Hi all. This story is in response to a prompt from this week’s Inspiration Monday – invisible link. Simultaneously, the idea for this story came from a discussion I had in class about how a single object can have so little value to one person, but could mean the world to another. “One man’s trash” and all that.
I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, any comments and constructive criticism will be greatly appreciated.
When a house catches fire, there is a certain hierarchy that dictates what items will be rescued from the blaze. Loved ones, children, pets—those are a given. Treasured mementos are usually next in line—wedding albums, baby photos and childhood toys are the norm. If there’s time, some people will think to take the useful things, like their wallet, phone and laptop. But that’s the problem—time. Or lack thereof. As your entire world burns around you, there isn’t a lot of time to carefully think over your inventory. You start at the top of the ladder, and you grab what you can until the clock ticks over.
Yes, the hierarchy always comes into play, and paramedics Rick and Morty thought they’d seen it all. Needless to say, the scene they entered on Ardente Drive that day struck them as entirely odd. The man was lying spread-eagle on his front lawn, with his threadbare dressing gown draped like wings beneath him. His silver hair glowed orange in the light of his home’s demise. With his sooty, ashen face, the old man looked, from a distance, like any other victim of a house fire. But as the experienced paramedics soon discovered, in the man’s arms were clutched six very unusual objects.
Rick and Morty prided themselves on their professionalism; they made quick work of clearing the man’s airways and providing him with clean, life-giving oxygen, and then loaded him into the screaming ambulance without hesitation. But as they sat beside the elderly man, who lay dozing comfortably beneath crisp, white sheets, they found that there was nothing to distract them during the drive—nothing but those six items, sitting safely in a storage box.
“No wallet,” Rick muttered. “No photos. What the heck is this crap?”
Morty leant over their patient—Mr Collins, a neighbour had helpfully supplied—and took the box with lazy nonchalance. “He’s an old bloke,” he shrugged. “Maybe he panicked and grabbed whatever was closest to him.”
“Yes, because what would he have done without”—Rick snatched the first item he could reach—“his plastic drinking glass? God forbid this had turned to ash.”
“Hey,” Morty scolded. “That cup could mean a lot to him!”
Rick stared impassively for several moments longer, then lifted the cup and pointed at it in a silent rebuttal.
“Okay, fine,” Morty conceded. “Believe what you want. But the fact is we don’t know anything about Mr Cole—”
“Whatever. And we have no right to judge. I’m sure there was some reason for taking it with him.”
It took four months, eighteen days, and ninety-four requests to finally hear Shelley Piper say ‘yes’. And so it was that on the day of the ninety-fourth request, Anthony Collins found himself entirely unprepared.
After staring blankly for a full minute—a minute rather awkward for them both—all Tony could think to say was, “…What?”
She laughed then, and he could only think that he would never hear a sound more beautiful. “My good sir,” she teased. “You have been asking me out on a date for months now. Did you not have a better response prepared than that?”
“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever get this far.”
For all her reluctance to accept, nobody could deny that their first date was magical, in a humble sort of way. Fancy dinner, walk along the beach—that’s what a woman of class expects, and so Tony did everything he could not to go near such things with a ten foot pole. Instead, he convinced Shelley to trespass on a nearby property where, giggling madly and tripping through ditches, the pair travelled to a clearing and ate sandwiches in the dappled moonlight.
“What are you doing now?” Shelley questioned. The moment she’d swallowed her last mouthful of water, Tony had pinched her plastic glass and brought it inches from his nose.
“I’m keeping this,” he mused. The rim boldly boasted a scarlet lipstick smudge, and the man delighted in seeing his date’s lips curve into a smile of matching colour.
“What on earth for?”
He answered with a wink. “Gotta keep a memento of our first date, don’t I? I need something to give me strength during the next four months, or else how will I ever convince you to have another?”
“Mmm,” Rick hummed. “Well, I guess the old bugger risked his life for it, so…” He gently dropped the cup back into the box, safe and secure, but could not resist exploring the items further. “Now see here? What could have been running through his head when he picked up an old make-up brush on his way out?”
The brush worked delicate circles along her jaw line, and he was mesmerised. “God, you’re beautiful.”
Shelley didn’t cease her handiwork, but her eyes narrowed playfully. “You mean now that I’ve applied my make-up?”
“Yup,” Tony agreed. Chuckling, he stood behind her so he could wrap his arms around her waist. “But before that, too.”
“You’re welcome.” The young man bowed his head to hide in the gentle curve of her neck, where he hummed, “It’s a good thing that I already look damn fine without the stuff, huh?”
Without hesitation, Shelley reached over her shoulder, brush in hand, to dust a cloud of rouge upon Tony’s cheek. “Yes, quite lucky.”
“Leave it,” Morty ordered, taking the brush from his friend to return it to the box. Rick watched as he paused, hand hovering in midair, and then snorted when the other man removed an item of his own—a key ring, singing merrily with the weight of a good dozen keys. “Keys kind of make sense, right?”
Rick squinted at the mess of metal before declaring, “Nah. Look at ‘em. They’re antiques! No way those are for his car; probably not even for his house. Just junk.”
“What do you want that piece of junk for?” Tony questioned. Shelley remained crouched in the sand, proudly dusting off her treasure.
“Junk?” she chimed indignantly. She leapt up, then, and brandished the rusty skeleton key in her fiancé’s face. “This is an antique, I’ll have you know!”
Tony reclaimed her hand to continue their stroll. “And are people usually in the habit of throwing away valuable antiques on the beach?”
“One man’s trash,” she shrugged. With a delighted flourish, she pocketed the old key. “Another one for the collection.”
