Poems by Catherine Evleshin

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Paperless...Jobless

by Catherine Evleshin

From Canary Summer 2014

Catherine lives at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, in the greenest city in the nation, with views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood when water is not falling from the skies.

The package should have arrived days ago. I watch two squirrels race up the cedar tree and out onto a branch that overhangs the deck of my cabin. My cell phone rings and my neighbor's number appears on the screen. Before greetings, I blurt out, "Did you get a package addressed to me?" Too quick.

"No, that cute postman delivered zero, zilch, nada. It's been five days now. Sounds like you're expecting something important."

"...No-o." Not quick enough. The male squirrel rises on his hind legs and watches me with unblinking eyes.

"I'm going over to bring Myra her mail. The postman was the highlight of her day. I'll stop by your place on my way home." With deliveries sporadic, the responsible residents of Greenwood Hills have convinced the postmistress to release the mail to them as a community duty to help out neighbors in isolated cottages. Since my car stopped running, Myra arrives from time to time, bag of croissants in hand, for an update on the roving raccoons, and an examination of spring plantings.

The postal rebellion began last year, when a referendum prohibiting junk mail appeared on the state ballot. The measure would have been a landslide, but corporations screamed First Amendment rights and called for an injunction. After the Internet became the preferred means of communication, bulk mail had kept their workers employed for years, so the USPS sided with private enterprise.

From coast to coast, greenies sprang into insurrection mode. I joined the army of committed environmentalists, and stuffed solicitations, addresses blacked out, into the drop box in town. The police had more pressing matters than to stake out litterbugs.

A breeze purrs through the grove of tall pines to the north of my property. For two years, I have managed to steer the garden tours away from my cash crop of cannabis planted on the steep, unbuildable land behind my property line. Logged over, the acreage has been abandoned to crooked saplings, rotting stumps, and poison oak.

I plan each year to beautify it with two dozen bright green bushes that will keep me above water until I am old enough to collect my pension. A successful crop may enable me to get my car fixed. In the anemic economy, property sales will never again reach their millennial frenzy, and no one hires a middle-aged woman whose skills are limited to filling out title transfer forms for an escrow company.

On nights when the moon turns the ravaged forest into a mystic landscape, I drag four long, connected hoses up the hill, and irrigate my clandestine garden. In front of the cabin facing the county road, I drench the flower and vegetable plots with wasteful spiraling sprinklers and jetting rain birds, to avert suspicion from my excessive summer water bills.

This first descent into felony began two years ago, when my unemployment checks ran out. I drove to San Francisco to learn about hemp production as an alternative to killing trees for paper. The US government prohibits even marijuana's poor cousin with its minuscule percentage of THC, but several states have defied the ban. The DEA can't keep up with high-grade marijuana production, let alone the fields of fibrous and non-hallucinogenic cannabis, used for millennia across the world, in the production of textiles, rope, and, yes, paper.

I should not have listened to the manager of a bustling shop that dispensed medical marijuana. When I mentioned my limited resources, he said, "To turn a profit, hemp production requires experience and equipment -- a big operation. Let me suggest another idea to you."

I now suspect he had apprenticed with Monsanto, the multinational corporation that sells African farmers seeds producing sterile plants. He persuaded me to purchase an engineered variety with high THC content, and hooked me up with a trustworthy retailer in my area. He dug in a drawer and held up a clear plastic zip bag filled with seeds. "Best herb grown outside of Canada. Guaranteed to get you five hundred dollars a pound." With medical marijuana dispensaries springing up like weeds across the nation, but the dealer assured me that any day now, the state would legalize marijuana altogether.

Genetically modified cannabis is prohibited for medical use, but last year my yield exceeded expectations. However, in the cover of night, harvesting the tough plants wrecked my lower back and sent me to the clinic with a maddening poison oak rash. Undaunted, I ordered more seeds through the faltering postal system, addressed to the mailbox that now stands empty at the end of my driveway.

If luck is with me, the man in San Francisco kept my money and his seeds. I'm too old to survive prison.

I leave the squirrels to refill my coffee cup. Returning to the deck, I power up my old e-reader with its dull grey background. I miss the feel of paper, and the ease of referring back and forth through the pages of a print book. I start the latest bestseller on climate change, but doomsday stats in the introductory chapter fail to distract me from the missing package. It will sit in the local post office until someone grows curious.

My cell phone rings again-- my sister on the opposite coast -- with her six-figure income and the conviction that voting will achieve social change. She would consider my entrepreneurial venture a bad joke, so I have told her that I live off investments. She asks, "Did you get any mail this week?"

Neither have I confessed to her my participation in the junk mail coup d'état. "Not for five days."

"They're telling us to check online for anything important, then go down and pick it up." My sister places convention and convenience first, environment be damned. I have failed to convince her that I would appreciate an online singing birthday card as much as one with gilded roses on heavy paper, delivered through the postal service.

When I try to interest her in the new climate change report, she asks, "Have you checked out the new e-readers?" Count on my sister to purchase the latest extravagance with leather bindings and fifty real e-printed pages that turn like leaves in a book.

"How long does it take for the next fifty pages to appear?"

"The device senses when you reach the last page, and downloads the next installment in seconds. You can mark the margins with the stylus provided, and access references anytime."

I imagine plastic and sweating hands." Do the pages feel like real paper?"

"You can't tell the difference. For diehards, there's a musty smell option." Self-assured chuckle. "So, sister dear, you can no longer accuse me of forest genocide. Uh-oh, got another call."

The over-priced widget would curtail my urge to peek at plot endings. I'll drop hints for Christmas. Perhaps they allow e-readers in jail.

A pickup truck slows by the mailbox and turns into my driveway, scattering the squirrels to higher branches. Muscular legs descend from the cab, and I recognize the postman, not in his USPS-issue short pants, but wearing jeans and a tee shirt with "OCCUPY" printed above a row of upraised white, black, and brown fists. I had never noticed the two lines etched between his eyebrows. "I got laid off."

"Sorry to hear that." Awkward silence. His outfit looks like it came from the wardrobe department of a crime show I saw last week about undercover DEA agents.

"Do you need any yard work done, Ms. Wilding?"

This time, I pace my reply. "I do it myself.” I shift in my deck chair, exciting the pain in my back. “Keeps me in shape."

He stares into the branches of the untrimmed cedar tree. "Remember me if you need any heavy work or hauling." Forlorn smile belying a narc, he offers a photo-shopped business card printed on cheap stock. A sting of guilt for stuffing the junk mail into the drop box.

He starts toward his truck, stops, and turns back to me. "Say, a package for you has been sitting in the post office for days. Have they called you about it?"

Sweat trickles down my sides while I envision pale sprouts inching through brown paper wrapping. "My car's not running. You couldn't by any chance bring it to me? I'll pay you."

"Be glad to. Do you need anything from the supermarket while I'm in town?" A cop would never think of that.

"It's a deal." I collect my grocery list from the kitchen. The resourceful young man looks it over and takes the cash from my hand. I tell him, "Myra Walker needs some work done. I'll call and let her know you might stop by."

His grateful sigh puts to rest my remaining doubts about the postman. The roar of his pickup truck fades down the county road, and I inhale the scent of cedar. The wind rattles the pines and the male squirrel makes that clicking noise in his throat.


Previously published in words apart magazine



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