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He Stood With His Toy Truck

The small child stood in a daze, watching me drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. He remarked that his mother did not approve of smoking and that he thought it made me smell like a wrench. I told him that I was not his mother so we wouldn't have a problem.. He stood with a limp arm holding a toy dump tuck and another arm holding a juice box. It looked as if I told him the tooth fairy didn’t exist. I don’t think he had ever heard a reply quite like that.
“No, your not Mom,” he said, “Where is she? When is she coming back?” The sun was just falling behind the large fence in the back yard. I finished my cigarette and looked at him. “Your mother went to the mall with her sister, remember? She will be back soon. Until then we can find something to do.” The child laughed. It looked like he felt independent and old. I leaned against the railing and smiled.
“Well what do you want to do?” I asked the little man. I raised my cup to my lips and realized I was drinking the last of my coffee. I placed the cup down and the ring of grounds settled into a new moon shape. I spun my cigarette butt and said, “I have to go inside now, you coming?” The child jumped towards the door and opened it. We walked up the one step and into the apartment. I put the cigarette butt in the garbage and the child said, “That’s where it belongs to be.”
I remembered doing the same thing as a small child. I was an outspoken non-smoker as a child. My mother had asked me to think like that. Now, I barely remember not being a smoker. I am beginning to feel the harmful affects of my addiction. I hope the same fate doesn’t reach this child. Perhaps he will be brighter than I was. I should have listened to the folk who refused to buy them for me. Rules are there for a reason. I should know that by now.
It is evening now. Still I am staying alive with coffee and cigarettes. I place my empty cup on the counter and exhale. “Is that all you can breathe?” The child shouts. I am taken aback a little before saying, “I never inhaled.” He laughs and shouts, “Lets have a breathing contest. Whoever breathes biggest wins, smoker versus non-smoker.” I laugh and say, “Ok, but I have bigger lungs.”
We breathe deeply for a few seconds, and then the child laughs and says, “I win. I breathed deeper.” I agree, and look for more coffee in the pot, there is none. I click the pot of the burner and debate making more coffee. It is evening now, the child’s mother will be home soon, though she’ll have no need for it.
The child brings his truck to me. It is one of the yellow metal dump trucks we used to have in my sandbox. It is large, but not rusted like ours were. He places it in my hand and says, “This is you.” He then runs and grabs a red sports car. It was oversized, one of the kind you see on stands in the library of an auto mechanic. The stand is gone and the wheels spin freely, so we are about to race.
I ask the child, “Where is the course?” He says, “All the way around the outside of the room, then up on the couch and back through the coffee table. Then we do it once more.” And with that, the child is running, racing around the sides of the room with a car in hand. I chase after him and drive my dump truck barely able to catch him. He reaches through the legs of the coffee table in a professional manner and starts his second lap. I reach the table and get stuck. My large stature is in no way helping the cause. He reaches the outside wall and flies up the now banked corner.
I realize I am outmatched but continue to chase him in vain. He reaches the couch and his car jumps across to the coffee table. He waits for me to catch up, with a look of glee in his eye. As I am about to reach the couch he throws the car between the legs of the coffee table and bursts into laughter. The red sports car his the glass door between the kitchen and patio with a crack. I jump, but we were lucky, no damage.
The child walks over and grabs his car from the floor. I am breathing heavily and the child looks at me and laughs like a hyena. “See, you shouldn’t smoke. You can’t even drive a car without breathing heavily.” I catch my breath and say, “You make sure to remember that you told me that, and never start smoking. I only smoke because I started smoking and now I can’t stop. It’s a strange addiction.”
The child looks at me and asks, “What does addiction mean?” I explain to him it is when you don’t want to do something but you have to. It is because your body needs the chemical you are addicted to, you have grown attached to having it around. Because of this your body chemistry changes and you become dependant of the chemical. The child remains confused and says, “I’ll never have addiction.”
I tell him he should remember he told me that as well. “Do yourself a favor,” I say, “and never have an addiction.” I end the thought with the phrase, “Vices.” The child questions what the word vice means. “Vice,” I tell him, “Is when you know something is bad for you but you do it anyways, because you enjoy it. Like eating candy.” The child smiles and says, “Oh, I like vices.”
