An ongoing series of stories inspired by real-life postcards that I have found and collected.AUTHOR SUBMIT DISCLAIMER ASK
“I have these dreams,” you say, “these extended dreams where everything feels so real and true and I’m lost somewhere in the midwestern United States, a memory, rather, or a feeling of the United States – the geography all out of proportion, like an antiquated map of “The New World” – yet I know it’s the midwest, and I believe in my existence, because my windshield is frozen solid and I scrape off the ice and my nose is running in the cold and then, when I’m finished, I sit down into the car and begin to drive and I’m speeding down the highway and my radio is throbbing with music and I keep driving and driving and driving and I have this anxious feeling shooting out through my fingers, along my nerves, back down into my stomach, like there’s something chasing me or, even worse, that there is nothing chasing me and it’s something only sensed or felt, something self-fabricated, and everything is happening so fast, and my car is hurtling southward, and the terrain begins to change and it’s warmer, and buildings are painted in pinks and lime-greens and yellows and I feel a rejuvenation, hopeful even, and as I’m driving I begin to sweat and I remove my jacket and my hat and scarf and toss them out of the window and watch them tail off over the highway through my rear-view, the scarf billowing like a ribbon out over the blacktop, and I can feel the sun on my face and I roll down the windows and allow the humid air into my lungs, but soon that nagging familiar feeling of dread returns, and I’m driving along the highway and there’s water all around me, and there’s no traffic and I cross over bridges and then there’s this empty stretch of a pier jutting out over the water – simmering with mid-day heat; I imagine all the creatures living under the surface, swimming, reproducing, evolving, some neon and gelatinous, feeding on microbes, in the trenches of the under-water world, and then I reach the end of the pier, as I’ve run out of highway, and there’s nowhere else to go and yet I feel I can’t go back – can’t return to the snow and cold, that great grey disillusion – and I consider jumping in the water, but instead I stand and wait for the sunset, waiting for some change, any change, and I’m struggling to make sense of everything that has happened, because already my memory feels fuzzy and I’m unsure of how I reached this point, this moment, at the end of the pier and so on and so on and so on – and then, usually, I wake up.”
Postcard: Found at the Hartville Antique Center in Hartville, OH in December 2011.
Since Marty had no kids of his own, family gatherings existed mainly of his sisters family, through which he could live vicariously.
Brenda had two children under ten; Hope and Forrest. Both of whom yelled out, and tore into the house before Marty could warn any of his travel-fatigued family. His sister pecked him on the cheek, and her husband Kirk, the rent-a-cop with an over-compensating sense of justice, crunched Marty’s hand with his own.
“How the hell are you Marty?” asked Kirk.
“Listen, something weird has happen. Let me explain before I –”
But they’re heads were already craning up and down at the scantily clad bombshell standing in the hallway, with her arms open wide.
“We’re all family now!” she said, and swooped in to bring them close. Brenda and Kirk’s agape mouths, turned toward Marty, who deflected them with a shrug.
“Surprise,” he said.
The family gathered at the table later on for turkey and stuffing. The meal was mostly silent, with Kirk’s eyes occasionally looking over Vera, up and down. This was followed by Brenda’s scowl. Marty spent most of the meal in a peculiar state, horrified, and somewhat, way deep down, enjoying the confusion he was causing between Kirk and his sister.
Vera recited Ukrainian fables to the kids’ delight.
After dinner, Brenda pulled him through the back sliding door, out onto the patio by the swimming pool. “What is going on here?” she snapped.
“I don’t really know.”
“You think it’s okay, to bring a woman like that to Thanksgiving with your niece and nephew? I’m absolutely livid right now, Marty. You better have a goddamn stellar explanation.”
“What do you mean a woman like that?”
“Come on Marty.”
“She’s not a prostitute.”
“You think I’m an idiot? Don’t play games with me. It’s obvious you two don’t know a single thing about each other. I know Brooke leaving you was hard, but we thought the fresh start down here would help you get back on track.” Brenda’s neck bobbed as she spoke, she looked heavier than Marty had remembered her.
