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Winter 01
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bachelor girl

The Package
Mitchell Levenberg

He insisted I pick it up that night. I didn’t want to. I was tired, but he insisted. He said if I rang his doorbell, then he’d come down and give it to me. It could have waited. One day, even two days more wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. But he insisted. So I said, "I’ll come around ten. I’ll ring your doorbell and then you’ll come down and give it to me," I said. "That’s right," he said. "I’ll come down." "And you’ll give it to me," I said. "Yes," he said. "I’ll have it in my hand. I’ll give it to you and then." "And then what?" I suddenly found myself asking. "And then you’ll have it," he said. "Yes," I said. "After all, it’s mine. Why shouldn’t I?"

The thing was I was already quite settled. Mentally, I was in for the night. It’s something you don’t decide, but you know from the moment you walk in the door that you’re home for good, that even before you hang up your coat, you don’t think twice about whether or not you’re in for the night. Then, suddenly, you’re in your underwear. You look over towards your pants and they seem like they’re in another country. That’s the way it was when I was growing up. When my father had his pants off, we all might as well have had them off because we were all settled in for the night whether we wanted to be or not. If I tried to leave, he’d say, "Where ya goin’? Where do you think you’re goin’ with my pants off?"

So that’s the way it was and that’s the way it was for me all the way until my friend called and said, "I got it." "Got what?" I asked. "It," he said. "Come over and I’ll come down." "Come down?" I asked. "Down," he said. "Into the street. And I’ll give it to you."

"You could have waited until tomorrow," I told him. "Why?" he asked. "So tomorrow you could say, ‘Why don’t we wait another day or two. I mean, another day or two isn’t going to make that much of a difference, is it?’ "I mean," he said. "Isn’t that what you’d say? Am I right?"

He was right. But as I was saying I felt so settled. The day was behind me already. I had already washed my face. And then there were the pants. The second my pants are off a little voice in my head says, "That’s it. It’s over! You, my friend, are in for the night." And then this. So I called my friend back and the first thing he said was, "I knew it was you. I knew you’d call back." I told him how settled I felt. "You know how it is." I told him. "You come in, you wash your face, you hang up your socks, you’re in for the night. You know how it is." Then there was a long silence and he said, "Did you take your pants off? Is that it?" And I said, "Yes, that’s it," and he said, after another long pause, "I was afraid of that. So do you want me to open it? Is that it? Is that what it’s come down to?"

It was tempting, but it reminded me of when I was growing up and a package would come for me. "There’s a package for you," my mother would say. "A package?" I’d ask. "For me?" "For you," she’d say. "For me, really?" I’d ask. "Yes, for you," she’d say. "Wow!" I’d say. "Don’t get so excited," she’d say. "We already opened it. It was nothing."

So who wants that? If there was a package for me, shouldn’t I be the one to open it? Then again, if my friend opened it, I wouldn’t have to go there, at least not right away. In fact, it was just when my friend asked me that I looked over at my socks. They were no longer on my feet but drying on the radiator. They had been in a puddle. There was no other pair in the house. They were all out, lost somewhere or at the laundry or on someone else’s feet but definitely not here and the thought of putting wet ones back on was not a pleasant one. I remembered when I was growing up, my mother would show me pictures of dying children, dying because they had worn wet socks. I felt sorry for them. If they had only known my mother perhaps they would have been alive today. "If you wet your socks," she’d say, "don’t bother coming home." But if I didn’t come home, if I was more than a minute late from wherever it was I wasn’t supposed to have gone to in the first place, I would not be allowed to leave the house at all.

I was confused. I went to ask my father what I was supposed to do, but his pants were off already, his socks were bone dry, and he was watching his favorite Western on T.V. All I could hear were the sounds of gunshots and of cattle stampeding. It was Rawhide. My father loved Rawhide, but more than that he loved the theme song and more than that he loved the whipping sounds that occur twice during the song, the only two times I would see him smile all week. He said he wished he had one of those whips. "The very least life could have given me," he once told me, was a goddamn whip." He mentioned no one in particular except Life. Life wore for my father a pair of heavy pants, and not once did it ever take them off.

