The stamp shop next door functions as a liminal space.
Here’s the scene: you’re standing in a stamp shop, where the shelves are a solid 6’ and you’re a tentative 4’6”. You’ve just tasted your very first bagel sandwich (as opposed to eating two discretely cream cheese’d bagel halves, with which you still feel significantly more comfortable) with curly fries on the side. They were a welcome break from the damp and yellowed monotony of the fries from the freezer. You’re all done eating and full of grease and dread but it’s not time to —––––. You need to be held, contained like a belly, 'till your next appointment. The stamp store is a gas station and convenience store and Dunkin’ Donuts, except with higher standards of restroom maintenance.
You’ve never seen an actual piece of cash money before, other than perhaps that dollar bill your dad showed you and muttered in your ear “money is dirty,” which you’ll later learn to be true in several different ways. All the stamps form walls around you as a consequence of their six foot shelving situation; you’re absolutely dwarfed by the things. A lot of them are facing backward, that is, their respective backings of reddened clay are exposed, toothsome to the finger.
Your mother seems to ache for craftiness, not in the sly sense but in the P.T.A. sense, and you implore her to pick up some stamps and ink. You suspect she seeks the fruits of some socialite mom’s private creative labors –– which, before the age of Pinterest, remain so very mysterious –– without the imperative to lug ripped-and-spit-spattered orange and watermelon rinds from the youth soccer field to the garbage bin.
It seems likely she will buy you at least one stamp. She hasn’t bought herself a new pair of shoes since before you were born, which, as you don’t yet know, was not a particularly long time ago in the life of a human but was quite a long time ago in the life of a shoe. She lets you pick one stamp and one ink pad despite the questionable state of her old shoes. The ink is redder than the clay back of the glossy, wooden stamp you get, which you don’t pay for but cradle in your hands anyway. It’s time to go to —––––. You: digested. You are skilled enough with your hands to stick a stamp into some ink and mess it up a bit and then stick it even harder on some piece of paper and the thing that will emerge from the stamp’s surface as it kisses the paper’s face will be perfect.
You experience grave disappointment upon noting that a stamp might leave a thin outline of ink, sometimes at a ninety-degree angle, just beyond the design that was to be imprinted. Later you seek this for the kitsch. You realize that kitsch only happens once you’ve been around a little longer than a mother’s pair of shoes, or after at least your third or fourth go-round with the bagel and fries combo, after you’ve at least once left that damn container of ink open too long to recover. Until one of your gay aunts purchases you a self-inking stamp that you can’t help but call nifty, as she perhaps would have in the 80s, and although the defining feature of this self-inking stamp is its maroon plastic top, in the center of which is written your home address in black. This is the content of your stamp. The ink attached is violet, which is not yet your favorite color.
Back at the stamp shop you did not think about the way stamps were made; you knew not of their customizability. You were flabbergasted, yes, absolutely shocked when you saw that some people ate bagels as sandwiches. You grew out of many of your intolerances but still stand as an inferior being in the shadow of a six-foot stamp shelf, all red, towering above like a grizzly old giant that comes before you sleep. You still trace the outline of some secret-garden printed behind the raw red track of an old stamp when it appears behind your eyes. The –––- chews and spits you unlike your fatty lunch of choice, which holds your sluggish body long enough to mark.
Sarah Cavar is a full-time student of ambiguous gender. Their work can be found or is forthcoming in Mad Scientist Journal, Breath & Shadow, Polyester Zine, and Sinister Wisdom. They have guest-posted on blogs such as Epicure & Culture and Genderqueer.Me, and can themself be found at sarahcavar.wordpress.com.