I wrote this piece of fiction a few years ago. I think it was because I was following a prompt to have certain items in my story. Anyway, it popped into my mind the other day, so I’m sharing it with you now.
“This stinks,” Paul announced, as he waded through the ankle-deep muck, sending his gaze around the surrounding area. “No, really. This stinks.”
“Don’t tell me twice,” Buck said, his voice muffled through the red, spotted handkerchief.
Paul glanced at Buck. They’d been friends since the first day of kindergarten, when Tommy Malone had been picking on Buck for being a head taller than everyone else. The fact that Buck had been so shy he could barely put two words together didn’t help, either. It was Paul, the tiniest kid in the class, who stood up for Buck, pulling out a string of such imaginative names for the bully that Tommy had backed off, irritated and more than a little confused.
One tall and lummox-looking, the other small and gangly, they made a strange pair. Still, they’d been there for each other through all of it: Tommy Malone and all his cousins on the playground, catching cooties from Liza Manning, learning how to swim, the mystery of Liza’s radiant smile, football tryouts, breaking up with Liza and getting back together, his first real interview, moving in with Liza, and now this. Twenty years after the day they first met, Paul couldn’t imagine what his life would be like if he never saw Buck’s shock of wild hair again, and he was glad he wouldn’t have to.
“I don’t suppose you see it, yet?” Paul asked, his tone a mask of forced optimism.
Buck rolled his lazy eyes and waded further into the field of mud. “It’s here somewhere.” He stuffed his handkerchief into his front pocket and leaned forward to pluck something out of the muck.
Paul peered around Buck’s brawny shoulder to see his friend intently wiping a the thick, dark disc. Paul sighed. “That’s just a hockey puck.”
“It’s got a seven on it.” Buck smeared the puck on the front of his overalls and then stuck it into his back pocket.
Paul smiled and shook his head. For as long as he’d known Buck, he had always been gathering things, weird things. He remembered the day Buck’s mom had taken the plastic bottle collection to the recycling plant. Buck didn’t speak a word for three days after that. It wasn’t that the bottles were valuable or unusual; he didn’t even use them for anything. They were just what he had been collecting at the time.
Paul caught sight of a brown corner sticking out of the mud in the mottled sunlight and waded over. The top corner of a filthy door, complete with twisted hinge, poked up at an odd angle. “Cripes,” he said, smoothing his hair back. “Look at that. It’s a whole freaking door. Somebody lost a door, man.”
“It was a bad storm,” Buck said, matter-of-fact. Then he grabbed the corner and tried to pull the door out of the mud, but it wouldn’t budge. Not even for him.
“Just leave it,” Paul said.
“Maybe it has a seven on it.”
Paul gawked before he barked a laugh. “You don’t need any more sevens, man.” Buck remained intent on wedging the door out of the mud, so Paul persisted. “Leave the door. Please?” Paul could feel his voice cracking. Apparently, he was much more worried than he had even admitted to himself.
Buck looked up guiltily, and Paul felt his stupid left eye twitch. Buck released his prize. “Yeah, alright.” He stood and scanned the wreckage before them, once more pulling the handkerchief out of his front pocket. Paul wished he had one, too. Anything to block out the sour stench of old mud.
Paul took a deep breath, shifted his weight to an even stance and looked around the mire that used to be his parent’s neighbor’s front yard. Trash and oddments littered the bogged field. Broken tree branches stood at strange angles, sticking out of lawn furniture, bushes and even the ground itself. Even the trees seemed to stand on their sides. Paul sank into another wave of hopelessness, and his eye ticked again. How was he ever going to find a small box in all this?
A meaty hand rested on Paul’s slender shoulder, heavy and reassuring. As if reading Paul’s mind, and perhaps he was, Buck said, “We’ll find it. It’s here.”
Paul smiled up at the big man. He thanked all that was holy he had a friend like Buck. With five small words, he had turned despair into drive. He waded forward, certain he would find the box, because Buck had said so.
He stepped further into the mud and suddenly was aware that Buck had stopped moving. Was he looking at another seven? Paul turned to look back at Buck, and caught his friend watching him with a strange expression. “What’s the matter, buddy?”
“I’m gonna miss you, is all.”