“I know. I know. It’s really hard to explain. But that woman in there is not a prostitute. She’s actually my wife, or I think she is. I still need to check out all the paperwork.”
“You’re a sick man, Marty. You need help.”
Brenda scanned his expression. There was a sudden gulp of water from a nearby pond, beyond the yard, reflecting the reddish light from the setting sun. They turned to spot an alligators tail as it slithered into the water.
“She’s one of those brides isn’t she?” she said, epiphanically.
“Yeah, she is. I’m pretty sure.”
“This is a human being we’re talking about here.”
“It’s all a big misunderstanding.”
“I think it’s pretty goddamn obvious, if you ask me.”
“I’m going to take care of her. I’m going to get rid of her.” He began to shake, he sat down on a retractable patio chair. Brenda looked him over, she put a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, shaking her off.
“This isn’t okay, Marty.”
“That whole industry is sick. It’s like slavery. It’s disgusting. These women aren’t objects to be bought and sold. I can’t believe you’ve gotten yourself involved.” Brenda sat down across from her brother, a vein had formed in her rosy forehead. She was sweating into her holiday sweater.”
“I hate it here,” he said.
Brenda’s eyes lit up. “What?”
“I hate this place. I don’t belong here.”
“What are you talking about? This is paradise?”
“You guys just wanted to get rid of me didn’t you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous Marty.”
“After it all, with Brooke and my injury. After everything, I really needed you and Kirk. I’m fifty-one Brenda, and what do I have? I have money. I have a lot of money, but I don’t have anything. And I needed you guys, and you pushed me into moving into this community down here with all these blue-hairs. I’m bored out of my mind here.”
“I’m sorry. I just – we just – you couldn’t live with us anymore Marty. You needed your own space. We were just trying to do what we thought was best for you. You were like a child. Everything had always been taken care for you when you were playing ball, and you just didn’t adjust well. Dad always warned you that baseball wasn’t always going to be there.”
Marty grabbed the lawn chair and hurled it into the pool. A jolt of pain shot through his shoulder, and he clutched it tenderly, wincing.
“Your shoulder’s still hurting you?”
“Of course it’s still hurting me. It hurts every single fucking day.” He stormed back into the house.
The next two days were spent together, while much effort was put into diverting the children’s questions about the mysterious woman who now lived with Uncle Marty. Kirk and Marty hit balls at the range, while Brenda sat by the pool under a cabana, as the swimsuited Vera – turning elderly male heads all the way from Tampa down to Key West – cheered on Hope and Forrest as they ran through a series of stunt-dives in the deep end; the “pencil,” “the crazy arms,” and, of course, the aptly named “cannonball.”
That night, Vera walked in on Marty seated on the side of the bathtub, his chin on his hand, staring at his bottle of pills. Vera apologized, not knowing he’d been in there, but eyed the bottle suspiciously. She snatched the bottle from his hand.
“Hey!” he called out as she proceeded to flush its contents down the toilet. “What the hell, I need those!”
He lunged for the toilet and watched the oval shaped pills spiral down, dissolving in the water, and disappear.
“You’re family is waiting for you at the table,” she said and walked out.
The final day, Marty redeemed his sea-doo coupon and shot along the glistening surface of the Gulf, with Vera in tow, her arms wrapped around his stomach to stay on board. Kirk and Forrest zig-zagged across the water nearby, on their own sea-doo, hitting the crest of waves and going airborne for brief ecstatic moments. Marty and Vera sped off away from shore. He pressed down hard on the accelerator. She squealed into his ear and pointed off to the distance, toward the simmering horizon line, where several dolphins acrobatically leaped out of the water, coming down in hard splashes. It was during this moment, that Marty almost, for a second, forgot about the strangeness of their situation all together.
At the end of the weekend, after his sister’s family had left, Marty sat in the living room alone watching sports highlights when Vera came out. She was wearing pajama bottoms and tousling her hair. She sat down next to him, pushing his blankets and pillows aside, and began to watch.
“You really had no idea, did you. You really don’t remember?” she said during a muted commercial break.
“I don’t remember anything about that night.”
