A Chat with Charlie

Glenn Goodlander
Approximate Word Count: 1500

A Chat with Charlie

“It all boils down to broken glass.” Charlie said as he stretched down to the floor to clean up the pieces of his shattered mug. After collecting the pieces into the dustpan he carefully set it on his lap and rolled over to the trashcan and dumped it all in with a light tinkling sound. He then turned around and wheeled his way back out to the living room and gave a high pitched whistle. Hearing his call, but ignoring it his cat Chester opened up one lazy eye and readjusted himself.

Charlie was a 38 year old man who lived with his cat. Some days he had to clean up broken mugs and somedays he had to tolerate his parents coming over for dinner but most days he just sat at his dining room table and wrote.
Charlie’s parents, who he so disliked having to tolerate but appreciated their financial support, were Chris and Megan Francwire. Mr. Francwire was newly retired from the United States Postal Service at 75 years old, just like his father and his father’s father was before him.
Mr. Francwire was fond of saying as Charlie was growing up that, “We Franc men have been in millions and millions of conversations in our day. When my Great Grandfather was still in the service (as he fondly called it) not a single letter in the Tri-State area reached its destination without touching his hand for at least a moment.”
Charlie had liked that. He liked the idea of being a part of conversations without ever knowing what was being spoken. He also liked that he never had to think of what he wanted to say, because that had always been hard for him.
Charlie had intended to enlist in the Postal Service and follow in his father’s footsteps, but following a serious car accident which put him into a 2 week coma his dreams were dashed. Charlie awoke to the realization that he was numb from the waist down.
The accident had shattered his legs and lower spine in more places than the small boy could count. Initially this reality weighed heavy on his heart, but gradually he learned to appreciate and use what God had chosen to leave him, his hands.
After trying and failing playing musical instruments and using computers he started writing letters. He wrote letters to his mother about what he liked that she cooked for dinner and how nice she always smelled. And he wrote his father about how much he loved when he would pick him up out of his chair and spin him around by the armpits just like he used to before the accident. But after the first few months he had to resort to going through his mother’s phone book and sending letters to distant relatives and her forgotten college friends.
Charlie had never gone to college. He decided that it would keep him from being a part all the conversations that he was now responsible for. And though few people ever wrote him back, when he was done with his mother’s phone book he had sent over 500 letters and was 17 years old.
Charlie really didn’t know what to do with himself when he got to the end of that rose colored book filled with numbers and addresses. He had always known that it would have to come to an end eventually but it just happened so much more suddenly than he was prepared for.
It took him a week of thinking but he finally decided to start going through the national phone registry. That week was the scariest of his life thus far. Despite the fact that most people he had contacted previously either didn’t know of him at all or knew of him very little, these people couldn’t know of him. And so with shaking hand (as he wrote all of his letters by hand) he penned a letter to Aaron A. Aaronson at 1742 West Pensing St. North Carolina. He told Aaron about his father and his father’s father and how they had been in the United States Postal Service and how they had been a part of millions of conversations in their part of the world. He told him about his accident and how he was contributing to those conversations now that he couldn’t deliver them. He wished him a good day, a Merry Christmas (as it was November at the time) and signed his name.
He stared at his name for awhile and decided to remove the last name. He had decided, somewhere in the process of penning that letter that there was something spectacular about not being known. He wanted to enter peoples lives, send his anonymous wishes, and remove himself again as easily and cleanly as he had entered.
And in that fashion Charlie had continued for the next 21 years. He would roll himself to a quiet spot in his house and write from morning until dusk. He would write one or two, or occasionally three letters every day, and that was perfect for a time.

The late G’s and early H’s had become hard for Charlie however. He had begun to feel lonely in the C’s and that is when his parents bought him his cat. In fact, that is how Chester got named. He had been writing a letter to Chester Camdugal at 13485 Burmingham Way in Virginia when his parents brought him home his cat. They brought him over to the table that Charlie was writing on and removed him from the cardboard box that the kitten had been clawing at. Chester had walked over to Charlie’s hand, nudged it, and made him smudge the name on the top of the paper.
But the C’s had long since past, and with it, or somewhere near then, had the comfort that Chester brought to Charlie. No, the late G’s had brought with it a deeper loneliness that no cat or dog or fish or frog could ever really fulfill. Charlie needed someone to help him finish a conversation. For years and years he had happily lived on one side of the conversation, essentially speaking to himself, but now he needed someone to share his conversation with.

And so, with the mug cleaned off of the kitchen floor, and with Chester offering no support Charlie wheeled into the small dining room area in the apartment that his parents paid for. He pulled the Yellow phonebook open but already knew to whom he needed to address this new letter, Rachel Harris. Rachel lived at 1429 Hailburg Place in New York, New York and she was going to receive, in addition to a letter, a self addressed and stamped envelope that Charlie hoped would be the beginning of his first real conversation since he started the phone registry all that time ago.
He spent the next few hours thinking about what to say to his new conversation partner. He told her about himself, and his cat, and his father and father’s father, and random USPS trivia, and a few other odds and ends that he hoped would catch her attention. And then he signed the letter with his full name and quickly sealed the letter so he couldn’t take it all back.

Charlie leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms wide and low behind him. Chester had apparently moved from the spot that he had been in earlier as he now pushed the length of his body along Charlie’s hand.
“Would you like something to eat Chester?” asked Charlie.
This reminded Charlie that his parents would be over for dinner tonight, as it was the first Monday of the month, and that he had better change before they arrived with the overflowing Tupperware.
He started to wheel towards his room before he paused, turned around, and took a detour to the kitchen where he placed the letter on a magnet so he could give it to his father to take to the Post Office for him.
His parents came over at 7:00 that night and brought spaghetti and meatballs which was his favorite meal that his mother made. They left him the leftovers, as they always did, and took back their Tupperware from the previous month. Charlie handed over the letter to his father who commented on the weight and mentioned that it must be important for Charlie to not just leave it out for his mailman as he usually did. Charlie smiled and said nothing, locking the door behind his parents softly.


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