Seashore Lane

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Set your story in a post office.... view prompt

4 comments

Contemporary Fiction

“40 by 60 centimetres, this one goes to orange; 4 by 2, blue. What do you think they packed in this one? Do they deliver jewellery by post now too?” marvels Maia, as she lobs the tiny, decorated cardboard packet to the container at the back of the holding room.

“Who knows?” mutters Mitch. “Everything is considered urgent nowadays, probably a couple who decided to get married online at the last minute and needed a ring”.

They continue sorting the cardboard boxes: a novel initiative to reduce paper waste from the incremental build-up of cardboard packaging in the new age of online delivery. “Sellotape vortex!” cries Maia, laughing; Mitch comes to the rescue with a long set of wooden pincers to pull off the sticky tape she has been passing from finger to finger for the last few minutes without succeeding in getting unstuck. “I wish they would stop sticking the corners down with this stuff, it drives me crazy!”. “Well it’s that or metal staples, and those were outlawed as a health and safety hazard, so sticky tape it shall be”.

“I’m sure there are a whole range of alternatives. Years ago I bought a staple-less stapler, it somehow shot air through the paper to get it to stick together. My little brother stole it during his stationary phase and I never saw it again so I can’t tell you any more about how it works. And aren’t the Japanese the crafters of folding? From origami to fancy cloth packets, they can fold anything into shape. See? I’m sure there are lots of alternatives. I bet you there’s a sticky tape lobby which has got us stuck here, excuse the pun” she laughs.

Mitch smirks as he uses a ruler, a pencil and his left pinkie finger to finally unstick the sticky tape from the pincers and get it to fall into the plastics bucket.

Bim, ding, dong! The voice-over sings out from the central communications station and announces “Postal worker requested at the IT station, invited to present with a smile and goodwill. Online banking error 501 signalled from mass user survey”. “I guess it’s my turn” frowns Mitch, “I’ll work on my smile in case they turn on webcam. Since online banking became our number one seller, all the pre-retirees are managing their retirement funds themselves. They’re panicking about fluctuating interest rates and we’re getting user bottlenecks in the account transfer centre. I have to go and dangle some e-products into their investment space to spread the wealth. Retirement homes, solar-fuelled entertainment systems and sustainable virtual casinos are some of their favourite investment packages. Oh, and crowdsourcing for Angry Bird version 89.”

“Mitch, you’re one of a kind! Go and help those post pre millennials find the good life!”. 

Maia sighs and gets ready to pick up another carton when she hears a ring, this time it sounds like a doorbell. Odd, I didn’t receive a message to tell me anyone is coming. Nobody ever comes here, in fact, apart from Mitch and I, I’m not sure anyone else even knows where the post office is. We are actually the living avatars of the postal metaverse.

Maia scans the room to check that nothing is out of the ordinary, walks through the thick metal bomb shelter door and climbs the spiral staircase. She walks through the empty white corridor with faded lino flooring and peeps through the door hole. Nothing. She tentatively opens the wooden door that faces onto the dull East London back street. Nobody. Then a voice whispers “For you, Maam”. She looks down to find a little girl, about six years old, with dark curls and a nervous smile, staring at her intently with a deep and expectant expression in her eyes. She holds out a small white envelope. Without thinking, Maia reaches out and takes the envelope. With that, the girl skips away and disappears round a corner behind the bagel shop. Maia looks at the envelope in her hand. On one side an address is written in childish capitals: ‘Tom Appleby, Seashore Lane, Cornwall’. In the top right corner is a small rectangle with a drawing of a butterfly and underneath is written ‘50p’. On the other side, where the envelope is sealed, elegant script reads ‘Lena Baxter, Brick Lane, East London’.

What am I supposed to do with this? What is it, anyway?

“Mitch, come and see this!”. “What’s up? I just got my seniors to invest in a gaming fund. You should be impressed!”. “Great, I’m glad to see you putting your A-levels to good use. Now look at this”.

“What is it?” Mitch wonders out loud. “Well, it’s an envelope, obviously, but what are we supposed to do with it?” Maia queries, starting to panic. “I hope it doesn’t have anthrax in it!”

“You can run it through the biosecurity monitor for recycled packaging” Mitch suggests, “but then what?”.

“Well, this little girl gave it to me. Maybe she’s Lena Baxter. Or maybe that’s her mum, since the writing looks very sophisticated. Maybe they want this envelope to get to Tom Appleby in Cornwall.”

“So why would they give it to us? Why didn’t they call Uber-send?”. “I really don’t know, Mitch…. But I do know that the girl looked quite desperate. I feel like she placed her trust in us and we owe her one”.