“I’m sorry if I complicated things for your family. They are very nice. Wonderful children.”
“It’s okay. The kids really liked you.”
“I’m sorry I flushed your pills,” she said after a silence.
“I really do need them sometimes,” he said. “I had this injury you see.”
“I did things too, in Kiev.”
“What do you mean?”
“I took things.”
“Anything, really. Anything that made cleaning rich people’s houses more bearable.”
“I didn’t know.”
“But in the end they didn’t help. They made things worse in the end. I shouldn’t have –”
“– It’s okay. I know you were trying to help.”
“I didn’t lie earlier.”
“When I said I love it here, when I said that at dinner, remember? Life in Kiev was hard. I could barely live on my wages. I had this boyfriend who was not good for me. I dreamed of America, because of movies I’d seen. I needed a – how you say –”
“Yes. And I understand if you want me to go. I just can’t return to Kiev. You understand? There’s no hope for me there. That’s why I signed up for that website. You hear me?”
“This is all a lot to take in.”
“I wasn’t proud of signing up for it, but it gave me hope.”
“I can’t imagine how weird this is for you.”
“It’s weird, yes.”
“But Vera, I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”
Vera kissed him on the cheek, stood and moved toward the back hallway. “Thanks for everything so far,” she said, and disappeared around the corner.
Marty remained seated, it was late, but he was still running on adrenaline from the weekend.
Later, the sports channel ran a re-run of a highlight reel called “Great Moments on the Mound.” Had Marty stayed awake long enough, he would have seen a shaggier, younger, version of himself on the mound in preternatural concentration, nodding at the catcher’s signal, gliding back into his wind-up.
The pitch snapped from his hand, blew past the slow-motion swing of the bat, and into the catcher’s mitt. He collapsed to his knees in front of the mound, throwing his arms up into the air. The crowd erupted, the team exploded from the dugout, engulfing him in a mad rush, picking him up off the ground and hoisting him up on their shoulders.
From their shoulders, he swung his ball cap in the air, tears of exuberance pouring down his cheeks, and was carried off the field.
Postcard: Found at Bright’s Antique World in Franklin, KY in October 2011.
Marty had already had his success, and now he was bored. He stood that day, in the back of the pharmacy, waiting in the decaying ring of the countertop service bell. A fluorescent light bathed down on him, illuminating the industrial shelves filled with pill bottles, medical supplies. He was sweating.
A bald man in a white apron stepped forward. “I’m sorry, Mr. Donovon. There’s nothing I can do.”
“Can’t you make an exception? I just won’t have time to come back this weekend.”
“We can’t fill it before the date given on your prescription. People abuse these medicines, you know.” The bald man’s eyes lit up, as Marty turned to leave. “Wait.”
“You gonna let this one slide?”
The bald man looked him over. “Marty Donovon? The Marty Donovon?”
“It’s on my prescription, isn’t it?”
“Cleveland Indians, Marty Donovon?”
“Yeah, but keep it down. Don’t make a scene.”
The bald man leaned in across the counter. “I’m from Ohio,” he whispered. “I was at the Jake, in ‘94 when you pitched that perfect game against the Red Sox.”
“Yeah? Well so were 40,000 others. Can you fill this thing or not?” Marty leaned back from the counter, holding the location of his pain – his shoulder – for sympathy.
The pharmacist, lowered his head. “I heard about your injury, Mr. Donovon. It’s such a shame. You were one of the greats. But I can’t, sir. I could lose my job.”
“But would it be out of line to ask you for your autograph?”
Marty pointed down to the prescription on the counter. “It’s on there. Keep it.”
He drove back home with the top down on his convertible. It was a hot and muggy day. Sports radio was on and his Polynesian patterned shirt flapped in the wind.
“Nice day ain’t it Mr. Donovon?” said the friendly face of the gate attendant as he pulled up. “Got a call from your sister last night. Said they’re coming for the holiday after all.”
“Thanks Domingo,” he said, as he was waved through.
