Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

Envelopes and Other Human Remains

Second-place finalist in Maisonneuve’s “Close Quarters” literary contest

I loved living alone. I needed my space. If there was a letter in my mailbox from the downstairs neighbour telling me not to flush after midnight or he’d blast Nana Mouskouri through my bedroom floor, at least it was addressed to me.

My space began to shrink the day I got an envelope for someone named Lucy Fréchette. I had to open her phone bill because Bell was asking me to pay for midnight calls to sinkholes like Berlin and Prague. I say sinkholes because I became bitter when I found out that the former tenant had a busier love life than I did.

According to a Canada Post study, change of address kits have never really caught on.

She moved back in slowly, invisibly, with Ikea catalogues and subscription notices and pottery workshop newsletters and postcards from Europe. I bought and assembled rickety pressed-wood night tables, began to read Maisonneuve magazine, learned how to mould a flower vase from Mexican clay and replied to a backpacking boyfriend whom I began to care about a little too much. I would have felt like a ghost of myself if I hadn’t felt more like a ghost of Lucy.

I don’t think either of us was expecting the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to advise Benoît Warner to stop running and pay up. We were shocked to be living with a white-collar criminal. Lucy locked herself in the bathroom while I opened his other mail—holiday greetings from Visa and MasterCard written in festive red ink. We could’ve told the mailwoman that he’d moved away, but that would’ve been lying to a federal employee.

The study says that people usually go on to receive more mail at an address they moved from than when they actually lived there. This is because of our deep psychological need to leave something behind.

In the end, we would be four. Shaheed had no last name and got reams of letters written by people who all told him how talented and handsome he was, but because of the competitive nature of the auditions that he would need to keep trying. I think Benoît was jealous of Shaheed’s devilishly good looks because I’d find the returned headshots torn to shreds and scattered around the apartment. Sometimes I’d find them rearranged to look like plastic surgery mishaps.

A typical post-departure pile accumulated during the course of a year weighs 424 grams.

Determined to be a good roommate, I spent long nights hammering out payment plans with collection agencies and government sharks. “The cheques are in the mail,” I told them. I spent weekends writing theatre directors in sinkholes around the world to say that hiring a one-named actor would be the only way to justify the cost of the tickets they were trying to sell. The taste of stamp glue invaded my dreams.

Lucy began to get these horribly passive-aggressive breakup letters from her boyfriend. Europe was opening his mind and he needed his space, he said. We fired back in our eloquent missives of grace and clarity—that space was a good thing, it was time to move on anyway and for him to go screw himself. I may have even slipped in a headshot of smirking Shaheed to hint misleadingly that she was doing just fine without him.

The seventh most commonly received post-moving letter is a notice from the Canada Council for the Arts beginning with the words “We regret to inform …”

Lucy and Shaheed did eventually shack up, so I let them have the master bedroom. I roughed it in the living room, amongst issues of Wallpaper and stacked of avis de paiement, Mayan pottery and Ikea bookshelves that could have collapsed and killed me in my sleep. Moving closer and closer to the door, I was happy to get away from the noise of fighting and fucking and merrymaking that I could neither see nor participate in.

Every now and then, the returns department receives an envelope with the complete lyrics of Elvis’s “Return to Sender” scrawled across the front. One out of every thirty of them is written in eyeliner or lipstick.

Trips to the mailbox were getting increasingly confusing. Who were Simon Brosseau and Dong Luu? What possible connection could Christine Harris and Jean-Philippe Tanguay have had, other than making me feel like I had already moved out?

One morning, there was finally something for me. It was a letter from the guy downstairs saying that if I didn’t mop up the garbage juice dripping from my balcony onto his, he’d crank up his anal-porn videos when my mother came to visit. I felt redeemed to personhood again. This letter was one thing I wouldn’t have to share with anybody.

Something, however, was wrong with the envelope. It felt weird in my fingers as I turned it around and around. Then I saw that my name was crossed out and instead there was something scrawled in lipstick that reminded me of an Elvis song.

I guess they needed their space.

Canada Post says that judging by the growing numbers of returned mail, there are too many invisible people in the world.