The second screwdriver Chris found was also a Phillips head, and he flung it across the room in frustration. His anger had been building steadily since he had discovered that his letterbox was stuffed. He’d called his father, the landlord, who’d misunderstood.
“Stuffed? How can a letterbox be stuffed? There’s nothing to break down, kiddo. You better lay off the whacky-backy.”
“No, Dad not stuffed as in broken down, stuffed as in full. Something has been shoved into it and I can’t get the opening mechanism on the door to work.”
“Ha! So it is stuffed and it is also stuffed! That’s brilliant!”
“No. It’s not. I can’t get my fucking mail.”
“Hey, hey, hey, no need to get fruity, my friend. So, I’m in Inverloch. What would you have me do about this?”
Chris grit his teeth.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I mean, it’s not as though you should be at all responsible for it. Being part of your property.”
“Can’t you just take the door off?”
“As if I hadn’t thought of that!”
“Well, you know, mate. I don’t really know what you want me to do. Call a letterbox repairman or something?”
“Forget it. Just forget it. I have a friend who can get some C4, I’ll just blow the thing open.”
“Mate. In these dangerous times, you shouldn’t joke about stuff like that. I bet some tape player’s just kicked in, recording our conversation. Tell them you were joking.”
“I don’t think I need to…”
Chris’s Dad interrupted in a very serious tone. “Mate. Apologise and say you were joking.”
“Fine. I was joking. And if anyone is listening, can you send someone to fix my fucking letterbox?”
“Right, mate, if you can’t be civil, I’ve had about enough of this conversation.”
“Nope, you’ve gone too far. Swearing at the government is as risky as talking about explosives. I’ve got to go, you’re mother wants a hand getting the curtains down.”
“Ok, Dad. Tell her hi.”
“Alright, goodbye, son.”
Chris got off the phone feeling as small as he had when he was twelve and his father had caught him hiding the next-door-neighbours newspaper. Then he remembered the letterbox. Despite what he’d said to his father, he hadn’t thought of removing the door. He didn’t even know if it was possible – wasn’t it all concreted into the post?
He’d wandered down for a look to see if he could figure out the mechanism, and was surprised to see that it was only two screws holding things in place. He’d head inside with a mission – to find a flat-headed screwdriver. He’d found a Phillips head, something that looked like a screwdriver but had a gaping hole at the top, a Swiss army knife with all of the blades snapped off (which he couldn’t figure out for the life of him why this was in the house and who had done this, or how), a wrench, a series of nails and three hammers. And then the second Phillips head. That was it, he was so fed up. He had to go to the toilet to calm down. After an angry wee, he washed his hands and thought about the laundry – where else would you keep a screwdriver? He raced out, but only found old broom heads – four of them. He was confused and a little scared by this. He went back to the kitchen. He’d tried every drawer, every cupboard, everywhere. He spied his phone – could he call someone? He picked it up and scrolled through the index, trying to figure out who was best. A movement caught his eye – his neighbour, Adam, was hanging his laundry. Perfect.
Chris ran to the window and hoist it open. “Adam! Good afternoon!”
“Well, howdy, neighbour! What’s cracking?”
“Just the usual. How about you?”
“Dandy, dandy. Just chugging along, as it happens.”
“Mate, can I ask you a favour?”
“You can ask!” Adam laughed. Chris joined him with a fake laugh. He was beginning to remember why he didn’t talk to Adam.
“Do you have any screwdrivers?”
“Well, I’ve got the orange juice, but I’m all out of vodka!” Adam laughed so hard at his own joke that he had to stop pegging his clothes. “Nah, just kidding mate, yeah, I’ve got a set over here, what do you need it for?”
“Ah, nothing much, just got a, um, thing to un-screw.” Chris knew this sounded lame, but didn’t want to get Adam on the case. He’d be stuck with him all afternoon.
“Hey, I got a joke for you! What’s the difference between a light bulb and a pregnant lady? You can’t unscrew a pregnant lady!” Tears started rolling down Adam’s face. Chris forced out a laugh. “It’s a good one, hey? Seriously, mate, give me ten minutes to finish this and I’ll come over and give ya a hand.”
“Oh, really, Adam, you don’t need to…”
“No, I insist.”
Chris shut the window. He started to walk away and stood on the screwdriver he’d thrown earlier. “JESUS BLOODY ARSE BLOODY SHIT!”
