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February 10, 2011

My postal phantom receives a letter from the Undeliverable Mail Office

Kyo Maclear’s 2007 novel The Letter Opener is about a woman who works at Canada Post’s Undeliverable Mail Office in Scarborough, and as I am a postal enthusiast, I devoured the book with delight. I also really enjoyed Maclear’s essay in the back of the book about “Postal Phantoms”– those people who inhabited your home before you and whose mail you continue to receive for years and years. How you come to understand these people’s characters through the return addresses, and they become so familiar that it would almost be disappointing if you one day encountered your postal phantom in the flesh. (I wrote about my own postal phantoms in this post, back in 2008.)

So worlds collided today when my current postal phantom received a letter from the Undeliverable Mail Office! (This phantom is not mentioned in my other post, because I’ve moved since that post was written and left Amanda Lee Hickman behind. In fact, no doubt Amanda Lee and I are now postal phantom-ing it together back at my former address.) I wanted to call up Kyo Maclear and tell her all about it, because it’s really quite remarkable– this means that my postal phantom is out there in the postal phantom netherworld sending mail to undeliverable addresses. What a menace this guy is!

The root of most of his problems, I think, is that his old/my address is still on his cheques, which was how the Undeliverable Mail Office tracked him down (misleadingly) to my house. The whole thing makes me feel quite sorry for that postal employee (and in my head it was Maclear’s Naiko) who took care to open his envelope, redirect his letter, and even include a standard notice about why she had to open his mail that ends with a happy face and the message, “We care”. She must have felt so satisfied, tracing this piece of mail (with no return address, mind you. My postal phantom is so careless!) back to its owner, and I hope she never realizes that she’s only sent it further amiss.

And yes, I do open my postal phantom’s mail. We have been in this relationship long enough that I feel like his letters are really for me. Now I may have to track down the actual person behind the phantom, because it would only be responsible. But then I’d also have to explain why I’ve been opening his mail, which might get a little bit awkward.

*I recently read Maclear’s picture book Spork. It’s awesome.

One thought on “My postal phantom receives a letter from the Undeliverable Mail Office”

  1. steph says:

    Me too! I also recently read Spork, while shelving books at work, and I too thought it awesome. I love the illustrations as well.

    And you’ve made me want to reread The Letter Opener. I enjoyed it immensely. I really wanted to work in the Undeliverable Mail department after reading it. So interesting!

    However, I don’t remember any essay. I’m going to have to check my book when I put my collection back on the shelves. The books are all currently hiding under blankets on the floor while we paint our living room…

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