Wednesday, 23 January 2019

F Fic, Non-fic

The Keepsake

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"This." Carrie gestured at a glass-shelved cabinet made of some stone-like plastic. The shelves were brightly lit by hidden LEDs and covered with a variety of objects, many of them odd. She noticed playbills, several antiquated electronic devices, something that looked like a tapered stack of metal gears, and a finely detailed miniature silver owl bearing "2034 Olympics, Quebec" in softly glowing red letters.

"Those, my dear, are what we call tchotchkes."

"I don't."

A.L. shrugged.

"What are they?" she pressed, "Souvenirs?"

He nodded. "Mostly. Keepsakes. Trophies, some of them."

A.L. stepped to the cabinet, looked inside, and opened it.

"I remember this," he said, picking up the stack of gears and smiling. "He was crazy for biking."

"What should we do with it?"

A.L. hesitated, then sighed, his forehead wrinkling. "Pack all of it, I guess. There's not a lot of space at the hospice. I don't know if I'd want to risk them there, either."

He reached out and touched the owl with one finger. "Some are valuable." Picking up one of the playbills, A.L. revealed a single ticket beneath it. Smiling again, he said, "Not most of them, though. Still, no room ... They were pretty specific. If there's anything he remembers, still wants, he can tell us. If ... if he can."

Carrie put her hand on her father's shoulder. "It's okay, Dad. 'Good days and bad days,' remember? We'll take care of him."

"Thanks, honey." A.L. smiled at her. "Do you need a box?"

"No, I've got one right here."

"All right. I'll be upstairs."


Carrie opened both cabinet doors, checked the box's foam, and started taking the tchotchkes down.

She did her best not to linger over them. Most weren't very interesting, anyway. The electronics, for example, were only so much plastic junk as far as she was concerned. She found herself reading through the playbills, though, trying to imagine the shows they described, the theaters that held them. Soon she'd forgotten all about the old man behind her.

She picked up the most out of place object in the cabinet. It was a tacky looking, nearly amorphous, chunk of blue and red plastic. She held it in her hand a moment, puzzled. A part of some old children's toy? The bottom was rough, as if it had been scored by fire.

Carrie shrugged and started to drop it in the box. As she did so, though, a grunt behind her made her turn around.

The old man was sitting forward in his wheelchair.

Carrie blinked. "Yes? Uh ... Do you know me?"

He glanced at her, then fixed his eyes on the strange object still in her hand.


He nodded, then opened his mouth as if to say something. She gave him time.


Carrie smiled. "That's right, Grandfather. Do you need help?"

After a short pause her grandfather nodded again, but said nothing. Carrie was about to fetch her father when she realized her grandfather was staring, still, at the thing she held.

"Do you want this?"

Watching him carefully, Carrie noticed his smile. It wasn't so much displayed on his age-ravaged face as it was implied by his eyes.

Carrie reached out and carefully set the tchotchke on his lap. He looked down, then rested his hands on it.

"What is it, Grandfather?"

She asked him twice, but he just nodded his head a little and mumbled something she couldn't make out. He didn't seem distressed, so she went back to packing.


False dawn was a ring of red, orange, and gold around a peach-shading-to-gray sky. With each wave the sea's tang momentarily overwhelmed the earthy scent of the dunes, a scent he associated with scrub grass and sea oats.

The hiss of the tandem bike's wide tires as they bit into packed, wet, sand was a pleasant drone. The ocean, as it surged endlessly to and fro, was oddly silent. Yet it was a constantly changing mosaic, each little wavelet a different, delicate shade of gray, the color of whatever portion of the sky it reflected. 

The beach itself was adamantly flat. A sheet of darkness seeming to reflect the sky ... but not the sky now. Rather, it reflected the night that had just passed.

It had been first night sky he'd seen in years – that either of them had seen in years – that wasn't spoiled by city lights. It had opened above them, deep and vast, incomprehensibly empty and yet, at the same time, filled with stars. Filled with light.

The beach was that sky, with only the occasional pale gleam of an exposed shell interrupting its perfect blackness. Well, the shells, and the occasional soft spot that threatened to throw them as the bike slewed or tried jerking to a halt. The night sky didn't do that.

