Boredom had again entered the house. Or maybe it was always in the house, but Bishop only noticed it when his daughter Kendall visited. Or maybe it was always in the house, but Bishop only recognized its presence as a bad thing when his daughter Kendall visited. It was as if boredom could only get at Bishop through Kendall and, to a lesser extent, her boyfriend Pup, which was apparently a family nickname derived from the fact that Pup’s mom referred to his father as “Pooch.”
When Kendall wasn’t visiting, which was most of the time, Bishop never noticed the boredom in his house because he was always engaged in one of four activities: sleeping, eating, lifting weights in the basement without any music playing, or doing freelance web design, which was how he made what little money he had. But when Kendall showed up, usually with Pup in tow, Bishop would suddenly become aware of his house’s inadequacy as a place of fun and entertainment. And it wasn’t just his lack of cable or satellite television, video game systems, board games, or anything else that might occupy a couple of teens for a while, it was just the whole atmosphere of Bishop’s house, the way it seemed to stand in defiance of the very idea of entertainment. Kendall and Pup’s cell phones didn’t even get very good reception at Bishop’s house.
Kendall and Pup didn’t say they were bored when they visited Bishop’s house, but they seemed bored. They mostly migrated from room to room, sprawled on furniture or the floor, and had quiet conversations with massive gaps between each response. Bishop told himself that they wouldn’t keep visiting if they were really as bored as they seemed, but maybe they would. Maybe Kendall felt obligated to visit for Bishop’s sake, and Pup felt obligated to accompany her so she wouldn’t actually die of boredom from complications resulting from visiting her dad’s house in Dalcette by herself. Bishop didn’t know what Kendall and Pup did at Kendall’s mom’s house where Kendall lived, but knowing Laurel, Bishop’s ex, there were certainly more than zero entertainment options available to them there. Which really just meant that Laurel was among the 99.9% of the population who had more entertainment options available in their homes than Bishop did.
It would have been helpful if Kendall or Pup were interested in exercise, especially lifting weights since Bishop’s weight bench was in the basement and he would have happily let them use it, but they weren’t. They were both small and didn’t exactly exude vigor. They had bad posture and they wore jeans and zip-up hoodies even when it was hot. Bishop had once seen Pup wear a stocking cap pulled down over the tops of his ears when it was almost 100 degrees outside. The one nice thing about Kendall and Pup’s lack of interest in weight-lifting was that their disinterest extended to Bishop’s weight-lifting too. Which meant that neither of them ever made clichéd jokes or comments about Pup feeling threatened by Kendall’s big, muscular, heavily tattooed father. Not that Bishop really would have expected them to, but it seemed like everyone else who found out that Bishop had a teenaged daughter was completely incapable of not saying something like, “Ha ha, I would love to see a kid’s face the first time your daughter introduces him to daddy” or, “Ha ha, bet her boyfriends always get her home by curfew” and so on. Bishop couldn’t even bring himself to smile at these comments anymore, but people always assumed he wasn’t laughing because he was too protective of his daughter to even joke about it. They never suspected, of course, that he wasn’t laughing because their comments weren’t funny.
And it wasn’t that Bishop wasn’t protective of Kendall. He just found it hard to believe that a situation would ever arise wherein it would make any kind of sense for him to use his superior size and strength to either pummel a teenager or threaten to pummel a teenager, especially Pup, who was the only boyfriend Kendall had ever had. If Pup or any other boy ever did anything to Kendall, Bishop would handle it exactly as he would if he didn’t have huge muscles: like a responsible adult. He had no desire to take the law into his own hands. He respected authority in every way except for one: Bishop loved to smash mailboxes.
But, again, boredom had entered the house. Kendall and Pup were staying with Bishop for half of their spring break. That meant Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. It was only 9 o’clock on Friday night, and the teenagers already seemed incredibly bored. Perhaps more bored than Bishop had ever before seen them. Perhaps more bored than Bishop had ever before seen anyone. The slackness of their faces. The dullness of their eyes. The extra badness of their already bad posture. As Bishop walked through the living room on his way to the kitchen from his office, his stomach knotted at the sight of his daughter’s boredom, and at the sight of Pup’s boredom too. Their legs were draped over the arms of chairs, they breathed inaudibly through their mouths, their eyelids drooped over sluggish eyes. The boredom fed on them like a parasite, the boredom that Bishop had again done nothing to prevent from entering his home, had done nothing to expel. It had been nearly two weeks since Kendall and Pup had last visited. Why had Bishop not purchased a TV and a DVD player? Why had he not switched to wireless internet so Kendall could connect to it with her laptop? Why had he not thought harder about other possible sources of entertainment that he could provide?
“I’m sorry,” said Bishop.
“About what?” asked Kendall, her voice soaked in pure boredom.
“That there’s nothing for you guys to do,” said Bishop. “Tomorrow we’ll go into Multioak and I’ll get a TV. I’ll get satellite TV.”
“Dad, we don’t care,” said Kendall. “I don’t know why you’re always like this.”
“What if I got wireless?” asked Bishop. “So you could bring your laptop? We could go to your mom’s house and pick it up.”
