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Authors: Bentley Little

Dispatch (6 page)

BOOK: Dispatch
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In the morning, the three of us awoke with the dawn. Robert's mom was already making pancakes in the house. I had a quick breakfast, then asked to be taken home. Robert and Edson begged me to stay, reminding me of all the fun things we had planned for this morning, but all I could think of was that I needed to write to Kyoko, needed to put everything down in letter form before I forgot it and the feeling was lost. I said I was sorry but I had to go somewhere with my family this morning. It was not a lie I could have sold to Paul—he knew me too well—but Robert and Edson were school friends, not neighborhood friends, and I could make them believe that I had the type of family that did things together.

Robert's dad drove me back to my house. I thanked him, said good-bye to Robert and Edson, who'd come along for the ride, grabbed my little suitcase, ran up the driveway to the kitchen door and, with a last wave, went inside.

Where my mom was screaming at Tom in the living room, and my dad sat at the kitchen table staring blearily into a cup of coffee, muttering, "Bastards ... bastards ... bastards..."

"What are you doing home?" my mom shrieked at me as I tried to sneak past her. "I thought we wouldn't have to put up with you until this afternoon!"

I ignored her and made my way down the hall to my bedroom, where I pushed a pile of dirty clothes against the door to keep anyone from opening it too quickly and then sat down at my desk. It was daytime, it was dangerous, and everyone was awake, but I'd forsaken a day of fun for this and I had to write. I pulled the top off my pen, took a deep breath and let the feeling of joy wash over me.

Dear Kyoko
, I wrote...
 

On Easter vacation, I killed my dad.

Not really. But in a letter to Kyoko, I said that my father had died in a tragic automobile accident, killed by a drunk driver. I took a sort of gleeful pleasure in inverting the order of the universe, killing his fictional counterpart with someone quite close to his true self, though of course I professed my deep anguish at the loss of a beloved parent.

I had to kill him off because she kept asking me about my upcoming trip to Japan. She'd even told her parents about it, and the whole family was making plans to meet me.
That
was a narrative thread I should not have started, and while I did not regret lying to her, I regretted telling that
particular
lie. But all's well that ends well, and I killed off the fucker and populated his funeral with powerful famous people to boot.

It was the longest letter I'd ever written—and the most detailed. I found that I enjoyed writing about my dad's death, and I got a strange sick satisfaction from describing the details of his demise. The emotions I expressed to Kyoko were far more profound than any I would know once my dad really died, and in a way that made the writing a more cathartic experience, since it enabled me to vicariously feel what I would never have to face in real life.

I had so much fun composing the letter that I immediately followed it with another, equally long. This one I dated a few days later, and in it I pretended to be having a difficult time coping with the loss. I could not eat, refused to go to school and shunned my friends.

Kyoko felt she really knew me by then and took it hard. The ink on her next letter was stained with tears, her carefully drawn letters smeared. I felt bad for deceiving her, but even if I wanted to, I couldn't apologize and take it back. Once a lie of that magnitude was out there, to admit culpability would amplify its import. The only thing to do was let it ride.

I was astonished by the eloquence of her commiseration. The shock of sudden death had nullified her English problems, and though the grammar and syntax were still not perfect, her words came from the heart and were more expressive than I ever would have expected. It was as if the curtain of formality that, because of her culture or personality, had always been between us had been lifted and she was suddenly able to communicate with me on an open, honest emotional level.

I thought of Paul and how all he ever thought about was sex stuff. I would be lying if I said I hadn't started thinking about those things, too, especially since I was
spending so much time writing to and thinking about a girl. A pretty girl. I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to introduce some of that into our relationship.

I told Kyoko I loved her.

I regretted it the second I dropped the letter into the mailbox the next morning, and I was almost tempted to pull some Fred-and-Barney scheme in an effort to get my envelope out again. Embarrassment was my overriding emotion. I spent the next two weeks in an agitated state that took its toll on my concentration and my grades, and made me step on some emotional land mines at home that left me battered and bloody.

