Holly’s address costs eleven dollars on a website where they look it up from when she last voted. I bike across town in the middle of the night to stand on her tree-lined street. She lives in a lumpen, gray building tacked to a row of brightly sparkling ones, like a bad tooth. I squint up at the windows on the third floor, their swampy television light and the plants on the sills. I shuffle to the building’s entrance, and run my index finger over the cool buttons of the intercom. H SUNDEAN, it says, in slink cursive on a strip of yellowing card stock. I peer through the glass section of the door at the metal mailboxes lining the narrow hall.
The following day, between deliveries, I duck into the bookstore on Twelfth Street. I rummage around in the basement until I find a paperback that’s worn soft, the pages sprinkled with mold. Scribbled notes stuff the margins, spilling onto the typeface. On the first page in sloping fountain pen it says MR. CARL SPRING, and a date twenty years ago. During my lunch break I wrap it in brown paper and process it properly.
It’s two-thirty in the afternoon when she opens the door, and her apartment is completely dark.
“Oh,” she says, tugging the hood of a red sweatshirt over her messy, surfer-boy hair. She’s coltish in her cut-offs and bare feet, small and tired and pretty. Her face is shaped like a heart.
“Are you expecting a package?” I say.
She takes it, smiling to herself in an entitled way. When I pass her the clipboard, her fingernail scrapes my skin.
“Sorry, I’m all–” She makes a vague gesture with her hands.
I look at her tiny, bare nails and picture them making deep crescents in his back. I smile at her and give her the pen.
She makes a face. “That cigarette just about wrecked me. God, I feel awful.”
“Hey,” I say. “Listen. Would it be OK to use your bathroom?”
“Oh. Sure.” She steps back and waves me through, and I notice she has a tattoo on the inner part of her wrist. I catch only a glimpse.
The apartment is warm and airless, overly furnished but sort of empty, too. Nothing is out, not a photograph or a pair of scissors.
The bathroom is full of ferns, and there are seashells printed on the shower curtain. I lock the door and touch the bristles of her electric toothbrush. They’re slightly damp. I inspect her toothpaste, her mint waxed floss and facial regimen. Apparently she has sensitive teeth and skin. In the mirror, I appear blank and marshmallowy, the way you do after too many magazines. Her medicine cabinet contains a blister pack of birth control pills and a sand-encrusted bottle of sunblock.
By the side of the tub is a wooden, cushion-back hairbrush with her soft, streaky hairs caught in it. Wound around its handle is some kind of child’s ponytail holder with red plastic horses. I unwind it carefully and push it onto my wrist, rolling it under my sleeve and up to my elbow. When I come out of the bathroom, she has unwrapped the book and is leafing through it. She’s like a little kid, kind of stroking the pages as she looks at them.
“Nice. Who’s it from?” I say in a friendly way.
“I don’t know. But look, it’s all–WHy would someone send me such a used book?”
“Maybe you sent them one,” I offer helpfully.
“Huh,” she says, annoyed. “Well, thanks.”
“OK,” I say. “Thanks.”
I find my clipboard and let myself out. As I kick up the stand on my bike, I realize I’ve completely wasted a turn. You can only meet a person one more time before the whole thing starts to look weird.