The Mailbox at 36D | Teen Ink

The Mailbox at 36D

September 16, 2021
By Winstead BRONZE, Raleigh, North Carolina
Winstead BRONZE, Raleigh, North Carolina
3 articles 0 photos 12 comments

Dear Fortune Chasing Individuals, 

From: the mailbox at 36D East London Street

If I could make you understand my story, it would go like this….

There’s nothing like a new coat of paint. Sure it makes you feel sticky for a little bit, and sure, you know he’ll just rear end you with his silver Cadillac...but you feel cleaner somehow. You sit outside in front of the apartment: number 36D, feeling the shafts of heat as they bend around the jagged tops of buildings. 

You’re wrong though. His Cadillac isn’t what first mars your new facade. The postman is, when he dumps another pile of letters inside you. You taste the freshly dried ink on a few of them. A letter from his sister sits facedown. The ink is cheap, and it makes you want to gag. You know she’s sent another Christmas card, and that this one too will get cussed over and thrown out. 

Three handwritten notes from his most recent, old money, country friends sit smugly on top. You remember how he tried to pretend once that he had three other houses, tucked away in affluent corners of the world. Three other mailboxes for his letters to end up in. 

Two magazines, screaming words like, “Preserving Our Historic Families. The Ultimate Polo Guide. A Gentleman’s Guide to Courting Above Social Status,” are rolled up at the bottom. You wish they’d used a less Gatsby font-it gets tiring looking at the same words for so long, and the font is always the same. 

One letter letting him know that he’s being sued for insider trading. You wonder why that wasn’t sent to his assistant, she handles all of that. You wait, restless for him to collect the mail. He doesn’t today. It's been a while since that. He’s usually out here, grumbling about his profit margin, his “company legacy,” and whatever else. He talks about legacy a lot, except not when it comes to the history of this apartment that he throws his stuff all over. 

But he doesn’t come, and the mail sits waiting. It's winter, and over the next few months, as snow clings to your post, and whistles its way into your mouth, he forgets more and more. You can tell he’s sick when he comes out-cancer, you realize. His mail becomes cluttered with talk of his legacy: wills, last letters to friends and family letting them know how he’s faring, and all he’s done, increasingly obvious pleas to be recognized for what sits in his safe . You almost miss the gentlemen’s mags. 

You remember the day he leaves for good-you’re paint is freckled with snow again, and it has already begun to chip when he’s wheeled out. 

Your mouth gets cluttered again pretty soon. A new married couple receives ample coupons for date nights, letters from friends announcing babies, expensive honeymoons, and invitations to country visits. They are sweeter. They repaint you a bright cherry color, and wind flowers and wisteria around the top of your head. They don’t write as much-they’re young, it's 1955, the telephone is better. But you’re still used frequently enough. 

You know they care too, or at least will care, just as much about their “legacy,” as the other man did. They talk about the best school’s for their coming baby, they never turn down an invitation, they buy the nicest clothes they can, and its happy, and cheerful now-but you know one day it will just be the two of them, hoping they’ve left something behind after all their hard years and all their toils. 

There are others too-an artist who drinks too much, and “lives in the moment,” while wondering if her paint strokes will be as immortal as Da Vinci and Michaelangelo. 

A journalist, always striving, nose to the grind, for the next story, sitting in 36D revising, and typing feverishly. 

          You like them. They don’t hit your post with the front fender of their cars. 

         When they come near you, when you hear them talking, and are delivered the letters that people send them, you don’t shift in the dirt, or feel your paint peel. 

      A letter shoved between your faded lips by a pudgy hand in 1983 changes things. Apartment 36D has not been inhabited for years. But the little girl who played in the empty apartment, and tumbled through the garden in summer pushed her hand into your mouth, and left her stuffed teddy bear there, whispering, 

“Keep him safe-Mommy says I have to give up playing with him now, but he’ll have a good home here.” Even though his stuffing gets stuck in your hinges, you keep him there-you have no other choice, but you like it, anyway. And then more comes. Drawings folded up and placed inside by other kids. A crocheted hat that didn’t fit its recipient but was still beautiful. So many pictures; in the early 90’s teenagers with their instant camera’s placing photos taken with friends, boyfriends...looking into the lens so fearlessly. 

It's about then-the early 90’s, that you start to really get curious about why the man bothered you so. Because it was never just about that Cadillac, and the font of his magazines. Why does that word “legacy,” forever sounding in your head in the man’s affected Queen’s English, curdle your stomach? Your paint hasn’t been touched up in years. Your cherry red color has now faded to pink. You have always been curious about how all wounds but this one faded with time. You don’t know, and it scares you a little bit, not to understand your own feelings. 

Now it's 1997. A fire in East London has struck the row of apartments directly in front of your eyes. Smoking rubble stands-people have been evacuated. They never really come back-the row is not what it was. Your pink color, once so dull, is now the loudest, brightest, thing around. Out of your mouth explodes papers, and color, toys, photos-all the things that people left, wanting to leave a piece of themselves. 

It's not until you watch the fire eat the insides of the houses that you finally understand why he discomforted you so much. You finally have your burning question answered.

It was because he made a mistake. He misunderstood his own words. You remember afresh when he was wheeled out of the house for the last time. His sister had found him, his face pressed against the bathroom floor, heart stopped. That day a strong gust of wind blew and one letter drifted out of your mouth. It was a letter of congratulations from Dave, his colleague-telling him that after his most recent return on investment, he qualified for entrance into his country club.

You wondered at the time what he had done to deserve this honor. What he had given, or created, or donated. It was only weeks later, when family members had come for the open casket at 36D, and you heard his sister say that he met the income level necessary for the club, and how if only he had received the letter…. but now hopefully he would be remembered for this accomplishment.

You were confused. How was this a legacy?

When that other couple had their baby, you thought fondly about all the joy that little life would bring-when it grew up, and saved lives, or became an artist, or ran for office. It felt so satisfying, to see that couple leave something, someone, who could save the world in unimaginable ways. Or the others; giving words, stories, love to a stuffed bear...

How could it be the same thing: for his legacy to be taking money, and for theirs to be giving a child?

And finally, you understood. He'd walked through the yard, spouting the wrong definition: he'd thought that legacy was what you took, but it was what you left. The wrong definition. It had scraped against your mind for years: this discordant idea. It never felt right. And that's why.

And suddenly you wish, not for the first time, that you were more than just a post in the ground. That you could move, run, rush through the world telling what you know. How sad all these people who think they know what that one word means, but have no idea. How simple, and how sad. Because you know your legacy, your whole purpose is to give other people words, and pictures and hope, and news, and now especially, to hold their treasured possessions for them. And if he’d just looked out his window, and seen what you were doing all this time, maybe he’d understand...

But as the sun sets on the rubble of 36D, you comfort yourself thinking it through: how you would tell the story, how you would let them know their mistake, those Fortune Chasing Individuals...

The author's comments:

I used 2nd person voice and an unusual narrator to explore legacy in society. Enjoy!

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