Whose brilliant idea was it to give me today off, anyway? Nothing different about today, right? At least I can get out of town and maybe see something different. Keys? License. Coffee money. Yeah . . .
My attitude could ride a skateboard under a snake without tickling it. The snake, not the skateboard. Skateboards don’t feel. Lucky them.
In a word? My attitude? Sucky. Serious vacuum. Yesterday I was trying for the umpteenth time to reorganize the freestanding Valentine card display just inside the entrance to the busy WalMart where I’ve worked for the last, what, 8 years? Something like that.
Some lazy guy had dumped a card there that didn’t belong, so I had to take it and try to find where it came from. On the way to the card section I read it:
“If I buy you a straw, will you go suck the happy out of somebody else’s life?”
Probably realized it didn’t fit the day, so instead of doing the responsible thing and taking it back, he just conveniently dumped it there. Oh, yeah–job security. So funny. Ha-ha.
Men . . . I thought it was a cliché but from what I’ve seen, they really are pretty much all the same. Every one of them comes rushing breathlessly up to check out with their painstakingly-considered perfect gift for the little woman: cut roses and a STUPID cheap heart-shaped box of chocolates. Hey, Studly Vineswinger? I got this great idea: how about we skip all the games and just order in a couple tons of cut roses and those dumb boxes of chocolates you took SO long to choose? It’d save us all a lot of time because we all know you won’t be in here until February 12th at the earliest.
I rapidly wagged my head, as if trying to discourage a gnat wanting to explore my left ear. Driving is not the place to be preoccupied. At least I managed the transfer to the Green Acres Road store. The SuperCenter over on 11th had managed to put the laissez in faire. I just got tired of constantly trying to smooth over customers’ irritation. I guess I have seniority, at least in Eugene, because my request just went right—
You JERK! How about figuring out where your lane is before deciding to try MINE?
Of course it was a guy. Brakes work . . . They should; I just had them fixed on my venerable ’02 Subaru Forrester. I think it knows this trip by braille. The road is a little curvy, just enough to keep things interesting; but it’s beautiful.
Wow. I’m already driving through Mapleton and don’t remember the trip. 46 miles? Well, self? I guess we can stipulate I’m definitely preoccupied. I automatically checked my speed and my mirrors; speeders are a cash crop along 126.
I released a pent-up breath in a sigh. Time to stop in at the Alpha-Bit for some coffee and to regroup. I knew better than to keep driving while distracted. I swung over to Riverside and turned toward—HELlo! Alpha-Bit has a fresh coat of paint: lavender.
At least my eyes are awake. Probably some man’s idea of attractive. Shaking my head, I got out, stretched and went in. I was so preoccupied I remembered at the entrance that I’d forgotten to lock the car. I turned and, holding the door open with my foot, mashed the ‘lock’ button on my key fob. Chirp-chirp.
I always stop just inside the door and scan the interior for changes. I always stop scanning for a couple of ticks to fondly gaze at the huge old wood stove, back-center. I’ve been in here when that old veteran of the mountain wars is glowing cherry-red as it challenges the frigid, moist autumn and winter temps. I always wonder what the servers think of me standing there, gawking at nothing and everything.
“Coffee and a bowl of your tomato veggie.”
They’re slightly odd, these folks who populate Alpha-Bits; an intentional community of organic farmers and hunters – and some of the most tantalizing cooks this side of Alderaan.
“Slumping like at’s bad fer yer back.” At first I thought I was hearing things. I whirled around, seeking the cretin who dared address me in so casual a manner.
“Used ta do thet m’self. Be honest, I still do if’n I ain’t payin’ attention. Stopped a lot of it, howsomever. Back feels a sight better.”
I recognized the storm warnings flying in my own spirit. This isn’t your lucky day, you old— to be honest, I did sit up a little straighter. That ticked me off, too.
Deyr-deyr-deyr, deyr, deyr, deyr, deyr, deyr, deyr . . . Why, oh WHY do they all play Deliverance? I mean, gimme a break, already.
Seated over to one side of the old stove, antique banjo nestled in his gnarled hands, was a rail-thin, hairy coot whose age could have been anywhere between 50 and Methuselah. A faded, long-sleeved flannel shirt struggling to represent its red roots was covered by equally-worn-in denim overalls. The left knee was totally out and the right one was on life support. One shoulder strap had declared its freedom and hung as if embarrassed. Scuffed and rough leather boots dating from the Truman administration completed the ensemble.
Coot. Banjo. Unsought opinions. Perfect. I had both barrels loaded and was earing back the hammers when I realized that wasn’t going to improve my day.
“Would you mind fixing that so I can take it with me?”
Coot acted like he was half asleep, plunking softly on his banjo and slightly rocking and nodding his head.
“I put the soup in a road cup so you can sip it on the way.” She smiled at me. “It’s much better hot than cold.” I thanked her, paid and was at the door when Coot cleared his throat. Something made me turn, though my shoulders were stiff. As I met his gaze, his eyes took on sharper, almost accusing focus.
“We ain’t all the same, Missy. And you’ll find things ain’t what they at first seem. Open your eyes and learn to see what idn’t there. It’s possible you missed somethin’ mighty important back yonder coulda made life a lot differnt fer ya ifn yuh hadn’t been in sech a rush. ” His piercing eyes held mine for a couple more seconds, his skinny, bewhiskered jaw firmly set in clear anger. Then he dropped his head and began the slight nodding as if to a rhythm and tune only he could hear.
