James Moats - 09/12/2008

There was a knock at the door.

I had just sat down with some take-out chinese food. This is incredibly bad timing, I thought.

I scraped some fried rice onto my plate, filling the gap between a pile of General Tso's chicken and an egg roll, then set the cardboard carton and my plate down onto the coffee table and wiped my mouth, which had begun watering. As I stood up and walked to the door, I worked through a list of the usual suspects, acquaintances that would be capable of showing up unannounced, after dark, to interrupt my evening with the General.

I opened the door, in a state of anticipation mixed with a feeling of quiet dread. I didn't feel like entertaining. Some of my friends were pretty hard to dissuade when it came to dropping by for the drinking of cheap beer from cans until the wee-hours on a week night.

I was somewhat relieved when I didn't recognize the face at the door.

I turned on the porch light.

He was a short, stumpy man in an old, brown suit, holding a crumpled piece of paper in his hand. 'Disheveled' was the first word that came to mind, but instead, I said "Yes?"

He must be selling something. Magazines, maybe. Vacuum cleaners. This will be easy to handle. I will be eating in no time. My mouth was still watering as I awaited his introduction.

"Mr. Collins?" he asked, then continued right on the beat, "I don't know how to go about this kind of thing properly, I am usually handling different types of correspondences."

Now I'm intrigued.

"What did you say was your name?" I nearly interrupted.

"I'm sorry, Charles Beckitch, Mr. Collins. I have been contracted by one Fuhnizhu Partners, LLC to deliver this official and time-sensitive memorandum."

"Have I won something?" I asked, cocking my head a little to the right.

Mr. Beckitch looked at the ground briefly and shifted his weight from one leg to another, waiting for his chance to continue.

I slowly straightened my neck and let the smirk drip away, afraid of playing the 'you're some kind of jerk' card too soon.

Hear him out, I thought, and assured myself that he would be gone soon.

"I assure you, Mr. Collins, this is not a solicitation. You are being, well, 'served' in a way." He made quotey marks in the air, the crumpled page now upright between the index and middle finger of his left hand.

He continued, "The parties that I represent simply wanted to be certain that the document that I have for you was delivered in person, with a bit of preamble and explanation on their behalves. To be sure this didn't land in the trash without you first considering its contents."

I reached out and snatched the page, a little too aggressively, from his hand as it lowered slowly, seemingly by the force of gravity alone, from his mid-air quotation.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, as I unfolded the crooked tri-fold, "those are my driving directions here. No GPS in the car."

I smiled and handed the page back to him without refolding it.

I smelled stale cigarettes wafting in the door.

"Is this visit going to require me inviting you in, or can you simply give it to me?"

He reached inside his sport coat and pulled an envelope from it. Calling that thing a sport coat made me wonder what kind of sports they play where this guy came from.

On examining the outside of the envelope, I was drawn first to a gold colored, semi-metallic sticker holding the flap closed on the back. There was an insignia, but not one I recognized. When I flipped the envelope over to look at the front, I found myself wondering if it would be addressed to me or simply blank on the front.

It was addressed to me. By hand. A woman's shaky hand.

At the top left, stood the insignia from the sticker, as well as the words 'Fuhnizhu Partners, LLC', and a PO Box in Denver. 'Fuhnizhu' wasn't spelled like I had imagined when I first heard it. Seeing it spelled out like this made me think of a phonetic spelling of 'furniture' by a person of the Asian Persuasion.

"They are an Asian firm, that distribute furniture on a small scale, but in a worldwide capacity."

I belched out a sharp laugh and looked away from the envelope, as Charles the messenger jerked a little, startled by my outburst.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I was just thinking...", but thought better of it. "What is this in reference to?"

"I haven't read the document, I'm afraid, as that wasn't part of the agreement. I am simply here as a messenger." He looked down again. This time, it seemed he was almost bowing.

The humble messenger.

"Hey, listen. I was just sitting down to eat. If there isn't anything else, I now have the letter. My curiosity is truly peaked, so..."