“So, do you have plans this weekend? It’s at least a 6-hour train ride to Cornwall if you’re up for it.”

“If we’re up for it, you mean” specifies Maia. “That’s all very well, but what happens once we get there? None of my online maps come up with Seashore Lane. How on earth are we going to find it?? And we have to be back here by Monday as we’ve got all the new cardboard containers coming in”.

At 5am on Saturday we board the train. London to Perranporth, no biggie. Only 10 hours of travel, including train, walking, train, hitch-hiking, bus. It should be a scenic place, it’s definitely on the seashore, and it’s traditional enough that some old geezer in the village might know someone who knows someone who knows Tom Appleby.

Arrive Perranporth. It’s windy with a high chance of rain. Not quite the picture from the Tourism Office website. The student bartender in The Cod and Crown has never heard of Seashore Lane, let alone Tom Appleby, apart from a character she might have seen from a 1970s TV show rerun.  The older generation with some knowledge of the area are all at a bingo tournament in Newquay and won’t be back until sunset. We go back to The Cod and Crown. There’s nowhere else to go. I order a non-alcoholic beer and Maia gets a cranberry-flavoured cider. I meander over to a forlorn bookshelf in the corner of the musty pub, which boasts Oriental philosophy, The Art and Intuition of Fishing and How to Build a Boat in 7 Days or Less. I pick up the Boat book and walk back to the table. Maia and I have a sarcastic flick through the graphic illustrations adapted in turn to oak, bamboo and beech. I am about to slam the cover closed in frustration when I notice a personal note on the inside cover. The handwriting looks familiar. “Maia, pull out the envelope!”. And there it is, the same handwriting as on the back of the envelope. Lena Baxter’s. It reads:

My dear Tom, another one for your collection. May the tides rise and fall as smoothly as our heartbeat. Yours patiently, L.B.

Uncanny. Maia and I get up and inspect the premises. We notice another door on the far side of the pub with an arrow pointing towards it marked ‘Tides and things’. And in small letters beneath it ‘Explorers, fishers and friends can all be found on Seashore Lane’. It opens onto a path towards the beach. Somehow, it makes sense to follow it. At the beach is a narrow jetty, in front of which lies a crate with lots of empty wine bottles stacked inside. Each of them has a small sticker and there, on some of the stickers, is the same address – Tom Appleby, Seashore Lane. Others have different names, John Edwards, Greg Wilson, Henry Adams. Maia knows what to do. She pulls out the envelope from her bag and rolls it carefully into a thin tube. She takes a bottle with Tom Appleby’s name and inserts the envelope inside. She then plugs it closed with a cork from a pile in the corner of the crate.  

“I wonder how long he’s been out there” wonders Maia. “And how Lena Baxter and that girl are connected to him”. He could be an uncle, a friend, a brother. Maybe we’ll never know. “Wait!” I shout, before Maia throws the bottle into the sea. I pull off the cork, get a stick to extract the letter and whip out a pencil from my pocket. In the bottom left back corner I scribble “Mitch and Maia, courtesy of Brick Lane Post Office”. “In case he finds it” I say. Maia smiles at me wistfully, packs it back up, walks to the end of the jetty and drops the bottle into the waves. “A message in a bottle. Who knew that in our day and age, it would be the most likely way of finding lost explorers.” 

August 25, 2023 20:57

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4 comments

William Vickers
14:48 Sep 01, 2023

Super interesting story! Good job on creating something so unique... I'd never read anything quite like this before. I found it charming and mysterious and loved the part where we get to Perranporth. I think you cleverly build this world quickly mentioning the only people old enough to help will be playing bingo! Quite funny but we understand the setting perfectly. "Forlorn" bookcase in the "musty" pub ... I really liked that too. Very Very charming end to a feel-good story :) (before i forget I do agree with Derrick regarding the POV switch...

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S Fevre
19:31 Sep 01, 2023

Thanks for the feedback William. It's interesting to hear which parts struck a cord and very encouraging. Really appreciate it!

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06:44 Aug 29, 2023

Inventive tale! Liked the characters, it had a nice whimsical vibe to it. Very playful and magical. And I like the mystery is exactly that! The writing flowed Really well. One comment, I found it jarring when the pov changed halfway through from third person (with Maia being the main character in the first section), to first person with Mitch becoming the main character. Maybe that's intentional but it definitely caught me and confused me. Maybe some kind of marker between first and second parts to tell the reader something has changed, sc...

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S Fevre
12:06 Aug 29, 2023

Hi Derrick, thanks so much for your read and comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the tale. And I really appreciate your feedback on the POV. I decided to experiment (one of the values of Reedsy) with POV and try different approaches, so your reader experience and suggestions are really helpful.

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