There are four things inside the envelope: a small iron key, old-fashioned with pronounced teeth and a loop at the end, like it could be worn on a necklace; a Japanese coin, round with a square hole cut into its center, and kanji inscribed at compass points around the hole; a black plastic ballpoint pen, cheap and with a cap on its end; and a sheet of thick white paper, folded into thirds. The key, coin and pen I put onto the passenger’s seat, along with the envelope. The paper I unfold, and I begin to read the letter, written in my own handwriting, addressed to myself, and which I have no idea of ever having written.
There’s no time to write this. Things are getting wobbly, and it’s almost time for a shift. If I can finish it in time, I’ll give it to Arthur, and hopefully he can get it to you.
Use the pen in the envelope. Write down what I’m going to tell you, because this letter is going to change when you look at it again. It can’t be stopped. It’s a spillover.
I glance at the pen on the seat next to me, but don’t pick it up. There is something unsettling about it, and I don’t want to touch it. I turn back to the letter and reread from the beginning.
I can’t write this now, but I have to anyway. It’s almost shift time. You have to use the pen in the envelope and write down what I’m telling you. This letter is going to change as soon as you look away. Nothing stays solid. Everything is moving.
Write it down. Everything changes when you come back to it again.
This makes no sense. It’s a trick, of course, something Arthur is playing on me. I turn the paper over and look at the back, as if to find the words I originally read on the reverse side, but it is of course blank. I flip the letter around again and look at the handwriting once more.
I have to hurry. It’s coming again, and I can’t stop it. Use the pen and write this down.
Things are beginning to slip.
Without looking away from the page, I reach over and fumble in the passenger seat for the envelope, which I set on my thigh, and then the pen, which I uncap with my thumb, letting the cap fall where it may. I press my hand against the envelope, and sneak a quick glance at it to see where my pen falls on the paper. When I look back up at the letter, I see that it has changed again.
I’m almost not here anymore. We’re almost not here. You and I? Can you see me?
You have to go to Penelope. Penelope can help you.
I don’t know anyone named Penelope. I scribble the name on the envelope, not looking at what I’m writing, adding a question mark after it. I’m sure my writing is sloppy and childlike, but I am afraid to look away from the letter again.
Rum and molasses.
Write it down, Oli.
Penelope. Rum and molasses.
Then, at the bottom of the page, scrawled in my handwriting, but jagged like it was written in a moving car on a potholed crumbling road:
Believe Arthur, but don’t trust him.
He doesn’t slip like the rest.
The sentence ends there. I reread the letter again, and even though I haven’t looked away from the sheet, I can see how the words are straining to change again, fading at the loops and whorls of the writing, the ghost of another letter pushing up from within the paper itself, wanting to rise up like an answer inside a magic 8-ball.
I already don’t trust Arthur, and what is it I’m supposed to believe that he tells me? That we were in New Zealand together? It’s nonsense. I’ve never been to New Zealand. All of this is a game he’s playing, this paper some kind of trick. I’m in the tech capital of the world. He must have some kind of digital paper, something not out in the world yet. It’s a stupid idea, but it makes more sense than… than what? I don’t know what any of this means.
I don’t trust him, and I don’t believe him either.
I look at what I’ve written on the envelope: Penelope? Rum + molasses. Believe Arthur don’t trust him. When I look back at the letter in my hand, the paper is completely blank. I fold it back into thirds and slip it into the envelope, then put the coin, key and pen back as well.
My name is still on the envelope’s front, and the handwriting is still my own.
I don’t know any Penelope, and I don’t want to know Arthur either.
I try to pretend my hands aren’t shaking as I turn the key already in the ignition, and I pull out onto the street.
I try to pretend I’m not wanting to find Arthur and ask him who Penelope is.
I’m trying to pretend a lot of things.