He arrived at home, and noticed the package sitting outside on the stoop, leaning against the aged red brick, with crumbling mortar barely holding its walls in place. It sat there, the white address label neatly printed in blue ink, staring at him, its brown paper wrapping beaten and abused from lengthy travels. Standing there mouth agape, he just stared at the package with a sense of trepidation. He didn’t touch it, or advance toward it, but stood paused, frozen in his step, as his heart pounded within his chest, each pulsation of quivering muscle thumping his ribs.
Bending over, he wrapped his fingers around the coarse brown paper which enveloped this package, his hands and fingers trembling as he held it out before himself at arms length, turning the package in his quaking hands to see all sides. Beads of sweat formed and rolled down his forehead, descending toward his nose, and with one quick swipe of his sleeve he smeared the moisture across his brow, leaving a glistening sheen of salt.
He stood absolutely still, a statued sentinel to forever guard whatever monument he watched over to only crumble with age and time. Eventually the stalemate was broken, and he moved toward the door of his apartment, retreating from the oppressing heat of the day, with the package securely in hand. Pulling it toward his body, he now cradled it with extreme caution, as if this box itself held the most precious and delicate life on earth and if he not be careful, it should forever become extinguished.
He thought to himself how long he had waited for this day to come. How much anticipation had been built in his head as he relished the moment which he was soon to experience. Beside himself and atwitter with anticipation, it was as if he hadn’t opened that door a hundred times, forgetting which key entered the lock to move each tumbler aside as he fumbled with key after key, a frustration and excitement building, as if a child who needs to pee, dancing his dance, waiting his turn at the public restroom. He realized that this was taking far longer than he wished, and finding the key, he entered the hallway to his building, and hurried himself down to his ramshackle door, the white paint flaking off in large strips, as if pieces of bacon taken down to fry in a cast iron pan.
Flinging open the door to the apartment, he stepped inside and with the package securely under arm pulled tight into his ribs, he whipped his head up and down the hallway, scanning for anyone who might have seen him, and satisfied that he was alone and not seen, shut the door slowly, as a loud creak from the aged hinges announced his presence with a grating irritation. The click from each lock was a satisfying sound, and placing his back against the door, he held the package out in amazement, still not believing what he held within his hand was his, was real, was tangible. He was alone with it now. Of all the people on earth, of everyone alive, he was the only person he knew to hold these in his hands.
Although the package was still wrapped, he caressed it as if he was holding the items themselves, no longer covered by the cardboard. Sitting at his kitchen table, he placed the rectangular object on the dirty and cracked formica surface and just looked at it. After a minute, and with an unsuspecting suddenness that even scared himself, he tore into the brown wrapping, throwing paper through the air, brown butterflies alighting with each tear of his fingers into the bundle’s covering.
He held them in his hand, gingerly resting them in his palm like a baby bird, fragile and scared, having fallen out of its nest. He looked at their bright colors and knew there was one more step before he was done, before his ecstasy was complete. Running into the other room he took a glass from the cabinet, but then stopped as if he was wrenched back by some unseen bungee cord attached to his back, which he pulled too far and tightened against his spine with no further give. His hand slipped to his side, as if it was no longer alive, the glass barely held by his fingertips as they scarcely gripped the lip of the cup. He hung his head and stared at the sink, deflated as he realized that his excitement had flown away like the brown paper butterflies which had drifted through the air.
Hoping against hope he picked up the receiver of the phone, and dialed zero for the operator. The strangers unaffected voice climbed through the ear piece and crawled into his ear to speak. Asking for the Ministry of Resources, the operator sighed and connected him without any pleasantries exchanged, and then without interruption another voice, a male voice, a monotone voice, came across the line, one with a deep authoritarian tone.
“Hello,” the authoritarian man said.
“I would like permission to….”
There was a long pause as he tried to form the words which might facilitate the best possible outcome in his favor.
“Well, do you have a question? You would like permission, for?”
“For an extra water ration at this moment.”
“Is this a medical emergency. If it is, you must scan a physician slip into the phone’s reader.”
“No, it is not a medical emergency.”
“Sir, you know the ration laws don’t you? Should we send literature to your residence? You know you get water every two days. Please, if you are thirsty, then have your Doctridrink.”
“Please, I just came upon something from long ago, something from my childhood. Please. All I need is a little water. Just a cup, eight ounces, that is all I am asking for, just this once.”
“Sir, there is never just a once with you people. Everyone wants more, but there isn’t more. That is why we have laws like this, so greedy people like you don’t abuse the common resources needed for all to survive. Now please, stop wasting my time.”
The phone went silent with an abruptness before he finished his last plea, his last beg, his last remonstration. Tears welled up in his eyes as stared at the package on the table. Walking over he picked them up, their bright colors like fluorescent easter eggs all five fitting in the palm of his hand. Hot pink, electric blue, fluorescent green, lemon yellow, and bright orange capsules, all rested in his hand.
The package lay on the floor in a crumpled heap. Pictures of dinosaurs decorated the card-stock, brightly colored and poorly drawn, with a volcano erupting in the background, its hot lava spewing over the mountainside. The package boasted, “Just add water and watch the grow, 4 times their size, for hours of fun.”
Placing them on the table, he picked up his glass, and began to cry. Hanging his head over the small cup, tears dropped into the clear container, running down the smooth side. He looked at the small globule of liquid and cringed at how little it filled the glass. Cursing evaporation which would fight against him, he brought his most painful memories to the surface, each tear a memory of loss and regret, dropping into that glass, one minuscule bead of liquid at a time.