You’re woken up by the sound of your mailbox slamming shut. For you this is a most unusual happening. You’re rarely up at that time of the morning and you rarely receive mail. You rub away the sleep from your eyes, blearily put on your glasses, and get up to investigate, only stopping on your way to set up your morning coffee.
As you check your mail, you notice a letter that makes you stop in your tracks. Let’s face it, you get so little mail that any letter stops you in your tracks. You pick the letter up and examine it. You turn it every which way, looking for clues as to its sender or content. It looks harmless enough, but do you have the nerve to open it?
You carry the letter back to the kitchen and your coffee and place it on the table for further consideration. You pour coffee into your favourite mug and sit down at the table, continuing all the while to contemplate this unexpected missive. The letter has been addressed to you by hand in a handwriting that you don’t recognise. Well, at least it’s nothing official, nothing that you would be forced to deal with. With a personal letter you could allow yourself the luxury of prevarication. Still, the question remains, who sent it? You turn it over, searching for clues as to its provenance, but there’s no return address. The envelope is plain white, just the sort of thing you would use yourself for personal correspondence. The stamp has been neatly attached to the top, righthand corner where it’s perfectly aligned with the edges of the envelope. You study the postmark but it’s smudged, obliterating both date of mailing and place of origin. It’s getting late, you put the letter to one side and, opening your laptop, get ready to work.
Hmm, you find it difficult to get started. You mind keeps drifting back to the letter when you should be finishing off a piece of work fast approaching its deadline. Wouldn’t it be easier to just open the damn thing and get it over and done with? No. No, that would never do at all. You need to have peace of mind of knowing whom it’s from before opening it. In the time-honoured fashion of timewasters everywhere, you decide to pass the time by looking at your emails. You have five new emails. You quickly dismiss them as having no relevance to your letter opening predicament. Your hand strays to the caddy containing pens and pencils and extracts an old-fashioned letter opener. You toy with it, you imagine slipping it under the flap of the envelope then slicing it open in one smooth action, revealing the letter within. You snap back to the present, replace the letter opener, and turn back to your work.
Lunchtime brings some respite. You’ve finished the work you were having trouble with and sent it off, comfortably beating your deadline. The letter catches your eye and you realise that you’ve managed to forget about it for the last couple of hours. Time to fix some food. You clear the kitchen table in preparation for making a sandwich. Clear it, that is, except for the letter. You open the fridge and study what’s available. It looks like tuna and mayo is the best option so you get out the ingredients and lay them on the table along with a plate and the bread. Taking it slowly, you put your sandwich together, all the time being distracted by the presence of the letter. Lunch assembled you rinse out the coffee pot and set it to brew a new batch. The letter is haunting you once more. Who’s it from? What’s it about? Good news or bad? You pick up your phone and check for messages. It’s a slow day, nothing. Nothing except that annoying piece of snail mail. You turn on the TV to catch up on the day’s news while you eat your sandwich. There’s nothing there of interest to divert your attention away from the damned letter. You turn to the coffee pot for inspiration, hoping a hit of caffeine will blow the cobwebs away and help you think straight. All too soon it’s back to work. A fresh piece with a fresh deadline. Unfortunately, the deadline is too far in the future to inspire any sense of urgency and your thoughts drift back to the letter. You know you’re being foolish. You know that you should just open it and be done. The trouble is that you can’t think of anyone who would want to write you a letter. All your friends were more likely to phone or text if they wanted to talk with you. You couldn’t imagine any of them sitting down and writing you a letter.
Enough is enough. The moment of truth. You reach for the letter opener, insert its point under the flap of the envelope, push, then tear it open along the fold revealing the letter inside. Gingerly you pull the letter from the envelope. You unfold it and smooth it open. You glance at the bottom of the letter, at the signature, it leaves you none the wiser. You go back to the top and start to read. None of it makes any sense to you. Puzzled you lay the letter back down on the table. You study the return address, it’s for a location that you’ve never heard of before. You pick up the envelope again and for the first time realise something. It’s not actually addressed to you. How could you have missed that? You’ve been staring at it for the best part of the day and you missed the fact that the address was wrong. Unbelievable.
Carefully you refold the letter and put it back into the envelope. You get a roll of tape and reseal the envelope as neatly as you can, all the time feeling badly about reading somebody else’s mail. You put on your shoes and pick up the letter. You head for your local mailbox, insert the letter and feel a great weight lifted from your shoulders. You head home berating yourself for how you’ve wasted your day getting yourself into a state over nothing and reflecting on the fact that it’s probably time to get an eye test.