Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Elephant and Cigar

"Did they take everything?"
"Just about."
"Is there much time?"
"Some. The wind is blowing this way, though."
"Is everyone gone?"
"Just about."
"How bad is it?"
"We should hurry along."
"Give me a few minutes."

It was empty. The dawn was coming in sideways and catching the dust. It was quiet. The mornings were quiet for years, but most everything was gone now, and his steps were echoing around him. They'd taken nearly everything. There were a few tables and chairs, but by and large, it was gone. The door to his office was off the hinges, the desk was overturned, the paintings off the wall and broken. Now his footsteps crunch on the broken glass from a shattered cabinet. He's glad of it, the fallen cabinet hid the safe.

There was a loose floorboard. He'd removed a part of it to make a storage space. A few dollars, keepsakes, a personal bottle of whiskey from when his wife chided him for drinking too much and had removed all the bottles from his office. A small personal space. Such spaces are sacred and better left hidden. He'd never sullied or justified it by filling it with any real secrets. Just personal effects and vices. His whiskey. Some cash. A cigar. He'd forget about it for weeks at a time and only occasionally ferret through after a difficult day, for when something upsetting happened. On the days when he'd think about failing or leaving or dying, on the days when he felt trapped or stupid or worthless. There were things here that would buoy his spirits.

He'd always kept things. Mementos. His wife teased him about his sentimentality when she noticed it. It was straight faced and quiet, all his trinkets were small enough to palm and pocket unnoticed. But she was clever, she noticed sometimes. She saw him steal a spoon on the night he'd proposed. She asked him about it later, but he denied it. She'd never see it again. It lived under the floorboards now, in his private collection. He had gone to his house after his parents were gone and stolen the doorknob to the front door. He kept cards and letters, the keys to every place he'd ever lived, stones from beaches, good moments.

The cigar was a gift from his father when he opened the restaurant. He said not to smoke it until the business had been open for one year. It was a typical gift from his father. He had never kept gifts from his father, they always seem to suggest that he did not work hard enough, that he was not smart enough. Books, pen sets, an abacus, a globe. He assumed that his father thought he'd smoke it in a few months, when the building had been boarded up. It was open for several years and only closed when the town collapsed. His father's petty gift could now be enjoyed.

It was hard to let go. Eve his family had left months ago. He was the only person who'd remained behind to look over things. Under the floor was the flier announcing the emergency town hall meeting that he'd folded and worked over nervously and had offered it to his wife as a fan. The mine had failed. The next day, parts of the mine collapsed, men died. After the mine was gone, the mill was useless, so the mill folded. And it didn't take long for it to ruin the town.

A few weeks ago he walked through the town. He was almost the last person remaining. Some were even more stubborn, those that had lived there longer or were too old to move. They had enough preserves to last the winter, he didn't know what they would do after that. He assumed this fire would now force them out. He'd taken a day and walked through the town. Several places had been burgled, or at least evacuated quickly. He didn't know who would be doing it, there were so few people remaining. Scavengers in the night. Evil. The walk took him across town, he stopped at the mill and the mine. Empty, surely haunted places. He did not linger long, just enough to collect something from his time there. He kept a wood chip from the mill, a loose bolt from a mangled mine car.

"We don't have much time."

It pulled him from his hiding space.

"I'll be there soon."

He hadn't had a customer in three months. The girls were complaining by the end, they were scared. He sent them to her mothers. He saw this as his failure, not the mine, not the mill. He'd chosen this place.

Someone had lit the mine. The gas that had ruined it burned completely. It exploded in the night. The town would burn behind them.

He put the cash in his pocket, and brought the whiskey for the ride. He would attempt to enjoy the journey north to her mothers. His friend would leave him there and continue east to his family. There would only be one cigar. He would keep the ring for a memento, it featured a small white elephant on a bright red background. He'd keep it in his next home, under the floorboards and hope that he'd kept enough from this life to move on safely to the next.

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