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The Inconvenience of Anonymity:






With great glee, he fondled the latest letter from his penpal. For a while he marveled at her lovely penmanship--her name and address first, and then his own, printed, he was sure, so lovingly by her. He tore open the letter. Though she usually wrote several pages, front and back, this letter was only one page--only one paragraph, he discovered upon unfolding it. He laid it aside and once more took up the envelope. There must be more, he thought. There wasn't. He returned to the letter and read.



The Inconvenience of Anonymity image

She had written only that she would like to know what he looked like. She said that since she had sent him a photograph of herself, it was only fair that he should describe himself to her. In two of her earlier letters she had asked him, as a post script, to please send her a photograph of himself, but he pretended to have missed her requests, and she hadn't pressed him on it beyond asking him twice. But that had been months ago, and he figured she had given up on it; now comes this letter requesting only that he describe himself. She wrote that when she passed certain young men on the street, she wondered if they might resemble him, her very own penpal.



He folded up the letter and stuffed it back inside the envelope, which he then took and placed inside the shoebox beneath his bed, wherein he kept all her letters. He took out pen and paper from his desk drawer. Because he felt she must be eager to know, he would answer right away. He hadn't got far before he became stuck; in fact, he hadn't got any farther than placing a comma behind 'Dear Elizabeth' when he laid down his pen, unable to write a word describing himself.



He went and leaned over his dresser, regarding himself closely in the mirror. He found there nothing of note to comment upon. All he saw were shapes--ovals and polygons--the kinds of shapes one might see if one shook out onto the floor the contents of a child's toy container. This wasn't going to be easy, he told himself: no one had ever noticed him.



The Inconvenience of Anonymity image

He closed his eyes for a moment. Opening his eyes, this time all he saw in the mirror were two planes--the surface of his nose, which wasn't distinct, just an amorphous blob mottled with large pores; and beyond that, the surface that made up the rest of his face, a shifting mirage, the components of which were impossible to be lit upon by the human eye. He closed his eyes again. When he opened them the whole room began to spin, so he lay down upon his bed.



It played upon his mind how difficult to answer that last letter of hers was. All of her previous letters had been so easy to answer: just commenting on the things she had written, and then just answering truthfully all the direct questions she had put to him. He had always felt--his glossing over her two requests for a photograph notwithstanding--that he had responded thoroughly to all of her letters. But this response wasn't proving to be so easy. How, he wondered, do you describe yourself, when no one ever notices you?



The dizziness left him soon, so he rose up from his bed, and the remainder of his day passed uneventfully, the question of what he looked like never far from his thoughts. That night he tossed and turned a good deal before falling into a deep sleep.



He dreamed of a neighbor's house catching fire, the whole family of five sleeping through most of it before three firemen located and rescued them individually. The only casualties were the family's dog and her three newborn pups, burned beyond recognition on the back porch because they had been forgotten in the blurry half-sleep between wakefulness and the nightmare of making sure that all of the human loved ones were present and accounted for; sadly, the dogs just hadn't been noticed as missing.



When he awoke he didn't feel rested. He was glad that it was Saturday and he didn't have to climb out of bed and get ready for school. He would just lie there until the cobwebs left his head.



Then it occurred to him how he would reply to her letter. Though he had always taken a certain pride in knowing that he had always been completely truthful in his letters to her, this time he would lie; after all, he had to write something, and he was stumped about describing his looks. And since he was going to lie to her anyway, he thought he may as well go all out, so he sat down and wrote to her a glowing description of himself, leaving no doubt about his chiseled features being nothing less than Greek.



He got dressed, sneaked a stamp out of his mother's stationary drawer in the den, affixed it to his letter and, since the mailbox across the street was always emptied before his mailman came, began to cross the street, stepping out in front of a truck he hadn't noticed because he was so disgusted with himself for fooling the girl who lived halfway across the country, a girl he was fairly certain would never lay eyes on him.



The Inconvenience of Anonymity image

He never knew what hit him. He was rendered a bloody pulp, indistinguishable, and his letter was scurried along by the wind, into the gutter, and would decompose there in time, unseen, unread.



"I never even noticed him," said the truck driver, dumbly, over and over again, "I never even noticed him."
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