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‘Communications Breakdown’

I was posting a letter to my mother
to thank her for all the fish when
I heard a woman’s voice. It seemed
to be coming from the letterbox itself.
‘Get me out!’ it shouted. I looked
around but there was no one there.
Just me, the post box, the grassy
verge. A cloudless sky. I shrugged
and took the letter from my back
pocket. But the cry came again,
‘HELP!’ I peered into the darkness
of the post box. ‘Are you in there?’
I said, uncertainly running my fingers
through my hair. ‘Of course I am,’
the voice said, rather sharply I thought.
‘Now, get me out at once.’ ‘But how
on earth did you get in there?’ I said.
‘I was posting a letter to my son,’ the
woman snapped, ‘to check he got all
the fish, and—‘
‘Wait, Mum?’
The voice did sound familiar. ‘Jonathan,
is that you?’ She sounded even angrier,
if that were possible. ‘Er, yes,’ I said. I felt
somehow this was all my fault. ‘This is
all your fault,’ she snapped. An accusing
finger emerged from the slot and jabbed
in my direction. ‘But how did you get in?’
I ventured. ‘I told you, I was posting a
letter,’ she said, as if that made things any
clearer. The finger withdrew and a letter
flew out. ‘Here, you might as well have
it.’ ‘But why on earth were you posting
it here, Mum? You live in Swindon!’ I
retrieved my letter from where it lay on
the grass. ‘I thought it’d get there
quicker. Look, stop chatting and get me
out of here.’ I looked around but there
was no obvious means to get my mother
out. There was a little door on the front
of the letterbox that the postman used
to retrieve the sack of letters, but I
doubted she’d fit through it, given
her size. I rattled it experimentally.
‘It’s locked,’ I said. I examined the
timetable printed on the box. ‘Next
collection’s five thirty,’ I said. ‘I’m sure
the postman will let you out.’
‘That bastard,’ my mother snorted,
‘he’s as bad as you.’ I sighed. ‘I was
sending you a letter too,’ I said, ‘a
thank you letter. Do you want to
read it while you’re waiting?’ ‘It’s
too dark,’ she said, ‘can’t see
a thing in here. And besides, I
don’t have my glasses.’ I opened
the envelope that I’d sealed only
an hour before and cleared my
throat. ‘Dear Mother,’ I said, ‘just
a quick note to thank you for
the tilapia. It didn’t travel as well
as it might have done, but I do appreciate
the gesture.’ My voice wobbled
slightly. ‘Perhaps next time you
could send something slightly less
perishable—‘ ‘Less perishable?
Nonsense,’ my mother interrupted.
I saw her eyes flash in the darkness
of the letterbox. ‘You always were
an ungrateful little sod.’



Alex English is a children’s author and poet who lives in the south of England.
This poem was a response to the surreal poetry of James Tate, as part of Jonathan Edwards’ online course for the Poetry School ‘No Laughs Please, We’re Poets – Can comic poetry be good poetry?’

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