When I walked in front of the T.V. set, he said, "You don’t want to live very long, do you?" My father would use dialogue from old Westerns to threaten people, especially his own family. "You don’t want to live very long" was his favorite, but he also had, "I’d keep my hands right where they are if I were you," and "One more step and I’ll see you at the bottom of Diablo Canyon." I didn’t quite get that one, but I wouldn’t question it, just skulk away quietly, shaking my head up and down as if I had benefited from a piece of fatherly wisdom. All my father’s wisdom seemed to come out of his pants, though it was a bitter wisdom, born, perhaps, in suffering and destined to make us all suffer with it.

"My socks are wet!" I suddenly blurted out to my friend. But all my friend said was, "What did you do, step in a puddle?" That got me angry like he knew me too well, so I said, "That’s right. I stepped in a puddle." "You and your wet socks," he said. "Yes," I said. "Me and my wet socks."

"Well," he said. "Do you want me to open it or not?" "No," I said. Just like that. "No." As if I had been rehearsing my answer for days. "No," I said. "Do not open it."
"Fine," he said. "Then I’ll expect you . . ." "Expect me to what?" I asked. "Expect you to come and pick it up," he said. "And if I did come and pick it up?" I asked, hoping to throw him off a bit from his relentless logic. "What then?" "Then you’d open
it," he said.

So I was back where I started. "You got three seconds to make up your mind," my friend said after another long silence. "Three seconds?" I asked. "What happens after three seconds?" "I hang up," he said. Three seconds, I thought to myself. What was it about three seconds? Then I remembered how when I was growing up everything was measured in intervals of three seconds. You have three seconds to get out of the bathroom, you have three seconds to change your clothes, to change your mind, your attitude, your girlfriend, always three seconds.

He was right. After three seconds, he hung up. I can’t say I was sorry. The thing was why go anywhere when you can stay home? For God’s sake there were windows. When I was growing up we had more windows than we knew what to do with. On Saturday mornings we’d all wake up and head for the windows. And from any one of those windows we could see everything. There were the usual cars, the usual cement, the usual broken bottles, one old shoe lying in the middle of the street which we could never figure out where it came from. Most of all there was old Mr. Goldblatt waiting for the mail, always waiting for the mail, his eyes glued to the corner from whence, like a vision, the mailman would suddenly appear and though we could not see him ourselves, still from Mr. Goldblatt’s eyes we could tell he was coming. "And what’s he got today, Mr. Goldblatt?" my mother would call down to him. "Packages!" he’d call back to her. "He’s got millions of packages!" "Really!" my mother would scream back. "I hope it’s not a trick. I hope he’s not trying to trick us again like last time." That was the time the mailman said there were packages for all of us, actually started to hand them out when suddenly he started laughing. I could see his tongue stained with envelope glue, his eyes like those tiny slits you stick mail through, laughing and laughing and then he took them all back, told us he was lying, that they weren’t for us at all but for some guy who never opened his door at all, who let them all pile up outside for us to stare at with terrible envy. "Why?" I remember asking him. "Why would you do such a terrible thing to us?" He was bored, he said. He needed a diversion.

We were all stunned. But not my father. He never believed the mailman in the first place, refused to accept even our own mail, and instead put his hands around the mailman’s neck and started choking him. "No!" we cried. "Stop! It’s the mailman! You can’t kill the mailman!"

I wondered perhaps if my friend didn’t just want to get me out of the house, see me unsettled again, that once being unsettled, then settled, there is nothing worse than being unsettled again. That’s the way it was with my socks. With all their use and re-use they had lost their elasticity, their will to live you might say. Added to all this speculation, I began to suspect there wasn’t a package waiting for me at all. I’d get to my friend’s house and he’d say, "Package? What package? Oh, that package. You mean the one with your name and address on it? Well, it was here, but it’s not anymore, because, well, to tell you the truth, I dumped it!"

