Empty Postcard

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The postcard she sent me was an enigma, and not only because it was blank except for my name and our address in her handwriting. The shape of her letters looked cheerful, as always. The shape of my writing always looked scratched out with knives or maybe like the words were made of knives themselves.

The stamp on the card was a common one. The Liberty Bell, strapped to a wooden headstock, jagged crack up the side.

It was the image on the front, coupled with the lack of explanation – or any message at all – that fed all the questions I had already been asking myself since she left. They were stupid questions and I knew the answers weren’t for me anymore. They were the normal questions people ask when they are not used to being alone.

The image on the postcard was the dullest I had ever seen. It looked faded and felt cheap, like it had come out of an office copy machine. There was a motel sign, not the building or the landscape around it, nothing to indicate its location, not even a name. The sign said “EXECUTIVE ROOMS” and beneath that “SHOWTIME” and beneath that the word “VACANCY” was lit up in red neon against a flat blue, cloudless sky. Below that an arrow pointed to the parking lot, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the word “VACANCY” in the center of the card.

There was room at the inn.

Was the postcard an invitation? That was the kind of stupid question I asked myself. I scanned the card for clues, but there were none. The sky looked painted on.  Another sign at the top was on backwards and covered up so you could barely see it. I squinted and tried to read it in reverse order.

I went in from our porch, where I could see better. I was sure these letters would tell me something, deliver some private message between us. It was not as if she had ever been interested in puzzles or done anything like this before, but my life had stopped being real the night she left the house and had turned into something more like a movie. Anything was possible. I was ready for anything and nothing at the same time.

I got a magnifying glass that was attached to this big ancient dictionary her grandfather had left her because he knew she loved words.  I held it up to the card. “JACUZZI,” the sign read. “HEATED POOL.”

The card was not an invitation or a set of clues to find her. The card was not a message of hope or love or any of the things I had so many questions about. The only message was the blank space on the back where her writing should have been. A gift, a vacant space where I could put anything I wanted, knowing in secret that I would be the only one around to ever read it.

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About Author

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Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water and The Tide King (both Black Lawrence Press); a couplet of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books); and two collections of fiction, From Here and Close Encounters. Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers. In 2013, she was named as “One of 50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine. She is the host of a fiction reading series in Baltimore, called Starts Here! and editor in chief of the weekly lit journal jmww.

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