Sometimes I refer to myself in the third person,

call myself Johnny Steam, I hope you don’t mind.

Johnny Steam is a little more flamboyant than me.

Before a dental x-ray Johnny likes to draw a happy face with lead paint on the inside of his cheek. No price is too high for laughter.

Johnny Steam Toys with his Emotions

The first letter arrived scented with sweet peas, Russian thistle and ivory soap. The envelope parchment. A stamp featuring an old cathedral.

He had written it with his lefthand. It was a faintly familiar childish handwriting.It was from Evergreen, a woman of his imagination.

Like wearing clean underwear in case of an accident, he had picked an entirely fictitious name. He knew some of his female friends worried that he might be obsessed over them.

This first letter was set inSpain, Valencia. She described her days wandering the countryside. Its a great place to hike, no bugs, almost a deafening heat, but an oasis of orange trees every couple of miles. And you can steal all the oranges you want. None of the farmers have the energy to bother chasing you. After a couple of days of a solely orange diet (food and drink)the diarrhea is pretty intense ,but as long as you’re by yourself its O.K. And it only lasts a couple of days.

The second letter was stained with red wine. She had finally run into a young rancher willing to chase her for his oranges. They were living together in a white plaster building, clay tile roof, no glass in the windows. The rancher’s tame bull would stand at the window and look in as they played at sex on his duck feather mattress.

The third letter Johnny wrote late at night, drunk from an evening spent in a strip bar.She was bored of the rancher.And the rancher was only in love with the sex. She talked of when she had first heard ofJohnny, word of mouth from an ex-roommate. And why she had started to write to him, but that part was hard to understand, almost religious. She seemed to bethinking it was one of those spiritual connection things that are sometimes used to try and mask simple lust.

The fourth letter, she was back on the road again, and back to the cities. And out ofSpain. She had caught a ride with a Pepsi machine repairman on his way to a crisis in northern Greece. 800 miles in19 hours with $4000 of speeding tickets and 5.4 grams of cocaine. Two days after they had arrived she was still pacing the sea wall in Thesaloniki, her nose still bleeding. She was staying at the youth hostel, making room and board by low-tech forgery.Her goal in life was to acquire a taste for cheap Greek pine flavored wine.

Her fifth letter, Johnny had to question its truthfulness. She claimed to have walked all the way to Athens. Her description of the city was very superficial, as if she’d only ever seen brochures, or maybe a low-altitude fly-over. She said he could send her a reply care of the American Express there. It was the first time she’d mentioned a two-way communication. Johnny didn’t bother sending a reply.

Her sixth arrived postmarkedIstanbul. Johnny threw it away unopened.The seventh came fromPrague. She was high on intellectualism. Minds were boiling over in the vacuum of freedom. Art was life.Anarchy was her religion. The letter went on for 15 pages.And the paper, exquisite, hand made, scraps of bus transfers barely visible. She was living on baguettes, chocolate and weak tea.

The eight and ninth letters came from Prague as well. She was living the examined life.She appeared much more calm and cool, but that was just because her turmoil had become embedded deeper inside. She was happier than she’d ever been.But the air in Prague was yellow and her lungs had begun to ache.

The tenth letter was short. It just said when her plane would arrive. Johnny had even phoned a travel agent for information so he could use real flight times.

He went out to the airport when the day came, even though he knew she wouldn’t be on the plane. He just felt like it.