Paperclips, Quarters, Pickle Juice

October 1, 2009
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He sipped the last bit of liquid from the bottom of the cardboard coffee cup. As always it tasted of pure flavoring syrup. Rick tossed his trash into the street and proceeded to cross it. His first step landing in the curb gutter drenching his loafers and the cuffs of his suit pants. He marched along, they weren’t anything special.

Rick grabbed a cigarette from a pack of Marlboro’s and pocketed the rest. He lit the end with his lucky lighter, smiling at distant memories, and inhaled. The tip smoldered dimly, the orange glow contrasting the gloom summer air of London. Nicotine pulsed through his system, taking hold of his body, gripping his mind. A beautiful way to make the anniversary pass easier.

There were damp spots on the shoulders of his overcoat; the downpour had stopped only momentarily as Rick felt the sprinkling of a new cloud dripping upon him and the cobblestone alleyway. Rick passed by a drunk sleeping below an awning, snoring away a head splitting hangover.

A mechanical ding rang out from a speaker near the door, Rick looked around. There was a handful of people in the pub, a couple sitting in a booth, and four at the bar including the tender. Rick walked up to the counter placing down a five. “I need a strainer, a glass, and a jar of pickles.”

The barman gazed blankly at him as if the order were common. “Alright.” Having to duck through the doorway the man disappeared into the back room. Rick turned back to the room, soft droning chatter and the smell of soup filled the air. An old mirror took up most of the right wall. Jumping slightly Rick was startled to see his own reflection. Six weeks ago he could’ve been considered lively. Now his soot black hair was mangled and took on the color of ashes instead and his deep blue eyes were cold and empty. His clothes sat wrinkled and worn on his slouching figure. Lines of insomnia were etched into his face, and his hands were covered in ink, tobacco, and burns.

The barman returned with the pickles and strainer. He fetched a glass from beneath the counter, “here you go.”

Rick strained out the pickles and returned the juice to the jar sealing on the lid, “got a pen?” The tender pulled out a sharpie and handed it over. “Thanks.” Rick took it and the jar, and left. He walked up to the drunkard and scribbled “Cheers,” on the jar placing it in his hand. The man stirred revealing a bald patch in his beard. A smirk stretched across Rick’s face and he continued down the alley.

A small coin sat in the bottom of Rick's gray coat. He played with it in his hand, flipping it, feeling its smooth edges. Boswell and Procter, six more blocks and a quick left.

Rick stared across the street, watching the motorists drive by, and waiting for the red hand to transform into a green man. A mere block away a glass structure stood on its own, short and lonesome, the phone booth was dwarfed by the similarly shaped buildings around it. The inside was dry and unused, the outer glass dotted by constellations of water droplets.

The copper circle spun, revolving on an invisible axis landing perfectly in Rick’s rough palm. It shimmered through his fingers, his stature straightened out a bit, and his step became lighter. Rick shook the rain from his coat, and entered the booth. He picked up the phone off the hook and dropped a quarter into the slot. Rick waited for an answer; it rang four times before a woman’s voice asked, “Hello?”

“Hi Mom.” Rick smiled.

“Ah!” The voice blared into Rick's ear, “honey I haven’t spoken to you in such a long time.”

“I know, I’m sorry it took me a while, how are things with Dad?”

“The way they’ve always been, he bought a damn riding mower, I don’t know whose lawn he needed it for, the thing barely fits in ours.”

“And how’s Erin?”
“Oh isn’t that nice, her older brother actually cares. She’s just fine, we’re all wondering when you’re coming back home.”
Rick paused thinking of home, the cluttered apartment in Rochester. It was a small place, but always inviting. “Tomorrow Mom, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Good. Do you want me to ask-“
“No don’t ask her to come.” Rick looked at his feet.
“Whatever happened to you two?”
Rick thought it over, realizing the quarter wouldn’t last him much longer, “I don’t know Mom.”
“When was the last time you talked to her?”
“The day I left.”
“So she knows?”
“That I know? Yeah she knows, she didn’t have an explanation, I didn’t really expect her to.”
“Your dad wants to know if he should still dry clean his tux?”
Rick chortled, the way you would at a funeral. “No, I’m not sure if we’re postponing it, or if I should just give up.” A long pause of silence hit the conversation, “I gotta go mom.”
“Alright, take care of yourself.”
“I will, love you.” Rick placed the phone back and slide out of the booth.

A bent paperclip, partially resembling a heart sat at Rick’s feet along with a dozen others. Rick sat on the bench just outside the phone booth, fiddling with a box of metal paperclips, twisting and arranging them, “Damn it.”Rick tossed another one to the ground, unable to form the right shape. Frustrated he threw the box out into traffic where it dissolved into the blurs of cars.
One last clip sat on the curb, damp but beautiful.
Rick reached out and plucked it from the ground. He stared for a moment, thought for a second, and started bending the metal, crafting the outline of a heart. Perfect.
Rick wrapped a small scrap of paper around the silver object. He stood, once again slouched. Rick’s face was smug, the grin no longer there. The rain became heavier, pelting Rick’s coat, falling to the ground. He walked back the way he came, down the alley, past the drunk by the bar, and into his hotel.

“Flight 37, you may begin boarding. Flight, 37, you may begin boarding.”
Rick grabbed his backpack, still carrying the paperclip, showed the woman his boarding pass and climbed onto the plane. He looked at his wrist watch; it would be four in the morning before he arrived. He hoped he had enough time. Rick gazed at the bit of paper before putting it away and closed his eyes. The last time he’d gotten any sleep was on the flight out here; Rick didn’t think he’d get any on the way back.

4:47 a.m. Jet lag still held its grip on Rick’s body, he was awake and alert. His thoughts clear, more or less. The sun was still far below the horizon, but the light of day was beginning to show its face. Rick pulled out a picture of a park bench, the one he knelt before, a year ago. He placed it in front of an apartment door, and then the paperclip on top of it. Rick turned and walked down the hallway, pulling out his phone and sending a message. “Where we used to laugh and wish.” He sat on the bench and waited for dawn.





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