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return to sender
by ashley d. escobar

August 1st, 2020


Dear Dan,


I hope this letter finds you well. My usual pen pal has been too busy playing Animal Crossing, and I decided why not find like-minded people on the internet. This year started off strong. I remember sitting outside a cafe in Paris and there was this guy sitting right next to me despite all of the other tables being relatively empty, it was around eleven am on a Monday. The only other person sat closer to the entrance and smoked a cigarette over coffee and a book. The guy looked like one of those art/fashion students––buzzcut and all black. He would make eye contact from time to time but never spoke even though he seemed like he had something to say. I wonder what. I guess I only spoke in French to the waiter. I assumed he did, too, but he spoke to the waiter in English. His accent wasn’t particularly American or British. He only ordered a coke. He must have been on a smoke break or something. He rolled himself a cigarette and started taking out a pair of white earbuds as if he wanted to block out the sounds of the crowded street and the occasional car. I ate my onion soup––I had to because it ended up being my only meal that day anyways. I never seemed to be too hungry in Paris. It is a shame because I don’t have any pastries except for the occasional macaron. He would begin to part his lips as if he was going to say something, anything at all. He finished his Coke with only an empty orange rind left on the rim of his glass. It turns out he doesn’t have any euros and it is a ten euro minimum by card. I think about making a comment about how that sucks but I don’t. Instead, I just eavesdrop on him ordering a club sandwich that comes right as I get up to leave. He must have eaten it in a hurry because in less than ten minutes, I heard footsteps behind me and it turned out to be him. I kept walking, we crossed the Seine together but I let him cross me after the Louvre. A shame. I ended up going to a vintage store, one that played country music as the cashier sat smoking a cigarette. Now life is mainly spent indoors with a few walks outside every now and then. The music I listened to earlier this year was mostly just music for letting the cold pass. As well as time. I guess I learned a bit about waiting for something (like for spring to arrive) can have its own set of consequences. The whole nothing is guaranetted even if you have booked flights and reservations. Something like Corona can come out of nowhere. 


Last December was sort-of an omen of me listening to “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire on repeat. They’re right––after our love dies, where does it go? It feels like a lifetime ago that I was on the phone with my friend in the pouring rain because of this confusing date? Though I wouldn’t call it much of a date. We dinner reservations, it was a Friday. I had been looking forward to it all week; we were going to a planetarium show afterward. Yet that Wednesday before our plan, he ® invites me to his bar around midnight and I hang out there for a while and chat with his friend Sarah who happens to live nearby. 


This is the first page of a letter I was too excited to send. A letter I continued writing even after my typewriter ran out of ink. I’m glad this letter never made its way to him. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if it did. If he would have even written back at all. I wouldn’t have met you. I think of everyone in their tiny corners of the world. Everyone with my secrets. With my pseudo-cursive scrawl. What do you all do with them? What is the afterlife of a letter? Or should I ask where? Locked up in a museum display case or sold in a bundle at the local Goodwill? I want to live a life inside your mind. 


Love always,


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