On Ben’s way home, the waning sun slipped from the raging battle of clouds and sky. Beneath the war, his aging truck lumbered up the hill toward home and the tires worked to grab any purchase on the icy street. Overturned trashcans lined the curbs, ominous corpses beckoning the coming darkness.
Each empty trashcan weighed heavy on Ben’s mood. His would be too. Redemption and escape mingled with regret. This rollercoaster of emotion drained him. Artie’s parting comments plucked the few remaining threads from the unraveling quilt of his resolve. Why didn’t Artie show up yesterday, or even this morning before he threw all the workbooks away?
He crested the hill and slogged through the intersection to begin the slow slide toward his house.
On the far side of the street, the snow still laid deep, his solitary tire tracks from this morning’s departure the single evidence of life on the block. Ben pressed the brakes and stopped the truck in the middle of the deserted intersection. He looked up and down the street perpendicular to his own. Empty garbage cans, well-worn tracks through the snow.
On his street, a Thomas Kinkaid painting. Rooftops shingled in thick layers of fluff, walks adorned with almost a foot of snow, soft illumination swirling to play with the falling snowflakes. Two trashcans.
Ben began the decent down the hill and stared at his lonely trashcan. Despite his efforts to ease the truck toward the house, the tires picked up speed.
Halfway down the hill, the back end broke loose and as it slid sideways toward the trashcan, Ben pumped the brake. The tires locked. He spun the wheel to the left. The truck didn’t correct its course and continued to bear down on his trashcan. He gripped the wheel as if by concentrating hard enough he could will the truck’s bumper in a different direction.
Ben glared at the cans, their lids glinted in the diminishing day.
The truck bumped to a stop inches from the can. Jumping from the truck, he rounded the fender. The can looked untouched. He stared back down the street, desperate to convince himself the garbage man really had skipped them before he lifted the lid. Had destiny bestowed on him a non-deserved pardon?
He scratched the back of his neck, and stared at the can. Learn this, Artie said. Embrace the magic of your ability.
Artie asked Ben to trust, to leap into the blackness of the unknown. Him, a mechanic armed with curiosity and the most generic of toolbelts.
Was he foolish to follow the instructions of a stranger?
Not the stupidest thing he’d ever done. This, at least, promised a payoff.
The endless unanswered question circled Ben again. Was the amnesia worth the payoff of exotic locations? An endless passport for the cost of a few memories? If Artie could smooth out the ragged edges of this obsession, it wouldn’t take much to lure Ben off the edge into the dark unknown.
To his left, a garbage truck crested the hill and slid into Ben’s tire tracks. At the driver’s downshift, the engine whined and the truck lurched into the unplowed road. one other can stood between Ben and the garbage truck.
Ben hoisted the can and held it tight against his body, desperate to keep the contents safe. Scuttling across the frozen snow, he carried his second chance back up the driveway.
Behind him, the truck sat crooked in the street, its lights illuminated Ben’s path between street and safety. Casting his tall shadow across the yard, it bent in illogical angles around something in the middle of the driveway. Ben paused and searched the shape. If Artie watched in a cloaked form, he’d see everything he wanted.
Huge flakes tumbled from the sky as the garbage truck arrived at the neighbor’s and hoisted their can. The screeching grate of metal on metal shattered the subdued quiet. Reaching the dry enclosure of the carport, Ben settled the can next to the brick wall. He hurried back to move the truck, slipping and sliding down the driveway.
He dove into the cab and gunned the engine, and the truck lurched sideways up the driveway. Clicking the gearshift into park, Ben slammed the door shut and jogged across the dry concrete of the carport to the trashcan.
He braced his hands against the lid, took one big breath, and pried it free. There, completely undisturbed, lay all the material he tossed out last night.
“Ben! Is that you? Dinner’s ready!” His wife’s voice called from behind the kitchen window of the carport.
He bit back a grunt of exasperation. “Let me wash up. I’ll be right there.” He hoped for a few minutes to get everything from the trashcan and a chance to glance through the material again. Now it would have to wait.
Turning back to the books and pamphlets, he scooped an armful and raced to his workshop off the carport at the back of the house. Arms loaded, he used his elbow to push aside greasy bolts and his latest project. He settled the stack, straightening it against the back of the workbench and ran back outside to grab the remaining pieces.
Ben didn’t want to consider why his street didn’t get plowed. For decades, their street had been at the front of the route. Even yesterday, the snow barely accumulated between passes. Could he fool himself into blaming the oversight on a shift change? Some simple mixup on the part of the plows, instead of an otherworldly intervention?
Next to Ben’s elbow, the shadows merged and melded again.
“A shift change.” He said to the void of night.
From inside the house, the clatter of silverware and an orchestra of voices beckoned him. He grabbed the last few bits of propaganda and jammed the lid back over the trash.
After dropping the workbooks with the others, he pulled his workshop door closed, satisfied with the certain click of the knob. With his hand on the wood paneled wall, Ben tallied the day.
Redemption: 1, Regret: 0.