Paul blinked. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yeah,” Buck said softly. The big guy looked like he was gonna get all weepy in a minute.
Paul didn’t know where this conversation was going, but it was already way too mushy for him. He punched Buck on the arm. “You’re not gonna cry like some pansy, are you? I’m not even going anywhere.”
“I know.” Buck reached down and pulled on a white bit of lumber that was poking out of the mud. It resisted him for a moment, but quickly gave way with a sucking pop, revealing a soiled mailbox on the other end. Buck opened the mailbox, but there was nothing in it. He tossed the whole thing over his shoulder.
Paul watched him through narrowed eyes, but Buck looked like he wasn’t going to say any more, so he let it drop. If the big guy had something else to say, he’d say it when he was ready. In the meantime, Paul returned to his search.
“Hey, Paul,” Buck said after a moment of silent searching.
“Did you check the front door?”
“No. There’s no way a cardboard box was going to stay by the front door after a storm like that.”
“You should check.”
Paul surveyed the mess before him, then looked back at Buck. “Yeah, alright. We could use a break, anyway.”
They pushed their way back to the house. Kicking as much mud off their shoes and pant legs as they could, they climbed onto the front porch of Paul’s parents’ house. The steel chairs and table had been upturned, but it didn’t look like anything was missing. Paul righted two of the chairs and they sat down.
Paul looked around nervously for a moment and then stood up. “I’m gonna go check if there’s any beer in the fridge.”
“It won’t be cold.”
Paul shrugged. “Better than nothing.”
Buck grunted, and Paul headed into the kitchen. His folks were lucky. Aside from the power being gone, the house hadn’t taken any damage on the inside. The boarded windows had all held, the doors survived, and everything was pretty much where they had left it.
He clomped into the kitchen and yanked the fridge open. Sure enough, the air in there was warm and smelled of funk. Still it wasn’t as bad as the front yard, and the scent of the fridge shouldn’t affect the beer. He pulled two longnecks, popped the tops, and headed back to the front porch.
Buck had righted the rest of the furniture, putting most of it back where it normally sat. Now he was hunched over by the love seat.
“That your hockey puck?” Paul asked as he waved one of the bottles in front of Buck.
Buck held out a box. “It was jammed under the love seat.” He handed the box over, plopped down, and emptied half the bottle in one long swallow.
It was impossible. There was no way in this world that something so small could have stayed where it was supposed to be in a level four. Sure enough, though, there was his parents’ address written in his grandmother’s elegant scrawl across the top.
He pulled out his pocket knife and slit open the box. A note from his grandma was on top, looking more than a bit crumpled, but completely legible. He set it aside to read later. First, he had to see it.
The gray velvet box was buried deep in the packing peanuts. He pulled it out, his hands still shaking, and flipped it open. His great-grandma’s diamond sparkled in the sunlight. It took his breath away. Here, in all this destruction, was something so pure and beautiful.
He passed it to Buck. “Do you think she’ll like it?”
Buck held the ring box and took another slug of beer. “It’s beautiful.” He stared at the ring a moment longer and swallowed hard. Then he snapped it shut. “She’ll love it,” he said softly and handed the box back.
Paul tucked the ring box carefully into his pocket. He couldn’t afford to lose it. It was already one miracle that it had survived the storm, and he wasn’t about to press his luck.
Buck stood up suddenly. “I gotta go. Mom needs help, too. Tell your folks I said hi.”
Paul blinked and looked up. “Oh, yeah. Sure. Hey, thanks, man. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” He stood and gave Buck a quick hug.
“Yeah.” Buck turned to leave.
Paul paused, unsure how to proceed. “If she, you know…If she says yes, you’ll be my best man, right?”
Buck smiled. “Who else can hold your sorry butt upright when you’re too drunk to say ‘I do?’”
They laughed. “Thanks, man.”
Buck nodded and turned to the paved road, head down, shoulders slumped, and hands in his pockets. Paul watched the slow, steady tread of his best friend as he headed back up to the road.
He was yanked away from his thoughts, though, when his cell phone rang. It was Liza.
“Hey, baby,” he said into the phone, nervously playing with the ring box in his pocket. “We’re still on for dinner tonight, right?”
Lost by Miriam Pizann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Image found here: http://towndock.net/img/10321.jpg