I pulled up to The Waterfront Depot in Florence, parked, turned the Forrester off and sat, sipping now-only-warm coffee and frowning, eyes narrowed. That dash is dirty. Add it to the list, right? Who did he think he was talking to, anyway? MEN.
Single-tasking, unimaginative louts . . . my lip curled like bacon over medium heat. Idiots. Self-absorbed idiots – ALL of them. Show ’em a good time in bed, fill their never-satisfied bellies and they’ll follow you around like a—
Yep. That Humane Society flyer was still in the console where I’d grabbed the mail on the way out of town.
Walking aimlessly along the beach south of the lighthouse on the beach side of 101 South, I idly fingered where my ring had been. I let my mind wander, too.
I wonder what that was about? That scrawny beanpole acted like he could see right through me, knew stuff about me that made him mad – but I’ve never seen him in my life.
The crab-encrusted halibut from the Depot was a steal of a meal at $11.00, but she’d overeaten. I wonder how far along here I ought to walk so I don’t gain more weight from that meal? Actually, I wonder why I’m even out here? I’m disillusioned, depressed, my hair looks and feels like the haymow of an abandoned barn, I have on no makeup–shoot, I even managed to tick off that strange hillbilly dude from Alpha-Bits.
I really didn’t know why I’d come, other than it always seemed to calm me and let me appreciate the stark beauty of the place. I didn’t keep track of how far south of the lighthouse I’d walked, so my steps began to slow as I thought about getting back to my trusty metal-and-fiberglass steed and heading back to Eugene and home.
Just as I stopped and began to turn around, a flash of color caught my eye. Looking back toward the South, at first I didn’t see it. As I walked closer, though, a little box took shape. It was in a clear plastic bag to keep the weather off it, and it had a reddish-pink foil heart tied to it, which is what reflected the sun’s waning rays.
Standing and looking down, I saw it was stuck in the folds of some scrub brush growing up along the beach. Somebody must’ve dropped this or laid it down and forgot it. I turned a slow 360, looking for someone – anyone – to whom the box belonged. Nobody there.
My curiosity got one up on my self-consciousness. I bent down and picked up the bag with the box in it. I could see now the foil heart was stuck to a note inside an envelope, which was itself stuck to the box. The envelope was marked below the heart, “Please – open and read.” Looking around again, I untied the little heart and the bag, opened the flap of the envelope and, pulling out the note and unfolding it, began to read . . .
“As you read this, I commend you, for you stuck with your quest long after most gave up and quit. How do I know? I measured the distance from the lighthouse parking lot to here. It’s over a mile, and over terrain few would find fun or worth the trip. That this was still here for you to find means God wanted YOU to find it.
“Whoever you are, I want you to know you’re not alone, not unique. The enclosed gift is for you. I pray it gives you a measure of the joy it brought to my own sagging soul when I most needed it. And no matter what has happened to you to bring you to this place, understand: you can’t go back and undo what’s been done. But with God’s help you can build a new tomorrow by beginning today.
I pray you find peace and what you’re looking for. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18
— a friend who cares
Okay, I call strange weirdity. Sliding the note back in the envelope, I could see the little box to which the envelope was stuck had tiny hinges and was meant to be opened. I’m not sure why I stood there motionless for a few seconds. Carefully opening the little box, I could see two tiny figures spring upright, embracing as if dancing. They slowly began to circle as a beautiful melody I’d never before heard began to play.
I played it again. And again. With the sun now low in the western sky over the ocean, I wiped my eyes and began retracing my steps back to where my trusty old Forrester waited.
My troubled thoughts tagged along as I walked and played the song and watched the figures . . . I’m not cool enough to dance with. Nobody ever once asked me. I’d probably feel like a fool because I’m uncoordinated. I don’t even know if I’d want to dance. But I’d sure like somebody to care enough to ask. I feel so alone . . . I need somebody to love me without wanting to control, somebody who wants me, who’ll love me for—
Somehow I drove in this fog of loneliness and self-pity the 26 miles back to Mapleton without meeting a deer up front and personal. Not knowing why, I stopped back in at Alpha-Bits.
“You guys sell music here, too, right?”
“Well, I found this music box while walking along the beach and I’ve never heard the song it plays. I was wondering if you know it.”
Her eyes had widened and she had a strange look on her face. I said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to—”
“No-no. It’s not that. I think I’ve seen this before. Please – open it and play it.”
As she saw the miniature couple and heard the first few strains of the music, her face became strangely calm as her eyes rose to meet mine.
“Someone brought this in the first time almost four years ago. I’ve seen it and heard this music eight times between then and now. The most recent time was ten days ago. A man brought it in, asking the same question you did.”
I must have seemed a little simple, just standing there with my mouth gaping.
“So you do know the music?”
“Know it? Oh, yes. After the first time, I made it a point to find the lyrics and title. I also found a YouTube recording of it. Would you like to see the words and listen to it?”
“I–I think so. Yes.”
Here is what I read, and what I heard. As soon as I find the right card – and a small foil heart to reflect the sun – I’m taking this little music box in a fresh, clear plastic bag and placing it right where I found it. I may need a flashlight, but something tells me someone else is going to need to take that same walk and need the same grace I was just given.
To all my wonderful 2nd Cup fans: A memorable Valentines season to you. I hope 2021 finds you close to someone you love, that God has protected you from sickness, and I hope you enjoyed the story. I’d love to hear from you about it.
I love you, and I believe in you. Happy Valentines Day.
© D. Dean Boone, February 14, 2015, 2021.