Squeee, clank! ... Squee, clank! ... Squee, clank!

Nor did it squeal occasionally. The couple's rented tandem bike, however, did.

He called to her, "I don't think I can hear anything but the squeaking!"

She said, "Squeak, squeak!"

"This was supposed to be romantic!"

"Squeak, squeak?"

Laughing, he said, "Let's stop a minute. I want to fix it."

Together, they squeezed the brakes. The brakes didn't work very well either.

She put her head beside his, her curly hair brushing his cheek, while he studied the tandem's wheels and chain.


"What?" he asked, distracted.

"That's how you're going to fix the bike, once your vast machine-powers have identified the problem?"

He snorted, "I--" Then he stopped, looking thoughtful. Turning to her, he found himself looking into brown eyes only a few inches from his own. He smiled ruefully. "Do you happen to have a wrench on you?"

"No, but I've an idea."


She dumped a handful of wet sand down the back of his shirt.


She slid away from his grab and, running in circles over the beach, occasionally skipping through an incoming wave, kept well ahead of him until he fell, face first, into the sand.

"Ouch! Are you all right?"


Warily, she stepped closer.


She dodged the flung lump of seaweed and turned to run. She made it only two strides before her foot came down on the seaweed. Foot describing a perfect half-circle, she landed flat on her back.

He still hadn't made it to his feet. Considerably slowed by laughter, he crawled toward her.

"Got you."

"Doesn't count."

"All's fair ..." He lay down beside her, then propped himself up on one arm, leaned over, and kissed her.

Several moments later she pushed him away. "That's enough of that! This sand is wet, and it's starting to get personal. It'll be bad enough trying to get it out of my shoes."

He chuckled. "Yeah, okay ... Let's go." He stood, then flailed at his face. Giving up on getting all the sand out of his goatee, he helped her up.

She said, "What's that?"

He followed her finger – it was hard to make out in the dim light – he found himself looking at a large, brightly colored blue and red shell.

"The shell?"

"Pick it up."

"You pick it up."

She laughed and reached for it.


The sound made both of them jump, nearly smashing their heads together. Turning around, they discovered their bike had fallen over.

She said, "I think the kickstand fell off."

He shook his head. "Sheesh! How much did it cost?"

"Too much."

"Ha. Now get that shell!"

She smiled at him as they both crouched. She reached for the shell. A ghost crab popped out of its hole and went for her fingers.

Exemplifying togetherness, the couple said, "Yaa!"

Feet churning through the sand, they surged up, struck their heads against each other, and toppled back to the ground side by side.


He was trying to think of an appropriate curse when the sun abruptly slipped above the ocean.

The sky went through an infinite number of color changes, every one beautiful, before becoming rose. Rose rimmed on the horizon with canary yellow.

Lifting his head, he discovered the water had changed to a delicious, boundless blue.

Just as suddenly as the light had come, so, too, sound arrived from the ocean. The rush and crash of waves filled air flavored with newly vibrant scents.


He turned to her. Sun in her hair, eyes shining, she looked out over the ocean and smiled.

Watching her, he couldn't help smiling, too.

He looked down. Their hands were resting on the blue and red shell. Only it wasn't a shell ...

She said, "What is it?"

He picked it up, studying it.

"Something plastic. I think it washed up after being in the water for ... who knows how long." He shook his head.  "I've no idea what it is."

She laughed and a thrill went through him.

"Much ado about nothing," she said.

Holding onto it – whatever it was – he said, "Oh, I don't know ..." He looked into her eyes, "It brought us this."

She looked around them again, taking in the sea, the sky, and the beach. Taking in the wonder.

"Yes," she breathed.

He tore his gaze from her and looked, too. He sighed. "This is what vacations should be. This is what I came to find. Without names, without a future or a past. It's ... it's a perfect moment."

She nodded, suddenly solemn. "Don't forget this."

He smiled and kissed her. "Oh, I won't. Ever."

John Cooper Hamilton was born in Kansas, lived most of his life in the Midwest, and now writes from cosmopolitan northeast Ohio. He lives with his wife and young son, and divides his time between writing, playing games and convincing his family to play more games.



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