“I already have my laptop with me,” said Kendall. “In my bag. Pup has his too. We’ve got games on them and stuff. We just don’t feel like playing them. We’re fine.”
“Can I get you something to drink?” asked Bishop. “You guys want some pop? Cans of pop?” He felt lame with only drinks to offer. Drinks were not the same as entertainment. But it was all he had at the moment.
“Dad, seriously,” said Kendall. “We’re fine. We’re just relaxing.”
“I don’t want you to be bored,” said Bishop.
“We’re not bored,” said Kendall in the most bored voice Bishop had ever heard, directly contradicting the content of her statement with the tone of that very same statement.
“I just want you to like visiting me,” said Bishop.
“We do,” said Kendall. “You say this every time. Do you realize that? Do you know how many times you’ve offered to go buy a DVD player? Why do you think you never have?”
“I don’t know,” said Bishop, ashamed. “This time I will. Tomorrow.”
“No,” said Kendall. “Dad, listen. You never do because I always tell you not to. I tell you that I wouldn’t use it even if you got it.”
“I’ll get you some pop,” said Bishop. “Cans of pop.” He went to the kitchen and took two cans of pop from the refrigerator, then returned to the living room and set them side by side on the coffee table. “I only have one kind,” he said. “Sorry.”
Kendall had her arm thrown across her face in a pose of dramatic boredom. “We’re not bored, Dad. If it was so boring here, why would we keep coming? Why would we keep turning down your offers to buy us entertainment?”
“Because you don’t want me to feel bad,” said Bishop.
“We are bored,” said Pup, his voice as surprisingly low and bored-sounding as ever. “But we like being bored.”
“I knew you were bored,” said Bishop. “I knew it.”
“Great,” said Kendall, giving Pup a bored kick. “He’s going to cling to that forever. Now we’ll never convince him we’re not bored.”
“I was trying a different tactic,” said Pup, scratching his bored forehead.
“I’ll think of something,” said Bishop, no longer listening to his daughter and her boyfriend’s conversation. “Give me a few minutes. I’ll think of something.” He scurried, as much as a man of his physique can be said to scurry, to his office and closed the door. He leaned against the door, his hand on the knob, and closed his eyes. As long as his daughter’s boredom in his house had never been officially confirmed, some portion of Bishop had been able to deny what all empirical evidence told him was the case: that his daughter and her boyfriend were bored. And that tiny portion of himself that could stay in denial had been enough to keep him from doing what he now realized had always been inevitable. But now that Pup had openly admitted his and Kendall’s boredom, there were no remaining parts of Bishop to stand in the way of the inevitable. The moment that Laurel, Kendall’s mother, had made Bishop promise would never come had come.
Bishop returned to the living room, returned to the scene of horrific boredom. His own daughter! His own daughter was this bored! “Get in the car,” said Bishop.
“Where are we going?” asked Kendall. “We don’t want to go anywhere. We’re fine, Dad.”
“Why do you have a baseball bat?” asked Pup. It was the least bored Bishop had ever heard Pup’s voice sound. That was all the confirmation he needed.
The first time Bishop went mailbox-smashing, he didn’t love it right away. He was with his friends, it was their idea, and Bishop was afraid of getting in trouble. He also didn’t like the idea of destroying the mailboxes of people who hadn’t done anything to warrant having their mailboxes destroyed. His friends argued that maybe they had done something to warrant having their mailboxes destroyed, that everyone had dirty secrets, but Bishop could tell they didn’t care if the mailbox owners had done anything to warrant having their mailboxes destroyed or not. In fact, it seemed like the senselessness of the act was one of the things his friends liked about it.
Bishop drove for the first dozen mailboxes while his friends took turns leaning out the windows on the passenger’s side of his car with an aluminum baseball bat, smashing mailboxes, hooting, laughing, loving it. And then, more because he was sick of feeling like his friends were using him for their own fun, sick of feeling like he was almost as much a victim of the mailbox-smashing as the mailbox owners, Bishop demanded a turn. He switched spots with his friend who’d been in the back seat, taking the bat, the grip slick with the combined sweat of his two friends’ four palms, leaning out the window as the car slowed, swerved near the mailbox. Bishop was already big then. His arms, especially. He hadn’t yet learned the value of not neglecting certain muscle groups. But his arms were huge for a teenager. And when the mailbox came into range, Bishop swung the bat as hard as he could because it didn’t seem like the kind of activity that would benefit in any way from restraint. And he blasted the mailbox clean off of its post. It sailed through the air, trailing mail like smoke from a shelled jet, and struck a tree. Bishop hadn’t just dented the mailbox. He’d actually split it open. He’d blasted its door off too. The mailbox was unrecognizable as a mailbox, unrecognizable as a former mailbox. Bishop’s friends neither hooted nor laughed. But they didn’t ask for another turn with the bat either. They knew who the bat-wielder was. And they didn’t drive back to Bishop’s house until after 4 in the morning where the final mailbox was sacrificed to keep Bishop from being a suspect. Bishop’s parents were appalled when they saw the mailbox in the morning. Bishop’s mom said it looked like a monster had attacked it. The destruction wrought that night was legendary. The Multioak Interpreter-Tribune covered the story for weeks.
