Digital publication - Page 26

APARTMENT NINETEEN

by Jennifer Brough

After a long day in a nondescript office job, Ruth enjoyed nothing more than playing postwoman to the unseen neighbours in her apartment block. Today’s mail consisted of three bundles of elastic band-trussed envelopes, pizza flyers and an awkwardly shaped parcel, postmarked Kuala Lumpur.

She smiled as she snapped the elastic bands off the stacked envelopes - the postal service had ordered the mail chronologically. She placed each item in its specified pigeonhole, judging by shape and weight whether the occupant could expect a bill, jury duty, or occasion specific greetings card.

Reaching the end of her stationary route, she wedged non-personal envelopes into number nineteen’s box. It was overflowing with junk; nothing new. She wondered if anyone else had noticed the accumulating collection of post over passing months.

Nineteen was directly above her apartment. This led her to presume the resident to be elderly or a travelling business person, considering the seldom muffled shuffling that came from there. The presumably absent resident with the overstuffed post box had become a standard peripheral of big city high-rise dwelling. Ruth could barely picture the occupant.

She flicked through a mental filofax of residents, starting from the grizzled warden and his equally aged mottled dog, passed the pale skinned Christian twins, to the Mexican key cutter and his petite pregnant wife among others, until finally a fragment of a young single woman appeared.

It was hard to attribute specific characteristics. The girl was polite, she remembered, averting her gaze when they passed on the stairwell as she handed her an envelope. It contained a non-denominational holiday card, penned in a fragile hand with a tiny x under the name which now escaped her. Another neighbour she would never know despite sharing the same space.

Now the bigger pigeonhole jigsaw was complete, Ruth surveyed her box with the appreciative gaze of a gallery visitor. A coupon for washing powder, bills and a postcard. Ruth seldom received personal mail. Few people knew where she lived; those who did were long distance or long deceased.

Her fingertips savoured the glossy surface of a lakeside sunset bordered by dense pine trees. She flipped the card and hungrily read the cursive script to reach the sign off, Love, Clark. Her throat stung when she saw the postmark was dated two years ago, from Canada.

Among the two handfuls of people she entrusted her geographical location to, this sender was difficult to categorise. He was decidedly long distance, though not precisely deceased. More disappeared.

During his travels he sent Ruth an address from each location, enabling an exchange of daily trivialities tinged with the exoticism of elsewhere. When he reached Saskatchewan all communications ceased. She wrote frequently but never received any response. Not even red stamped unread letters ordering return to sender. Ruth later found out from a friend of a friend that he had bought some land and settled down with a calligraphy artist. She packed away her writing