To my great relief, she wrote back to tell me that she loved me, too, that she'd loved me for over a month and was so happy that I'd finally said it to her so she could say it to me.

I didn't really love her. And a small part of me even felt guilty for playing her this way, for pretending I had feelings I did not. I
liked
her, of course, but I didn't love her. I realized, though, that I could use her feelings for me to get what I wanted, to push her in a direction I wanted her to go.

And our relationship changed. Just like that. One moment I was in thrall to our epistolary association, a slave to my desire to write and read my pen pal's letters, and the next I was in charge, calling the shots, and those emotions that had held sway were now under my complete control.

I was curious about sex, and I took the opportunity to bring up the subject, playing up my fake relationship experience, lying about things I'd never done and didn't know how to do, writing that I wanted to do them with her. Since we loved each other, I stressed, it wasn't wrong. It was natural, beautiful.

She wrote back the same.

Our letters from then on were nasty.

They weren't pornographic in an adult way. But for two kids our ages with our complete lack of experience, they were pretty down and dirty.

I finally convinced her to send me a picture of herself without any clothes on. She took it herself, standing in front of a mirror in the bathroom. Behind her was a narrow shower stall, to the right a simple silver towel rack attached to a plain white wall. Kyoko herself stood center frame, the camera blocking all of her face save her mouth and forehead. She looked nervous, and she hadn't been brave enough to take off all of her clothes; she'd simply pulled down her dress and underwear, which were bunched around her knees. I could see what I wanted to see, though.

The good parts.

I didn't write back immediately. I'm not sure why. I did look at the picture at night while I rubbed myself in my bed, and I could not stop thinking about it all the next day and Monday at school, but I guess I was a little hurt that she hadn't asked for a similar photo. I probably wouldn't have sent one—but it would have been nice to be asked.

Maybe I also wanted to assert my newfound power a little bit by making her wait for communication from me.

Whatever the reason, I held off for a week, then sat down long after everyone else in the house was asleep, took off my pajamas and underwear and wrote Kyoko my most graphic letter yet. I played with myself afterward, looking at her photo.

The next letter I received was from her father—only it was addressed not to me but to my parents. I recognized the envelope and intercepted it, thinking at first that it
was
for me from Kyoko. But the dark harsh letters of an unfamiliar hand tipped me off that this was something different, and with pounding heart I brought it to my room, shut the door and carefully opened the envelope, taking out the colorless stationery.

Her father had found and read my letters.

And Kyoko had broken down and confessed all.

The missive was in broken English and hard to understand, but the gist of it was that I had shamed his family and turned his daughter into a whore who would never be able to marry a boy from a good family because she had been ruined by me. Mr. Yoshizumi berated my parents for raising a boy of such low moral character and demanded that they punish me for the unforgivable way I'd corrupted his daughter.

He'd also sent a letter to Miss Nakamoto.

My mouth went dry.

I read the words again to make sure I understood the fractured English.
I write explain to honorable teacher Nakamoto no more pen pal.
There was no mistaking the meaning. My eyes moved up to the middle of the letter.
You punish boy for bad character and moral your duty as parent.

Well, that was never going to happen. My heart was pounding as I ripped his letter into confetti-sized pieces, then placed the pieces in a Kleenex I took from the box on my desk. I wrapped up the tissue, brought it into the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet. What would happen now? I wondered. Would Miss Nakamoto tell the principal? Would she or the principal call my parents? Would I be suspended from school? Would I be arrested? Anything was possible, and I just hoped that Kyoko's father didn't know Miss Nakamoto's address or the address of the school.

But that was an impossibility. Kyoko's school in Japan had the address of the pen pal company and
they
had the address of my school. No, my only hope was the slim-to-none chance that the post office would lose the letter.

We were not a religious family. We never went to church. But I understood the basic concepts, and for the first time in my life, I folded my hands together, closed my eyes and seriously tried to pray.
Dear God
, I thought,
please don't let Miss Nakamoto get that letter. And don't let my parents find out what happened. Don't let me get into trouble. I'll be good for the rest of my life. I swear it. Amen.