After that, Bishop limited himself to only a handful of mailboxes per mailbox-smashing trip and only one mailbox-smashing trip per month. For their part, Bishop’s friends never drove for him again, so Bishop developed a technique for smashing mailboxes from the driver’s seat. He smashed mailboxes solo until he met Laurel. She drove for him for a while and she was good at it. Those were the happiest times of Bishop’s life and he knew that they would never be topped. Unlike Bishop’s friends who’d introduced him to mailbox-smashing on that first night, who’d reacted to Bishop’s mailbox-smashing prowess with disturbed reverence, Laurel took real glee in it, her laughter was savage, she hung her left arm out the window and pounded the car door with her fist, she indulged in celebratory fishtails and bit her own wrist bone because of not knowing what else to do. She also asked for turns with the bat. She smashed mailboxes too. Not as brutally as Bishop – Laurel didn’t obliterate mailboxes – but her heart was all the way in it.
Then Bishop got Laurel pregnant, she broke up with Bishop, and when Kendall was born, Laurel made Bishop promise to never take his daughter out to smash mailboxes in the night. The circumstances surrounding that part of the story weren’t relevant and they were hard to remember. Such as why Laurel had broken up with Bishop and why she’d made him promise to never take Kendall out mailbox-smashing. It was all shrouded in mystery, in layers of self-deception, specifically on Laurel’s part, specifically regarding her own justifications for abandoning the smashing of mailboxes, an activity that Bishop knew she adored on deep level. The point was that Bishop had promised, but when he’d promised, he hadn’t known that his daughter would grow up to become incredibly bored while visiting him in his house. There had been no way to know such a thing, of course, but that was what had come to pass, and now, with only one means to counter such a development at Bishop’s disposal, he intended to use it despite any promises he may have made in the past. What was more important? The well-being of his daughter and, to a far lesser extent, her boyfriend? Or keeping a promise to a woman who hadn’t loved him for fifteen years?
“You have your license, don’t you, Pup?”
“Yeah,” said Pup. “Well, a restricted one, but yeah.”
“You’re driving first,” said Bishop, handing Pup the car keys. “I’ll tell you what to do. It isn’t hard. You can ride shotgun, Kendall. I’ll ride in the back. Passenger’s side.”
“What are we doing?” asked Kendall.
“We’re fighting boredom,” said Bishop. “Yours.”
“I’m not bored,” said Kendall.
“Then it’s already working,” said Bishop.
The new housing development on the edge of Multioak was called Windy Waters. “I remember when all this was fields,” said Bishop from the back seat. His window was already rolled down, but he wasn’t ready to start smashing mailboxes yet. He was just enjoying the early spring air’s fragrance and feel on his face and so forth.
“Is that why we’re here?” asked Kendall from the front seat. “You’re mad at them building houses over nature or something?”
“What?” said Bishop. “No, I don’t care about that. Where else are these people supposed to live?”
“So am I just supposed to keep driving?” asked Pup. “Or what?”
“Yeah, let’s just cruise for a few minutes,” said Bishop. “Let’s take a look at these mailboxes.”
“They look like mailboxes,” said Kendall as if that were disappointing in some way, which it most certainly was not.
“Exactly,” said Bishop, his lack of disappointment boldly evident in his voice. The mailboxes were mostly black, of modest size, mounted on wood or metal posts. They had numbers affixed on both sides so that the mailman could approach from either direction and clearly see the address. Furthermore, they looked vulnerable, defenseless, flimsy, unsuspecting. Bishop did not see the smashing of mailboxes as an act against the owners of mailboxes. Nor did he see it as an act against mailboxes. Was diving into a still pool an act against the pool’s stillness? Was letting out an exultant shout upon receiving good news an act against quietness? Smashing mailboxes was not an act against anything. Smashing mailboxes was an act for itself. It was pure expression; expression of the desire to smash mailboxes; the purest possible expression of that desire. The mailboxes symbolized nothing, neither did the bat, neither did the car. When Bishop smashed mailboxes, he was not making a statement. It wasn’t about his big muscles either. Having big muscles undoubtedly made him better at it, but Bishop didn’t smash mailboxes because he had big muscles. He’d had big muscles before he discovered the joy of smashing mailboxes. Having hands was also crucial to how well Bishop smashed mailboxes, but he didn’t enjoy smashing mailboxes because he had hands. That was how he thought of it. That was how he would have explained it to someone who asked him if he liked smashing mailboxes because of his big muscles, but so far, no one had asked that question. No one had ever asked Bishop any deep questions about his relationship with mailbox-smashing, but on the other hand, very few people knew that he smashed mailboxes. Just those friends on that first night, but they’d seemed to understand what was going on right away, and Laurel knew, but she had her own thing with mailbox smashing that Bishop had never understood, and then it had become a forbidden topic of conversation between them once Kendall was born and Bishop made that promise. That promise that he was now breaking.
“Now I’m bored,” said Kendall. She’d rolled her window down too. She drummed her fingers on the roof of the car. “I wasn’t bored at your house, but I am now.”
“That’s because we haven’t started yet,” said Bishop.
“Then let’s go,” said Kendall. “Let’s start so you can get this out of your system and we can go back to the house.”
