The Last Can

By David Bracke

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The man parted the bushes and limped out onto the road. A chunky wind of dirt and sand blew across his face, mixing with the faint plume of his breath.  He pulled his scarf up over his mouth and nose and adjusted his goggles.  He looked both ways; the desolation seemed to stretch on forever. He took out his old pistol and held it ready before crossing the street.  The convenient store was nothing more than a burned-out wooden frame with broken windows. Weeds were growing in the open doorway and he crushed them down with his boot.  A skinny rat scurried along the wall and disappeared behind the counter where the clerk would have sat.

With his pistol still raised he started inspecting each shelf for food.  Something must have been overlooked on the already barren shelves.  He was careful not to step on any trash wrappers in the aisle.  Someone could have been listening. It wasn’t until the last aisle when he saw the glimmer.  It was tucked back in a corner covered in ash.  He took it down and couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen anything so beautiful.  He brushed off the dust and cobwebs trying to find a clue of what was inside, but the previous label had been burned off.  His mouth watered as he imagined the possibilities, and, for that brief moment he was at peace.  Just then a sharp blow to his temple collapsed his fantasy and he fell to the ground.   Then everything went black.

The boy dropped the two by four and picked the can up off the ground.  He could see his reflection in the scratched surface.  He hadn’t seen his reflection in a long time.  There was dried blood on his forehead, and he recalled the fall he had taken the other day.  His eyes were deathly sunken and his face was thin and emaciated.  He picked up a rock and started slamming the top of the can but only made a few small dents.  He used his teeth and gnawed on the corner trying to get just a drop of what was inside. He heard a car coming down the road and ran to the door.  It was the first car the boy had seen in over a year.  He ran into the middle of the road and waved it down.  It was an old Ford covered in dust.

“Do you have a can opener?” said the boy

In the driver ‘s seat was a young woman.  Her face was dusty and she was wearing red lipstick. 

“I will share this can of food with you,” said the boy.  

At the sight of the can her eyes lit up like diamonds.

“It’s a fake,” said the woman.

“It’s real,” said the boy.

“Yes, I have a can opener, but let me see,” said the woman.

The boy hesitated.

“I need to feel the weight,” she said.

The boy gave her the can and she made faces of contemplation; rolling her eyes and flexing her chin.  In the back seat the boy could see a pile of junk; old tools and pieces of metal.  Then it was all a blur to the boy.  She hit the gas and took off leaving him in cloud of gray dust.  She threw the can in the back seat with the rest of her supplies and flipped on the radio.  The frequency was static and she smiled. 

She had driven no more than ten miles when there was an explosion.  Her car flipped over and she was crushed instantly. The can rolled out onto the street, then off to the side of the road, and into a polluted stream of acid rain and small animal carcasses.  There, it sunk, displacing the mud at the bottom.  The new seasons came and went and the can was washed down stream until it was deposited into a larger river.  It floated around for a long time until a painted hand scooped it up.

– David Bracke