Jeff couldn’t believe the sign was still up on the corner of Acacia and 5th.
He and Lily had made five signs, slipped each one into a page protector before posting it:
Small gray suitcase, fell off truck while we were moving. Great sentimental value. Please contact if you find it, can offer small reward.
They had deliberated a long time about what to write, how to word it so people wouldn’t get the wrong idea. Sound too desperate and they thought you had lost some kind of treasure, sound too indifferent and they wouldn’t help you at all.
And Lily had wanted that little suitcase back. She was so teary-eyed over it that he had finally lost his patience. He asked her what she needed all that crap for anyway. He told her she could just go to the store and replace it; it was just all her “lotions and potions.” They had taken up too much space in the medicine cabinet and crowded around their small bathroom sink, tipping over and toppling into one another every morning while he tried to shave.
It wouldn’t have mattered. She confessed it wasn’t the makeup she was concerned about. She had put some of her jewelry in there. Not the costume stuff but the “real” jewelry, a locket from her grandmother, some earrings and a 14 karat bracelet.
But that was almost four months ago, back when the rainy season had started. That’s how it worked in Oregon. Rainy days that go on until you think you just can’t take it anymore and it might be time to move back to wherever you came from, and then the sun shines. And everything is green and after only a few days of this you forget what you were so bothered about.
The sun was shining now and probably would be for the rest of the afternoon. He went down to his truck, got in and slammed the door good and hard, the way you had to to make it stick. And then it started on the first try.
Jeff drove to the intersection, double parked, then got out and began taking the sign down corner by corner, prying out the rusty staples that held it in. The last staple wouldn’t budge. Finally he just ripped the edge off and it was free.
The ink had bled on the bottom and rain had seeped up the open end of the page protector, but otherwise it was legible. He folded it in half, then half again. It was stiff and plasticky and didn’t want to stay so he shoved it crudely in his pocket.
He returned to his apartment knowing exactly what he was going to do with the sign. On the floor in the back of his closet, next to a couple of pairs of jeans that didn’t really fit and a plaid bathrobe that didn’t suit him, was Lily’s small gray suitcase.
A train case — that’s what Lily had called it anyway. They didn’t put that on the sign because he convinced her nobody would know what they were talking about. Smaller than a regular suitcase, taller and rectangular, it was used to hold makeup, shampoo, that sort of thing. Just like Lily to need a whole separate suitcase for that stuff.
He had never opened the train case. He had found it under a pile of empty boxes he had been promising Lily he would recycle. He finally got around to it, but this was long after they had put up the signs. Long after she had left. He went to work one day and when he came home her stuff was gone.
He never told her he had found it, never tried to contact her. He just shoved it in the back of his closet, unopened.
Well, he was going to open it now. The two latches in front that he thought were locked opened easily. Inside he found nothing but a note, folded in half, on the back of a library overdue notice.
Jeff, I put this note someplace I knew you’d find it. I’m sorry. Please don’t say we should have talked about it first. You would have tried to talk me out of it. I really do care about you… All the best, Lily
He should have opened it sooner.
Now, he pulled the leftover sign out of his pocket, held it for a moment, then threw it in with the note. He shut the train case. Latched it. If he had keys he would have locked it.
It felt so light under his arm as he took it down the stairs, around the side of the building, over to the stinking dumpster. The dumpster lid was wide open. He hurled the the thing in. It made a hollow noise as it hit the metal back and then rolled to a stop among the trash bags and rotting food and who knows what else was in there.
The garbage truck woke him in the early morning. He’d grown used to it and had always slept through it before. This time he could hear it grinding, picking up the dumpster and emptying it, the rumble and rattle as trash spilled out into the waiting truck. He thought of the train case and had a moment of panic.
There was a second or two of silence and then the grinding sound again as the mechanical arms put the dumpster back on the ground with a hollow, reassuring thunk. Empty.
Kristina Meyer lives in Oregon with her husband, two cats, a dog and a horse. She thinks it’s odd to refer to herself in the third person.