The panic in the postman's block capitals told me Oskar's mother was up to her tricks again.
Sat in the pub last weekend, he showed me the card that had come through the door, the various boxes ticked, asking if Mr Day could please come and collect the parcel they had been unable to deliver.
And underneath, in biro, the postman had added URGENTLY PLEASE.
We both knew what it meant. It meant that Oskar's mother, Agnes, had started sending him meat through the post again.
I'd known Oskar since school - the sixth form. His family were wealthy and lived in a large house a few miles into the countryside outside the town. His parents had even bought the land facing the house, so that no-one could build in the way of the view. They kept the land as pasture, renting it out for peppercorns to the surrounding farmers.
Having recently passed my test, during the summer holidays I would drive round and spend the day with Oskar beside the pool, while his mother enjoyed feeding the sheep from the fence along the rear of the garden.
Later, Oskar and I went to our respective London Universities and for one academic year shared a flat.
Some evenings I would overhear the quieter end of his conversations home, much like those with my own mother. Are you working hard, are you eating the right things, et cetera. Oskar's father was always an invisible presence in these calls, never coming to the phone, and handing it straight over to Agnes if he happened to answer. Fathers and sons don't really talk at that age; their communication reduced to a catchphrase: "Dad says hello."
Towards the end of the following summer holiday, Oskar spent three weeks away with his parents, getting some skiing. On their first day back in the country he called invited me round - something I had to see. Soon crunching my mum's car up the gravel driveway.
While they had been away a sheep had gotten through the fence, fallen into the pool and drowned. We stood and looked at the floating body, Oskar and I both just about grown-up enough not to poke it with a stick.
A farmer friend brought round some lifting equipment, and Oskar and I helped loop nylon ropes alongside, then under and around the sheep from either side. The winch took the strain and - as Oskar's mother watched transfixed - the sheep's head began to rise animatronically from the pool with a burbling roar, its fleshless eyes staring straight into hers.
But we had misjudged how long the body had been in the water.
At a sudden-judder of the crane, the nylon ropes cheesewired up through the rotten carcass, slicing it into about five ragged chunks which then disintegrated into the pool in a churning bloom of thick, brownblack fluid.
The sheep's front face bubbled angrily back down into the water like the stern of a brokeback battleship, holding Agnes's gaze all the way until the filth closed over the top of its head. The rest of the body dissolved quickly and evenly throughout the pool like an outsized stock-cube - filling it exactly to the edges to make a perfect cuboid of thin but meaty gravy, or a liquidised Damian Hirst.
Stillness. Except for a gentle effervescence at the pool's surface which, on closer inspection, revealed itself to be a layer of plump, writhing, waxwhite maggots, drowning politely.
Oskar and I returned to London. After three weeks and two contractors the pool was clean enough that his parents could sell the house and move.
It was shortly after that she began sending him the meat.
At first, it made some sense - making sure he was getting enough protein while away from home. Let's face it; most of our money went on beer. The cooked ham and occasional gammon steaks were welcome. But as time wore on the parcels became increasingly elliptical; hand-made beefburgers; four-dozen raw chicken thighs; a whole side of pork. A jiffy-bag containing the horrific, smashed remains of a lobster, apparently still alive when it went through the rollers at the sorting office.
Once, a plain brown envelope containing a single, naked rasher of bacon.
It continued long after Oskar had left University and moved in with Maria. During his staccato calls home, Oskar gently pleaded with his mother to stop. "It's not just about my independence, mum, it's practical too - any delays in the post and I have to throw the stuff away as soon as it arrives."
Perhaps he should have been stronger. Call it only-child guilt; the gnawing feeling that he ought to call home more often, what with the his mother's eccentricity and, more lately, his father's fading health. But his protestations met only incomprehension and, as ever, the plaintive sign-off: "Your Dad says hello."
Recently things had got better, helped by the mail strike. No nasty surprises waiting on the doormat. Until last weekend, with Oskar and I sitting and squirming in the Horse's Head, silently contemplating the calling-card and all that had gone before.
The following Monday Oskar took the first part of the morning off work, taking the car to the sorting office deep in South London on the inevitably-named Mandela Way.
Inside the place looked like the warehouse in the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the back, rummaging through a bench of small parcels, stood a member of Royal Mail staff wearing a fluorescent jacket and a bandana wrapped round the lower half of his face. Stumbling back, wild-eyed when Oskar waved the card, he did not speak, only gesticulating.
Oskar followed the man's twitching arm towards a corner of the building. As Oskar approached, it came to meet him. The smell. First, an indefinable whiff, cabbage or socks, then stronger, the unmistakeable stench of rotting meat - intoxicating and overloading, you could almost get used to it, before it mounted a new, acrid assault on the nose and mouth.
Whatever she had sent him, it had been here for some time. Well, if they *will* go on strike...
In fact they had seemingly been forced to abandon this whole side of the shed, leaving a near-circle of undelivered packages. Clearly it was this, as much as the strike, that had been holding up the mail to much of South London these past few weeks.
He pressed on. In the centre of the circle was what appeared to be a large trunk, wrapped in brown paper and parcel tape.
Fuck. That must be it. Closer in, the trunk buzzed like an electrified fridge, clueing the unimaginable swarm of flies compressed within. A dark, sweetly sick-smelling slime, like a slick of maple syrup, had leached from the underside, staining the concrete. The air now, burning like someone else' sulphurous phlegm in the eyes and throat.
Oskar squinted back. The man in the jacket was watching intently from his distance.
Grabbing his right shoulder with his left hand and burying his nose and mouth in the crook of his elbow, Oskar leaned down to brush the address panel. It was for him. The correct postage and, below the printed label, something handwritten in block capitals.
It read: DAD SAYS HELLO.