“All right, Pup,” said Bishop, sitting forward, squeezing the bat’s grip. “It isn’t hard. You just steer close enough to the mailbox for me to lean out the window and hit it with the bat. Slow down right as we get to the mailbox, then I’ll hit it, then you steer back out into the road and speed up so we can make our getaway. We’ll start with one for now. Once you’ve mastered that, we’ll work on hitting a few in a row. That’s very satisfying.”
“OK,” said Pup. “It doesn’t sound hard.”
“There,” said Bishop. “That mailbox. The next one.”
“I see it,” said Pup.
Bishop kneeled on the back seat of the car and stuck his torso out the window. He brandished the bat and his powerful forearms tingled.
“I have never seen you grin like this before,” said Kendall, watching her father in the sideview mirror.
Pup slowed and swerved the car toward the mailbox. It was almost in range. Mailboxes never flinched or winced. They were whole one second and annihilated the next with no in-between state wherein they realized their swiftly impending doom. Bishop liked that about them. He cocked the bat back. The mailbox was in range. Bishop swung the bat, the most natural feeling, maybe the only natural feeling. And the bat bounced off of the mailbox with a dainty ping. Pup swerved the car back out into the middle of the street and punched the accelerator. Bishop, still hanging out of the car with the bat dangling from his right hand, turned and watched the mailbox which was still fully a mailbox recede. No one would ever know by looking at the mailbox that it had survived an attempted smashing. No one would ever know by looking at the mailbox that Bishop, his daughter, and her boyfriend had been anywhere near it.
“Go around the block,” said Bishop. “Go around the block and let me have another shot at that one. Slower this time.”
“What happened?” asked Kendall. She stuck her head out of her open window and looked back at her father. “Did you hit it?”
“I don’t know what happened,” said Bishop. “I hit it but something went wrong. I…don’t know what happened.” He felt strange, like he was caught in the crease between two seconds. He had never before felt so incomplete. Mailbox after mailbox glided past, but Bishop couldn’t bring himself to think about smashing any of them until he had successfully smashed the one he’d just swung at, the first mailbox he had ever failed to smash with one swing. And even if he got it with the second swing, which he certainly would, it would always be the mailbox that required a second swing, it would always be the mailbox which broke Bishop’s perfect record, a record he hadn’t even realized he was keeping until this mailbox ruined it, a record there had never been any need to consciously keep because the possibility for failure had never entered Bishop’s mind.
“Is that it?” asked Pup.
Bishop saw it. A mailbox with an unremarkable appearance that was nonetheless now the most remarkable mailbox in Multioak. “Yes,” said Bishop. “Slower this time.” He cocked back the bat. Pup swerved the car toward the mailbox, creeping toward it, the hood of the car passed it, Bishop gave a mighty swing. Again, the bat struck the mailbox and skipped right off, this time with more of a tap than a ping. As Pup steered the car away from the pristine mailbox and began to accelerate, Bishop shouted, “Stop the car!”
Pup hit the brakes. Bishop pulled himself back into the car through the window, then kicked the door open and sprinted toward the mailbox, brandishing the bat. He had never exited a vehicle to smash a mailbox before, so now this mailbox had ruined another record Bishop didn’t know he was keeping. Bishop’s first swing was a running swing, but it did the mailbox no harm at all. Bishop’s second swing was a vicious overhand chop which also did not smash, dent, or even slightly ding the mailbox. Bishop’s third swing and all subsequent swings were of the frantic, haphazard variety. Frantic, haphazard, and utterly ineffectual. He circled the mailbox as he swung, looking for a weak spot, finding none. Even the failure didn’t feel right. There were no vibrations coming back to Bishop through the handle of the bat, stinging his palms. It was as if the mailbox were casually absorbing all of the energy from Bishop’s swings, or perhaps casually dispersing it. There was hardly any noise, even. The loudest sounds in Bishop’s ears were his own grunts, frustrated growls, and heavy breathing. Kendall was also shouting something at him, but he wasn’t listening.
Then, as Bishop’s circuit of the mailbox took him around to its front side again, he saw something in his peripheral vision that hadn’t been there before. He stopped swinging the bat and turned to see what it was. It was a man holding a leash attached to the collar around the neck of a small dog. The small dog looked alarmed but the man had a placid smile on his face.
“Hello, friend,” said the man. He wore pajamas, tennis shoes, and a round straw hat. He appeared to be in his 50s. Definitely older than Bishop. “Amazing, isn’t it? I still get the urge to try it myself.”
Bishop figured he probably looked crazed – chest heaving, still brandishing the bat – but the man couldn’t have seemed less perturbed. “What urge?”
“To test it out,” said the man. “I was all against it when the homeowners association said we all had to buy in to get it done, but I have to admit, it’s amazing.”
“What is it?” asked Bishop.
“Don’t you live here?” asked the man. His face showed the first trace of concern.
“I’m visiting,” said Bishop. “My cousin bet me ten bucks I couldn’t smash his mailbox.”
“Ah,” said the man, grinning. “Well, your cousin tricked you, my friend. The mailboxes in Windy Waters are unsmashable.”
“But they look like regular mailboxes,” said Bishop, staring at the unsmashed mailbox before him, still panting. “What are they made of?”