Morty grunted in lazy agreement as he tossed the keys in with the rest of the items. He watched silently as Rick went through his professional routine above Mr Collins’ silent form. Satisfied with the elderly man’s condition, the paramedic sat back, and soon found his eyes drawn back to the box. He nodded his head towards it, trying to look nonchalant but failing in the endeavour. “So, uh … What else is in there?”
Morty was only too pleased to have the excuse to explore. Rummaging through the objects like a child on Christmas day, he emerged with a magazine, tattered and torn. “Italy Down Under,” he read. “What do you make of that?”
“What do you make of this?”
Shelley was reclined on the lounge, cloaked by the remnants of gift-wrapped presents, and smiling with the look of a satisfied kitten. She looked up lazily, and Tony grinned as he held out his hands. “Another present?” Shelley asked, delighted. “You didn’t have to do that!”
Tony rocked back and forth on his heels as his wife tore delicately at the paper and read the title of the magazine she found beneath. Then her mouth formed a small ‘O’ as she sat up. “You didn’t.”
“I did,” Tony corrected, smirking.
“We’re going to Italy?” Shelley crushed the magazine in her distraction, unable to look away from Tony’s smug face. Then, releasing a squeal that seemed unlikely to ever have come from the throat of an elderly woman, she threw herself into his arms, bouncing on her toes. “We’re going to Italy!”
Tony gripped her elbows and pushed her away. “Wait, what?” He frowned. “No, I just got you the magazine. I thought you’d enjoy reading it.”
Shelley blinked once, twice, and then a third time, by which point Tony had lost his composure. He let loose an explosion of laughter, rumbling from deep within his chest. “You goose,” he teased. “’Course we’re bloody going to Italy.”
This time when Shelley threw herself at him, they both hit the ground.
“Now this makes sense,” Rick said, quickly moving through the box to take out a mobile phone. His hand mistakenly found a half-filled water bottle, which he discarded. “That doesn’t, but this does. Lots of people take their phones.”
“Antique phone,” Morty snorted.
“Antique man,” Rick quipped, then patted Mr Collin’s wrist in a guilt-ridden apology. “No offence, mate.”
Tony pulled uncomfortably at the too-tight sleeves around his wrist; the afternoon sun was making him feel drowsy. He nearly snorted at the thought of what Shelley would say if he fell asleep at her funeral: “Anthony Collins! God knows I love you, but if you snore during my ceremony, you won’t hear the last of it!”
Tony did laugh then, oblivious to the scandalised stares from the rest of the mournful crowd. After 57 years of marriage, he could predict just how Shelley would have reacted.
The funeral came to a quiet end. People began to approach the coffin for their final goodbyes, but Tony didn’t need to join them.
“God knows I love you too, Shell,” Tony whispered as he walked away from the cemetery. He strolled vaguely along the outback streets, mindless until he saw where his feet had taken him. Grunting wearily, he stooped below a dropping wire fence and, stumbling as hopelessly as he had years before, he found his way to the clearing of his first date.
The entire area was deathly still; it needed the music of Shelley’s laughter to fill it, flood it with her magic . The silence pressed against Tony’s ears until he couldn’t bear it. He fumbled through his suit pockets until he located his mobile—a worthless piece of junk, in his opinion, but Shelley had wanted him to have it, for emergencies.
This was an emergency of the most drastic kind. His fingers blindly found the familiar numbers, and the unheeded sound of a dialling phone chimed through. Tony pressed the thing to his ear until his angel spoke through it. “Hello, this is Shelley Collins. I’m sorry I couldn’t take your call, but I promise to get back to you just as soon as I can.”
Shelley had always said that she didn’t want anyone to cry at her funeral. But she never said anything about crying in this clearing. And so, as the heartless beep pierced through his beloved’s voice, Anthony sat down and cried until the heavens cried with him.
Anthony Collins flicked through the television channels with a weary sigh. Reality show; soap opera; reality show; children’s show; soap opera; soap opera; game show. “What a load of rot,” he grumbled, and turned the noisy thing off.
A knock sounded at his door; he turned eagerly, fighting against the stiff hospital sheets. “Come in.”
Two men entered, each with young faces but wise eyes. They looked uncertain, hovering as they were in his doorway, and so the elderly man gestured them closer. “Do I know you?”
“Uh, no,” one man supplied. “My name’s Morty.” He slapped his mate on the arm. “This is Rick. We were the paramedics on scene after the house fire.”
“Ahh,” Tony cried. “So you’re the blokes who saved my life!”
Morty shrugged humbly. “That’s the job, sir.”
Rick came closer to the bed and offered a small box to the man. “These would be yours, sir. We kept them safe for you.”
Tony gasped and sat up with the youthful delight of a small boy. “My things!” he shouted happily. “I was so worried I’d lost them.” He rummaged through the objects, chuckling to himself and seeming to forget the presence of the paramedics, until one of them cleared his throat.
“If you don’t mind me saying,” Rick began, “These aren’t exactly the things we’re used to seeing after a house fire. Why did you choose to take these … things?”
“Memories, lad,” Tony answered quietly. His eyes grew distant as his lips quirked into a sad, half-smile. “Memories.”
“So, everything here means something to you?” Morty said, nudging his friend as though a bet had just been won.
“So, the make-up brush…?”
“And the magazine?”
“The plastic cup? The phone? … What about the keys?”
“Huh,” the men murmured. Neither had the courage to ask what memories the older man possessed, and he didn’t seem inclined to share, and so, with a final handshake, the duo made their exit.
With the door knob still in hand, Morty quickly poked his head back into the room.
“Even the water bottle? Really?”
His eyes were shut, but the old man chuckled quietly. “Nah,” he drawled. “I just thought I might need some water. My bloody house was on fire … or didn’t you notice?”
- Love The Bad Guy