The mail was still delivered by bicycle on Maricopa Island. As with most jobs, the new guy has to shovel the deepest shit, and that was no exception at the Maricopa Post Office. Its newest mail carrier, Frank Harper, was learning this the hard way.
Shift Supervisor Roland Beckmann assigned him to the worst routes through his six-month probation, the ones notorious for steep hills and aggressive dogs. Frank rolled his eyes when he saw his name next to Cliffside Portico, the worst route of them all.
“You’re fucked, mate,” said Barry Jenkins, who’d been with Maricopa Post for decades. “Forget about a lunch break today. The rest of us will be out having a pint in the pub tonight and you’ll still be out delivering mail.”
“Beckmann has it in for me. I got stuck on Cliffside Portico three times last week.”
“That twat has it in for everybody. You’re just the flavour of the month because you’re new and from America.”
“What route are you on?”
“High Street shuffle. Bloody piece of cake, that.”
“Seniority has its advantages. Good luck, Frankie Boy.”
Frank gathered the day’s mail and set off on his delivery bicycle. The Maricopa Post fleet bikes consisted of heavy-framed cruisers, each with a large basket mounted on the handlebars to accommodate letters and parcels. Forget about pedalling up the winding road to Cliffside Portico with a heavy load, it was easier to get out and push.
By the time Frank reached the plateau, he needed a shit. He clenched his cheeks together and carried on with his deliveries, pushing electric bills and other mail through slots in the stately front doors of Maricopa Island’s most upscale neighbourhood.
Cliffside Portico residents used their unlimited disposable income to order random items from internet retailers. Some houses received two or three parcels a day. With panoramic sea views like these, Frank could understand why someone might not want to leave their house for matters as trivial as shopping.
It was none of his business what these people were buying, but the shipping labels sometimes gave it away. Frank learned early on that sex toy companies were particularly inept at the art of discretion.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he said, extending his digital notepad to the blushing occupant of a palatial estate. “Your package from The Erogenous Zone L.L.C. dot com requires signature upon delivery. Can you sign here please?”
His bowels cramped up again as he walked down the driveway to his delivery bike. Whatever was inside him was adamant to get out. Frank quickly delivered what was left on the block and pedalled post-haste to the Quick Brown Fox pub.
Frank leaned his bicycle against the granite wall and ducked inside. He handed the bartender a sheath of bills from beer distributors and made a beeline for the men’s room.
For fuck’s sake.
The single stall was wrapped in caution tape, with a small sign explaining that the facilities were out of order. Frank pushed open the stall door. There was a hole in the floor where a toilet should be, but no toilet.
Frank mulled his options. He could squat over the hole and empty his bowels here at the Quick Brown Fox, or he could carry on with his route and risk shitting in his work trousers. It was a no-brainer.
He unbuckled his belt and began to unbutton his trousers when two members of the construction crew burst into the men’s room.
“Toilet’s out-of-order, mate. You’re gonna have to do your business elsewhere,” said the taller of the two men.
“It’s an emergency,” Frank pleaded.
“Maybe so, but you can’t just come in and defecate at our worksite,” said the other guy. “It’s against every health and safety code in the book.”
Frank fastened his belt and sighed. His need for relief was becoming more urgent. The closest public toilet was at the far end of Cliffside Portico at The Thirsty Monk. With any luck luck he could be there pinching off a turd in less than fifteen minutes.
He mounted his bike and pumped the pedals. This diversion would put him an hour behind his schedule, but it was better than finishing the route in soiled trousers.
The urge to shit was overwhelming. Frank realised he wasn’t going to make it to the Thirsty Monk and abandoned his bicycle. It was now or never. He scaled a granite wall into a grassy field, pulled his trousers down around his ankles, and squatted.
He unclenched his cheeks, releasing a torrent of hot diarrhoea into the tall grass. His body relaxed after the first burst, but a second wave was quickly on its way. As Frank caught his breath, he noticed a woman watching him from the upstairs window of the house next door, covering her mouth in horrified disbelief.
The second wave came, then a third, until finally he was emptied out. He felt the woman next door’s eyes on him as he wondered how best to clean up.
Just my luck, he thought. This old bird will be on the phone to report me to Beckmann faster than you can say Special Delivery. I’ll be written up for sure, possibly suspended without pay or even fired.
Frank plucked a handful of grass and ambitiously attempted to wipe himself, a move that made more sense in theory than in practice. The blades of grass only succeeded at smearing the mess over a wider area. It was time for Plan B.
Frank wiggled out of his v-neck jumper and removed his undershirt. It was part of the official Maricopa Post uniform, but today it would be sacrificed for the greater good of basic hygiene. He wadded the shirt into a ball and cleaned himself, starting with his thighs before moving onto his undercarriage and finally, his asshole.