Once when I was growing up, a package actually did arrive for us. My mother tried to open it, but my father said, "I’d keep my hands right where they are if I were you." My mother ripped it open. There was a struggle. A black box fell out. Inside the black box there was another black box and then another one inside of that one and so on and so forth until they became so small we could hardly see them. "Is this someone’s idea of a joke?" My mother asked. My father said nothing but instead began to smash each box systematically, until there were none left, and then, and only then, removed his pants and draped them over his chair.

It was about 10:05 P.M. when I called my friend to confirm things for the last time.
"Now let me get this straight," I said to him.

"OK," he said. "Let’s."

"OK," I said. "You got a package."

"That’s right," he said. "A package." I thought I heard a woman laughing in the background, laughing every time he answered me.

"And it has my name on it."

"Yes," he said. "You are . . ." And I said, "Yes I am," and the woman laughed again, and I said, "There’s a woman laughing," and he said, "There’s no woman here," and then I heard her say, "What’s he saying? What’s going on now? Hang up! Hang up on him!" Then he said, "Shut up!" Not to me but to her and I said, "What did you say to me?" and he said, "Not you," and I said, "So you do have someone there with you," and he said, "No, there’s no one else here." "No one there besides you and someone else, you mean," I said, and he said, "No, no one at all." "Yes, there’s a woman there," I said, and he said, "There’s no woman, you’re hearing things. There’s only me and your damn package and if you want it you better come and get it or . . ." "Or what?" I asked. "Or I’ll dump it!" he said.

I was so agitated I started to head for my pants. But then I remembered the words I swore I’d live by after growing up with my father. Never head for your pants when you’re agitated. In fact, if anything, take them off. I remembered too how my father would never hurt me when his pants were off. At those times he wasn’t much use at all. You might as well have draped him over the chair with them, but when he put them on, he was unpredictable, dangerous even. There was fire in his eyes. Sometimes he’d move in my direction and then, suddenly, when he was within arms length, close enough that if he reached out he could grab me, he’d stop. Then he’d just stare at me. I felt that if I moved a single inch, that if I pivoted my foot no more than an inch, in any direction, I might trip a wire, set off an explosive I knew only he could defuse by slowly, carefully removing his pants, first the left leg, then the right, and only then could I walk away again.

It was 10:17, only moments before I cancelled the idea of heading towards my pants, when the phone rang. I picked it up. "It’s you, isn’t it?" I said. "Yes, it’s me," my friend said, "and I’ve been thinking." This stunned me. "About what?" I asked calmly. But really I was shaking, my lip was trembling, the hissing in the background had been replaced by an urgent clanking sound as if someone was hammering his way into my apartment. "About us," he said. "About our relationship."

"What about it?"

"It’s in danger."


"Yes, danger," he said. "And all because of some package."

"Yes," I agreed. "Some package."

"Yes, therefore I’m going to bring it over to you myself."

"You are?"


"But why?" I asked. "Why would you do that?"

"I’m bored," he said. "I need a diversion."

I was stunned. And then I thought who wanted him over here either? In a way it was like going out except "out" comes to you. There’s that smell of "outness" when someone suddenly comes in from the outside. And after all, he wasn’t just the mailman delivering a package, was he?" I couldn’t just take the package and tell him to go. For God’s sake our friendship was in enough trouble. And what if he never brings the package at all, says he’s bringing it but never does? He’s like that. Either way, I’d have to let him in. Then he’d never go. Then, in essence, he himself would become the package and once opened would spill himself all over the house, wetting my socks, staining my pants, thus rendering himself non-returnable and un-repackageable forever.

"Tomorrow," I said to him. "Come tomorrow."

"Why tomorrow?" he asked. Unless you . . ."

