The Madison Review Extended Cut: no. 15
It's been some time, but welcome back to The Madison Review's web series, The Extended Cut, where we showcase exceptional work that was not selected for the Fall or Spring editions of our journal. This week, please enjoy "The Postman of Formentera" by Luke Carter, a short story loved by our 2020-2021 staff for its fun portrayal of a positive postman who enjoys reading—and altering—people's letters.
Luke Carter is a writer and language teacher currently residing on the island of Formentera, Spain. Carter was born in South East London and made numerous zines and illustrated poetry books before moving to Spain, where they have spent several years traveling, teaching, translating, and self-publishing books, some of which include Palma: An Illustrated History and An Illustrated A-Z of English Expressions.
THE POSTMAN OF FORMENTERA
This morning I went shopping. I bought: eggs, an onion, two potatoes, asparagus, beer and two oranges. I think tonight I will make an asparagus omelette and have it perhaps with beer and some fruit for dessert.
Here The Postman stopped reading. He took from his bag a large pencil case and from that a black pen. Onto a piece of paper he copied the letter. He mimicked the handwriting perfectly. The twist of the w. The flick of the e. The loop on the j. And after he had copied the letter he began to write a little more.
Julia has been very nervous with food ever since she found a black widow spider in her supermarket grapes. She looked it up on the internet and told me many times that it has enough venom to kill a horse. I told her it was fortunate she wasn't a horse. She told me I will sleep on the sofa for the next four days.
The Postman smiled. He slipped the letter back into the envelope and resealed it with glue. “Much better,” he muttered to himself in the mid-day sun. From his postbag he tried another one.
This looked a little more interesting. The address was handwritten and the stamp was a round castle from Mallorca. He peeled open the envelope with the care of a surgeon. In the shade of the old fig tree he read the letter out loud.
Thank you for your letter. We received it last week. I found it terribly insensitive! We don’t hear anything from you in 10 years and the moment your uncle is sick you ask about the will? How dare you! Not that it is any of your business but your Uncle is much better after his heart attack.
Do not write to us again.
“How sad”, The Postman thought to himself. “Why do letters always have to bring such bad news?” He took out a fresh sheet of paper and began to rewrite Toni’s letter.
Thank you for your letter. We received it last week.
Yes, we did think it was out of the blue because we have not seen or heard from you in some ten years but it was very kind of you to write.
Your Uncle is back home and feeling much better after his heart attack. The Doctor has diagnosed exercise and figs.
The simple answer to your urgent question is no. There is no will. But thank you anyway for your new address and we will be sure to forward any news on to you as you have requested.
How are your tractors selling? The weather here has been cold and grey but looks like it will brighten up soon.
He glued the letter back in its envelope and finished the last of his tea from his flask. He picked up his bicycle from the shade of the fig tree and continued on his route.
The old bicycle was thrown around by the gravel path. Potholes rose and fell like the waves on the sea. He imagined the clouds of dust to be sea-spray. The dry-stone walls were the cliffs of far and exciting islands. The sun-burnt lizards ran like sea monsters. And just like the sailors he liked to watch on his lunch break he too navigated his stormy path.
“Morning Eric,” said The Postman. “How are you?”
“Terrible” he grumbled. “I’m stone-broke! Ain’t got a penny!”
“Tractors ain’t selling?” asked The Postman. Eric had spent all his money on tractors. Thought they’d be the next big thing. Now they just sat around rusting like ships sleeping on the ocean bed.
“No one wants ‘em!” Eric sighed. “Think I made a mistake on that one! Say, any post?”
“Just the one,” said the Postman handing over his uncles letter.
“Great,” he said seeing who it was from. “This letter might be worth a fortune.” And with that he walked inside to read the disappointing news that his uncle was still alive.
For The Postman letters were more than bad news and bills. When a letter is sent it travels like a Pilgrim. They change hands many times. They tell stories from different places. So after such journeys why should a poor letter be so dreadful to receive?
He thought about all the exciting letters he had received. Love letters, family letters, birthday letters. He still kept them in his bottom draw and they were as precious to him as a pirates treasure. They had the power to bring goodness. To bring fun. To bring a smile. Or, if you were very lucky, bring love and romance too.
So when old Marga sent a letter complaining that she lived on the fourth floor and the only people she saw were her neighbours The Postman added underneath:
But I enjoy watching the neighbours. Each apartment is a channel onto a new adventure. There is a Chinese family who are always doing the washing up at God forsaken hours and an old man who stands in front of the window each night. He wears only his underwear. It is cold in March. He must have a very good air-conditioner.