I paused for a moment, waiting for him to finish the sentence for me.

"Mission Accomplished!" I eventually declared on his behalf.

"Yes, well, I must return to my employers as a witness to the reading of the document."

"Really?" I replied, defiantly, stating it, more than asking. "Well, if you don't mind to wait, as I eat my savory dinner, which is quickly going to room temperature ruin as we speak, I will certainly oblige you with a reading. Should I read aloud? Please come in."

The man had assumed an 'aww shucks, Mr. Collins' type of posture and followed me inside. When I offered him a seat by the door, he turned around to examine it, then continued to stand.

I, however, sat back down in the middle of the couch, to resume eating.

This couch is shorter than a full size couch, but considerably longer than a love seat and was fairly new. It is covered in a beige micro-suede skin, some kind of synthetic fabric. It feels a little like a grocery store chamois.

For $200, though, this is definitely not lamb skin. Or that of some romanian goat.

As a matter of fact, I find it hard to imagine there is even any wood inside there.

I picked up my plate and hunched over toward the edge of the coffee table. It's what I do at dinner time. I have analyzed this ritual, fully realizing that if I were to drop my plate from this position, it would touch neither my knees or the table before falling flat onto my feet and the surrounding carpet. The table isn't close enough to warrant the hunch, but I hunch nonetheless.

"So you haven't even peeked in here?" I asked, working through a mouthful smaller than I normally would have taken.

"I wouldn't last long in the 'courier' business if I were even tempted."

He air-quoted again.

And he noticed me noticing.

"I do recognize this couch, though," he said, "from their catalog, which was delivered with your letter."

"Really?" I was genuinely surprised.

"So this is a gin-u-wine piece of foo-nit-soo, is it?"

We both laughed aloud. Well, I laughed. He smiled. Maybe a chuckle. I don't know.

"Maybe I'm their millionth customer and there's a golden ticket in here somewhere. Maybe they are giving me the furniture farm!"

This time I made the face, but didn't follow through. He nodded politely and looked at my food.

Eyes on your own cards, I thought.

"I would offer you something to drink, but the house is empty."

"No, no. That's OK. I will just be on my way."

"Once I read this to you."

"No, no. Not 'to' me," he shook his head vigorously, as if to say I had misunderstood his intentions wholly, "I just have to watch you read it."

"But aren't you even curious?" I asked. "I sure am."

I picked up the larger of the two containers on the table and shoveled some more chicken and vegetables onto my plate. The wax paper envelope that had contained the egg rolls was wet inside with grease. They were fresh from the fryer.

I'm more curious to see how long you are willing sit here waiting, though.

I cherish my privacy. Those in the business of disrupting it often find themselves at the mercy of my inner twelve year old.

"So, where you from, Chuck?"

"Charles... Thank you. I'm from the upstate, originally." He said politely and sat down in the chair by the door.

"THE upstate?"

He had produced a bulky PDA that must have been in his back pocket. He placed it on the end table.

"Oh. Sorry. South Carolina. I forget that it's a regional term and doesn't mean anything a hundred miles from there."

"South Carolina. No accent, though."

"It's a long story. Certainly not one that you are interested in hearing this evening, I assure you." He glanced down at his cheap gold watch.

I looked at the clock on the VCR.

It said 12:00.

It always said that.

"Is there any money in courier-ing?" I asked, stumbling over the last half of the word, then shoveled up an over-sized mouthful of chicken and broccoli.

"It's not bad. I can't complain... Situations get a little uncomfortable sometimes." he said and looked at me with a slight grin.

My chewing faded for a second, then returned at full force.

"OK," I said, "enough of your time wasted."

I turned and set the plate back down in an open space to the right of the collection of bags, boxes, and the piece of greasy cardboard that had been sitting in the bottom of the bag to make it more rigid. "I will be with you in a moment.", I assured what remained of General Tso.

"Now," wiping my mouth, "on to business."

I picked up the envelope and peeled back the embossed sticker.

Instinctually, I lifted it up to my nose and smelled the glued backing.