“Oh, they’re regular mailboxes,” said the man. “They’re not made of anything in particular. It’s the procedure we had done once they were installed, that’s what makes the difference.”
“What procedure?” asked Bishop.
“It’s very expensive,” said the man. “Honestly, it would be much cheaper to just replace your mailbox every time it gets smashed. How many times is that really going to happen in your life? Still, it’s neat.”
“But what’s the procedure?” asked Bishop. “Who did it?”
“Well, I call it a procedure,” said the man. “Some call it a rite. That’s ‘r-i-t-e.’ I wasn’t present when it was performed. I’m a religious man, in a way, so I didn’t want to be seen to participate in it, you know, and I don’t much care for the sight of blood, especially that much blood, but I can’t argue with the results, and like I said, it was the homeowners association’s idea, I just went along with it because I had to. These HOAs can be tough.”
“So you’re saying this is magic?” asked Bishop. “Black magic?”
“Well, I’m somewhat of a religious man,” said the man. “So I don’t make much distinction between so-called white magic and black magic. It’s all the same to me: bad news. But the homeowners association said we had to pay in, and like I said, my mailbox sure seems indestructible, so that’s one less thing to worry about, not that I really worried about it much before, but still, we live in a world where things are breaking and wearing out all the time, so isn’t it kind of nice to have one thing that doesn’t, even if it’s a mailbox?”
Bishop glared at the mailbox. Now it seemed not only defiant, but sinister too. He raised the bat above his head, his hands wrapped tight around the handle, and he summoned all of his strength, and he summoned all of the goodness in his heart, all the warmth and light, and he let that goodness and warmth and light surge out from his heart and into his arms, and with a mighty roar he brought the bat down upon the mailbox in a terrible arc, a blur of righteous, destructive force.
This time it made a sort of plink sound, subtly different than the ping, but no more impressive. Less impressive, if anything.
“Well, good night,” said the man. “I should be getting Sven home. Sorry about the ten bucks. That was unkind of your cousin. Not a fair bet.”
“Who’s Sven?” asked Kendall. Bishop hadn’t heard her exit the car, hadn’t heard her walk up behind him.
“My dog,” said the man. He pointed at Sven the dog.
“Can I pet him?” asked Kendall.
“No,” said the man. “He doesn’t bite often, but when he does, the wounds always become infected. His mouth is filthy, I guess.”
Kendall bent down and petted Sven anyway, two quick pets before the man had time to pull Sven away from her and hurry off.
“The man said ‘no,’ Kendall,” said Bishop. He returned to the back seat of the car, closed the door, and rolled up the window.
“Can I see the bat?” asked Kendall from the front seat as Pup drove back through the Windy Waters housing development toward the highway.
Bishop passed the bat over the seat to Kendall, who promptly rolled down her window. “Steer me close to one,” said Kendall. “I wanna try it.”
“Weren’t you listening?” asked Bishop. “It won’t work. I don’t want your first swing to be at one of these unnatural, cursed, shameful…”
Pup took a nice, slow swerve at a mailbox. Kendall leaned out the open window, took a big swing, and dinked the bat off of the mailbox. “Wow,” she said. “That feels so weird.”
Bishop didn’t like the lesson she was taking from this. “Give me back my bat,” he said.
“Oh, don’t be like this,” said Kendall. “If you have to smash a mailbox so bad, let’s just go to another neighborhood.”
“I want to smash these mailboxes,” said Bishop. “I can’t smash any other mailboxes until I smash these mailboxes. Until I smash that mailbox.” He hadn’t known it was true until he said it.
“You’re being ridiculous,” said Kendall.
“We’ve got a few more days until you go back to your mom’s house,” said Bishop. “And so help me, I will not let black magic condemn you to boredom!”
“I’ll give you this much,” said Kendall. “Trying to overcome some kind of magical protection spell doesn’t sound boring.”
“Well, it will be,” said Bishop. “But the part after we overcome it, when we smash every mailbox in the entire Windy Waters housing development, that won’t be boring at all.”
Bishop stayed up long after Kendall and Pup went to bed; Kendall in the spare bedroom and Pup on the couch in the living room. Bishop spent hours scouring the internet for any kind of information on mailbox invulnerability and how to counteract it. He found nothing except for a few companies claiming to sell mailboxes that were unsmashable because of their superior construction, but Bishop could tell just by looking at them that he would be able to smash them with no problem. Then Bishop tried to research how to counteract magic spells in general, but immediately felt out of his depth and uncomfortable with the methods proposed by the self-professed experts online. But then, at 4:30 in the morning, Bishop recalled that he’d almost done some web design work for a retired woman who lived in the Windy Waters housing development. She’d ultimately decided to go with someone else, or so she claimed, but Bishop still had her email address. So he sent her an email saying he was having an issue with kids smashing his mailbox and that he’d heard that her housing development had paid for a procedure that made all the residents’ mailboxes unsmashable and that he wondered if she had the contact information for the person or organization who had performed the procedure. Then, realizing that the woman probably wouldn’t see the email until she woke up, which would probably still be a few hours, Bishop finally went to bed.
