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Issue number three




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Sunday mail by Vera Chase

From the very beginning that letter promised nothing good. It was delivered during the time of my Sunday siesta by a Sunday postman in his black-and-yellow uniform, the unmistakable outfit of the dangerous. Usually I do not answer the door at such times or places. But the key to the successful completion of this delivery was the powerful minutes-long pressure he applied to the bell, which took me for one terrifying moment back to my civil defence training.

Such a rough awakening, which unfortunately coincided with an unfavorable point of my sleep sinusoid, caused a flood of sweat to cover my body, with two doubly unwelcome effects: exposed to the cold air, out of the protective capsule of a blanket, it chilled my whole body and moreover made dressing almost impossible. In addition, with every other breath I suspected I was suffering from cardiac arrhythmia.

Even after I'd woken up and opened the front door, I still wasn't sure what was what. Automatically, I grabbed the pen as soon as I saw it, ignoring the fact that the Sunday postman was using it, and in the next moment I signed the delivery document in a blank field adjacent to an unfamiliar name. Then, clutching the parcel, I immediately retreated into the safety of my house. Without delay I switched off the electricity in the house so I could avoid the danger of any further ringing doorbells.

I suspected the worst: if it wasn't literally a bomb, then it must be a bomb in the figurative sense. But the parcel contained only a cassette tape with no label, just an original pencil decoration sketched on it in an urban folk style. "So," I thought, "the tape is infected and the virus will first spread to the tape player and then to all the remaining electrical appliances." Both to be safe and also because I didn't want to turn the electricity back on, I played the tape on a battery-powered player.

It was worse than I could have imagined: the tape contained an emotional outpouring! An outpouring so intense and private that even my handy flashlight dimmed in response to it (the outpouring was especially surprising considering that I'd only ever seen the sender of the tape once, and that while waiting for liver-test results). The message not only informed me of the depth and state of this person's emotions but, in addition, passed on to me the instructions which I was to follow from then on in order to eliminate the risk of her suicide. The list of tasks was clear and long, including such things as: move to the sender's apartment; make sure your active vocabulary includes a minimum of one hundred romantic diminutives; and do not pass your new telephone number on to any female persons. The consequences, should I choose to ignore the advice, were made quite clear. Obviously, by signing the receipt I had unknowingly gotten myself entangled in a dense web of responsibilities and risks.

"That black-and-yellow Sunday beast!" I swore out loud in the stress of this unwelcome situation. And then an idea occurred to me: What if my signature was invalid since I had placed it next to the wrong name? And before this small spark of hope could die out I found myself unlocking the fifth safety lock on the door and, clutching the explosive audio-letter, preparing to run out after the Sunday pyro-postman.

(translated by the author)

Vera Chase was born in and currently lives in Prague, Czech Republic. A graduate of the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, her writing has appeared in various magazines and newspapers. Her novel, Vasen pro broskve, was the winner of the 1997 Czech Book Award. "Sunday Mail" was selected and translated from Hypnoskop, a collection of her short stories published by Prostor (Prague, 1999). Her two books of poetry -- Eyeberries/Bobule and Bodypainting/Telokresba -- are bilingual.

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