Last month, with Christmas building up on the horizon like storm clouds, I came home to discover that where my letterbox had been for years was a hole; and leading away from the hole was a trail of dirt – it may as well have been blood. My humble brown-metal letterbox had been stolen, possibly murdered.
That night, I lay in bed and made myself breathe slowly, deeply. But just as I started falling asleep, a question detonated in my head. Had I not only lost my letterbox but actual mail too?
Mail to me, you see, is like gold bullion. After months, often years, of working on a writing project, a short story say, putting it aside, then working on it some more, there comes a time when it must be sent away. It’s like flinging a pigeon into the air. With any luck it’ll come home in the form of a letter saying ‘we want to publish you’. But how could this happen when I no longer had a letterbox?
The next morning, I started my writing session by typing out a note. Dear Postie, some drunk bastard [the culprit had to be drunk otherwise the world no longer made sense] has stolen my letterbox. I’ll try knocking up a new one over the weekend. But in the meantime, if I have any mail, could I humbly ask you to leave one of those cheery red calling cards at my front door so I can collect my mail from the post office? Thanks heaps. I stuck the note to a piece of cardboard. I stuck the cardboard to a tomato stake. I stuck the stake into Ground Zero.
Work colleagues said I looked like I’d been in a car accident. I told them what had happened. Knowing me to be a bit of an anti-handyman, they lovingly gave me some advice – about football-field-sized hardware stores, about the difference between concrete and cement, about the pros and cons of various letterbox styles. Privately I mourned the publication acceptance letters that may have gone astray forever.
That evening, I rode home slowly via the shops – I’d drown my sorrows in pizza.
Then I turned into my driveway. But what’s this?
Something was lying beside the hole, beside the sign. I leapt off my treadly and had a close look. I picked it up, I cradled it in my arms, I almost gave it mouth-to-mouth. Yes, my beloved letterbox was back. It even had mail – not acceptance letters (how I wish I could report otherwise), just bills. But handwritten on a bill was this: Dear Nigel, I found your letterbox up the end of Marsden Street, Postie Warren.
Marsden Street was such a long way away.
The next day, I dug out the hole, hammered in my letterbox, and secured it with the quick-set cement I’d bought from a football-field-sized hardware store. Then a friendly old neighbour from across the street came over. He said, ‘It was the funniest sight, the postie carrying your letterbox on the back of his bike. My grandkids stood at the window, saying, Quick Grandpa, look! Mate, you’re a lucky man.’
‘Yes,’ I said, smiling at my neighbour and then looking up to a cloudless soon-to-be-summer sky, ‘I’m a lucky man.’
Happy Christmas, Postie Warren.
(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, December 15 2007)