The Treasure Trench

By Caroline Burr

Her short legs and tiny body were surprisingly stiff and her adolescence had never experienced that before. She looked down at the tufts of grass that clung to the funny hooks and loops of the fuzzy black straps on her sneakers. They twitched in the early morning’s dim breeze because they hadn’t been sticky in months. But that was okay because her feet were already big enough to keep her sneakers snug on their own. She swung her feet over the edge of her bench and tugged at the bottoms of her blue pants that barely covered the tops of her ankle socks. Nestling her feet into the healthy mound of dirt that guarded her bench, she admired the neatly placed candy wrappers and newspaper bits that she had planted over her secret treasure trench. She never ate the candy from the wrappers, but she thought about how they would have tasted if she hadn’t found them already opened. These colorful warriors protected her prized collection of bottle caps and the twigs she was saving up to finally build a house for Sugarfoot.

When she stood up, she felt the opposite of a blood rush and her little bones were sore and cold and it seemed like someone had rested ice cubes across the tops of her toes. She started on her daily pick-up walk, and picked up a hairclip near the storm gutter on 3rd and a plastic twist-tie on 4th. “What about a flag, Sugarfoot? Do you think these could work? I can stick it on top of your house.” She looked down into her pocket. “Okay, fine. Good point. I will try and find something a little more rectangular.” She released her pants pocket and patted the side of her leg affectionately. She watched her feet walk over the cracks of the sidewalk, looking for any little thing to put in her collection. Rounding the corner of 5th and F Street, she approached the trash bins that usually housed some of her favorite finds. She saw a blue box of cotton swabs peeking around the base of the bins. Sitting on the curb, she started to pick at the fluffy bits and pulled at them slowly to watch the trails of cotton grow longer and longer until they finally broke off from their white sticks. Maybe Sugarfoot wants a sweater. She thought as she began to bunch up a lump and roll the white mass between her dampened fingers. I bet that’s how they make real sweaters. They the roll fluffy bits from these cotton sticks into yarn and they put that into the sweater machine. And then that sweater machine makes the sweaters. Wadding the pieces into a ball, she shoved them into the front pocket of her sweatshirt. She grabbed the empty box too and flattened it, putting cardboard into the back of her pants. Water boat or maybe a fence for a garden. “What do you think, Sugarfoot?”

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Finishing the first loop of the day, and starting it for the second time, she kept her eyes peeled for a new treasure as she rounded the corner onto 3rd street with her eyes glued to the ground. Another hairclip already? My lucky day! She dropped the clip into her other pants pocket to avoid poking Sugarfoot with the pointy end. The sun was now high up in the sky and she looked up, feeling for the warm rays on her face. Probably just a cold day, maybe it’s almost Fall already. She reached behind her head pulling at her scratchy ponytail. She would have taken it out if she could but why try now; it had been in place for a long while now. I must be keeping some sort of record. The most immovable, sturdy ponytail in the entire city! She smiled, but her dry lips cracked under the pressure of pulling such flaky skin across her sorely red mouth. She rubbed at her face with the back of her sleeve catching just a drop of the deepest color of her favorite tulips. “How are you doing, Sugarfoot? I hope you’re not too warm in there. We’re walking by that pretty lady’s window garden soon, want to come out and look?” Two colors of tulips rest in their dark brown box, right on the window closest to the street. She could have grabbed one if she wanted to, but never did because she knew the pretty lady with the white sweaters was probably watching. She peered in through the tiny door behind the window box and didn’t catch a glimpse of the friendly flower mother. “Oh well, Mr. Sugarfoot, I guess we can’t say hi today.”

Coming on to 4th street, she saw the bread bag she’d left behind the first time, but saw another mangled twist-tie directly beside it. She picked it up, surprising, and dropped it into her collection. Hitting the corner of 5th and F again, she looked up near the trash bins at another pesky box of cotton sticks. I can’t be this lucky. No way. But this time, she felt uneasy and reached her heavy hand into her pocket to feel around for that cotton ball. There was nothing inside of her sweatshirt. I dropped it. Must be it. She crouched down, hovering over the familiar box. Untouched. Can’t be. She lifted her frail body up off her heels and stood looking at the box hoping it would disappear. It didn’t. Her throat tightened and an icy gust of summer wind blew her eyes as dry as her lips. She lifted her cold feet into a jog, running back to her bench, each numb foot hitting the ground with a pounding that rang throughout her entire body. When she arrived at her bench, she kneeled at the foot of her treasure trench. Her shaky hand prodded at the cold, dry dirt and felt nothing but the more dry dirt. The trench was smaller than she remembered and the wrappers were not as strategically placed as she remembered. Sugarfoot? She reached into her pants pocket, feeling around for that familiar emptiness but this time she felt nothing but completely alone.



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