Paradise In The Post
Published in Good Housekeeping ca 1984
I live in Bonar Law Mansions: the street is called Nash Terrace and that’s a false trade description if ever there was. Nash Terrace runs off Coldview Lane and so do I if I’m coming home late at night.
Like so much British housing of its kind, Bonar Law Mansions was started in a boom and finished hurriedly in a bust. There are six nominal flats. I’ve got the one on the ground floor. There’s one front door and then there’s me on the right, then you can go up the stairs to Miss Gliddon, who is 86 and has lived there since the beginning because she Knew Her Rights. Opposite Miss Gliddon are the McCarneys, who are arty and crafty. They do rush matting, although that too is a false trade description since mine took eight months to arrive. They have a new breed of dog, a Yorkshire Yapper, whose name I have given to the Soviet Embassy in case the Red Army moves in. Then there’s Miss Hornman. She works for the Ministry of Agriculture, making sure that my breakfast sausage contains its subparticle of meat. The Webbs, appropriately, are both swimming instructors. They shout a great deal.
A new man moved into the top flat recently. I did not see him when he arrived but I did notice a new badly-parked Alfa Pseud outside and a new badly-parked briefcase on the hall table: this was an opulent number which had used enough skin to make the pig an endangered species. It was embossed with gold initials which coincided with mine.
As for me, I’ve lived in Bonar Law for six years. I’m looking backwards to being 35 next birthday. I’m single. By choice. Of every woman I ever met.
I work as a poet. Really. My latest work has been read by millions and translated into over twenty languages. It goes: “Your birthday comes but once a year A fact that’s sad but true Here’s wishing you a birthday As wonderful as you.” I work for the Pica Card Company. Inside Page Department. I share versification duty with my friend Gorman. I do happy events such as birthdays and he does sad ones such as weddings. I’m doing the job only as a fill-in until my screenplay is taken up.
One day last year I got home from work. As always, the first thing I did was to reach in the communal letter box for the late mail.
You see, I am obsessive about the mail. I always have been and all the others in Bonar Law know it. The mail is what my life is about. I make my living from it: my poetry is pushed through millions of letterboxes every day. It’s me saying happy birthday, congratulations, good luck – and perhaps changing someone’s life as a result. One day I am due for payback. Something in the mail is going to change my life.
I sorted all of Bonar Law’s mail and laid it on the hall table. Nothing unusual that day. Miss Gliddon’s copy of Health And Efficiency, a publication called British Raffia for the McCarneys. The Webbs had a special offer from a rubber duck company. Miss Hornman was invited to sample The Best Of Sid Vicious. There was nothing for the new man – and nothing for me.
I spent the evening quietly at home. I worked flat out for five hours and came up with “A special birthday robin Perches on your plate To help you blow your candles out Now that you are Eight.”
I could not sleep that night. I was obsessed by a premonition about the next day’s mail because I was certain that my new life would come to me very soon. At last I heard the postman. Before he could ring twice I rushed out and grabbed the mail from him. Items for Gliddon, McCarneys, Webbs, Hornman. Nothing for the new man but three letters for me, each First Class and marked Urgent.
I opened each with exceptional care. I knew that this lot contained my new life. I also knew that if I read them too quickly it would disappear and they would turn into bills and special offers. So I did not hurry. I memorized the back of a packet of breakfast cereal. Only then did I allow myself to open the envelopes.
The first letter was from Messrs Tort and Feasor, solicitors. It read: “Dear Mr Heller, Our inquiries have established that you are the sole legal heir to Miss Hopper who died intestate five years ago. The exact size of the estate cannot be ascertained. However, it would be in order to inform you that Miss Hopper herself inherited four million dollars in 1938 and that she was a lady of frugal habits who believed in the reinvestment of accrued interest.”
The second was from Special Projects, Paraversal Pictures. It read: “Dear Mr Heller, I beg you to excuse our delay in replying to your letter and submission.” (I paused here briefly, having no recollection of writing to them.) “Your screenplay has excited us all enormously. Story, characters, dialogue, all superb. I have to go to the West Coast next week – do say you’ll join me, all expenses paid.”
I paused again, trying to recall the day I finished my screenplay. The orgy of illicit photocopying, the racking of Yellow Pages for film company addresses, the midnight ride in Wardour Street… So the letterbox where I stuffed the spare copy had been Paraversal’s.
The third letter was handwritten. It read: “Dear Richard, You don’t know me and you can’t have noticed me but I stood behind you borrowing books in the public library and bribed the attendant into giving me your name and address. Now you’re showing this to your girlfriend – or wife – and you’re both having a good laugh but I don’t care. I’m crazy about you, the sexiest most magnetic man I’ve ever seen and I’ve got to meet you. Please please come to the library next Wednesday at 7pm. This is what I look like…”
At this point I extracted a snapshot, head and shoulders. She had not known that the picture was being taken. Her head was thrown back to laugh. Medium length blonde hair, high forehead, strong cheekbones, wide mouth with perfect teeth, slim shoulders. None of the features was out of this world but together they were haunting. She had signed the letter “Laura Cassiday.”
Then I read on and a terrible chill passed through me. There was a PS. “I hope you enjoy Watership Down as much as I did.”
I detested Watership Down. I did not borrow it from the library. I would never borrow Watership Down from the library or anything that looked like it. The only books I borrow from the library are about cricket.
I re-read the other two letters. I thought back to a briefcase with gold initials coincident with mine.
I rang the bell of the top flat of Bonar Law. It was opened by a very good-looking man a few years younger than me.
“Hello, Richard,” I said. “I live downstairs. I’m Richard Heller too. There are not many Hellers. I wonder if we’re related. You have relations called Hopper, don’t you?”
“My grandmother’s maiden name,” he stammered.
“I can’t think of any relatives of mine called Hopper. You write in your spare time – a screenplay?”
“And you’re enjoying Watership Down?”
“Can’t put it down.”
“Do forgive me, but I opened some of your mail.”
The other Richard Heller now lives in Malibu with his wife, Laura. I still live in Bonar Law. I still watch for the mail. I know there’s a new life coming to me, and this time there will be no mistake. Please address it to me under my full name of His Serene Highness Prince Harley Davidson The Fourth (by deed poll.)