Pirate mailbox

In Cincinnati, just south of the Hamilton County Zoo, on a south-east corner where Erkenbrecher Avenue intersects Vine Street, stands a blue, street-side, totally official-looking pirate mailbox. It has been there for decades. Every five years, usually around 8 am on a Monday morning, an undistinguished bloke gets out of an undistinguished but official-looking Ford van and comes over to roughly shake the mailbox for firmness, to touch up any scarred paint and cover up any rust.

Then, three times a week – year in, year out – an undistinguished, blue-uniformed bloke, carrying a large leather bag on his shoulder and a set of keys on a long, brass keychain, walks down Vine Street to that corner and stops in front of the pirate mailbox. In no hurry, he kneels down, lifts his keys, selects one (about two inches long) and unlocks the broad side of the mailbox. Wearing light-blue latex gloves, working from the top of the letter heap inside on down, he carefully pulls handful after handful out and stuffs the stuff into his leather bag. Usually, he cleans the mailbox in about seven or eight minutes. After rechecking the inside from top to bottom, he straightens up, closes the access door, turns the lock key opposite, removes it, then stands up and walks back down Vine with his swinging bag.

Daily, a waterfall of messages slips through that mailbox’s hinged-top delivery slot. Hopes, taxes, legal notices or plaintiff’s depositions; flyers, mailers, skin magazines and so on. They are mostly never delivered; therefore, no use waiting for any response. But occasionally, the pirates – out of a faint sense of pity – after opening, reading and even annotating burning-hot, love-struck letters, may send them onward.

Occasionally, they replace a fetid lawyer’s bond notes with a flowery letter, inscribed with hearts and flowers, and send it on too. They may rip out hot smutty centrefolds and replace them with pet photo-layouts. Occasionally, a gun clatters in through the top. More frequently, especially at night, needles. Even knives. Once or twice a month, a knotted plastic bag of dog poop.

Letters to God, to men, to girls, to older women. Every day welcomes new bales of love letters with weepings, joyfulness, banality, sex offers, worthlessness.

Get the latest essay, memoir, reportage, fiction, poetry and more.

Subscribe to Griffith Review or purchase single editions here.

Griffith Review