OUT WITH THE OLD • by Tom Kepler

He saw her reflection in the chipped mirror on the wall. She was standing, gazing out the window, her back stiff with anger. They had driven for an hour, through deeper and deeper stone-cold silence and unforgiving mutual accusations, the whole history of their half century of life together brittle and broken. How ironic, he thought, that their shopping destination was here, to this never-visited “antique shop,” a second-hand store, repository and graveyard for relics of the past. Even the air smelled old and worn. Even the afternoon light was fading, tinting the overladen tables and crammed shelves with grays and dirty browns. This clutter was memento waste management, two for the price of one.

Our life together, he thought. Civil rights and rock and roll, Armstrong on the moon, hippies and Vietnam. Meditation and computers, cellphones and disco, children and careers. A half century of history — violence, aliens and predators, school shootings. How did we come to be at such odds? When did it all become such a burden? My books and her business, our lives streaming on and on, older and older. The world bickering and fighting, and then we doing the same. We demanded the world to come to its senses, and now here we are — deaf, blind, and mute, lost in time, alone even when we’re together.

He picked up an old doll, its image familiar even in its antiquity. Holding it in his hands, its wooden, painted head, its torso and arms connected with sections of string, black and round ears, red and yellow shorts, Disney’s first and best now discolored, the finish chequered with age. His chest clenched, eyes tearing, his entire body a spasm of denial, mind taut like a string breaking.

Then he broke with the past, or the past broke from him, broke out of him, left him as he rose outside himself, saw himself, an old man in a junk store, his wife staring out a fly-specked window like an inmate staring past steel bars. He felt the break, stared down from above himself, observing himself staring at his hands–one hand holding Mickey’s head, the other the torso, the rotting joining-string severed. Staring stupidly at the disjointed toy, “you broke it, you buy it” floated through his consciousness like a plastic Walmart sack blown by a dusty wind; and he chuckled, and not his habitual despairing or bitter laugh, but a laugh spontaneous and open, a letting go.

Her head came up at the sound, and she turned to face him, remembering that laugh. It was as if someone had opened the door, bringing in fresh air and the antics of April. He smiled and waved her over. Come, he gestured, and the child-like immediacy of his expression brought her over, through the detritus and tumble of the years until she stood beside him.

“I’ve broken Mickey,” he said, raising his two hands with the evidence. “I don’t want to break us.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then reached up and touched his face. “We can fix him, but he won’t be the same.”

“He mustn’t be the same. All this old string needs to be replaced with new.”

She looked around them. “No new string in here, that’s for sure.”

“Let’s pay for Mickey and then go outside,” he said, gesturing toward the exit. “It’s spring in that park across the way, and on the other side of the park, I saw a hardware store.”

They both looked out the window, the day bright outside, the green new leaves of April luminescent on the maples and sycamores, spring and a new beginning, another turn on the eternal wheel.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” she asked with a tenuous certainty.

He took her hand. “Let’s walk in the park, buy some string. Then let’s go home and fix this guy,” he said, gesturing with the broken doll, looking at her and smiling. “No old strings attached.”

“Out with the old and make it new,” she said. “A new start for Mickey.”

“And for us?”

“Whatever we want, love. Whatever you and I want.”

Tom Kepler is a life-long writer and retired English teacher. A eclectic writer, he writes about what moves him… and occasionally even publishes! His books are available at his website.

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