I stutter and say, “No, no, vices are usually addictions.” The child says, “Actually I have an addiction. My vice is candy. I’m addicted to it. And sometimes I need to have candy or I’ll die. Seriously.” I laugh and retrace my steps, explaining candy may not be a vice. I mention that vices are sort of like candy, in a way. I have always been and strong advocate for stimulants of all kinds. Maybe someday he’ll be a coffee and cigarettes kind of guy. They are always the best people.
I am swimming in this thought and he asks, “So cigarettes are like candy?” I fight the urge to chuckle and say, “No, cigarettes are a vice. Candy is just sugar.” He seems to understand, “But cigarettes make you feel like you ate candy? I like that feeling.” “No,” I reply. “That’s more like coffee. Cigarettes are like sucking on a tailpipe.” He laughs and asks, “Why do you do that then?”
I don’t know how to reply. I have no reason to smoke that I would want to tell a vulnerable child. I think I should be honest. I smoke because I enjoy every one I have. I smoke because I thought it looked cool in grade school. I smoke because my friends did, but they have come and gone and what I have left is a full ashtray. I smoke because I am unstable, because I need a crutch. I smoke because I cannot go a day without them. But I can’t tell a child that, I’m supposed to be a role model.
The reply I give him is stammered, “Because I’m addicted to it.” I begin to tell him about all the horrible things cigarettes do and he says, “I know, Mom told me that.” I then explain that cigarettes are not like candy because candy is rarely connected to any of results of lifelong cigarette addiction. He looks at me and says, “I don’t like vices.” I tell him I don’t like my vices either.
I ask him if he wants to go outside for a smoke, like an adult. This is partially because I think its funny asking a six year old to smoke with me and partially because all the talk of cigarettes made me think of having another. No more coffee with this one, I’ve decided. It is probably for the best. The sun has gone down and his mother will be home soon. Maybe she would like some coffee, I thought.
I cough and the child says, “Don’t smoke.” I am halfway out the door with a cigarette in my hand. I look at him. He looks as if he has been hurt. “You just finished telling me how those cause cancer and strokes.” I pull him outside and light the cigarette. I think about my vice. He is still talking, telling me all the things I told him about the horrors of tobacco use. I puff on the cigarette and exhale the white smoke.
“Is it true you cough up boogers if you smoke?” The child asks me. I clear my throat and state as clear as the day, “Its grosser than that.” The child squirms and asks me to clarify. “They are like big, gray boogers.” He laughs. “Except they are wet and sticky. They fly out of your mouth and cover your hands.” He screams in disgust and asks, “Why do you smoke then?”
I don’t know how to answer his question.
I take a drag from the cigarette and say, “Ok, you are a smart kid, right?” He says quickly that he is. I explain the chemical I am addicted to in the smoke is called nicotine. I tell him that my brain cannot bridge a gap in my daily life without nicotine, now that I have tried it. I explain that when I was only a few years older than him I tried smoking and thought it would make me cool. I explain that once I had made a conscious decision to begin smoking I lost the ability to not smoke.
He pretends to understand me but I knew he couldn’t. I dock the cigarette at the halfway mark and tell him I shouldn’t be smoking around him. What would his mother say? He claims she wouldn’t mind and she would be happy that he is learning new things. He tells me they told him that once in school so it must be true. I open the pack and find I only have one and a half cigarettes left.
The child walks into the apartment and shuts the door behind him. I try to open it and find he has locked it. I hear him say there are no smokers allowed inside the house. I knock on the door and ask him nicely to open it. He laughs and runs across the room. He jumps on the couch and starts bouncing, laughing. I knock on the glass and he jumps from one cushion to the next. He falls on the armrest and rolls onto the floor. I knock on the glass one more time.
I am helpless and out of ideas. There is no other way I can get in to the room. I struggle for a moment but am saved quickly as his mother and aunt walk into the room. She laughs and shouts his name, unlocking the door and letting me in. She is laughing and asks me, “How long have you been out there?” I smile and tell her it was just briefly. She scolds the child and sends him to bed, telling me it has passed his bedtime.
She tucks him in and comes back from the hall. I am sitting with her sister talking about our mutual friends. She sits next to me and laughs. “Kids,” she says. I tell her she has a smart kid, a good conversationalist. She smiles and says, “Isn’t he just a big bundle of love?”
I look at her and ask, “He doesn’t know you smoke?”
She laughs.
“I have a half a smoke here,” I say, “Shall we?”


