Jet was about a block
from his house when he saw Tripoli, the mailman, walking down the street. Jet loved mail,
so much so that the first thing he did when he got home from school each day was check to
see anything had come for him. It didnt matter what it wasoffers to buy
rare stamps, letters telling him he could win fantastic prizes by selling greeting
cards, or catalogs peddling orthopedic shoesmail was love. Someone hed never
seen, and would never meet, cared enough to spend time and money on him. It was
Hed only been receiving an
appreciable amount of mail for about a year. Sure, before that he'd get birthday cards
from distant relatives with checks his parents would deposit in an account hed never
see, he was included on the envelopes of Christmas cards since he was a part of
"...and family", and one time when he was four years old he received a letter
from the Vetlife Insurance Company offering him inexpensive life insurance since he
was "a patriotic fighting veteran of one of the Great Wars." But it
wasnt until hed ordered the sea monkeys from the back of the Creepy Tales No.
3 comic book that the mail flow started.
"Why can't I get them?"
he asked his mother, who having never read Creepy Tales No. 3 had no idea what sea monkeys
"Because you don't need
them," she said.
"Yes I do."
"What in the world do you
need sea monkeys for?"
"So I can learn a lot and
grow up to be smart like you."
"And just what do you expect
to learn from sea monkeys?" she asked.
"If I knew that I wouldn't
need to get them, would I?" Jet answered.
"Go ask your father,"
"Dad, mom says I can get
these sea monkeys if it's okay with you," Jet said, hoping for once the ploy would
"What do you need sea
monkeys for?" he asked.
"All the kids have
"If all the kids had leprosy
would you want that too?"
"I guess so," Jet said,
being too young to know whether he wanted leprosy or not. "But these are sea
"If all the other kids have
them, why don't you play with theirs."
"'Cause it's more fun to
have your own."
"It's up to your
That was all he needed to hear.
The truth is it would have been nice if someone had told him in advance that the sea
monkeys he was working so hard to get weren't monkeys at allthey were Microscopic
Mutant Shrimps From Hell. And besides not looking like either monkeys or shrimp,
they would all die within three days. If indeed they were ever actually alive.
But it wasnt a total loss,
for it did get Jet's name on every two-bit mailing list in the free world. And as
mailers do, they unleashed a torrent. With his name spelled every which way. Jet Barker,
Jeb Banken, J. Blanker, and Jim Branklette. Then one day someone in Data Central
outdid themselves. A letter arrived with an adhesive label addressed to Mr. J.E.T.
Jeblinken. Jet thought this was one of the funniest things he'd seen in quite some
time and for weeks walked around calling himself J.E.T. Jeblinken. In fact, from then on
whenever he would talk to himself he would refer to himself in the third person as
Jeblinken. And as life went on he would talk to himself more and more.
* * * * * *
When Jet saw Tripoli he knew he
could save himself a whole block of anxiety by finding out whether anything had come in
the mail for him.
Actually, Tripoli wasnt the
mailmans real name. Hed earned the nickname because his parents, having read
in a booklet they ordered from the Weekly World Scene called "Ancient
Alphabetic Secrets Unlocked" that the letter "E" held mystical powers,
named their son Edgar Ernest Earle, or "Triple E". When he joined the Marine
Corps they automatically changed the spelling.
Tripoli was a man of uniforms.
They were the invisible thread that ran through his life, the Karmic glue that held
together the seemingly disconnected pieces of his existence. It began with a standard
issue hospital baby gown, then progressed through the uniforms of St. Jude's School for
Boys, Immaculate Misconception High School (as he called it), the United States
Marine Corps, the Emerson High School janitorial staff, the security guards
of Pinkerton's Security Services, and now the United States Postal Service.
"Hi!" Jet said
"Good afternoon, Master
Banker," Tripoli responded.
"Do you remember if you
delivered any mail for me?" Jet asked.
"You know, I dare say I
did," Tripoli told him. "A couple of pieces, at that."
"Thanks!" Jet called
out as he raced down the street.
It was moments like this that
made the tedium of Tripolis job worthwhile.
Jet wasnt breaking land
speed records getting home in a hurry just because he thought there would be mailany
mailwaiting for him. No, there was one particular letter he was looking for.
He knew exactly what it would
look like: a plain white #10 envelope with his name and address in handwritten block
letters. No computer label and no return address. No stamp or postmark either.
He knew that when this letter
arrived he would take it upstairs and put it under his mattress next to the Crazed
Tales of Terror comic book hed bought with his allowance, the Playboy magazine he
found way in the back of his father's closet, and a bra and girdle ad he tore out of
the Sunday magazine section of the newspaper. The letter would stay with that
exalted company until after everyone else had gone to sleep. Then, and only then,
would he ever so quietly pull out the envelope and examine it closely.
He would sit on the bed with the
covers draped over his head like a pup tent. Hed turn on the flashlight he'd
sneaked from the top drawer in the kitchen and carefully slit open the envelope.
Inside would be a neat, perfectly crisp sheet of white paper. Hed hold his
breath as he slowly unfolded it. The letter would begin: Dear Jet. It would go on
to list, in chronological order, exactly what Jet should do with the rest of his
life. It would include all the high points and all the confounding crossroads. And in
each case it would tell him which path to take.
The letter would be signed: Love,
god. In lower case letters.
Were his mother to receive a
letter like this she would forsake all of her religions and start one of her own.
Were his father to receive one he would place it back in the envelope, put the envelope in
a manila folder, label the folder "Letter from God", and place the folder
in the file cabinet along with his aging tax returns and newspaper clippings he
thought would one day be useful. And were Job to receive this letter, he would savagely
tear it into hundreds of tiny pieces, for the letter would enumerate virtually no
high points and far too many crossroads.
