessive fake jewelry. Jim reluctantly opened the door.
Jim just stared in disbelief. None like this had ever come to his house before. In fact, no one had really come to his house in the last 20 years except the mailman and an occasional salesman. He’d developed a coping mechanism for that type: he answered the door with his shotgun. The gun didn’t even work, it was rusted and hadn’t been shot for years, but it always had the intended effect of making the intrusion as short as possible. He was wielding this conversational aid now, but the woman didn’t even look at it. She kept turning her baggy eyes to the clouds, sort of dreamily, and had a way of looking straight through him, like he wasn’t even there.
“I was thinking maybe we could go dancing?”
“Who are you?”
“Why, you wrote me that letter.”
“Hell! I haven’t wrote a letter in 20 years. And I can’t dance.”
“I beg to differ, honey.”
The woman was getting on his nerves.
“Look lady, I don’t know you, and I don’t want to.”
Jim was already quite drunk today. It was 9 o’clock in the morning.
The woman just looked him over, from his feet to his forehead. She had a half-smile on her face. It unnerved Jim, made him nervous. His fingers always got shaky when he was nervous. No one had treated him like this before. Maybe this was the beginning of something. Maybe he could leave this damn house behind and all the years of waiting, just travel the world. It wasn’t too late to let someone into your life, to make your life something worth living. He looked up at her, his mind set.
“You want a drink?”
“I’d love one.”
The gun went off in his hand. Not on purpose. The gun, that had never worked, that still had a bullet in it after all these years, went off. The bullet went straight through her arm. She sucked in her breath one short second and then collapsed on the ground at his doorstep. Jim looked at her in disbelief, watching the ground slowly turn red, not sure of what to do. The mesas were massive, shimmering and silent as always in the distance.
As he drove her to the hospital, he knew what he had to do. He’d drop her off, take her RV and just leave. Go to Mexico. Go to Alaska. Go somewhere. He had fantasies about dancing in casinos with lonely women.