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I spent the day thinking of Elias photo

Elias and I never talked much. But on his last day of work at the post office, I asked what he was gonna do in retirement. He said, “if you wanna know, I’ll show you”.

We had been working together for a few years, and I didn’t know shit about him. I never saw a ring on his fat sun-spotted finger, and I never heard a story about a son or daughter, so I assumed he was completely alone, had no-one, did no-thing.

I was wrong.

Shift ended at 6, we walked to his apartment a few blocks away. Walked down to the basement of a pre-war brownstone. His windows were sheathed in blue tissue paper, his walls were covered in drawings of elephants and giraffes.

He asked if I wanted something to eat before he showed me, I said yes, and sat me down at a plastic coffee table covered in dust. He brought over a can of ginger ale and a curry T.V. dinner.

As I began eating, he asked me why I wanted to know what he was doing with his time.

I told him it was because we never spoke, I never knew anything about him, and that it would be nice to end things on a good note.

He fucked around with a boombox on the table, classical music began playing. He smiled, asked me if I knew what it was, said no, he shook his head and smiled as I licked the orange sauce left on the plastic fork.

“It’s Mahler… Mahler’s 5th symphony”.

He got up, gestured with his hand to follow him.

Walking over piles of crumpled up paper and soda cans, he took out a set of keys and unlocked a door. Pushing it open with his fist as he gripped the boombox in the other, the door slammed against the wall. A glow flooded his dark apartment.

Fairy lights tacked corner to corner, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, the mildewy bedroom glowed like a full moon. He turned his head back to me just enough to flash a wrinkled smile, pruned lips, wide eyes. I swear they’d looked dead at every second until now.

In the center of the room was a massive table, pinstriped canopies and wax elephants, tiny modeled giraffes in tin foil cages. He bent down and picked up a plastic clown, said “this, this is what I’m doing—This is what I’m going to do ‘till I die”.

He lifted the peppermint striped canopy. Hundreds of tiny wax heads sat in the audience looking down onto two acrobats, one standing on a tightrope, the other balancing atop his head, holding a plastic torch. Fake red flames shot still into the air. Two elephants stood below them, bejeweled with tiny rhinestone flakes, tusks made out of paper, eyes made out of pencil led.

I could hear the cheering of the crowd, their silent plastic mouths were happy; I could taste the dirt kicked up by the elephants, smell the liquid butter sediment of cheap popcorn.

All I could think to say was Thank you, it’s beautiful.

All that came out was “Thank you.”

Lights fluttered behind him as he shut the door. Dust bunnies kicked up from the trash filled floor. He saw me out. I was smiling like a child. He waved goodbye from the bottom of the stairs.

I dreamt about it all night—his apartment, him, the circus.

The next day at work, boss sat us down in the break room and informed us Elias had passed the night before, broke the news that it all burned down, his place and himself.

None of them knew, none of them knew what he had done, what he had made in those years in between stamping letters.

None of them knew the light which came from his hands. So I took to writing the sacred part of Elias’s life.

I took to dreaming of the world we lost, sitting in his basement—melted plastic smiles.

I spent the day staring at the seat left empty beside me.

I spent the day thinking of Elias.