Other times he would invent letters completely. He justified these lies by telling himself they were made for a good reason. This reason was that they made people happier. So when Phyllis didn’t receive any letters at all for her birthday The Postman made sure to send her several made up cards. From her family he wrote something he knew she would like.
Wishing you a very happy 80th birthday!
You taught us that it is what we say and do that makes us beautiful. Not how we look. That’s why, even at 80 years young, you are still the most beautiful person to us. Just in case you have been saying and doing terrible things we have enclosed a little money for a visit to the hairdressers.
The Post Office of Formentera had an interesting history. It was originally a lookout tower for pirates. In 1937 it was extended by the esteemed architect Alexander Coll. But the problem was the esteemed Alexander Coll only had one eye and the tower wasn't built straight.
Inside was bare. Raw iron beams curved on the roof like the rib cage of a metal whale. Two little tables worked hard to fill the space like the first people to arrive at a disco. Above the main door a Latin inscription was written in stone. The carver must have gotten a little confused because it read: “Hands that you can trust; People you can deliver.”
In that large hall sat The Postman with Joan, Chief Supervisor of Letter Sorting and Delivery. Joan was from a long line of postmen. Letters were in his blood. His Great-great-Grandfather, a very hairy Ecuadorian, had been the first ever Postman on the Galapagos Islands. His Granddad, accustomed to island life, was a builder and had helped build the first Post Office in Formentera. His father’s portrait had once hung proudly in that some office. Employee of the year in 1982. In 1983 he was fired for the mysterious disappearance of Christmas money.
Today was a quiet day. It was the kind of day you organise your desk. Or sharpen your pencils. For The Postman it was a day to read and write.
The Postman picked up a handwritten letter at random from his desk and opened it. The first letter was a dud.
Dear Crazy World of Puzzles
I have been a big fan of your puzzles for over 4 years. Some of my favourites include Flower Seller With Rose, An Evening In Paris and School of Fish in Coral Reef. This month I have been working on your 2000 piece puzzle Sunset Over Sea only to discover (with quite some horror) two pieces missing. Please could you send replacement pieces for 7 down by 22 across and 19 down by 120 across.
Many thanks in advance. Your faithful puzzler,
Javier San Antoni
The next was much more interesting. From a lighthouse keeper called Lluis. The letter was about a woman he loved and straight away it filled The Postman with all the excitement he was looking for.
I have fallen madly in love. I don’t know what to do. I have never felt like this before.
She works in the Town Hall and I have been sitting every day in the coffee shop across the road just to see her. Yesterday she smiled the sweetest of smiles at me. I’m not sure if I cannot sleep because of her or for all the coffee I am drinking. What do you think I should do? I know she likes me too! Should I tell her how I feel?
Tell me what to do,
He looked at the letter excitedly. But as he started to rewrite the letter he stopped suddenly. He put down his pen. And he realised that this letter already had more than enough excitement squeezed onto the page. But he knew he would be hearing much more about Lluis the lighthouse keeper.
The Postman cycled through fields of yellow daisy heads praying to the sun. Spiky thistles with mohicans head-banged in the breeze. Beside white walled houses ancient fig trees grew. Their branches were held up with wooden supports like old men on crutches.
“Good morning, Phyllis,” called The Postman, “you’re looking well today!”
“Oh, well I’ve been to the hairdressers,” said Phyllis, “a present from my family,” and her cheeks glowed red with joy. “Don’t tell me you forgot, young man?”
“Forgot what?” asked The Postman with half a smile dressed on his lips.
“My birthday! 80 years young,” and with this she flicked her freshly permed hair like a glamour queen.
“Ah, well Happy Birthday,” said The Postman and he gave her a big kiss on her proud cheek.
After visiting Phyllis he delivered letters to the fishermen. One had received some fishy invoices and another had won a poetry competition for his poem entitled Tuna Fish. At the bank Mr Pimples had received a letter from his aunt about the terrible weather.
We have had terrible weather here! Storms and heavy rain! Poor Grandad Pete got soaked last week coming home from the bank.He had lots of money in his coat and it got so wet that he tried drying it in the microwave. Well, he forgot these new notes are made of plastic and all the money turned into one solid cube of blue, green and red.
Do you think the bank will accept this money ball?
At the bottom The Postman added:
If not we will begin to excavate it next week.