He drove past the manicured shrubs, the beautiful homes – the community offered three different variations – past old flabby waving arms from the pool-house, the driving range, rows of palm trees, the buzzing golf-carts. Having had financial success so early on in his life, Marty had made a lot of regrettable decisions, but none of them was as regrettable as believing that an early-retirement housing community, just south of Tampa, was the right place for him to move.
** Add a crude local TV commercial that exploits his “perfect game” to sell cars.
That night Marty tried to sleep, but couldn’t. It was the first night in four months he’d gone without Vicodin. He’d sat at his computer, playing solitaire online, until, at one point, he yawned, split the blinds with his fingers, like an opening scissor, and looked out as the sky was turning a peach-like color. When he turned back toward his screen, he was startled by a scantily clad dancing woman, shaking her hips, pouting her face.
“Find Your Soulmate! Mail Order Brides!” flashed at the top.
He closed the pop-up, shut down the computer, and went back to bed. Finally, he was able to sleep.
“Who are these people? How do I fit in here? I have so much of my life still to live?” thought Marty that night, as a smiling, white haired, skin-speckled man, leaned in with a twelve-inch ruler along his protruding mustache. A line of bearded and mustached middle-aged men stood anxiously in line.
“I think we may have a winner!” announced the man proudly.
Marty looked out over the handful of old people seated in folding metal chairs, like the ones from NA meetings. He was the youngest person in the room, by at least ten years.
It was a special night for the community; the “Northern Sarasota Pre-Retirement Community Facial Hair Awards” were nothing to be scoffed at. Especially since Marty knew he could turn this around, if he played it right, to bag some recently widowed silver-haired-fox by the end of the night. It had been two years now since Brooke, and he wanted nothing more than to spend the night with someone.
Marty walked out of the conference room, with his free sea-doo rental coupon.
In the bathroom, he saw a squat older man leaning forward with his mouth on the faucet. Marty had already spotted the bottle on the counter before he said hello. The squat man straightened up, as Marty calmed him. He explained they were for his back and Marty nodded.
He left with several pills and was back in the rec-center, drink in hand, and had already joined the conga line snaking around the linoleum floor. He felt as good as he had in months.
And the night passed in a flash.
He woke up the next morning with a gasp. He tried to shower, but had to yank the curtain aside, and vomit into the toilet. He slid back on the floor the shower for an hour, while his head throbbed, before he finally had the strength to move to the couch.
He spent the next few days recovering, playing golf in the sun and reading mystery novels by the pool. By the time he made it to the weekend, he was finally feeling good again. Plus, he could finally cash in his prescription.
Two weeks later, his Ohio family was due to arrive. Marty spent the morning calling catering services, and cleaning the house, when he received the call.
“See if you can stall them, the place isn’t quite ready yet.”
“I’m sorry sir, there’s a woman here with a stack of suitcases. She doesn’t really speak English, but she’s saying –”
“What’s she saying?”
“You really should come down here.”
“Domingo, what’s she saying?”
“Well, she says she’s your wife.”
Marty’s face went numb. “I don’t want anything to do with her,” he said.
“It’s not who you’re thinking.”
“What do you mean?”
“No, this woman says her name is Vera.”
“Who? What is this?”
“She is holding all the papers, and everything sir.”
“I’ll be down in a minute,” he said.
Marty took the golf cart and skidded up to the gatehouse. Domingo pointed around to the front.
“Let me know if you need security,” he said.
Marty turned the corner. A gorgeous woman, dressed in a short skirt and a fur shawl – which looked silly, and entirely unnecessary in the Florida heat – was seated, patient and barefoot, on the bench. She twirled one of her high heels in her hand by the strap.
“What’s going on here,” said Marty. “What are you trying to pull?” He felt as if a hidden camera crew was going to jump out at any moment. He even looked, but they never did.
“My name is Vera. I’m from Kiev. I am the bride,” she recited.
“What are you talking about?” he said. Domingo peered out through the gatehouse window holding a phone, and Marty waved him away. He was sweating through his florally patterned shirt. Vera held up a packet, pushed a series of papers at him. He flipped through them, looking them over. “This a joke?”