Bishop woke up five hours later and immediately checked his email. The woman had responded. She said the man who had performed the procedure was named Madden Monumentium but that was probably not his given name, he was from Multioak, and also he had died. Bishop sat in his office chair and stared at the email. He had been so hopeful, so proud of himself for thinking of this means of contacting the sorcerer, or whatever he was, but it had turned out to be another dead end. And in a matter of hours, Kendall and Pup would awaken to find boredom waiting for them. Boredom and Bishop side by side. A matched pair, joined at the hip, joined at their cores. Almost indistinguishable from each other.
“I don’t understand,” said Laurel. “She’s supposed to stay with you for, like, three more days.”
“She’s bored,” said Bishop from the driver’s seat of his car. “They’re both bored. They’ll be happier here. I can’t entertain them. I want to, but I can’t.”
“That’s what she said you’d say when she asked me to come out here and talk to you,” said Laurel. She had her arms propped on the roof of the car as she leaned down to speak with Bishop. Her shoulder-length red hair hung down around her round face.
“But if you saw them there, you’d see that I’m right,” said Bishop.
“They always looked bored,” said Laurel. “They watched a movie the other night, they looked bored the whole time, and when it was over, Pup said it was in his top five movies of all time and Kendall said it almost made her cry. If you had asked me during the movie if they were liking it, I would have said no, definitely not, because they looked completely bored by it. But they loved it. They’ve watched it three more times since then and looked just as bored every time.”
“But they didn’t look as bored as they look at my house,” said Bishop. “I guarantee you that.”
“How do you know?” asked Laurel. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Bishop, but you’ve never struck me as a very perceptive person. Like, at all.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Bishop.
“You don’t know what people are feeling,” said Laurel. “You don’t know what people are thinking. You can’t read people.”
“Well, then, Kendall and Pup must be really bored at my house if even I can read them.”
“Then make an effort to entertain them!” said Laurel. “Kendall is your daughter and she wants to spend time with you! Play games with them, take them somewhere! Don’t just give up!”
“I tried!” said Bishop. “I did…I did everything I could!”
Laurel stared at him. She, in contrast to and unfortunately for Bishop, was a perceptive person. “So you broke your promise.”
Bishop sighed. “OK, I’ll admit. I tried to break my promise. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.”
“What does that mean?” asked Laurel.
“I meant to take Kendall and Pup out to smash mailboxes, but the housing development I chose had some kind of secretive, possibly supernatural procedure done to make their mailboxes indestructible, so the mailbox I tried to smash, well, I couldn’t smash it no matter how much I tried, so we went home without smashing any mailboxes, and I tried my best to figure out how to counteract the, uh, procedure, but I couldn’t find anything that seemed helpful online and it turns out the quote unquote ‘sorcerer’ who performed the procedure is dead, so I couldn’t glean any information from him either, and now I just feel uncomfortable and off, and I don’t want Kendall and Pup wasting their spring break bored at my house when they could be having fun here.”
“You’re not kidding?” asked Laurel. “About any of this?”
“I wish,” said Bishop. “Anyway, I’m going to go now.”
“Take Kendall and Pup with you,” said Laurel. “Don’t leave them here. Kendall will be hurt.”
“I don’t understand what happened,” said Bishop. “With everything. When you and I went mailbox-smashing together, we were on the same page. And then…what happened? I’ve never understood.”
“What’s so hard to understand about it?” asked Laurel. “I explained it to you over and over. Smashing mailboxes was fun, but it’s not the kind of thing mothers should be doing and it’s not the kind of thing fathers should pass on to their daughters.”
“That’s not all there was to it,” said Bishop. “It was bigger than that.”
“It wasn’t,” said Laurel. “It isn’t. I swear. You’re the one who made it into such a, like, meaningful thing. I broke up with you ‘cause we didn’t have much in common and I didn’t want to saddle either of us with years of a bad relationship just ‘cause we had a baby together. And I stopped smashing mailboxes because I was a mother. And I asked you not to teach our daughter to smash mailboxes because whether or not you kept smashing mailboxes was up to you, but Kendall was both of our responsibility. Trust me, at the time, I did not realize I was participating in the defining moment of the rest of your life.”
“But you knew about me and smashing mailboxes,” said Bishop. “You understood.”
“I thought you thought it was fun!” said Laurel. “Like me!”
“You didn’t just think it was fun,” said Bishop. “Remember how you pounded the door of the car when you drove? How you’d bite your own wrist because you didn’t know what else to do with all of your excited energy?”
“That’s what I do when I’m having fun,” said Laurel. “I still bite my wrist when I get excited. Like, when a movie is too suspenseful or something.”
“It was more than that,” said Bishop. He looked away from Laurel. He hated it when Laurel or Kendall or anyone else looked at him with such hopelessness.
“It isn’t just that you aren’t perceptive,” said Laurel. “It’s that you have so much faith in your wrong perceptions.”
“Or you’re wrong,” said Bishop. “And Kendall and Pup are bored at my house. And the Windy Waters mailboxes are unsmashable.”
“Well, I guess we can never definitively prove two of those one way or another,” said Laurel. “But I’m pretty confident that you’re wrong about mailbox sorcery.”
“Ask Kendall,” said Bishop.