Finally it was time for his last stop. The one he had been waiting for. He swung the postal bag over his shoulder and pedalled as fast as he could for the old lighthouse. The road was long and straight. It lead to the sea and looked like it was the last road in the world. And towering above the lighthouse stood white and strong against the blue evening sky.
As he cycled he thought about Lluis. All day, in fact, The Postman had been thinking about him. For in his bag he carried the reply from his friend, Paco, bearing news about the woman he loved. But he knew it was not the news he would be hoping for.
I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but I know that woman. She’s married. Heard she has two kids. I know this might be hard to read but maybe its better to forget about her and find someone … well, less married.
Hope you’re okay, mate.
Disappointment crept into Lluis as he read the letter. A dark evening light filled his face. Normally, The Postman would leave straight away but Lluis had ripped the letter open so quickly he didn’t really have time to go. His face was pulled like hurt leather. Worried lines drew deep across his forehead.
“Not the news you were hoping for?” The Postman asked kindly. He liked Lluis and didn’t want to see him hurt.
“You could say that,” he replied with a black smile.
A pause followed. The Postman should have left but he didn't. He couldn't help himself.
“Is she the one?” he asked.
Lluis, not surprised by the question, replied, “you could say that, yes. I think she was.”
It was there and then that The Postman decided what he would do. He would write this mysterious woman a letter for Lluis. A letter explaining truly how Lluis felt. A letter sent travelling with good news to tell. A letter so beautiful that she could not help but fall in love.
In the end he stayed up all night writing his love letter. It wasn't over the top. It wasn't full of flowers and sweet chocolate words. But it was soft and and it was gentle and it was just as he imagined she was. And afterwards, without even knowing her face, he felt as if he had known her all his life.
“Who said romance is dead?” The Postman asked looking down on his great work. “Married or not-love is love! And people deserve good news!” He filled in the address of the Town Hall and said goodbye to the letter as it dived into the yellow post box.
“Safe travels little letter,” he said smiling, “and good luck.”
Things went quiet after that. The poet fisherman continued to win competitions and this was strange because he had stopped sending poems. He was even offered a publication which the fisherman happily took. The bank accepted Grandad Pete’s large money ball and Javier San Antoni received his two missing pieces of the puzzle.
The Postman continued to look for news of Lluis the lighthouse keeper. But for months and months he found nothing. The story had gone cold. Now and then he thought about how silly he had been not to write a name on the address. It would be like finding a bottle of water in the open ocean.
“What a fool,” he would say to himself. Now and then he thought about cycling over to the Town Hall to see if his paper arrow had found its target. But he never did.
“You have interfered enough,” he would tell himself. “Sometimes its just not meant to be.”
The day he discovered what happened to Lluis had been the hottest of March. The sky was a white blue and the sun was like a liquid in the sky. Sheep sheltered in the shadow of stone walls and the carrot flowers were bursting open their white flowers.
The Postman was cycling back to the Post Office with a sash of sweat across his chest where the postal bag was worn. Two more patches lived secretly under his armpits. He was desperate for a glass of water. But he saw Joan, Chief Supervisor of Letter Sorting and Delivery, running up the road with two letters in his hand!
“A letter,” he screamed.
This alone was of no surprise. They worked in a Post Office after all. But it was Joan’s next two words that caused The Postman to sweat even more so.
The Postman dropped his bicycle with a crash. He ran to meet Joan and snatched the letters like a hungry animal. “Dear Lluis,” it said.
I’m sorry I did not write sooner. These last months have been difficult for me. Please understand. I have been thinking long and hard about you and your letter and what you wrote. I have a husband. And two children. But what you wrote took my breath away.
The Postman paused for air. Something had taken his breath away as well. But he was not smiling. Actually, right now, he was looking rather worried.
And it does not matter that I hardly know you. Because what you wrote made me feel like I have known you for years. And yes, you are right! Life is short and we must do what makes us happy. We must be with the ones who are meant for us. Who are made for us!
Maybe this is silly but I think I love you too! And yes! I will live with you!
His eyes turned to the second letter. This one had the same handwriting. A handwriting he was beginning to recognise. And this letter was addressed to him. But he already knew who it was from.
I am leaving you. I cannot pretend any longer. I am in love with somebody else. I’m sure you will have many questions and if you need to talk…well I am here for you. I know how much you love to write letters so if it helps send me one with all your thought and feelings. If you do you can send it to my new address. I will be living in the Lighthouse of Formentera.
For now, your wife.