Sunday, November 26, 2017

Six Million Stamps

Six Million Stamps

By Bob Sanchez

The stamp shows off its ochre engraving under the magnifying glass. Three black lines slash the Austrian prince: canceled, dead. In 1856, someone had paid a kreuzer for it—maybe for a wife’s letter to her husband, wishing him godspeed for safe return from war with the Prussians. Light sinks into the stamp’s surface, only a dull glory reflecting from it, harkening to dusty battalions of conscripts long since in their graves.

Did the woman ever see him again? I cry for her. A voice tells me that no one ever came to her village to express condolence, only to claim her sons of fighting age.

Portraits with perforated edges lie in a jumble on my desk: Tamerlane, Frederick, Ceausescu. Downstairs a door slams, and Thomas stomps up to the attic. He doesn’t bother to brush the snow from his scarf; he never stays. Heat rises from downstairs and passes through the rafters, barely enough to melt the frost in my son’s voice. But that truly does not matter, as a visit from Thomas means mail, and more friends.

Thomas drops the manila envelope on my desk and sends a flurry of stamps flying. A million-mark Hitler overprint lands face up in front of me. “You’re obsessed, Father,” he says, which merits no reply. He turns a chair around and straddles it, staring at me. “Well? Open it!” he says. Eagerly I pry open the clasp and dump out the contents.

Hitler is my favorite. It’s a crazy thought, but I wish I could have six million stamps with his picture. As it is, I’ve owned over five thousand of them, and he and I always have the same conversation. I hold the border of each stamp with a pair of tweezers. Under the magnifying glass, the whorls on my fingertips look like those of a giant. That is how I feel: the strongest man in the world, the acme of the human race. Even Hitler averts his eyes.

“There is nothing to fear,” I tell him. “A shower. A simple de-lousing.”

I dip der Führer into the solution in the glass dish. His face contorts in terror and pain. Over the rage of the wind outside, over the rage of my pounding heart, I hear his screams as droplet by droplet the ink lifts from the stamp.