viewpoint of a short circuited iron

“Iron!” The cats growled. They were hungry, mangy and matted. They fought amongst themselves as I sat resting against a brick with the bottom half of a broom and two thirds of a rake. “I have no food,” I said, “I don’t look for it like you.” The tomcat cursed at me, “No, Iron, tell our kittens your story, would you please?” I looked at the tomcat, a cat that would rarely speak nicely to anyone. “Well, you did ask like that,” I said. With this, I began with a shout.

“Criminal!” She screamed towards the closed door. She seemed to over-react, I thought. I was dropped on the cloth-covered table and she stomped towards the only entryway. I sat and glanced out the window seeing a picturesque winter evening. The snow fell lightly towards the white world. There was a layer of frost from the fog that morning and the window was beginning to trace tiny fractals of ice up the panes. She opened the door and stood looking at a large man with a beard.

She looked him up and down and he asked, “Why the scream, dear?” She smiled and touched his arm, “The damned iron just short circuited.” He laughed, smiling at the reaction of his loving wife and asked, “But your OK, no shock?” She looked him straight in the eye. “I may need a new one, I suppose. Throw it in the trash with the rest, the truck comes tomorrow.” He walked into the room and lifted me up by my old black handle. He brought me downstairs and through their house to the garage. He lifted the lid of the trash bin and set me on top.

I sat in that bin all night in the dark. I sat and thought of better days, when I had worked perfectly. Why couldn’t they repair me? No use, I thought. It was simply time to replace me. I’m sure if you asked them they could list reasons why a new iron would be a much better way to spend their money. I’m sure the price of a repair on a seven-year-old iron like myself is not equal to my worth. Money better spent on one of the new irons, with all the unnecessary dials and that.

The bin was pulled out to the end of the driveway on a busy street the next morning. The vehicles moved past the house carefully as it was very cold and the road had a layer of ice on it. Quite quickly after I had arrived at the street a large truck came and stopped next to the corner. I heard the bins next to me emptied into the side of the truck. The man then grabbed my bin. He pulled the lid off and poured the contents into truck. I sat surrounded by wrappers with an old coffeepot to my left.

The coffeepot looked at me. I looked at the coffeepot. After a few exchanged glances and a moment of silence the coffeepot smiled and extended his handle. “Jake’s my name,” he said in a friendly manner. I looked at him and realized I didn’t have a name. I couldn’t think of a response for Jake. I knew I had to respond with something. “Is it your time too?” I asked, somewhat knowing the answer.

Jake laughed. “I suppose it may be. My people left the burner on over a weekend and I cracked myself up the backside. I can’t tell you were my other half is. I’m trying not to think about that. Why you in here?” I told Jake, “I’m not fully sure. I was working fine one minute and the next there was a large spark of light, some fuzzy noises and I just quit. I’m not a doctor, I’m an iron.” Jake smiled, “Seems like a short-circuit. It’s a waste to throw a perfectly good appliance out like this.”

“I wish I could have argued,” I said. I felt hopeless and I’m sure Jake had picked up on that. “I got a plan, stranger. It’ll get us out of this place. You’ve heard of where we are headed, right. It is where the crows rule. They are worse than the humans. Crows and big mean old ranked metal irons, cast-iron coffeepots, all that. When appliances get there, well, sir, there ain’t no coming back.” I nodded, “I’ve heard of that place too, I was afraid we were headed there.” “Yes, sir. It is where we are going, but I have a plan.”

He pulled out a wrapper with a map sketched on it. “All we need to do, and I’m saying all we need to do, is get out of this truck.” I looked at him and asked, “How do we do that?” He laughed and started climbing, reaching towards the light with his handle. I sat for a second and began to pull myself towards Jake. We climbed and climbed, missing four stops. At the fifth stop we were near the top. I started to jump and Jake grabbed me, “No, you can’t jump while we are stopped! They’ll just throw us back in, I’ve seen it before, son.”