He heard Adam roar with laughter next door. Bastard. His foot was fine, the skin wasn’t broken, it had just hurt. He sat, slapping the handle of the screwdriver into the palm of his hand. What did he know about Adam that could get him out of the house quickly? He was single, perpetually single, must have been late fifties. Had been married once, his wife had died, Chris thought, but a long, long time ago. He’d served in Vietnam and hadn’t really minded it – said he’d never had flashbacks or any of that, as he put it “hoo-ha”, but then he’d mostly been based at the supply store and hadn’t done any of the stuff they show in films. He still worked as a handyman at the local primary school and loved working with the kids. He had three nephews who were teenagers now, they’d sometimes come and stay, and Chris and his housemate would get roped into a bit of backyard cricket.
The doorbell rang. Chris had no exit strategy. He limped to the door and Adam started to enter with his tool kit.
“Nah, mate, it’s the letterbox.”
“The letterbox. It’s stuffed.”
Chris guided Adam back to the letterbox.
“See? It’s stuffed. I can’t open the door, and I can’t pull it back through the slot.”
“Hmmm….” Adam looked at the letterbox. He took a few minutes, fiddled with this, prodded that.
“That thing that’s shoved in there?”
“Is it important?”
Chris rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. I can’t tell what it is. I can’t see it. It’s stuck in the letterbox.”
“Ah.” Adam thought for a moment. “You see, if it wasn’t important, we could just set it on fire. The rest of it is not flammable, so it wouldn’t be dangerous.”
“Mate, we can’t set it on fire.”
“Hmmm…” Adam felt around in his toolbox. He pulled out a couple of things; fiddled about, put them back. “Thirsty work, this.”
“Right. I’ll be back.” Chris went inside and grabbed two Cascade stubbies from the fridge. He flipped them open as he took them out and handed one to Adam. Adam took the beer and handed Chris the large envelope that had been filling his letterbox.
“Ah, a fancy beer, eh? What do you call this then? Cascade.” He read the label as Chris stared at the letter and the letterbox that looked untouched. “Brewed in Tasmania. Well, fancy that! They’re good for something, down there then!”
He took a swig.
“How did you get this out, then?”
“Hmmm…. Not bad. No VB of course, but not a bad drop. What was that?”
“How did you get this out?”
“Just a bit of leverage. You going to open it up?”
Chris shook his head. “You’re amazing, Adam.” He flipped the envelope. University services. He was confused; he’d finished uni two years ago. He ripped open the envelope. It was a survey from the uni following pathways of ex-students. Chris shoved it back in the envelope.
“Not important, as it happens, Adam.”
“Hmmm… shame. We could have set it on fire.”
The two men drank their beer quietly for a moment.
“Tell you what, mate?”
“What if we shove it back in the letterbox, shove it in good, and then set it on fire anyway?”
Chris looked at him for a second. “Yeah, alright. You shove it in, I’ll get a bucket of water, just in case.”
“You won’t need that. Trust me. There’s nothing else to catch fire. Look, no foliage for miles about. And that’s brick.”
Chris looked unsure.
“Plus, you’ve got that hose just there. Just in case.”
Chris nodded. Adam shoved it back in. He then grabbed his matches from his pocket, lit one, held it in his cupped hand for a moment to ensure it was lit, and posted it. Nothing. Then nothing. Then a small tendril of smoke came out the slot. Then some black smoke came out the back. After a couple of moments, the smoke increased, and then disappeared altogether. They sat in silence watching, waiting. Chris took another swig.
“Nup, it’s gone out. Not enough oxygen.” Adam went over and shoved a screwdriver under the door. He flicked it open, and a puff of smoke came out the door into his face. He coughed, and shook his head. He grabbed the remains of the survey. “Shame. Would have loved to had seen the whole thing go up!”
Chris nervously took the scraps of paper from him whilst Adam packed up him tools and stood.
“Yep, love to watch things burn. Still, not much call for it these days. See ya later, Chris, and you’d better get your vacuum out here or all your mail is going to be black for a while!”
Chris laughed and took the empty bottle from Adam as he headed off. “Thanks, Adam.”
“Ah, no worries!” Chris threw the bottles in the recycling tub and sent inside. He shut the door. Vacuum cleaner. Where was the bloody vacuum cleaner?