But when Jet would receive this
letterand he knew he wouldhed simply say "That's life", place
the letter back in the envelope, and return the envelope to its rightful place
between his mattress and box springs. Then, whenever he was in the throes of a
major dilemma and have absolutely no idea what to do about it, he would pull The
Letter from beneath his mattress, look down the list to, say, number nine, and follow the
Thanks to The Letter, everything
in Jet's life would go exactly according to plan and he would live happily ever
* * * * * *
Jet burst through the front door
and screeched to a halt by the telephone table in the front hall. The mail was sitting in
a neat pile as always. Adrenaline raced through this body as he bit his lower lip and
prepared to find The Letter.
One letter for Dad. Another for
Dad. Still another for Dad. One addressed to Mrs. Jet Banker, a now common occurrence
which seemed perfectly logical to Jetwhich is why it would go in the shoe box on the
shelf in his closet along with the other letters addressed to his future wife so they
could be given to her on their wedding night.
Then his eyes landed on the
envelope. His heart tried to jump out of his chest. His palms got clammy, his
forehead tightened, his whole body broke out in goosebumps. He stared at the
envelope, frozen. Finally he jammed the envelope in his back pocket and ran upstairs,
taking the steps two at a time, bolting into his bedroom, slamming the door and
diving on the bed.
"Jet," his mother
called out from downstairs, "are you okay?"
He jumped up from the bed, took
the envelope from his pocket, and shoved it under his mattress. He looked around the
room, suddenly worried that someone might be watching him. His heart was still pounding.
"Jet, is something
He opened the door and tried to
sound like he was in control. He wasn't.
"I'm fine, Mom," he
"What are you doing?"
"Nothin'," he said,
"I'm sorry I slammed the door."
He gently closed the door and
knelt next to the bed. He lifted the mattress, half expecting that the letter
wouldn't be there because it was really just a figment of a twelve year-old's
hyperactive imagination. His hand touched the paper, crisp and smooth. He slowly
pulled out the envelope, looking at it for several long minutes, turning it over and
over, examining it carefully. It was a plain white #10 envelope with his name and
address in handwritten block letters, no return address, no stamp, and no postmark.
This was The Letter.
* * * * * *
Jet didn't say a word during
dinner. This was such a rare occurrence that Erta, remembering Jet's actions when he
came home from school, thought he might be taking ill. When Jet hardly touched his dinner,
she knew he was.
"Are you feeling okay?"
she asked, placing the inside of her wrist against his forehead.
"Does he have a fever?"
his father asked.
"He doesn't seem hot,"
"Your stomach bothering
you?" Jackson Robert asked.
"You feel achy?" Erta
"Is your head stopped
up?" Jackson Robert the Grand Inquisitor continued.
"Does your face hurt?"
Job chimed in.
"Well it's killing me,"
Job said, laughing uproariously by himself.
"Mom," Jet said
quietly, "can I be excused? I have a lot of homework tonight."
He left the table and went to his
room. Try as he might, he couldn't concentrate on his homework. He kept staring at the
clock, willing it to move faster so everyone would go to bed and he could get on with
the secrets of his life.
Finally, he couldnt wait
any longer. There was a map outlining the path his life would take sitting under his
mattress and he was supposed to wait until everyone went to bed? No way!
He pulled out the letter and,
holding his breath, tore open the envelope. The piece of paper he pulled out
wasnt the pristine virginal sheet he expected. It was wrinkled and smudged and
stained by drippings from what appeared to be sky blue Popsicles. This was a bad
omen. He carefully unfolded the page, working out the creases with the palm of his
hand and took a deep breath. The letter read:
This is your life. You will not get another chance. Read this if you dare.
1. You will be left back in third grade.
2. You're parents will throw you out of the house because your so stupid.
3. You will join the circus and be in the freek show.
4. You will become a homo and marry the bearded lady.
5. You're children will look like her but be uglier like you.
6. They'll be homos too.
7. You will all be thrown out of the circus and move to a
turd tard farm.
8. You'll give them cooties and they'll throw you out too.
9. The bearded lady will run off and be a whore.
10. You'll beg your brother for money, but he won't give you any because you're a homo.
11. You will die in Montana.
P.S. The truth hurts, doesn't it?
He let out a sharp cry of
pain and crumpled the letter in anger, tears welling in his eyes. Hed made
plenty of mistakes in his life, but none as bad as the one he made three days earlier
when, in a moment of brotherly weakness, hed told Job about The Letter.
He yanked open the door and ran
to his brother's room, throwing the door open so hard the doorknob smashed into the fish
tank. Water poured out the hole like a big drainage pipe, fish flopping around the floor.
"You asshole," Jet
yelled, tears streaming down his face, "you wrote that letter!"
The figure under the covers
remained perfectly still, the only sound in the room was the fish flopping around the
"You're an asshole douchebag
scumbag jerk," he screamed, "and God'll get you for this."
The figure in the bed still
didn't move. Jet grabbed the blanket and tore it off the bed. His eyes had adjusted
to the darkened room and he could now see that the bed was filled with balled up
pillows where his brother's body should have been. As he turned in momentary confusion he
heard snickering giggles coming from the closet. He yanked the door open, smashing it into
the wall. Inside he could make out the figures of Job and the neighborhood kidsRalph
Marconi, Bobby Biggs and Timmy Padgettstuffed in the closet with their hands clamped
tightly over their mouths, trying to stifle the erupting laughter.
"I guess you were right,
werent you?" Job said, bursting out in laughter. "The truth hurts, doesn't
[ Chapter 13 ]