Mailing a Letter

by Dawn Davies
Featured Art: Evocation of Roussel – Odilon Redon

The letter came back from the post office so mangled
it was as if the mailman had plucked it out of my box
before being jumped by a clot of street thugs.
Then, still carrying his mail bag, stumbled into a bar
because it was the third time this year that he’d gotten jumped
in my neighborhood, and why do guys gotta pick on him
just because he’s short (under five-six don’t make a man,
his father always said). Then drank scotch and soda
until the bartender made him stop, walked the dimming
summer streets in search of his truck, slept in a doorway,
woke up and vomited into his mailbag, found his truck
and skulked home to his wife, who had sent all four children
to the neighbors and was waiting up in yesterday’s clothes,
with a suitcase and a left hook brewing. Because she hated
the late hours the USPS forced him to carry, and by “late hours”
they both know she meant his cheating with the tiny
Castilian woman two zip codes over, and this thought
that poisoned her days now propelled her to stomp on his mailbag
and kick it off the porch for all that the mailbag stood for:
the overtime, the philandering, the childless Castilian
with the twenty-two inch waist. But then when she saw his face
with his eyebrows tipped and sorry, and she knew
that he hadn’t been sneaking around, but had gotten into trouble,
she sat him down, fed him coffee, and washed his wounds
before sending him back out for his morning shift,
because they both needed him to keep this job
(there was a pension attached, she had secretly started divorce
proceedings, was hungry for the alimony).
And so he got back to work and wiped off the fouled, wretched letters in his bag, feeding them through the system
before getting called into the supervisor’s, and because
the letter was wet, it got mangled in the maw of a sorting machine,
the address smeared and clotty, the stamp curled and dystonic,
and three weeks later, once the mailman was off probation,
the letter came back to him, smelling like machine oil and vomit,
clawed and shredded, stamped “Return to Sender,”
and he shoved it back in my mailbox with bite marks
from the beast that had mauled it, this letter to my father
on his deathbed, explaining why I wouldn’t be going to see him.

Dawn Davies is the author of Mothers of Sparta: A Memoir in Pieces (Flatiron Books, 2018), which recently won the GLCA New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction and was a 2018 and 2019 Indie Next List book. Her essays and stories have been Pushcart Special Mentions and Best American Essays notables. Her work can be found in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Missouri Review, Poetry Northwest, Arts & Letters, Narrative, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. She lives in weird Florida. Website:

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