Little Plastic Bag
by Charles B. Pettis
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The old bucket was on the back porch and the rags were in the paper bag on the shelf over the washer. He gathered the cleaning gear for the job at hand and approached the first window. With the drapes pulled back out of the way, he could see clearly how dirty the three windows had gotten. Somehow, it felt good to put the warm, wet rag on the glass and take all that dirt away.
A wave of shame washed over him and he shivered, thinking how Lynette would never have let the windows go like this. With the front windows “clean as a whistle,” as his dad would have said, he looked at his reflection in the shining glass. He could see the shaggy hair on his head and the days, weeks and months of beard on his face. Her voice echoed in his head: “Jake, you look like a mountain man. You can shave on vacation. It won’t hurt you.”
Next, he cleaned the window over the kitchen sink. From there Jake went around to all the others, cleaning and rubbing and wiping, until the job was done and up to Lynette’s standards. He left the draperies, shades and curtains pulled back out of the way. Maybe a little daylight’ll do me some good, he thought. And then right smack out of the blue he remembered something he’d been meaning to do for a while.
With the wet rags hanging over the edge of the utility sink and the bucket back on the porch, Jake went to the front bedroom and the closet where his few clothes hung as if waiting for something important to happen. There, on the top shelf all the way to the left was a shoe box; in big, blue letters it said “Keds.” Lynette had always worn Keds. Even after Nike and Adidas had started selling “athletic shoes,” Lynette bought a new pair of Keds every June.
In the five years he’d been at the cabin, the box had rested in that same spot. Jake stood on his desk chair, hearing her voice again: “For Pete’s sake, use a stepladder or the kitchen step stool. I swear, Jackson Donaldson Frye, you’ll make me a widow yet.” When he heard his full name he always knew he was in trouble. What he wouldn’t give to hear it right now, for real. But the chair held him as it had before and he took the box down, carefully, gently. He rubbed his hand across the top. Maybe a genie would pop out and grant him three wishes. He only wanted one.
The box was dusty. Probably not the only thing around here that’s dusty, he thought. As he climbed down, Jake put his free hand on the back of the chair and said out loud, “See, I’m being careful.” The sound of his own voice surprised him. And the lack of a response brought tears to his eyes.
He pulled the chair over to the small desk, set the box on top of some bills that needed paying, and turned on the lamp with the brass base and the dark green glass shade. It flickered a little, so he picked up the shade and tightened the bulb, a ritual he had performed countless times in the last five years.
Jake opened the box and looked at its contents. He took them out and laid them carefully on the desk. Two passports for a trip to... Well, he couldn’t remember where. They were expired now, really of no use, but he had kept them just the same.
Ticket stubs from their trip to Indianapolis to see the 500. He had wanted to go; Lynette would rather have stayed home, but she went anyway because he was so darn excited about it. A two-dollar bill. Bill Ralston, the General Manager at the car dealership, had given that to him when he made his first sale, a 1966 Buick Skylark sedan. A pay stub from the Army. He had written across it, “We’re rich!” The receipt for the first bed they bought. It was a three-quarter bed because a full bed wouldn’t fit in the apartment.
At the bottom of the box was a little plastic bag. He hadn’t remembered that and wondered what was in it. The bag was cloudy, a bit crinkled. It looked like it had been used over and over again. Jake leaned back, remembering how Lynette would clean out plastic bags and reuse them. It was almost like a religion with her.
He set the other things and the box on the bed along with its lid. He held the little plastic bag in his hands and turned it over. He could see what looked like a piece of paper inside. Through the milky, cloudy plastic he spied the small letter “i” with a big circle over it. That’s how Lynette made her i’s. He had always kidded her about it, reminding her that teens and tweens did things like that. Once after he’d had his say, Lynette had snuck up behind him and written a gigantic “i” and circle on his bare back with a red Magic Marker. It had taken a week of showers to get rid of it. Jake opened the little plastic bag and let the contents fall gently on to the desk, once again covering the bills that needed to be paid.
The first thing that caught his eye was what looked like the wing of a moth. It had been pressed between two pieces of heavy plastic tape. He could see clearly the color and texture of the wing. It had been preserved carefully, perhaps even lovingly. He frowned just slightly, his chest tightening a little.
Next, Jake saw a length of leather lacing. It was nearly two feet long, a boot lace or something you might use to repair a baseball glove. He heard her voice in his head: “That mitt is going to fall apart. And then you won’t be able to catch air in it.” It had torn, right there between the thumb and the webbing. The ball had dropped and his softball team had lost.
The red Magic Marker had him stumped, until he remembered the “i” with the circle over it, the one on his back.
Over toward the side of the desk was one more thing from the little plastic bag: A maple leaf pressed between clear plastic. Ah yes, just days before they had graduated from Huron High School — “Go, Tigers, Go!” — Jake had knelt before Lynette Faith Somerwell, presented her with a bright red maple leaf he’d saved since the previous fall. In his best imitation of Richard Burton he had said, “With this leaf I thee wed,” to which Lynette had replied, “OK!” and then quickly walked away.
The piece of paper. He’d almost forgotten. It had been white once, now yellowed a little around the edges. In her firm, still-teenage hand, complete with i’s dotted with circles, Lynette had written a note to her husband. The paper bore no date.
- I love you; always have, always will.
- These are my treasures; I guard them with my life.
- Pay checks are great, but it’s the simple things that make life worthwhile.
- Throw this bag away and you are toast, T-O-A-S-T.
- See number 1.
Jake put each item back in the little plastic bag, making sure it was sealed tight. He placed all the things in the Keds box, this time putting the little plastic bag on top. When the box was in its place on the top shelf of the closet, he pushed the chair under the small desk and noticed light shining through the windows. No rain hammering the roof, big blue patches of sky among the few remaining clouds.
Once again, out loud, he said, “Life is good.” And then, as Lynette would have said, he added, “Living is better.”
Copyright © 2016 by Charles B. Pettis