by Austin Corona
I don’t remember what season it was, though I’ll assume it was fall. Accordingly, I was wearing a red fleece and khakis which would have broken in fat furrows over the tops of white Nikes. Mr. Kulas probably tied a bow tie around my fleece collar that day, haranguing me about the virtue of dress code. My backpack would have hung low on my back even though it hurt my shoulders sometimes. I must have had class in Eliot hall, because that’s where the mail room was, slotted into a corner in the bottom of the building.
Paul Torres worked in there. He eventually knew my name, though I had to remind him after each summer. He kept a green pickup truck out back next to the class where I had statistics. I wanted that truck—I stared at it out the window every day. If he sold it to me I don’t think I would have even taken the little Portuguese flag off the bumper.
Now I remember that I wouldn’t have gone to Paul that day—I didn’t have a package—I would have just pulled my letter out of the mail slot. One thing I know I’ll never forget was the satisfaction of opening those mail slots—the key would throw up a little smooth resistance before easing the bolt out of the lock. I used to check my mailbox every day and it was usually empty.
I would have pulled the letter out of the mail slot, swung my backpack down to the ground, and slid the white envelope inside between my books, trying not to bend it or let it sink too far down. Then I would have walked down the hallway and noted every face that passed me, their clothing, their gait. I probably passed five people in that hallway that I knew well enough to greet by name, and then exited into the Massachusetts October outside. The trees were probably gray at that point. They were probably thick and hoary around our little round campus and they would be shutting out any view beyond the library. My pace would have been slow, unintentional. My lanyard was likely swinging from my pocket, anchored there by my keys.
Here, I remember more. I stopped to look at the maple trees outside Bryant-Paine house. Every year they leapt into flame and slowly died, weeping their leaves into the grass where Ryan Sheff played soccer with his little brother. That day was cloudy. The water in the road had put out much of the color in the maple leaves—they lay soaking in it. Still though, there were those that remained perched in the tallest blades of grass, reminiscent of the week past, waiting for the wind.
I opened the door and sauntered to the steps—old steps. I may have skipped up them or done them slowly—this I can’t recall. I walked down the hall and into the dorm room, shed my backpack from my shoulder and went to sit on my couch—a sad saddle-backed piece of furniture mashed awkwardly under my bed. I stopped before sitting down and reached into my pack for the letter, pulled it out, and noticed with slight disappointment it was from Basalt, CO, the little hamlet where I grew up.
Usually these were pleasant letters—“I’m so proud of you Austin,” “you’re a good kid, Charlie Brown,” “we all miss you so.” This one was a photo. At first it was unclear, though with time the recognizable form of an iceberg emerged from the blueness, a little rainbow across its back like a sash for a frozen beauty queen. There she was, Ms. Arctic Circle in her aquamarine dress, waist deep in glacial tide, smiling up from my right hand. The letter, from my father, read something like this:
This is an iceberg in an inlet we used to pass through on the Tatshenshini. There were inlets like it on the Chilkat and Alsek but nothing quite like this. I remember this day, it was the one day the weather let up and we could see. One day I’ll take you here—and if we never see it together, I hope sometime you can see it for yourself. I always thought it was the most beautiful place in the world.”
I can’t remember the rest of the letter because I couldn’t finish reading it, my eyes were full of tears and I didn’t want to drop any on the paper.