“Ask me what?” Kendall and Pup had come out of the house, pale and squinting in the afternoon sun. Kendall held the air mattress in her arms that Bishop had insisted they come pick up so that Pup would have somewhere more comfortable than the couch to sleep even though Pup had said he preferred couches to air mattresses. Of course, it didn’t really matter to Bishop what Pup preferred because the whole thing had been a ruse to get Kendall and Pup back to Laurel’s house with minimal resistance. Sneaking their bags into the car without them noticing had been the hardest part.
“Tell your mom about the unsmashable mailboxes,” said Bishop.
“He couldn’t smash it,” said Laurel. “I tried too and I couldn’t either. Some guy said it was magic. Why are our bags here in the driveway? Are you trying to dump us here, Dad?”
Bishop shifted the car into reverse. “I’ll see you not this weekend, but the next, Kendall, and I swear I’ll have wi-fi by then, maybe even a TV. You’ll never be bored at my house again.”
“Bishop, stop,” said Laurel. “I’ve never seen someone so committed to imagining his life worse. Scoot over. I’m driving. Kendall, Pup, get in the back.”
“What?” said Bishop. “Where are we going?”
“Do you have your bat with you?” asked Laurel.
“It’s in the back,” said Bishop.
“Show me these unsmashable mailboxes,” said Laurel. “Prove me wrong with your bat.”
The mailboxes in the Windy Waters housing development looked different in the daylight. It was almost enough to make Bishop wonder if the procedure had only been intended to make the mailboxes invulnerable during the most common mailbox-smashing hours, which were, of course, the hours after sunset but before sunrise.
“Which one is supposedly unsmashable?” asked Laurel.
“All of them,” said Bishop. “But I’ll show you the one I tried.”
“You only tried one? That’s not very scientific.”
“Kendall tried another one. But I have to smash that one before I can smash any others,” said Bishop.
“Why is that funny?” asked Bishop.
“It’s just very ‘you,’” said Laurel.
“There,” said Bishop. “It’s that one up on the right. Three mailboxes up from here. You remember how to do this?”
“It’s not exactly complicated,” said Laurel. “But if this mailbox proves to be smashable after all, you’re taking all the blame, right?”
“Sure,” said Bishop. He rolled down the window, hung his upper half out of the car, and raised the bat. Laurel’s swerve was smooth, the speed was perfect, the angle of approach was ideal for a clean, powerful swing. Right up until the moment of contact, Bishop was hopeful that he would be wrong, that Laurel would be right, that the bat would impact the mailbox with a satisfying crownch, smashing it, leaving it in an utterly smashed state. And then maybe Bishop would turn out to be wrong about his daughter’s boredom. And then maybe he’d turn out to be wrong to doubt Laurel’s explanation for abandoning mailbox-smashing, breaking up with him, and making him promise not to take Kendall mailbox-smashing. But when the bat made contact with the mailbox, it made a small plip sound and did no damage. To Bishop, it felt as if he’d struck the mailbox with a long piece of straw. To Bishop, it felt as if he were right about everything.
“Did you really hit it?” asked Laurel as she steered the car back into its lane and accelerated. “Really?”
“Yes,” said Bishop.
“You missed it,” said Laurel.
“I didn’t,” said Bishop.
“Who drove for you the other night?” asked Laurel.
“Pup, you drive,” said Laurel, stopping the car at the end of someone’s driveway. “I want to watch this time.”
Pup and Laurel switched spots. Pup circled the car around the block, approached the mailbox again. Laurel watched from the seat behind Bishop, her window down for maximum clarity of vision. The swerve, the swing, the same result.
“Give me the bat, Bishop,” said Laurel. “Pup, circle again.”
The result was not different with Laurel swinging the bat. Two people, probably the owners, stood on the porch of the house to which the mailbox belonged and watched her attempt to smash their mailbox, watched that attempt fail in unspectacular fashion. “I hit it,” said Laurel. “I swear I hit it.”
“It’s the procedure,” said Bishop. “It made the mailboxes in this neighborhood unsmashable.”
“Let me try it from the front seat,” said Laurel. “Bishop, you drive.”
“It’s not going to make a difference,” said Bishop as Pup stopped the car at the end of a different driveway and got out.
“So what are you going to do?” asked Laurel. “Mope about this for the rest of your life too?”
More people had gathered on the house’s porch when Laurel made her next attempt, this time from the front passenger’s seat while Bishop drove. Her swing of the bat did no harm to the mailbox. The people on the porch were smiling, waving. “Circle again,” said Laurel.
“I already tried this,” said Bishop. “From every angle.” But he circled again.
This time, there were even more people on the porch and they cheered as they saw the car approaching with Laurel hanging out the passenger’s side window. She tried to ignore them and focus on the mailbox, but that didn’t help. The bat had no effect on the mailbox. The next time around, Laurel let the cheer from the audience – which had now spilled onto the lawn – get to her. She let it make her angry and she channeled that anger into her swing, which made no difference. She didn’t tell Bishop to circle again and he didn’t ask. He just did it. Laurel experimented with a different mental state this time. She didn’t think about the mailbox at all. She thought about Kendall when she was a baby, how she liked to open drawers and throw their contents down the basement steps. Then, almost as an afterthought, Laurel swung the bat at the mailbox as Bishop swerved the car past it. The mailbox accepted the blow from the bat and was as fine as ever. The audience loved it. More neighbors kept showing up. They were all rooting for the mailbox, of course. Bishop circled again, Laurel imagined the mailbox as the face of a napping demon, she swung the bat, the demon didn’t even stir in its sleep. Applause and laughter from the audience. Laurel wouldn’t look at them, would not acknowledge them, but what she would do is imagine the mailbox as the face of someone from that audience on the next pass. The next pass came and that strategy didn’t work either.
