Post Office Queue by Tracy Patrick

Photo: tracy patrick. Tracy Patrick

Tracy Patrick is a writer, performer and graduate of the MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. She has won poetry slams in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and performed at various venues including the Wicker Man festival. She has written poetry, monologues, short stories, and had work published in numerous magazines. Recently she completed her first novel. For eleven years, she was editor of Earth Love poetry magazine, an environmental poetry journal that donated all its proceeds to conservation causes. She is currently working on a second Earth Love anthology.

Post Office Queue

There's a saying that until we learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them over and over. But it is a law of nature that, no matter what time you visit a post office, it's always a mistake. Because every post office has a queue, winding in on itself, separated by nylon ribbons and flimsy plastic posts, tailing past the rows of sellotape and envelopes, into the bright fields of shops.

      All of us are waiting for something: a birth, a death, a possibility, a prophet, the last Rollo in the pack. Most of us get used to waiting. Except the mother who pushes her pram up the queue, over your feet and into the future, zigzagging all the way to teller number five. "Hey there's a queue here," says someone, and she shouts "Shut the fuck up, I've got a wean," and, collecting her money, stops outside the window, her middle finger pressed against the glass.

      Queues are longer than ever before, expanding like the universe. Some people get annoyed by this. A man comes in from nowhere and punches the guy in front and says, "That's your last warning." And the guy is on the floor, blood seeping from his nose and security comes, and the woman behind whispers, "He must have done a terrible thing." And you notice the nylon barrier and flimsy posts have fallen over and no one knows their place anymore.

      It's funny to think that while you're in a queue, evolution is taking place: combinations of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon slowly adapting to temperature and light; absorbing information from the infinite and infinitesimal.

     The worst thing is when somebody talks to you like they know you and they say things like, "Seagulls, they like each other, don't they?" And you don't know what to reply, so you avoid eye contact and pretend you've got a hearing problem, and they say, "You're a bit young to have a hearing problem, are you no'?"

     So you place your feet apart and your elbows slightly behind and pretend you have wings, because there is always someone who thinks that if they press closer and closer into your back, into the space between your shoulder blades, the queue will move forward faster. They may even be able to pass through you, and your mass of solid flesh, to materialise miraculously at teller number five, the quantum queen or king. If you queue for long enough, you might actually get to see this happen.

      Queues are like philosophy: some small attempt to create order where there is none, to pull the orbiting elements together and form a pattern; a notion of predictability, some semblance of certainty.

     An elderly woman comes in and buys enough lottery tickets to supply a small nation, and she buys scratch cards and lucky dips and talks about her dog for half and hour and doesn't hear the huffs and sighs and you think surely one day she must win; surely one day the random number must fall in her cup, but order does not dictate luck. She's followed by a man with a large bag of packages to send to Indonesia, China, Brazil, Nigeria, Qatar, Cuba, and the moon. And, after he's gone, the single monotheistic teller goes for a tea break, causing small wars to erupt in the absence of her normally omniscient eye.

     Wars that you try to avoid; like when a woman comes in and says Johnny's brother got remanded yesterday for attempted murder, do you mind if I go in front? And you say you don't mind, even though you're thinking who the fuck is Johnny, and does he know his brother might be a psycho, but Johnny's brother's liberty has been removed, just like your place in the queue, and you try not to think about attempted murder.

     And what's most annoying is when you walk into the post office to find that someone has bypassed the nylon ribbons and flimsy plastic posts and queued around the pillar instead, and everyone has got in line behind them and you don't say anything because if you do, they might say you're out of line.

      Because a queue is a perfect mirror of the soul, the whole, the eternal havoc of the subconscious, and just as you think you've got to the end, the window shuts and those random pockets of the universe empty themselves and send a shower of prams, punches, seagulls, lottery tickets, badly addressed packages to the moon, Johnny with his threatened liberty, all falling down like meteors, and every order, every queue, every mind that has ever been subject to nylon ribbons, or posts or pillars, always escapes, because it always creates - in the vacuum - that one random element of chaos.

(performed at The Lit Parade, 13th June, 2012 by Tracy Patrick - part of Glasgow West End Festival 2012)

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