The truck began to move, so I jumped off the side. My power cable was ripped from my body. A sharp pain tore through my side. I looked up and saw it hanging off the side of the truck. Jake came tumbling soon after. The hatch was lifting but we made it past the side. I hit the ground with a thud. I stood up and dusted myself off and looked around. Jake fell slightly to my left and hit the ground and simply shattered. It may have been the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen near this alley. His glass was in pieces and only his handle and brim remained. He waved at me, “At least I tried to live…” He said, and faded off.

I was on the street, so I climbed to the sidewalk. I jutted through unnoticing passersby. Dancing through their legs I reach the side of a building. I pulled up tight to the building knowing that I had to run or be found. I ran down the block and found a nice alley. It was this alley, to be sure and that is why I have never left. I walked slowly down the middle, glancing with horror and deep thankfulness at the garbage bins to either side. I tried to yell to those inside, “Jump out! When you are there, jump out!” They would understand soon enough.

I kept walking and looking above me, the building drove high into the sky. It was like nothing I had ever seen. Snow covered the ground and began to fall from the sky. I pulled my tired body into a corner and sat silently for a while. The snow began to cover my metal surface and the plastic became very cold. I shivered and reached for a small wrapper to cover myself up with. I had been sitting in this position for a very long time when I heard a rat coming at me from my left.

The rat tapped me on the shoulder and startled me. I swung at him and he jumped back. The rat paused and snarled. He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Look, pal you need to listen to me quick-like. This is my area, back up little broken kid.” I looked him in the eye and said, “I want no trouble, I just jumped for my life from a truck and I’m just looking for a place to sit for a minute.” The rat stated flatly, “This isn’t it, keep moving.” I rose and pulled the wrapper off me. I moved down the alley and the rat laughed.

I moved further down the cold alley, passing more garbage bins and eventually finding a nice cinderblock. I climbed atop it and sat down once again. I needed to make a plan. I had nowhere to go and it was the dead of winter, I was cold and would die if it were possible. I had heard of hypothermia and was afraid I would catch my death of a cold. This thought was stifled by the realization that I had no real body. I felt a bit safer in my condition.

I sat atop that cinderblock all night, keeping vigilant watch for the rats and things that would cause me trouble. I had nothing of value and was truly useless, as my cord had been ripped off in the garbage truck. It was painful but I was glad it would not hinder my journey. The next morning two rats being chased out of a doorway by a small Chinese man woke me from my slumber. I was covered with a thin layer of snow and a wrapper I used to stay warm. The Chinese man glanced at me and walked towards the cider block. He brushed the snow off me and picked me up.

He examined me for a while and noted I was of no use, not because he knew I had short-circuited but because he noticed I had no power cord. He placed me back on the cinder block and left me there. I brushed the rest of the snow off the top of the surface as soon as he turned his back. He walked inside the doorway and shut the door with a thud. I climbed off the cinder block and began to briskly move back towards the other end of the alley.

I hadn’t made it far when I was approached by one of the rats that were shooed out of the Chinese man’s doorway. The rat came to me and I was noticeable scared. He looked at me and said, “Hey man, don’t worry. We’re all in this together, right.” I said to him, “Look man, I’ll keep moving if this is your territory.” “No man, look, it’s like I said before. Here, have some bread.” I took the small piece from the rat and tried to find a way to eat it. I couldn’t find the hole that he had to chew with.

He looked at me and said, “Oh, you aren’t a being like us, are you? One of them inanimate objects, hey? I know just the place you’ve got to go. Give me that bread back.” I handed him the piece of bread and he motioned for me to move down the alley with him. “I have your back, kid. Remember to be careful. This is the gritty street, down on this level. I wish one day to be one of them big things, you know that sort. We all live off their leavings. Like that guy chasing me out of his building. One of them.” I laughed, “Yeah, I know the type.”