“Mom,” said Kendall. “Let’s go. You’re worse than Dad.” Pup was asleep on the back seat next to her, his head resting on her shoulder.
“Why are you complaining?” asked Laurel. “Are you bored? Bishop, circle.”
“I am circling.”
“Well, keep circling.” Laurel knew he would. He was stubborn, but his stubbornness would be his undoing. He would circle and circle, and with each of Laurel’s unsuccessful attempts to smash the mailbox, he would feel more and more vindicated. He would be lulled into a false sense of security. Laurel would smash the mailbox, eventually, and then Bishop would be forced to confront the smashability of the mailbox he had believed unsmashable.
Kendall fell asleep too. Laurel’s arms had begun to ache. The audience on the porch and the lawn grew and grew, then shrank and shrank until no one was watching anymore. The mailbox looked like new.
“We’re almost out of gas,” said Bishop. “I need to save enough to get us to a gas station.”
“Fine,” said Laurel. “Park the car.”
Bishop stopped the car on the side of the road next to the mailbox. He and Laurel got out of the car. Bishop leaned on the hood of the car with his massive arms folded over his muscular chest and watched his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child wale on the unsmashable mailbox with his aluminum bat. Laurel didn’t circle the mailbox, she didn’t try different angles. She stood in one spot and swung the bat sideways at the mailbox, over and over. This went on for some time. Kendall woke up and joined Bishop, leaning against the car next to him.
“I’ve never seen her like this before,” said Kendall.
“She thinks she’s doing it because she’s proving me wrong,” said Bishop. “But it’s more than that.”
Laurel was close enough to hear what her ex-boyfriend and her daughter were saying about her, but she didn’t pause her swinging to respond to them. The shiny aluminum bat reflected the pale pink sunset sky.
“What do you mean?” asked Kendall. “It’s more than that how?”
“Your mom has a complicated relationship with mailbox-smashing,” said Bishop. “Like me. But she doesn’t want to admit it.”
“So that’s what this is about?” asked Kendall.
“Yes,” said Bishop. “Partially.”
Then they fell silent again and watched Laurel swing. Pup woke up and joined them, draping his arm around Kendall’s shoulders. Laurel’s swings were slowing, weakening. Not that it made any difference in how effectively the swings smashed the mailbox. Laurel’s exhausted swings had exactly as much effect on the mailbox as Bishop’s most powerful swing had, which was no effect at all. The house’s garage door opened, a car came out of it, and the garage door closed as the car drove away. Its occupants did not acknowledge Laurel, Bishop, or the teenagers.
Bishop was not tempted to ask Laurel if she was ready to give up yet. The longer she went, the righter he felt. And the righter he felt, the-
The bat struck the mailbox and the mailbox burst into pieces. Shrapnel flew in all directions, a piece of metal left a shallow cut in the back of Bishop’s hand as it whizzed past. And not only the mailbox Laurel had hit with the bat, but every mailbox in the neighborhood, they all split, crumpled, exploded, all at the same time, up and down every block in the Windy Water housing development, every unsmashable mailbox was smashed. Not a single mailbox remained whole, not a single mailbox remained even slightly useable. The noise was deafening, it was the sound of as many aluminum bats as there were mailboxes smashing those mailboxes in the same destructive moment, the sound of a brutal and simultaneous succumbing.
Windy Waters residents pulled back their curtains to look outside, doors began to open, people came outside, ran through their yards to what remained of their mailboxes, cradled the remains in their arms, looked dazed. Someone said, “How do we get our money back?”
“What did you do?” asked Bishop.
“I smashed the mailbox,” said Laurel.
“How did it feel?” He knew she wouldn’t answer honestly. Why should she? You don’t have to be honest when you’ve been proven right according to agreed-upon parameters that do not account for considerations such as the amount of time and effort required to smash a mailbox perhaps being evidence for the presence of sorcery even if that sorcery was eventually overcome by time and effort.
Laurel shrugged. She set the bat on the ground and massaged her left bicep with her right hand. “It was fun.” Her eyes, her tone, her whole bearing, her entire aura screamed to Bishop that there was more to it, that Laurel was not feeling the feelings of a person who had just finished doing something that felt merely fun. But what could he say?
Back at Laurel’s house after putting gas in the car, Laurel said, “Bye, Kendall. Bye, Pup. See you Tuesday night.”
Before returning to Bishop’s house, Bishop stopped at a hobby store in Multioak called Grown-Up Games and bought a board game called “Beef Up” that was weight-lifting themed.
“We can play it together,” said Bishop.
“Board games are boring,” said Kendall. “Like, actually boring.”
“I wanna play it,” said Bishop. “Humor me.”