Marty’s mind shot back to that night, the night of the rec-center party. He couldn’t tell if he actually remembered, or was filling in the gaps with his imagination, but he saw himself barely functioning, swaying at his computer. He saw his credit card, license, information, spread out on the desk.
“I’m your wife. You contacted my profile online that night, and you filled out the paperwork. Your spelling was terrible though. I thought you might be – how do you say – illiterate?”
“Fucking hell.” Marty sat next to her on the bench. He put his hands on his face. Vera began massaging his shoulders. He shook her off.
“I’m sorry if this is weird,” she said.
Marty remained silent, he didn’t know what to do.
“Yeah this is weird,” he said.
“I have more being shipped. It should be here by the end of the week.”
“Suitcases. My belongings.”
A golf-cart drove-by slowly. An older couple eyed them. The woman, wearing a white visor, lowered her wrap-around sunglasses, craning her neck to get a look at them. They drove on.
Marty motioned her into his golf-cart. Vera hobbled up, and dragged her suitcases, one after the other, into the back. He cranked the ignition, and she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“Do you love your pretty little wife?” Marty ignored her and drove off, his face emotionless, hiding the panic that jolted through him.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” he said as they pulled up into the driveway.
Vera stood out of the cart, straightening her skirt. “I’m going to call the agency and have this whole thing righted. This is a mistake. You understand? You hear me? A mistake! I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“I love steak!” she said with a smile. “I show you recipe from Ukraine to cook potatoes. Your house is beautiful. I love it. Florida is the best.”
“You’re messing with me aren’t you?”
“Yes. Sorry. I don’t mean to joke. My English is actually pretty good. I took classes in Kiev.”
Marty ushered her in, shooting glances around at the neighboring houses to see the two round elderly faces peaking out through the blinds across the street, before the blinds snapped back into place.
Vera drifted around the place, dropping her shawl onto the couch. She danced along the rug, taking in the framed pictures of Marty in his Cleveland uniform, on the mound.
“What does it mean, perfect game?” called Vera.
From off in the kitchen, Marty ignored her. He punched the countertop, and turned his reddened knuckles back around to inspect them. He punched it again.
“What’s the racket?” said Vera, popping into the kitchen.
“Nothing,” said Marty. He grabbed a hand-towel, and held it over his knuckles. Tiny splotches of red seeped into it. He started toward the the bathroom as the phone had rung again. Marty froze. He already knew who it was.
Vera retrieved the phone from the wall, and handed it to him.
“Send them through,” he said into the receiver. And he and Vera stood, silent, and unsure, waiting for whatever was next.
(To be continued…)
Postcard: Found at Bright’s Antique World in Franklin, KY in October 2011.
You really should have joined us in Orlando! I mean, it’s no big deal. It really isn’t. We would have all had a lot of fun down here, that’s all. And seriously, I know you were really concerned about the ticket, but promise me you will not worry. Say it aloud if you have to: I-WILL-NOT-WORRY. If anyone is to blame, Janet, it is certainly me. I shouldn’t have put the tickets on my credit card. When you informed me you weren’t coming, you had no way of knowing that the airline would not refund the four hundred and eighty dollars, and thirty-seven cents that the ticket cost.
So please, please, pretty please, do not worry.
Now, I hate to gloat, but the weather down here is absolutely ideal. Temperature’s in the mid 80s, and the sun never stops shining. George and I have been drinking margaritas poolside as if we were all back in Champaign once again.
