Chapter 64 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

Nineteen days after Jim mailed a random assortment of stuff to a mailstop at the City Paper, he received a letter.

The envelope was a rubber stamp masterpiece. Whoever had sent this to Jim was clearly a collector and fancier of rubber stamps. His address was written into a box drawn in the center of the envelope, and little pictures crammed and crowded themselves into all of the envelope space external to this address box. The rubber stamps depicted many things: faces, dinosaurs, people, trees, stars, planets, cats, birds, cars, flowers, and insects.

Jim opened the letter. Inside was a single sheet of paper, which was also a rubber stamp special. Jim noticed a sea monster, a bulldozer pushing the Earth into a landfill, a Zeppelin, a television set being smashed with a sledgehammer, and a picture of three abstract coffee mugs sliding along a counter, under which were the words "Coffee Races!"

These images surrounded a box into which was written the following:

"Hi Santa!

"I really enjoyed the grab bag. Although you didn't say anything concrete about yourself in your "letter," I think I learned more from it than I did from any of the other 18 letters I got in response to my ad. You seem cool. I'd like to get together. My phone number is 555-4936. Call me NOW!"

The letter was signed not by hand but with a big rubber stamp that said "RHONDA."

The salutation puzzled Jim until he remembered, after a long bit of thinking, that he'd sent a photo of himself wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Included with the letter was a photograph. It showed only her face and shoulders, and was slightly out of focus, but Jim thought she looked OK.

The letter got Jim very excited. He read it over and over and over again. However, he didn't call her until the following evening. He kept putting it off. Though the letter looked and sounded very promising, he still had nagging doubts and subconscious fears concerning the entire thing.

At last he summoned the nerve to telephone her. They talked briefly, and it was all quite strained and awkward. After a bit they decided to get together the following Friday evening, at a bar on the east side called "The Mystic Umbrella." Jim had never heard of this place, but Rhonda assured him that it was very nice and gave him directions for finding it.

Jim went to sleep that night hopeful, but slightly apprehensive.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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