jan burke
jan burke

Dear Irene,



November 28, 1990

Please hand deliver to:
Miss Irene Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
600 Broadway
Las Piernas, CA

Dear Miss Kelly,
I am writing to you because those guys who write the Sports Section are a bunch of jerks who won't take me seriously. My dog, Pigskin, can predict the outcome of the Super Bowl. So far, he has a perfect record. Once the playoff teams have been decided, I simply glue the team emblems to the bottoms of two dishes of dog food, put them on the floor, and whichever one Pigskin goes to, that's which team will win. I think this is pretty interesting and thought maybe you should do a story on it. . . .

I crumpled that one into a ball and spiked Pigskin right into the round file—and did it all left-handed. But after a moment, I pulled the letter back out of the trash. Setting aside my generally rotten mood that day, I decided Pigskin might be of help with this year's office football pool. Going through my mail that Wednesday afternoon in late November, I had already sorted out the flyers on meetings and the invitations to local political wingdings. That left only the pile of the envelopes which were less easily identified. Some were handwritten, some typed, some bore computer-generated labels. Few had return addresses.

I. Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
Dear Bleeding Heart Kelly,
The recent media worship of the Premier of the Soviet Union is disgusting. Presenting Mr. Gorbachev as a reformer is the most insidious communist plot yet. Not that you lily-livered leftists of the press are hard to fool, but I think it should be obvious that this is all just a charade to get us to drop our guard . . .

I was unfazed by these unflattering descriptions of my internal organs. I admit that I was a little distracted, not paying much attention to the occasional crank among my readers' correspondence. My mail isn't always as oddball as it was that day, but the approach of certain major holidays seems to make nut cases reach for their stationery. Most are harmless, lonely people who just need somebody to listen to them. Every now and again, one of them causes some trouble, like the guy who showed up in the newsroom one day with his parrot, claiming the bird was the reincarnation of Sigmund Freud. I don't know what women want, but Sigmund wanted a cracker.

Ms. Irene Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
Dear Irene,
I very much enjoyed the recent commentary column in which you said that the state lottery is a tax on hope. I agree with you one hundred percent. You are the brightest, most insightful writer on the staff of the Express. Your prose is brilliant. I was greatly impressed by your grasp of the complex statistical data in the Eberhardt study of lottery purchasing patterns, as well as your ability to clearly explain the study's significance to the average reader. I would really like to meet you, but if this is not possible, would you please send me a pair of your panties?

Lydia Ames laughed as she read that one over my shoulder. She works at the paper as an ACE, or Assistant City Editor. "Going to show that one to your fiance?" I gave her my best scowl. She's known me since third grade, so she wasn't much intimidated . . .

I wasn't concentrating at all now, just flipping through the envelopes, bored silly. . .

I didn't see it until I made a second pass through my mail. It arrived in a plain blue envelope, addressed to me in care of the paper, the address on a white computer label.

Dear Miss Kelly,
You will always be the first to know, because you will be my Cassandra. Who will believe you? I will. The time has come for us to begin. The first Olympian will fall on Thursday. The hammer of Hephaestus will strike her down and the eyes of Argus will be upon her remains. Clio will be the first to die. Forgive me my riddles, but it must be so. Soon you will be able to see the truth of it, Cassandra. But who will believe you?
Your beloved,

Oh brother. Here was a letter from no less a figure than Thanatos, the ancient Greeks' name for Death himself. My beloved. And I was going to be his Cassandra, the prophetess who spoke the truth but was never believed. Charming. I looked through the rest of my mail. Little of worth. Having nothing better to do, I read the Thanatos letter again. It had been years since I had read anything about ancient Greek stories or mythology. I couldn't remember Hephaestus or Argus. Thursday—tomorrow. My brows furrowed for a moment over that. Clio would be the first to die. Clio was one of the Greek Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus who presided over the arts. I was trying to remember which one she was when the phone rang . . .

© Jan Burke