Crystal Zhu

Watson was actually going to deliver the letters himself, after seven months of them sitting in his drawer. But then he chickened out in the end, and he asked Andrew from work to deliver it instead. 

That was really a bad idea, because guess what, Andrew got in a car accident. Kinda bad. Broke his leg.

He rode the bus to the hospital, saw Andrew, endured the yelling, said that he would pay Andrew back. Took the letters back and stuffed them in a drawer. Thought: maybe this the universe’s way of telling me, none of this is a good idea.

And that was that. 

He contemplated the problem of the letters. He didn’t like the idea of sending those letters, right now, not by himself. Watson glanced around his house. Socks and T-shirts. Too much dust, everywhere.

When problems became like this, Watson liked to imagine his mom, standing in front of a blackboard, listing the pros on one side and cons on the other.

           Pros: Seaside trips, like when they were littler. Family reunion. He could have his daughters, again.

           Cons: Debilitating embarrassment for the rest of his life. Thinking of Marie’s brown headband each time he sees his daughters’ soft hair. Admitting that everything was his fault. What if they saw the way he was living? A savvy engineer? Like this?

His mom, in his head, crossed her arms. She gave him a look he didn’t like. It made him feel four and guilty having fed soap to the dog. Watson… Why in the world would you do that?

Off with the blackboard.

What he really should do right now is clean up his house. Pay his rent. Or maybe he did that already.  And get a new car. Send those letters. 

Or go out for a walk and ignore all those things, because honestly it was easier that way, and hadn’t he always done things the easy way?


He went for a walk. 

He headed straight for the Pavement King, which was a thing of his childhood, and now a thing of his adulthood. Back then, the Pavement King spoke to him in the voice of Cherrie Rogers, who was the crush of seven boys he knew. That was a lot. 

Of course, it no longer did. Now, it spoke like Marie. 

He sat down beside the Pavement King. He lit a cigarette. 

It was still zigzagging across the concrete like when he was little. Maybe now more grass grew where the cracks got larger. There was a little O-shaped spot that looked like a mouth. 

“You should wait,” it said. 

Watson tilted his head. A flimsy cloud plumed in front of him. 

“There will be a better time,” it continued, “There’ll always be a better time.”

He liked that. That was a thing he wanted to believe. That it all happened for a reason and everything balances itself out. That happened to his mother. She endured the worst and she was happy until the end of her life, he thought. What she never told him was how much it would hurt being like this. Alone, he meant. 

It was kind of his fault, though.


“And when is that?” He asked.

“When you look like you’re not floundering in trash. And stop smoking. It’s bad for you.”

Ouch. Wow, he loved the Pavement King. It was a bit blunt at times, but that was good for him. Good for his soul. It said all the stuff Marie said before, and that was great because Marie was good for his soul.

Watson tossed his cigarette on the ground, twisted the tip of his shoe over the smoking cylinder, “Makes sense.”


The days after that, he decided to do good, to do better. He had Marie’s voice in the back of his mind. He had the letters tucked in the inside pocket of his coat. He would contribute at work meetings. He would finish his projects instead of finding an excuse for someone else to do them instead. He was feeling good. He was feeling great. Andrew came back to work in a cast, giving him dirty looks, but Kate was happy with Watson’s progress.

“You’re working so hard all of a sudden,” she exclaimed, “It’s unfortunate you can’t get a promotion. No one can, now.”

“Hope this lasts longer though,” she laughed, “Not like the other times.”

Watson shrugged, “Yeah, well. Well.”

But everytime he thought of those letters, it made his stomach feel like a trapdoor. One step, and he was down into the basement of memories. Sometimes he would see his little Anne with her toy car in a house two universes away but at the same time right here and feel like the world is coming to an end.

But he would try, because he had tried before and failed, but this one would be the one. The one. He could tell, really. He tried every couple of months. The Pavement King helped him try. He was surprised it wasn’t tired yet. 

He tried not to think of the letters.


It was three months in. He was good. He was great. He chatted with the Pavement King. He didn’t send the letters and smoked once a week. Then a little less, he told himself. Just a little less. But work was getting hard. It was hard working hard. 

Who would have known? Almost Marie’s voice. 

Watson laughed.

He had done this all before, hadn’t he? Did it work?

He was a little confused.


“How are you gonna get the car out of the driveway?” 

The Pavement King asked that. Some evening after work, all the work, with the blank offices and the workers hurrying everywhere all the time. But he was really doing better!

“I’m thinking about it,” he replied. “I’ll still have to pay rent. And then debts. Maybe I’ll call a towing company after that.”

“You better follow through with it,” it said, like it did every time Watson tried. 

I will and I will, he thought. He would, this time, even if work felt like dragging his fingers over the grooves in his brain.

Things aren’t going well, that was what his boss said in the all-hands meeting last Tuesday.

What a great time to pick, Watson thought. Now? Really? Just when I was doing so well? I was on a streak!

Pavement King crossed its arms, feet scraping across the concrete. It looked so much like his mother, which was funny. It had Marie’s voice. And red lipstick, like Marie.

“I will.” Watson repeated. Convincing himself? If he said it enough it would be true, and he would make it through and all the world would balance itself out.

