“Letters Become Bricks” by Parker Young

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You never know when one thing might become another. Like the letters I wrote — they all became bricks before I could mail them. Little grey concrete bricks. I didn’t have any use for the bricks, so they formed a pile in the corner of my living room which grew and grew with each subsequent failure of a letter. A thin layer of powdered concrete covered the floor over there, in the corner around the increasingly substantial pile. Because I couldn’t get my letters into the mail quick enough.

I tried to dissect one of the bricks. I thought maybe my letter would be inside — maybe the letters weren’t turning into bricks so much as growing concrete brick shells. I carried this brick outside, onto the sidewalk, placed it carefully in the exact center of the sidewalk, width-wise. Then I went back in to fetch the sledgehammer I borrowed from my neighbor Kenny. It took about fifteen minutes to satisfactorily demolish the brick. No letter inside, of course. But I couldn’t dismiss the possibility that the substance of the letter filled the brick in powder form, mixed into the concrete somehow.

Fortunately, a friend of mine worked as an aid in a nearby university laboratory. I brought her the crumbled remains of the brick at an appointed time. In a petri dish, she mixed some of the concrete powder with drops of a purple fluid before placing the dish beneath a microscope. She operated quickly, efficiently, and silently, a priestess of the observable world in her flowing white lab coat. After a few minutes hunched over the microscope, muttering prayers, she looked at me.

Looks like these bricks are thirty years old, she said.

Well, that was impossible. I was thirty years old. The now-demolished brick had appeared on my kitchen table two weeks ago, in place of a letter I hadn’t finished writing.

The next week, I tried a different approach. I actually mailed one of the bricks, hoping it might become a letter again in route to its recipient. I boxed it up and paid an exorbitantly high postage fee due to the weight.

Three days later, my brother called me up.

Why did you send me a brick? he said.

Ah, damn, I said.

I have a family, you know, he said.

Right.

You can’t just send me bricks.

I’m sorry, I said.

I’m mailing it back to you, he said.

The pile of bricks grew larger and larger until I decided to stop writing letters . Then I thought I might as well build something, since I had so many bricks. Besides, I had lots of free time now that I wasn’t writing letters. I carried them one by one into the back yard. Technically, I shared the yard with the three other occupants of our building, but nobody ever went out there but me, it seemed. In nice weather, I liked to lie down in the grass and hear the powerlines hum overhead. Sometimes a helicopter flew by, or a bird.

The only thing I could think to build was a small outdoor fireplace with chimney. I borrowed my neighbor Kenny’s wheelbarrow, mixed up an old bag of concrete, and got to work pasting bricks together in the proper shape — an arched mouth and gently sloped belly leading up to a hexagonal chimney column. Unfortunately, I was one brick short — I needed the sixth brick to finish the uppermost row of the chimney. No problem, I thought. I’ll go inside and try to write a letter.

Except this time, the letter didn’t become a brick. Of course, I thought. Just when I need a brick, I get a letter instead. So I sealed the letter in an envelope and mailed it, hoping it might become a brick on the way. Then my brother would call me up, complain, and mail the brick back to me, and I’d have a brick.

Hello? I said when the phone rang three days later.

What is wrong with you, said my brother.

I’m sorry, I said. I noticed he was actually crying. Or maybe he had allergies — I couldn’t remember if he always got allergies or not.

Why would you send me this? he said. This awful letter.

Parker Young lives in Chicago. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Bluestem, and Oyez Review.

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