A Job to Do
"I thought I was going to die in this house."
I listened as he talked and we carefully placed over 100 dusty shells into a box. His roommate of 25 years had died and willed the house to his daughter. "Crazy thing was, he took care of himself. And he was the one who went first. Go figure."
Pushing seventy and in poor health, he was going to have to start over. I had known him for over 30 years, from when I was a bartender at White Water Tavern and he was one of my regulars. They came every weekday at happy hour and called themselves The Corner Crew. As far as I knew, he was the last one of the six still alive. I had run into him off and on over the years, and we would always chat. When I saw him at Kroger a few days before and he had told me he was going to have to move into a one-room apartment by the end of the month, I had asked what I could do to help.
"Take my shells for me, will you?"
"Sure," I had said, knowing I had no room for them.
His house was hot, musty, just a broken chair in the corner and an old T-shirt on the floor. The shells were carefully displayed in an old gun cabinet he had converted. I could tell he didn't want to part with them, but had no choice. When the box was full, he placed it into the back of my running car.
"I'll take care of them for you."
He just smiled, turned, and walked back into the empty house.
I carried the box into my house and carefully washed each shell one by one. I couldn't help thinking about how alone he must feel, and how scared. The water turned brown as the dust rinsed off. The more I washed, the less helpless I felt. Taking his shells for him wasn't much, but it was something. We all have a job to do, and this was mine.
I now have 100 incredible, beautiful shells filling my home. The more I look at them, the more they glow. And, if I hold my breath for a moment and listen, I can hear them singing.
And their songs fill my whole house.