Frank tossed his soiled shirt towards the granite wall just as a strong gust came blowing in off the water, sending it airborne. He watched as the shirt sailed higher and higher, finally coming to rest in the branches of a large elm tree, spread wide as if showing off the embarrassing shit-stain.
Frank fastened his trousers, pulled on his v-neck, and retreated to his bicycle. There was mail to deliver, and he was eager to get on with it. He took another look at the upstairs window where he saw the woman, but she was gone.
She’s probably grassing on me right this second, he thought.
By the time Frank completed his route, Maricopa Post Headquarters was deserted. He locked his bike in the shed and clocked out. When he returned to work the next day, Roland Beckmann was waiting for him.
“Let me explain how this works,” he said. “The Postmaster of Maricopa Island is a very good friend of mine, and he has determined that all postal routes, including Cliffside Portico, can reasonably be completed in seven hours or less. You can’t take it at your own pace and expect to get paid overtime, understand?”
Frank shrugged. “I suppose so.”
“Now that we’re clear with the overtime policy, let’s address the uniform policy.”
“What about it?”
“I had a very interesting phone call from a member of the public yesterday, do you have any idea what that may have been about?”
Frank strained to keep his composure as he nodded no.
“I took a phone call from a woman who said she witnessed one of our letter carriers riding around without a shirt under his v-neck jumper,” said Beckmann. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Delivering mail without a shirt?”
“You fit the description. White male, average height, average build.”
“That describes ninety percent of our workforce.”
“Maybe so, but you were the only white male of average height and build working in Cliffside Portico yesterday.”
“In this cold weather? I wouldn’t be out there delivering mail without an undershirt. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Beckmann nibbled on his thumbnail. “That’s what I thought. Maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her.”
“Exactly,” said Frank. “I know the importance of representing Maricopa Post in a professional manner when on the job. I take it seriously.”
Beckmann twisted his face into a robotic approximation of a smile.
“I know I can be a hard-ass at times, but I can tell you’ve had a tough week. I’m going to throw you a bone and put you on the High Street shuffle today. Just don’t screw it up, and don’t get used to it.”
The men shook hands and Frank got the hell out of there. The last thing he needed was to be seen as one of Beckmann’s lap dogs. As he sorted the day’s mail, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Frankie boy,” it was Barry Jenkins. “Moving up in the world, I see.”
“I think Beckmann feels sorry for me. He said he was going to throw me a bone.”
“That old chestnut,” Barry sighed. “He’s probably trying to set you up. Beckmann has stooges all over High Street. If anything goes wrong on the route his little birdies will sing it back to him.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
An uneasy feeling brewed inside him as he pedalled towards the central business district. Why would Beckmann feign kindness in one breath, while trying to set him up in the next one? Did he know more about yesterday’s little incident in the big grassy field than he was letting on?
Frank kept his head down and did his work by the book. Jenkins was right, the High Street shuffle was an absolute cakewalk. No hills, no dogs, and easy access to public facilities. Most of the deliveries were to shops and businesses, where proprietors offered him coffee and sausage rolls. What a contrast from Cliffside Portico.
By the time Frank sat down for lunch most of his mail was already delivered. He ordered a plate of liver and onions with black coffee and got out his phone.
There was an alarmingly high number of notifications on his Facebook. He opened the app and scrolled his feed. Apparently, he was tagged in a video post that was quickly going viral. The post had more than a thousand likes and hundreds of comments.
Frank clicked the link and was redirected to the Maricopa Mouthpiece, the island’s home for unfiltered political commentary and sleazy gossip. His jaw dropped as he read the blustery all-caps headline:
[EXCLUSIVE] MARICOPA POST EMPLOYEE DEFECATES IN ABANDONED FIELD
Frank scrolled through the poorly written article to an embedded video. The woman in the window had filmed everything, but instead of grassing him up to his boss, she sent the clip to the Maricopa Mouthpiece.
There he was, squatting in a field and emptying his bowels for the whole internet to see. The video showed him in living colour, there was no denying it was him.
The waitress arrived with his liver and onions, but Frank had lost his appetite.
“Do you need any sauce?” she asked.
“I’ll be okay,” he said, talking less to her and more to himself. This was a bad situation. When Beckmann saw the video, he would be out on his ass looking for a new gig.
Frank noticed the waitress whispering to her coworkers behind the counter. She gestured in his direction and they broke into muted laughter. They must’ve seen the video in the Maricopa Mouthpiece.
He pushed away his plate, threw down a tenner, and bolted for the street. Bystanders openly pointed and laughed as Frank mounted his delivery bike. He felt like the most recognisable man in Maricopa Island.
He pumped the pedals as hard as he could, not knowing where he was going, but hoping it would be somewhere far far away.
J. Archer Avary (he/him) is a former TV journalist. His poems and stories have appeared in The Daily Drunk, The Remnant Archive, Melbourne Culture Corner, Ayaskala Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. He left the United States in 2014 and now lives on a tiny island in the English Channel. Twitter: @j_archer_avary