_____Wayne liked the African stamps best of all. One rainy day his mother bought him a starter kit–a bag of miscellaneous stamps from the hobby store and a book in which to affix the stamps, by country. The European stamps were compelling, especially the lithe Italian images and the German stamps, each featuring that dictator or post-war mop-up image attempting to project positivity–factories, women working, a family gazing off into the future. Nothing wrong with trying to stay upbeat.
_____But the African stamps were colorful and featured animals and were not always little boring corrugated squares–some were triangles, others were trapezoids. The African stamps depicted colorful action shots of animals, not tedious gray statues or bewigged politicians from the 1700s. It was birds, elephants, monkeys, warthogs, giraffes, gazelles. Some stamps depicted animals for which he lacked a name. This sent Wayne to the Britannica set in the basement. And the countries–he could figure out Sud Afrika and everybody knew about Egypt and Nigeria. But Namibia? Ifni? Rhodesia? Zambia? Back to the Britannica set. He learned more from his stamp set than he did from his geography class.
_____Wayne’s father didn’t care for the hobby.
_____“Why are you wasting your time cluttering up the house?”
_____Wayne’s mother cocked her head, unsure what to say. Caught in the middle.
_____“I’m not cluttering–”
_____“It’s stuff. The more you collect and hoard the more we have to pick up. The more your mother has to deal with these things, dusting. Cleaning up behind you all the livelong day.”
_____Wayne said nothing. He scratched his chin. He was fifteen years old. He fantasized about driving away, just as fast and straight as he could. But he couldn’t do a thing.
_____His mother tried to explain.
_____“It’s a pansy hobby,” Wayne’s father said. Looking at all of these little images from 1932 or whatever, he explained. That is not what the man of the future does, how he operates. “We are forward looking here,” his father explained. “Not backward.”
_____In this picture Wayne sits staring out the window into darkness. Someday he will be able to do something. Someday he will be able to make his decisions. One day Wayne woke up and his stamp collection was gone. Nobody could say where it went. Later Wayne found one triangular shaped stamp on the rug, next to his bed. It was from Republique Centrafricaine and featured a striped, maroon and black beetle of some sort. Wayne stuck a pin through it and affixed the stamp to his small cork bulletin board. It was perfect.
Nathan Leslie won the 2019 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for fiction for his satirical collection of short stories, Hurry Up and Relax. Nathan’s nine previous books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, Sibs, and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice. He is also the author of a collection of poems, Night Sweat. Nathan is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions, the founder and organizer of the Reston Reading Series in Reston, Virginia, and the publisher and editor of Maryland Literary Review. Previously he was series editor for Best of the Web and fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine. His fiction has been published in hundreds of literary magazines such as Shenandoah, North American Review, Boulevard, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan’s nonfiction has been published in The Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and Orlando Sentinel. Nathan lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, Julie.