A Snail Mail’s Tale

August 4, 2008 at 4:37 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

There I was, an envelope, addressed correctly, stamps affixed properly. Deposited into a blue metal box I waited in the dark with hundreds of others like me. The wait wasn’t long as the next day a large man in a blue-gray uniform grabbed me and stuffed me into a hot leather sack.

The trip was bumpy and there were lots of stops. I was pressed hard against another envelope. I didn’t mind. She was pretty with barcodes and a clear window so I could see part of her payment coupon. She said her name was Bell. She winked and told me she also contained a check to the phone company. Ooo-la-la! This was going to be a nice trip.

We soon arrived to a large white truck and were rudely dumped out of our dark and cozy spot into a big white plastic box. The light of day struck my return label and I was blinded temporarily but within a minute the door was slammed shut and darkness again returned.

The next part I hardly remember, it went by in such a blur. I was tossed onto a conveyer belt and a large magazine fell on me. I could hardly breathe. But when we hit the metal roller rapids he shifted off of me and I could breathe easier and get a look around. Above and below me were lanes and lanes of postal highway. Depending on where you were headed, you were either lifted to the sky and then slid down a slide or transported horizontally through a portal. I was international mail and assumed that I would be exiting through the portal.

I saw Christmas cards branching away, turning around to blow kisses to each other, promising to write next year and tell each other how things were going. I saw stiff mortgage brokers’ and lawyers’ letters that wouldn’t bend even when the Victoria’s Secret catalog leaned against them. I was amazed at all the lives contained here and I was just in town! What laid beyond was a mystery and I was excited, anticipating the grand adventure of traveling out of the country.

Sure enough, I was sent through the portal and promptly stuffed into a knapsack. Quick transportation was made to the tarmac where I was thrown without a care into a plane’s cargo hold. The jet engines were loud. Above me I could hear the wheels of the stewardess’ beverage cart as it moved up and down the center aisle above us.

Our flight was long, giving me time to meet lots of letters. Everyone I met was nice. There was an old woman’s note with a fruit cake headed to Austria. A guy trying to track down an old military buddy. A young girl’s first pen pal correspondence. An older man asked me if I had seen any incoming mail. He was hoping that his message was not too late in getting there and that he wouldn’t cross paths with word of his brother’s death. I told him I had only seen outgoing mail and that I wished him Godspeed.

As soon as we landed the pace picked up once again and things really got hectic. We were transported to a huge building marked with official government seals and scary official signs declaring “No Hazardous Items Allowed”, “No Fireworks”, “No Talcum Powder of Any Kind.” A small cluster of baby announcements had started to cry. A Parenting magazine had stopped to reassure them that they would be alright. I couldn’t move, my envelope flap hung open in awe, it was the most amazing place I had ever seen.

Large florescent lights hung from the ceiling and the building was larger than a plane hanger. Metal roller conveyer belts went on for miles and piles and piles of post reached towards the top roof windows. I was terrified but figured if I was to ever reach my destination I had to be bold and go forth and get on. Hoping to make it into the hands of the person that I was addressed to, I courageously flung myself out flat and laid prone on the belts. The metal felt cool to my face and soon I was lured asleep by the sound of the machines.

It was hours later when I woke up in the dark, the machines stilled. There was a jam in the system and everything had come to a halt. A small bulgy package had come undone. The black lace bra it contained had tried to escape and had gotten entwined in the rollers. Her back hooks had snagged on a metal bracket. She was a goner. The packages around her were mortified. A Fredericks of Hollywood return address label indicated that she was the wrong size, that she had been unwanted.

“Apparent suicide,” the Fraternal Order of Police charity letter said matter-of-factly as he examined the envelope. “It happens sometimes with these kind. Not wanting to return to the manufacturer.”

“Move along, move along!” the novel War and Peace commanded, “There’s nothing to see here.” He began nudging some away from the incident. Everyone was visibly shaken. Many pressed themselves against each other in an effort to make sure their postage stamps and return labels were securely fixed.

Soon the machines started up again and though there was a reserved quietness, the feeling of anticipation again grew as letters contemplated their end destinations silently. After what seemed like an eternity I spied the large metal tank at the end of the building. Marked on its side in letters the size of a sequoia read the word, “Radiation”, and the yellow and red hazardous symbols glared at me ominously.

“Radiated? I have to be radiated? I didn’t sign up for this! I didn’t agree to be radiated! No, No!” I tried scrambling over stacks of junk mail. I tripped and slid down, landing on a pile of pizza coupons. “Nooooo!”

A coupon book of direct mail advertisers calmly reassured me that being radiated was painless, that unless you contained something biological and he gave me a questioning look. I was appalled. Biological? In me? They had to be kidding. I was clean. I was just a card.

“Isn’t there anyway I can get out of going through that?, that…” I couldn’t even make myself say the word and just stared at the ever looming silver metal contraption that I was sure would take the life out of me. “It’ll make my ink run!”

“It’s not a liquid“, reassured the direct advertiser. “You won’t even notice. The e-beam only takes about 10 seconds.”

A National Enquirer leaned over and whispered, “I heard that you could get a bit bleached from electron beams.” She glanced around and continued, “I don’t mean to spread rumors but I heard about this February Playboy issue that had her ends bleached and…”, she paused and sucked in her photos causing an effect like the mirror in a funhouse, the world’s largest fat lady turning svelte and curvaceous, “that her centerfold was found brittle!”

A Martha Stewart Living magazine who had been chatting with Rosie and Oprah’s latest issues overheard, stopped and turned to interrupt the tabloid, “That wouldn’t happen if she was properly wrapped in plastic. I will have to send her a card telling her how. I have the perfect method. It’s a good thing.”

“Martha, would you mind sharing that secret with us? as enquiring minds want to know.” Soon newspapers were huddled around for an impromptu press conference. An 8-mm tin containing a NPR news report mouthed to me from behind them, “Don’t worry, it happened in New Jersey!”

“If it would make you feel better, tuck yourself in my pages,” said the advertiser. Feeling very exposed, I figured it wouldn‘t hurt and I slid inside. His pages felt smooth and the ink was comforting. Pretty red words offering carpet cleaning and dog grooming. The dog door flap to the radiation area was approaching. My heart was racing but I was determined to do this. Inside we went. The air was stiff and humid and felt toxic. And that’s when it happened.

At first I felt a slight jerk and then a snap back that would open even a manila envelope with a brass closure. The pages of the direct mailer that I laid between fell between the conveyer belt loops and now I was caught in it too! “Help! Help!” I screamed. Post continued trampling over us. The pages screamed. They had dangled so far down into the machine that they were being shredded. “Please, somebody help!” I couldn’t wedge myself out of their grasp and they were being slowly pulled deeper into the machine. I lifted my envelope flap and attempted to attach myself to someone going by but my stickiness was drying fast. I wildly looked around for anybody, anything, hoping that I could find some way to extract myself. I looked around, frantic, desperate. I saw a sign hung high above. It was the last thing I read. SURE BEAM, Ohio.

– Mary McQueary.

No paper products were in any way harmed in the creation of this story. This is a work of the author’s imagination and does not portray an actual event. Any similarity to an actual event of the past or future is purely coincidental.



  1. Mom said,

    Very clever! May I use this in my English class as an example of an extended metaphor?
    The only thing I didn’t understand was the “SURE BEAM, Ohio.” Does that have some alternate meaning that I don’t get?

  2. Mary said,

    Yes, you may use it for your class.

    Sure Beam, Ohio, refers to the company, device, and place where mail was sent to be irradiated after the anthrax scare.

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