The Tin Can
Entering some kind of inspiration or thoughts behind each short story.
I drive up to the small white building and park in the spot market visitors. The glass door opens into a large room, blanketed with cream carpet. Four white chairs surround a glass coffee table, where a crystal vase full of newly cut white gardenias sits perfectly centered on the table, filling the room with their sweet fragrance. The dark haired girl behind the lacquer desk asks for my name and disappears. When she returns, she places the tin can next to the gardenias. I watch as she staples papers together and marks an x with her small onyx pen for my signature.
The sky is cloudless and the sun reflects off the metallic paint embedded into the tin can. It is decorated with an old paisley design of greens, blues, and reds with thin lines of gold traveling through the colors all lying on a background of satin black. I place the tin on the floor of the back seat and nestle my pocketbook next to it. When I turn the key the front dashboard comes to life illuminating the time in a cold blue neon. I have a half of hour before Jimmy gets off the bus.
Passing the entrance to the highway, I stay to the left, favoring the scenic road home. Afternoon sun illuminates the bright green leaves on the tree-lined road. The old cemetery is on my left, partially blocked by the newly built day care center. A red light gives me a moment to watch a small girl and boy sitting on a bench inside the chain link fence, sharing an ice cream. Neither can take their eyes off the mountain of white and they laugh as it melts over their fingers and tiny drops escape out the small hole in the bottom of the cone. Other children are skipping rope and playing tag. The bell rings, announcing playtime is over, but the tiny couple doesn’t move.
The light turns and I drive another mile before I see it. The park is busy with new mothers pushing brightly colored strollers and old men playing chess in the circle. It’s down by the fountain and in spite of all the activity, it’s empty. I pull the car over and check the time. Just for a minute I tell myself. I walk down to the bench and sit on it. The fountain is roaring and tiny particles of mist float cooling the air. I rub the seat of the bench.
It would be ten years ago next week that Jim asked me to marry him. We walked in the park for an hour while he rambled on about news events, his folks, and the kids in the park. I remember thinking he was acting very odd until he sat me on the bench and pulled the ring out of his pocket. It was not the shape I would have chosen, then. Jim told me the reason he picked a round diamond was because it was a circle. He thought of it representing the earth, the sun, the moon. He said his love for me was like a circle, no beginning and no end. Three years later we sat on the bench and looked at the circle that was forming in my belly. We watched the mothers with strollers and the fathers playing Frisbee with their toddlers. We dreamed about what our baby would grow up to be and how we promised each other not to spoil him or her. When Jimmy was four, Jim called the house one afternoon and told us to meet him at the bench. Jimmy and I walked into the park looking for Jim. He was nowhere to be found but tied on the bench was a golden puppy with a big red bow. Jimmy screamed with delight and I could only shake my head as Jim appeared from behind the bushes with a big smile on his face. When Enron closed, we sat on the bench and talked about the future. He wanted to start his own business, I told him he should. He was worried about money, I told him I could go back to work for a while. He said he wanted Jimmy to have a brother, I said he should have a sister. He promised he would take me to Italy, the honeymoon that we couldn’t afford. He promised one day it would be easier. I told him we had the rest of our lives to take trips, and life wasn’t supposed to be easy. He looked at my diamond and said one day he would get me a bigger one. I told him I had the one I wanted.
I look down at the bench and wonder how many more stories are embedded into it. I check my watch and leave.
I am a mile from home when I pass the spot. The telephone pole has been replaced but the old oak tree is still missing a large piece of its bark. On the street cars are honking and people hurry in different directions. A truck behind me beeps and I realize the light has been green for some time. I drive through the intersection, wanting to get out and sit in the middle with my eyes closed.
I can hear the school bus before I see it. Jimmy is the last one off. His shirt is out of his pants and his face has remnants of snack time. He is juggling his lunchbox, knapsack, and oak tag as he makes his way down the steps. When he sees me his face lights up.
“Look what I drew at school,” he proudly turns the poster for me to see.
“Our sailboat, it’s beautiful,” I hold it up in the sun.
“And there is you, Daddy, me, and Scout,” he points to the stick figures on board.
“It’s lovely,” I rub his hair and kiss his forehead.
I place his poster in the back seat next to my pocketbook. As I pulled into the driveway I can see pieces of this week’s dinners strewn all over the concrete. I curse under my breath that I can never remember to put a rock on the cans at night. I hand Jimmy the key to open the door and pick up the tin and his poster. Three days of newspapers are lying the front lawn and a pile of unopened mail is stacked in the middle of the hallway. An envelope from the police department is on top marked “Accident Report” in red letters. I push past the week’s untended laundry, glance at the answering machine’s red blinking light and put this morning’s coffee cup on top of the soiled dishes piled in the sink.
Propping Jimmy’s poster on the couch, I look at the spot I cleared on the mantel above the fireplace. The wood was freshly polished and the crochet doily I brought from the antique store in town, hangs an inch over the edge. The tin is heavier than I thought it would be and lighter than it should be. I place the tin on the mantel just as Jimmy comes running in.
“Is that where Daddy is going to watch us from?” he asks.
“Yes,” my voice cracks
“Can he see my picture?”
“Yes honey, he can see your picture and he will always be able to see you.”
Jimmy wraps his arms around me, “Can we go to the park or do you have to do work?”
I lean down and pick him up. His green eyes are Jim’s. “How about we go get some ice cream?”
The Tin Can was picked for 40th place in Inspirational Writing Category of the 79th Annual Writers Digest Writing Competition out of 1001 winners.