There were still things he had to do, like tidy up his house. But he could do it, because last time he tried he had bottlenecked here and he would not let that happen this time.

“Remember the letters,” Pavement King said.

There were still things to do. Watson hurried home.


The eviction notice was taped on the outside of Watson’s door. 

He had forgotten about that, the rent he owed. From worse times. He thought he got a leeway. Maybe that was a couple months ago.

He considered ripping it off. He didn’t want to lose this house, where there was Anne and Clara and Susan and Marie, or bits of them. Marie was here back then and could help him with rent. 

The landlady didn’t even call him. What a witch.

He needed a smoke. Needed. He hadn’t smoked in forever. Or two days. Same thing.

What he thought at the beginning was, he could reduce it by half, then another half, then another. Simple math. But it never does become zero. So he took his cigarettes, the extra ones, the ones he didn’t throw away because he didn’t want to waste them, he told himself, and lit it and stared at a raccoon emptying a trash can across the street. It was silver under the moon.


It was five months in. He argued with the landlady. He chatted with the Pavement King, who became more and more like Marie every passing day. He didn’t send the letters and smoked once a week. A little more than once a week. A lot more. But work was getting hard, harder. It was hard working harder. And the rent. That was bad.

Who would have known? Almost Marie’s voice. 

Watson didn’t know how to make this better.


A phone call came the next day at work. He sat at his desk. His boss. Saying something, about the company needing to cut their costs. Something about efficiency. Something? Right, layoffs. 

His name, his unlucky name, was picked out of the hat. The metaphorical hat. 

It was an excuse. It wasn’t random who was laid off.

But he worked so hard?

They said he wasn’t consistent, that was what they said. 

He stood at the bus station for ten minutes before deciding to walk. He was tired. God, he was exhausted.

He passed the Pavement King, on the corner. She was sitting against the road sign now, her long fingers trailing a bit of the pavement over and over. She looked like Marie.

Marie. Marie was like his mother. When Marie found out about the diamond bracelet in Watson’s pocket, she didn’t say a second word, just took the daughters and left. Watson didn’t need to be kicked out, or scorned. Her silence was enough. 

He was regretful, but not enough.

Watson took a seat next to the Pavement King, who was his confidante, who was this little thing that came alive because he was always a boy with an “active imagination,” and what had happened to that? Now? 

“Did you ever want to send those letters?” The first thing she said was, “It looks like you’ve forgotten about them.”

Watson could smell smoke. He swore she had a cigarette in her pocket. He should never have sat down. On day one, he should never have sat down.


Watson’s mother and father had met on a boat ride, back when boat rides were long enough for people to fall in love. His mother was an engineer with an interest in corals. His father, a marine biologist. They hit it off right away. They were middle-uppers, despite his father’s constant traveling for work. They loved going to the seaside, but little Watson hated it. All the sand.

His father came home one day, after a particularly long outing, with a diamond bracelet in his suitcase. Little Watson was five. After that, his father was gone.

He heard all this later. He never knew who the third person was. And by then his father was beneath the ground.

Watson woke up the next morning at nine. He panicked for a second before he realized he didn’t have work. He went out into the prickly morning air. He walked.

The Pavement King was not there. No, she was leaning against a light pole, watching two construction workers patch up concrete beneath her. There was a little fence around where she used to be, orange and yellow. It was a small scale construction, not a construction. A fix-it-up event. 


Oh, no.

She was wearing a long brown coat, sneakers, no makeup except for the red lipstick. Hair held back with a brown headband. Smoking. Watson watched her, hands empty. God, it was so long since he’d seen her.

She looked up and gestured a little at the pavement. He looked down.

“I’m in debt,” He said, “I’m getting evicted. I lost my job.”

A pause.

“I guess you never really did.” She said, smoke dripping off her face.

Watson left.

At home, he stood in the living room with only his boxers on because no one else was here. Not until the tax people and rent people and all the other people who probably hated his guts came. He held one of the letters and read the first sentence. Dear Clara, I’m very sorry. He went on. 

About everything that happened, and it was really my fault. Ouch. I can’t say all that stuff about, I shouldn’t have done what I did, I’m sorry for what I did, etc. etc. Because I did them and I can’t un-did them. 

He thought of who the next people who lived in this house would be. Would they clean it up? Would they be like him? 

I hope you can give me another chance, which is a lot to ask. I kind of really want that. Like, to go to the sea? With all of you guys? Maybe your mom can come too.

Hypocritical, was what he thought. 

He would wait. For the Pavement King. Even though she would never be back. It would never be back. He could wait on this sofa, right here. Just doing nothing. Like before. It was really funny because he thought he would be so different from before and he would send those letters but no? What did he end up doing? He would stop reading the letters now, he would. There’s kind of, really, no point? 

Honestly, just.

He put the letters in a drawer, where his daughters might find them, sorting through his things. Or not. 

They might dump out all of his things. The things of a ghost father. They should.

Watson Greene turned on the TV. He closed the blinds. 

Sunday morning and he died of a hemorrhage to the brain. A life of smoking does wonders, really.

He asked to be cremated in his will. 

They did. His three daughters threw his ashes in the Gulf of Mexico.