Fiction: Lucky Me
Once again, this is fiction (not true, not an essay, not real) taken from a prompt on a site Ashley shared with me. This prompt goes as follows:
“For this week’s prompt, brainstorm a list of the strangest items you might find in a donation bin or out on the curb. Write a series of flash fiction stories about a few of these objects. Describe each piece in careful detail—involving as many of the senses as you can—and imagine why it was discarded and what it may have meant to the original owner.”
I didn’t follow it particularly well but I suppose that’s fine.
I’m not utilitarian, the sort cut from drab cloth: canvas perhaps, or burlap. I never was coarse or unattractive; never merely functional. Asking me to ignore such treasure is like asking a neat bundle of sweet william or china honeypot to be a half-empty flour bag.
This honeypot walked under the Long Island Railroad yesterday by the BQE. I walk there often these days, scanning urban filth and gangrenous litter for usable cans and detritus more valuable. I used to avoid the stretch of sidewalk shaded by the asphalt canopy. In a past life sweet william over here got the jitters passing between big piles; inert sequoias bearing the highway overhead. Bums slept underneath on pallets with grungy blankets; the old lady who sang to herself, the beanpole with worn guitar and dilated pupils who tried hugging the big concrete tree when I walked past, the man who slept under a tent invisible save frizzy white hair like a worn out toothbrush.
I walked swiftly if at all before I got cut off; before the tap ran dry. Slowly I became more comfortable. Quickly I became more sympathetic. There but for the grace of god, they say. I say.
The apartment on Continental is bought and paid for and if dear old dad gave a rat’s ass about Queens I might’ve been turned out. But he really doesn’t. It’s like this. I hate shaving my face. I also hate the way my cheeks itch when whiskers get too long. I grow my beard until the inconvenience of itching outweighs the inconvenience of actually shaving. Get it? It’s easier to forget about the property in Forest Hills than it is to deal with me. I’m analogous to the itch, I suppose. When the whole situation becomes too annoying he’ll grant the effort it takes to draw a blade across my base and brush me from his cheek. When leaving the property alone becomes a greater inconvenience than a conversation with his daily disappointment, I’ll be gone. Fair enough.
But life isn’t all bleak and steely. I have time with my thoughts. There was a brief stint behind the counter of a coffee shop but the arrangement wasn’t flexible enough for a fellow like me. And if I may say so, the owner was altogether unreasonable, but that’s neither here nor there. No hard feelings Mr. Stanislaw. After all, I got fancy beer and a chicken sandwich down the block with the paycheck they mailed after they let me go. After I departed.
I thought about getting another job, but what’s the point? I sold my furniture months ago. With daily collecting of cans and searching of vending machines, the proceeds lasted from late spring until now. Not bad and I have time yet. Even better, when I speak in the living room, my voice replies in kind. It’s comforting – if a bit eerie when the sun sets. Especially since they shut off the lights.
So I collect cans and scrounge about this middle class paradise to put food on the table. I sold the table. To put food in my belly. Still – asking me to ignore such treasure would be strange, indeed. I won’t sell it but that’s not the point. I keep the cans in bags by the door. The junk that’ll fetch a small price lives in the corner of the living room nearest the windows. What was once a small second bedroom houses more personal scraps; stuff that’s just for me, that colors the world and gives it the richness a soul requires.
Just yesterday, under the tracks by the BQE, I stumbled on a silver dollar. In a story book it would glimmer or wink from the grimy sidwalk, among McDonald’s cups and depressing mess of civilization. This isn’t a story book and it did not. It was far too grimy to do much winking. I was rooting through a trashbag by the chainlink fence and picked it up. Typically I sell something to get the dollar, so one that required no effort at all was a real steal. John F. Kennedy stared off, upside down, into passing traffic and brown dirt smudged his face like a blood rush. I flipped him upright and wiped the blush from his cheek to reveal strong matte silver, no glimmer to be seen. Outer ridges were sanded clean and a thin copper stripe was visible, almost the same color as the dirt. On new quarters from vending machines, the color of that band resembles how I imagine dirt in east africa: vibrant and red that dyes khaki like makeup. Not so on this one. It had lived a life.
Before I stuffed it into my pocket, I flipped it over to check the eagle on the back but there was no eagle to be found. Good old J.F.K. – naughty, young J.F.K. rather – stared right back into the traffic. Two heads! Good luck doubled! But it made the coin worthless in the traditional sense, which I’m sure stands nicely as a metaphor – coins found heads up in dingy places among black and yellow shoots sprouting tired from flat hard ground. What does it say that I found it heads up, staring from beside the blackened soggy sidewalk? Good luck is a trick. I thought about keeping it in the bedroom with my other finds but I carry it in the pocket of my army coat instead. It still makes me feel lucky, whatever that says.