Dispatches | October 11, 2004

[By Anthony Varallo]

Mattress store, Daly City, CA. September, 1997. After long deliberation, I decide against buying an expensive pillow-top mattress, settling for a cheaper brand. I drive the mattress home, strapped to the top of my Toyota Cressida. I am about to heave the mattress inside when I realize how truly sad it is, decorated with pastel flowers, sagging in the middle. At the last minute I drive the mattress back, where the same two teenagers who’d strung twine through my passenger window help me exchange the mattress for the better one. That night I dream of clouds.

Writing desk, Iowa City, IA. Spring, 1996. I decide it will be harrowing to kill the lead character in a story I’m working on. At the last minute I realize I lack the medical knowledge to do so, and leave the character alone. The story ends with a dog barking instead.

Italian restaurant, Newark, DE. Fall, 1994. I order angel hair pasta with calamari, and a house salad. At the last minute I change my order to gnocchi with marinara sauce. Later, I see the man across from me order the calamari, chewing like he’s downing erasers.

Writing desk, Columbia, MO. Summer, 2002. Working towards a deadline, I decide I will revive a story I’ve abandoned about a mysterious little girl who leaves hidden messages inside pinecones. At the last minute I scrap the story when I realize it’s about a mysterious little girl who leaves hidden messages inside pinecones.

Halloween party, Columbia, MO. October, 2000. Since the weather is unseasonably warm, I decide I’ll attend a Halloween party in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. At the last minute I switch to a long-sleeved shirt and jacket. That night the temperature drops. People costumed in garbage bags huddle by a fire.

Writing desk, Columbia, MO. October, 2004. I decide to write a web editorial that will remind people to enter our Editors’ Prize/Larry Levis Prize contest, whose deadline is October 15, 2004. Postmark, or by online submission. At the last minute I end up writing about a mattress instead.

Friday, October 15, 2004. All across the world thoughtful postal workers stamp your stories, essays, and poems with a happy postmark. Your entries arrive days later, here in Columbia, MO, where a group of enthusiastic readers attempt to open them with bare hands, teeth. At the last minute, Dedra, our office manager, hands us a letter opener.