Little Things

An Essay by Christine Crumpecker


He gives you seaglass, a smooth green oval that fits neatly in the palm of your hand. You don’t know why, or what to do with it, but say “thank you” like you were brought up to say and slide it into the pocket of your white coat. You fuss with his sheets, untangle the lines and wires that always wind around his right arm. He smiles, silent and sallow.

Every day you dig in your coat pocket, feeling for vending machine change or a pen or that scrap you wrote the vitals on. Your fingers settle on that cool glass, wonder briefly what it is, remember, move on. Every day the man who gave it thins and yellows. You listen to his heart, press the skin of his feet. He points to your pocket, huffs out a short harsh breath, smiling when you produce the round treasure tucked in your hand, nodding as you put it back. You do not know what this exchange means, only that it is somehow important. It has become part of your daily routine, important as any lab result.

When his family comes for a visit, you open your fingers, the green warm and snug in your palm. Was he a fisherman? An artist? His daughter makes a face: What would he want with that dirty old thing? He hasn’t opened his eyes for two days, his thick breathing now playing backup to the monitors’ high-pitched beeps and staccato alarms that never seem to stop going off. Your fingers slide into your pockets.

You don’t know it, won’t believe it yet, but you will come to collect and carry treasures of your own, an odd mix of river stones and hurts, worries and braided wheatgrass to fill your heart and pockets. Joys and pawprints and scraps and yarn. You will lay out the bits and pieces, arrange them in shapes and patterns, categorize them into sense and structure. You will hold up the little things you have collected, string them like beads, stretch them over the yards and years and miles between, saying: take this from me. To a lover, a parent, a doctor, a stranger, gentle and fumbling, extended, saying: make me yours, make me real, make me count.

If you were a better writer, you’d write a better ending to this story. You’d write a better beginning. If you were a better doctor, maybe you could have saved a man’s life. Maybe you’d have a real story to tell. You wish to say that you’ve carried that seaglass since, that his gift has given you strength, that you’ve found the meaning. Something to settle on, remember, move on. But the truth is this: it was one more weight in your pocket, one more thing to lose.

You meant to write a story of seaglass and meaning, memory and hope. But the truth is this: it’s the story of some trinket you hold between your lips and the soft of your hands, a tiny thing that glitters and burns in the hollow dark. You hold it up to your eyes and the force of your breath and it is such a small thing, dulled with fingerprints and a patina of worry and longing. And you…you press it gently into outstretched palms, curl you fingers firmly over the hand of another, say make it shine, make it shine, make it shine.

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