The tip of her arthritic finger barely touched the locked metal cover. She traced ever so lightly around the perimeter of a mailbox which didn’t belong to her. In the wall of hundreds of private mailboxes outside the Coffs Harbour Post Office, none belonged to Edna Pickles. Passers-by would irregularly see seventy-seven year old Edna loitering around the private boxes at this large Post Office. Some suspected she was homeless and slept rough nearby.
Clad in an ill-fitting dress, scruffy canvas gym boots and oversized floppy sun-hat, Edna continued tracing the perimeter of several more boxes. Cold steel, cold steel, cold steel. She tried to imagine the contents. Were there matter-of-fact correspondences of a business nature? Charity requests or family catch-ups? Was there love and warmth inside? Were there letters of affection, notes on scented or dyed paper, which were sealed with a loving kiss? Did they contain pressed flowers, photographs or other earnest expressions of endearment? Edna lamented that emails had reduced correspondence to a clinical transmission of binary bits and bytes which eschewed the senses of smell and touch.
She wistfully recalled communications she’d received over sixty years ago; heady teenage days of excitement waiting for and receiving a letter, the hint of perfume on the envelope. She’d torn them open with shaking hands and quickly flipped to the last page scanning for the number of kisses after his name, before reading it carefully, weighing and measuring each word then clutching it to her chest.
But two prospective suitors had loomed large and ultimately left, and in her late twenties she’d settled for dreary Frederick. Sensible, conservative, boring Frederick. A husband whose personality acted as a contraceptive for almost 30 years. The man who’d suddenly changed, almost two decades ago when she’d become suspicious that a fake man had replaced her Frederick. She accused him of being a substitute, not her real husband. Dr Nimmo-Prior, her psychiatrist, had diagnosed her with Capgras Delusion, but Edna wouldn’t hear of it. She’d insisted that Frederick was, without doubt, a fake husband who’d killed or replaced the real Frederick, for reasons she couldn’t fathom. Less than a year after Dr Nimmo-Prior’s diagnosis, the fake Frederick had been excised out of her life.
A warm tingling glow in her fingertip jolted Edna Pickles back from the past. In her reverie, several people had come and gone from the business of collecting their mail. From the periphery of their vision, they’d furtively watched Edna in the act of mindlessly tracing her finger around locked mailboxes. Out of respect, they’d not interrupted or been rude to her. Nobody insisted she move along, including the Post Office staff who’d seen her before and knew she was harmless. She briefly removed her fingertip from the mailbox before placing it back against the steel lid. Edna confirmed in her mind that this box gave her a tingle. It wasn’t so much an electrical impulse, more a current of positive energy that emitted a sense of warmth through her fingertip and coursed the length of her right arm to lodge in a receptor within her brain. Yes, this was the one. This mailbox had identified itself to her and revealed the information she needed.
Clawing into the depths of her tasseled, faux-leather shoulder bag, a hippie relic of the 60s bought at Vinnies for $3, she withdrew a pen and scrawled something onto the back of her bony hand. A nearby couple, dressed in race day finery and collecting their mail prior to heading to the Coffs Cup, watched perplexed. Edna beamed inanely and chuckled to herself before turning abruptly and shuffling away from the Post Office. In hindsight, the fashionable young race-goers should have looked beyond the apparent shortcomings of Edna Pickles’ state of mind and judged the message, not the messenger.
Seated on a bench seat in Vernon Street, Edna once again delved into the faux-leather shoulder satchel but this time withdrew her state of the art Apple 12 smartphone. Summoning up her betting app, she eyed the number 73 which she’d scrawled on her hand. It was Post box number 73 that had spoken to her. She plunged $1000 on Race number 7, horse number 3 in the 2021 Coffs Cup to be run that afternoon. When the 6 year old mare Itz Lily crossed the line first, Edna smiled knowingly about her $6500 win. Possibly coincidence, but ever since the discovery of her brain lesion twenty years earlier, she’d regularly gleaned winning horse numbers from the Post Office locked mailboxes and supplemented her pension without anyone suspecting.
“Australia Post – you’re a winner!” Edna Pickles muttered to nobody in particular.