Clarence and Paula are arriving tomorrow, and I’m sure they will be upset that you aren’t here. It’s been so long since we’ve all spent time together. I’ll explain to them though that you were feeling tired from your part-time job shelving books at the library, and that you needed time to work on your novel. How wonderful, Janet, I didn’t even know you were trying to be a writer. It’s a shame because – I’m sure you’re not aware – but Clarence actually had his manuscript picked up by Downtown Publishing in New York. I’ll have to let Clarence know you’re trying to write. Maybe he could have given you some pointers? Also, I really meant it when I said I’d love to read what you have and give you feedback on it. I’ll be brutal Janet, if you need me to be. With your permission, I’d love to give him your email. Actually, I have your email address on my phone, from when you emailed me a half-an-hour before our departure time at the airport. It’s a really good thing I saw that email Janet, because we were worried about you! We had no way of knowing if you’d been in a car accident, or worse. How could we have known, if you’d slipped on one of those double-decker bus toys you bought for your son when you went to London with Sharon Gayles. You know how he always leaves his toys lying out in the living room? Or we even wondered if one of those snow globes you have on displayed your shelves, from when you went to Alaska with Candice and Ron Walker, that one time and didn’t invite me – just kidding – had fallen and clocked you on the head. We were so worried about you! George and I have vivid imaginations and we can be quite morbid sometimes. I’m sure you aren’t aware of our newfound morbidity though, Janet. I mean, how could you be? You’re so busy all the time these days, and can’t ever come by and see us. Anyway, we were so glad to hear that you were safe.
Did I mention that Disney World is truly the happiest, most magical, place on earth? I guarantee that no more wonderful place exists on this earth. George and I went to the Magic Kingdom today and I’m not exaggerating when I say we had the best time of our lives. We got there right as they opened and spent the morning getting to all the good rides before the major crowds rushed in. We screamed through the dark of outer space on Space Mountain, tore through the Wild West on the Thunder Mountain Railroad, and how could we forget “It’s a Small World!”
“It’s a small world after all…it’s a small WORLD after all!”
I know this to be true, Janet, because of that time last year when I ran into you at the grocery store. I doubt you’ll remember, but I do. I remember it was funny to me how loud the jazz muzak was in that store, because I kept calling your name, and you continued shopping as if you didn’t hear me! But it’s a small world after all, Janet. Isn’t it. I still can’t believe that when I finally tracked you down we discovered that we’d been living in the same neighborhood, ever since graduating U of I.
You had the most surprised look on your face. It was almost as if you seemed upset to think that you’d spent all these years so close to your old college friend, and had nothing to show for it. What a waste. Think of the odds? All those years – I can’t believe it’s going on fifteen now – and there we were, living so close together, while all the time I’d thought you’d moved to Chicago to give the writing thing a chance.
Speaking of our beloved Land of Lincoln, how’s the weather back home? Pretty cold, I bet. Illinois winters are the worst.
Like I said, I don’t mean to gloat, but you’re really missing out Janet. Like, for instance, last night, we met a real bonafide celebrity. We met a former pitcher from the Cleveland Indians at the hotel bar. He was there with this knock-out woman – I think she was from the Ukraine – and we got pictures with him and, we talked to him, and he bought us a round of drinks. Can you believe it? A Major League pitcher buying us drinks? And he was such a charmer, Janet. You would have loved to meet him. I know what a baseball fan you are too.
None of this would have happened, if we hadn’t gone on this trip. I really wish more than anything else that you could have been there. You know, I worry about you Janet. It’s going to be hard to get out and meet people, if you pour all of your time into writing that novel of yours. But what do I know?
Well, George is getting cranky. I need to apply lotion to his bald spot, or he’s going to get sunburned. You know, as a result of the endless sunshine and warmth down here.
So with that, my friend, I’m afraid I must go. We’re going to have beers by the Mickey Mouse shaped swimming pool, and read some mystery novels, until another dazzling Florida sunset prompts us to return once more to our luxurious suite. The additional room – what would have been your room – has really been a blessing in disguise. You see, George overpacked, as always, and we’ve been storing his extra luggage in what would have been your room, had you been well enough to come.
Isn’t it funny how things tend to work out in the end?
As I said before, don’t worry about the ticket. Please don’t feel like you’re in my pocket now. We can work out some sort of payment plan when we return. We’ll figure out something. The most important thing for you is to get your rest. Fatigue is a killer. Don’t overdo yourself with this writing thing of yours. And don’t hesitate to put the ever-growing manuscript away until you’re better.
Ironically, it sounds like what you really need is a vacation. Too bad this wonderful trip to Disney World – which was already paid for – couldn’t be it.
Postcard: Found at the Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles, CA in October 2011.