For good measure, I said the prayer again. And again. And again. Until, finally, I fell asleep.

I arrived at school the next morning nervous and tense. I hung out with Robert and Edson on the playground before class started, but I was distracted and didn't pay attention to the conversation and hardly noticed what we did. The first bell rang, and I followed everyone else off the playground to the classroom.

I sat down at my desk.

Was it my imagination or was Miss Nakamoto avoiding looking at me? It was hard to tell. But she seemed the same as always while she took roll and led us in the pledge, and as she broke us up into reading groups and took group A to the front of the class, I allowed myself to believe that I had at least a day's reprieve.

Then, at recess, she asked me to stay behind.

Her voice was sober, solemn, serious.

I was shaking as I remained in my seat. I knew what was coming. My tongue felt heavy and waxy, my lips dry, and my heart was beating like a tom-tom. She waited until everyone had gone; then she closed and locked the door. From the top drawer of her desk, she withdrew an envelope identical to the one addressed to my parents that I had intercepted.

"I got this letter yesterday," she said slowly. "It is from the father of Kyoko Yoshizumi, your pen pal." She paused. "In it, he says that the two of you have
been exchanging ... uh, inappropriate messages and that you convinced her to send you a photograph of herself without her clothes on. Is this true?"

I hadn't expected Miss Nakamoto to be so blunt and to the point. I was unable to look at her, and I stared down at the top of my desk, feeling hot, my skin burning with shame.

"Jason?" I heard no kindness in her voice, no sympathy.

Still looking down, I nodded silently.

It was painful for both of us, probably as embarrassing for her as it was for me, but that didn't stop her from giving me a long lecture about proper and improper behavior, unacceptable attitudes and unsuitable subjects for discussion by fifth-grade boys. I listened in silence, properly chastised, hoping I appeared contrite enough that this would be the end of it.

Miss Nakamoto folded the letter, put it back in her desk drawer and sighed heavily. "Jason, I am very disappointed in you," she said. "I'm afraid you will no longer be allowed to participate in the Pen Pal Program. Needless to say, you will not be getting any extra credit. Because of what you've done, I will be giving you an F in English and an 'Unsatisfactory' in citizenship. Do you understand why?"

I nodded miserably.

Miss Nakamoto would never love me, I realized. She did not even like me.

"I am very disappointed," she repeated, and her voice was flat, hard.

"Don't tell my parents!" I blurted out. It was the first thing I'd said.

The bell rang. In a few seconds, the other kids would be returning from recess. I looked up at her desperately.

She nodded. "Mr. Yoshizumi told me that he sent a letter to your parents as well as one to me. I'll let them decide how they wish to deal with your actions. I've done all I can from this end."

Thank you, God
, I thought.

When I got home, I threw away all of Kyoko's correspondence, even the photos. I tore up my envelopes and stationery, tossed my pens and pencils into the trash.

I did not write another letter for the next six years.
 

*3*

 

Jason Hanford
111 Norfolk Ave.
Acacia, CA 92235

March 13, 1980

Dear Sirs,

I am a longtime customer, and I am very unhappy with your new style of french fries. Your old fries were my very favorite and me and my friends from R. B. Hayes High would have them for lunch several times a week. But your new fries are unedible. Although I used to eat at Buck's Burgers all the time, I just want you to know that from now on I will be taking my business to McDonald's.

Sincerely,
Jason Hanford

 

I had no intention of taking my business to McDonald's. For one thing, there was no McDonald's next to my school, so I couldn't go there for lunch. For another, I
still
loved Buck's french fries. I was just trying to make a point, hoping that my complaint would spur the burger stand into bringing back their original recipe—sliced potatoes fried in sitting grease that were then hung in a basket and refried when customers placed their orders. They'd recently switched to some sort of artificial mashed-potato sticks that came frozen from some big Eastern warehouse and that were fried only once. I didn't like them nearly as much.
BOOK: Dispatch
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