"Unless what?" I asked.

"Unless," he said. "Unless you . . ."

"Unless I what?" I asked.

"Never mind," he said.

"No," I said. "You were going to say something," I said.

"About what?" he asked.

"About something. "You said, ‘unless you . . .’ something."

"Unless you?" he asked. "Unless you what?"

"Never mind," I said.

"So I’ll be right over," he said.

"That’s right," I said. "You will."

After this last conversation with my friend, I nearly became paralyzed. All I could do now was listen. I’d listen for footsteps in the street, in the hallway, out on the fire escape. Ten minutes, twenty, thirty, still no sign of him and then just as I was about to go to sleep, satisfied I was going to be in for the night, dreaming of packages tightly wrapped, bounded by masking tape on all sides, absolutely unopenable by human hands, the doorbell rang. At first I thought I was dreaming. I can’t tell you how many times doorbells have rung in my dreams. But this one kept ringing like someone wanted to get into my dream or at least get me out of it, until I had to admit to myself it was no dream at all but that someone was actually ringing my doorbell downstairs.

Once when I was growing up a doorbell rang in the middle of the night. All of us became paralyzed with fear. "Who is it?" my mother asked. No one answered, "It’s him," my father said. "He must have come." "Who?" we asked him. "Don’t you know?" my father asked us. "Him. He’s come for me." We went for his pants. But it was too late. He had made up his mind. He pushed us away. We watched helplessly as he put them on. He looked dangerous. There was fire in his eyes and mustard stains on his pants. He unlocked the door. A cold blast of air hit us from the west and he was gone. "Maybe it was a package," my mother said. "You know how he feels about packages." We did know, but we didn’t want to think about it. We waited all night, then days, then weeks, but he never came back. Finally, my mother locked the door. The single lock, then the double lock. After this we never received another package. Our doorbell never rang again. Even old Mr. Goldblatt had disappeared from our street. It had become known as the street of no packages.

And now, again, after so many years, there was the ringing in the middle of the night. I moved towards my pants but just at the point where if I extended my arm full length I could grab them off the chair, I stopped. I felt that if I moved another inch either back towards the door or forward towards the chair, I would trip some invisible wire and explode. The doorbell rang. Then it rang again. Twice more. "It’s here," I thought to myself. "It’s for me."

Shots rang out. I ducked but still didn’t move. I heard the sounds of cattle stampeding, men shouting, whips lashing, pots and pans crashing. Somewhere in the distance a T.V. was playing my father’s favorite Western. "It’s all your fault. You started this!" a voice said. Then there was the kind of music like when there’s a struggle, and another voice said, "You don’t want to live very long, do you?" The doorbell rang. Another shot rang out. "I’ll see you at the bottom of Diablo Canyon," a voice said. It sounded just like my father. I grabbed my pants but they did not give, as if my father himself were there pulling them away from me. "You don’t want to live, do you? You don’t want to live," he kept saying that night, pushing us away, putting on his pants, running out the door. And then I remembered it was my mother who said, long after my father was gone, and only then under her breath, "It’s you. It’s all your fault. You started this."

The doorbell rang. The pants hadn’t moved, so again I went for them. "You do want to live! You do want to live don’t you?" I cried out to them, pulling and pulling, until finally they were mine.

Putting them on, I stumbled towards the radiator. The socks were dry now, dry as a bone and so hot I could hardly touch them, but despite this I put them on, despite a small voice in the back of my head that said, "Why now? There’s always tomorrow, isn’t there?" Despite all this, I moved towards the door, unlocked the double lock, the single lock, opened the door; a cold blast of air hit me from the west. Where I was going I couldn’t say, but the pants, certain of their destiny, drove me on, through the hallway, down the stairs, over the package that nearly blocked my way through the front door, down the street, straight ahead, and only once in a while did I crane my neck to see it, the package, as it began to diminish, and then, finally, to disappear from my sight.

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