Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Order to Take, One Must First Give Part II

His wallet was gigantic, filled with photos, old business cards, credit cards and other tokens of uselessness. Most people looked at and laughed at its enormity. He began taking everything out of it. He began with the top flap and smiled when he saw a frayed card with his tattoo artist’s name and number on it. He made piles, one to keep and one to throw away. He found an old fortune from a Chinese restaurant. He kept it from one of his first dates with his wife. It was barely legible and he mouthed the words.

“In order to take, one must first give.”

A guttural chuckle came from his mouth. He stared at it and then put it into the keep pile. He looked at it once again before continuing the rummage. The discard pile kept getting larger and larger as he became more and more willing to part with the past. Then came the photographs. He always carried one of himself as a toddler. The edge of the old photograph was stained yellow, taking on the color of a smoker’s fingers after a heavy night of drinking. Further, the photo had creased in the middle and a crack formed down his forehead, but he wore a beaming smile. The location was unknown, a child simply sitting in a patch of grass. He couldn’t remember how he acquired the picture.

He fumbled a long strip and dropped it on the bed. He unfolded it and saw a set of images taken inside of a photo booth. He and his wife made several faces. The first one was serious and comical. Both of them looked directly into the camera, as if looking at a piece of postmodern art. The next photo in the strip was of them kissing. It didn’t look staged. The kiss was sincere and passionate, he thought. The following picture was an unexpected one. They were moving away from each other after the kiss and the timer snapped an image. They were frozen with smiles on their faces. The last consisted of a hugging pose. She was sitting on his lap. He looked at the photo strip for a moment longer and placed it next to the one of himself as a toddler.

The final photograph in his wallet was of his children as youngsters themselves. The two kids, brother and sister also sat in an unidentifiable field. Their mother was in the distant background. Her pale legs were off to the right corner of the photo. The kids were only a year apart and crawling towards him as he took it. The younger of the two, the boy, was pulling himself through the grass with his elbows as his sister was crawling on all fours. His daughter had a small dandelion in her hair; while his son had yellow cheeks form flower face painting. Both of them had his eyes. Finally, he laid the photo next to the strip.

They created a vivid narrative of his own personal history, from the near beginning of his life up to a few years ago. The kids were now six and seven years old. He thought about their schooldays and the vacation that was about to begin and all they would learn in the future. Yet, emptiness crept through him as he thought about their futures. This feeling was difficult for him to wrap his head around, nor could he bother to make much sense of it.

He looked away from the bed and fetched the champagne bottle. He took a healthy gulp of it and returned to the stack of money. The entire room was cold and the curtains were still aimlessly blowing. A small pile of snow piled at the doorway. He could see vapor coming out of his mouth as he took heavy concentrated breaths. He counted the cash in his hand. There were thirteen twenty-dollar bills left. $260. He took off his robe and walked over to the mahogany closet. There were two suits hanging next to each other. He pulled the black one off of the hanger and placed it on the bed on top of the discard pile. The photos sat next to it. Now, he thought, looking at the empty suit, that the collection neared completion.

He took two steps away from the bed and looked at his collage. After staring at it for a minute or two, he walked away to return to the closet. The second suit was grey with black pinstripes. He discarded his robe, found a pair of underwear, a white tank-top and put on the pants. His belt was across the room on a chair so he sauntered over and buckled it. The man reached for a white button-down hanging from a chair and hung it over his shoulders. He returned to the mirror and slowly buttoned the shirt and tied a red necktie around the collar. After tucking in the shirt and inspecting the creases, he returned to the closet and put on the jacket. First, he buttoned the middle button, but thought again and unbuttoned it.

After a brief mirror inspection, his eyes returned to the project on the bed. He grabbed two oranges left from the fruit basket on the dresser. The champagne was getting flat, but he took a large gulp before visiting his piece. He looked at it quizzically and straightened out the suit then buttoned the middle button. The oranges were still in his hand. He looked at them as if he didn’t know what they were doing there, then placed them ten inches above the neckline of the suit.

There was work to be done. The man rushed over to his shoes and socks and put them on his feet. A frenzied excitement filled the room. In a bound, the man leaped to the dresser and grabbed his wad of twenties. As he walked to the balcony door, the curtains lashed him across his face. Stung and surprised, he grabbed them in a fit and yanked them down. They blew several feet from the doorway and landed in a heap on the carpet. He continued through the doorway and faced the balcony. The snow was coming down harder and it was windier than before. He had to squint in order to see the street below.

He opened his arms as wide as he could. The wind made his jacket flap behind him and he could hear it rustle. His left hand had the stack of bills in it. He looked at them and peeled one away. He stretched it out and released it into the night air. The wind picked it up and blew it outward, over Seventh Avenue and next to the giant Madison Square Garden sign. It was hard to see, but he noticed a group of people huddle to the corner. He thought a man came out of it with the bill. He crumpled the next one and threw it out into the breeze. It didn’t travel as far and landed in front of the hotel. He folded the next one into a miniature paper airplane. It settled in the middle of the street. A brave soul quickly got it.

Cabs and busses rolled by. The snow was beginning to stick and the black asphalt was fading. It was coming down at an angle and swirling all around his head. His hair was covered in snow and his jacket was emitting wafts of steam. He paused for a minute and turned around to look into his room. He looked at the bed, the wallet and empty suit. Nothing had changed.

His attention returned to the balcony. This time he took out two bills and released them in opposite directions. From what he could tell, a crowd amassed and people were looking up, waiting for more money to fall. Because of the drifting snow, it was getting harder and harder to see the street. He counted the money. Eight twenties left. His tie blew up into his face. He moved it and took another bill out of his pocket. People were looking up now and more had gathered on the whitened sidewalks. Three more bills were sent over the balcony into the snowy abyss.

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