The Collector

by J. Ryan

Grass smeared another layer of green stain onto his jeans as he dropped to a knee. He rubbed sweat from the back of his sunburned neck and reached into his hip pocket. The metal detector crackled and hissed on the lawn beside him as he pulled out a long flathead and thrust the screwdriver into the earth, moistened by the university’s automatic sprinklers that rise and spray so without warning he’d already been juiced twice. Working the flathead around in the soil, he reversed his grip on the handle and stabbed at the hole like Norman Bates in the shower scene, in and out and in again, until he heard that familiar metallic clink.

An earring stud, not his best find ever but with the sun beating down he’d have to call it a success and head home. He sat back on the grass, unlatched his prosthetic leg, and plinked the stud into the hollowed out space that held the rest of his day’s booty: 16 bottle caps, 83 cents in change, a snarl of armature wire, four paper clips, three brass buttons, a toenail clipper, a double-A battery, and half a fork.

With his metal detector hoisted over his shoulder, he hobbled home, his leg rattling with each step. He stopped only once to check the grassy areas by the biker bar where he’d found a lifetime total of three teeth with fillings.

The wind blew through the bolt and washer wind chimes on his porch as he reached for the screen door handle fashioned out of half a carabiner he’d dug up from under the university’s rock climbing wall. He leaned the metal detector in the corner and dropped to his couch and sighed. The clock – encircled by syringes arranged in a sunburst – ticked on the wall, and sunlight streaked through his windshield wiper blade mini-blinds.

He unlatched his leg and dumped the contents onto the coffee table, tapping the bottom of his shoe to make sure everything came out. Once a retainer had been lodged in there for weeks. He plopped his prosthesis on the couch cushion beside him and pulled open the drawer in his coffee table to retrieve his safety pin necklace, which he then looped over his head and slid rings of electrical wire over his fingers. Properly adorned, he got down to business.

Separating his bounty by item, he jotted down a few figures in his collecting journal, then placed the items in their respective containers, mostly old coffee cans and prescription bottles. When the sorting was finished he reached again in the drawer for the film canister that contained his prized find, the single mushroomed bullet he’d found near the playground four years before, dug from the all time greatest depth of 27 inches. He’d polished off as much dirt as he could without disturbing what appeared to be dried blood and tissue matter. He now examined the bullet in front of his face, smiling.

Content, he dropped the bullet in the film canister where it belonged and put it back in the drawer. He sunk deeper into the couch and listened to his clock and his wind chimes. It was a good day.

J. Ryan exists in the ether. He never forgets to feed the fish.
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