We walked quite a while making very little conversation and he ate both pieces of his bread. I looked around and saw the alley did not change at all. Another dumpster was usually followed by a few cinder blocks. Once in a while there was on old plastic chair. The rat stopped by one of these chairs and reached in to a large metal pot and grabbed a handful of cigarette butts. He lit these with a large orange lighter he had hidden behind the landing near the chair. “Ever try these, man?” He asked as he smoked the butt. I said to him, “I don’t have a hole to do that either, I don’t think. You’re using the same one.”

The rat smoked his cigarette and laughed to himself. “I love this stuff, makes me feel like a big man. They say it stunts your growth though. I say it adds to the growth of you personality. Your voice changes, becomes older sounding. Like a cool, refreshing hit of this stuff. I don’t know what it is, but the French have a word for that.” He put the end of the cigarette out in the snow and we marched on again.

After a few more bricks and cinder blocks we arrived at a large hole in the wall. There was a board over it, but a gap in the board was just large enough for a broken old iron like myself to fit through. It was dark inside and kind of murky. The damp was nice; it was much warmer than being cold and wet in the snow. We traveled briskly down the tight corridor. The rat would turn every few steps to see if I was still behind him. He glanced and acted surprised nearly every time I was still behind him.

He stopped and moved a board to the side. There was a light behind it. “Here it is, partner.” The rat told me, “End of my line.” I was not sure where he had brought me but thanked him for it. He replied “A good deed a day seems to help keep me fed.” I thanked him again and he scurried down the path the way we came. I glanced into the light and saw little. I moved the board and slid through.

A calculator greeted me. He was missing three buttons on the number pad and the screen had been scratched rather badly. He bumped into me and apologized. “Who is this here?” he asked. I spoke softly, “I’m just an old beaten iron, trying to find a new lease on life.” He moved towards a desk lamp, grabbed his body and asked, “Who is that?” The lamp looked at me and said to the calculator, “I ain’t ever seen this cat. Who are you?” I was ready for some questioning so replied softly again, “I’m just an old beaten iron.” The lamp looked at me and said, “Look, Ernie here, with the numbers, he’s good at math but rather blind. Me, David, I hold the light, still. I’m just always on. You can’t try to turn my light off. Its been done. My bulb is burnt, but I feel it. I’m sure you do too. You, Iron, you must have something right.”

“I don’t know,” I said to the lamp, “I jumped from a truck, they sent me away because I was broken.” “Just like the rest of us, nearly all of us anyway,” the lamp said. The calculator said to me quickly, “Look you got something in you. You are here now. That means you have a certain joy of life. A thirst for adventure, right?”

I looked at the broken old tools in the room. There were many, including an old chess set they seemed to be fighting amongst themselves, a small TV that was missing both dials and was telling a group of dishes a story and a bottom of a rake that was found rather recently with his friend a bent up old metal dustpan. “Well,” I told the calculator, “I think I may have found the place I was looking for.” The lamp joyously bounced up and down, “That’s the spirit! Welcome to our home.”

I stayed at their shelter for the winter and made many friends there with rather similar stories. Many of the beat-up appliances were just trying to avoid the dump like myself. I shared the story of Jake the coffeepot with the friends I made and they claimed not many glass-based products make it out in the gritty world there is. They were not surprised he broke on impact with the cement. It seemed a common tale around these parts. The products were all making use of their existences after they were discarded, and they were all very happy to not be fighting the fight at the junkyards we had heard about through myths. It seemed everyone here was in this act together and at some point we would all have to move on.

In the spring, when the snow melted we all moved briefly outside. This move was brought to an abrupt end when fellows from inside, some bigger items, were thrown back into dumpsters one night. We became scared and now, as we all finally know better we only come outside during the day. This world is an uncertain one, we never know who may be thrown back in a dumpster and brought to the wrecking yard.

This warning is not for you, children. We are not the same beings. The worst you can fear is a fight with other cats or maybe staying off the road. The humans care for what they call “living things.” If the humans find you, they take you and feed you. They cuddle and try and help you. In our world they try to destroy us. Sending us to a lot outside humanity where we are pushed and buried amongst each other. I have heard tales of irons and such coming back from there. It is a horrid existence still. Feel lucky you are a cat. You can run and jump and play. Your shape does not hinder you. You are free to do much more than us. You all are lucky to be cats. Myself, I am an iron.