The Metal Box Passenger


I pressed the button for the sixth floor. The sterility stench was already getting to me. I was entrapped in a metal box raised by pulleys and wires and all kinds of things that were so mundane yet still unimagined of by the normal metal box passenger.
I looked out into the hallway. The linoleum floors were nauseating. Black and white checkered tiles were stretched out before me, making me feel dizzy. I didn’t know what was coming.
As I strode out of the box I saw something that disgusted me beyond all belief. There was a thing in the shape of a human being. I was twelve years old. I didn’t know how old that human was. It was alone in the translucently over-lit hallway, just waiting on a movable bed. That was proof enough to me at that point that death was the greatest determination in life. No other aspect in my existence could be enjoyed at that moment. I was young, but I was also wholly enveloped in the idea that nothing mattered since everything ended up the same.
I was beckoned by a stranger to follow some woman into a big room where there were a bunch of old people. I never seen so many old people in one place. They were all silent, just waiting while lined up in files, about to get shipped out into the unknown. They were mass produced vestiges.
I took my frail vestige and led him to the mechanical box. We didn’t speak inside the box. I led him, as the others my age led the others his age, to the park. We were going to play catch.
We were a block away from the park, but it took us ten minutes to arrive there. I helped my vestige roll over bumps in the sidewalk and traverse through clouds of pollen.
I had not said a word up until that point, and neither had anyone else except the religious instructors coordinating the event, and the plump nurses who tended to the flock of relics. I felt obligated to say something, so I did.
“What’s your name?”
He told me his name, but I didn’t remember it.
The young people were not adept at pushing old people in wheel chairs. There were a few spills throughout the trip, but it didn’t really matter. Almost all of the elderly were already quelled with painkillers.
The wheelchairs glistened in the sun. The parade of twelve year olds pushing twelve hundred year olds in metallic chairs was coming to a close. The park was only a few dozen feet away.
When we arrived we were given multi-colored beach balls. We were told to throw the plastic balls at the old people so that they would throw them back at us. We did it. There were young girls that were giggling while they were throwing the balls at the old people. Some of the old people really liked it.
It made me sad.
My old person didn’t seem to like throwing balls, so we stopped. It was then that I really looked at him for the first time. He was wearing a brown leather jacket, a white button-up shirt, and blue slacks. His face looked like it was made of melted hot wax.
“I wonder what it’s like to be him… it must really suck” I thought to myself.
Then I noticed his cap. It was a weirdly shaped cap that I knew veterans wore, so I decided to strike up a conversation. I sat down on the grass next to him and crossed my legs Indian style.
“Are you a veteran?”
“Yes… yes I am.”
“What war did you fight in?”
“The Second World War.”
“What was your favorite part?”
“What?”
He had heard what I said clearly. I mistakenly asked a similar question louder.
“What did you like most about it?”
His voice was hard to understand. It was faded and grainy, and it sounded sad. I could tell he was getting ready to tell a story, so I drew in closer in order to hear better.
“Well… Belgium was absolutely beautiful… We stayed in a country cottage there for a time, and it was peaceful… I met a Belgian girl named Angeline, and we fell in love…”
He kept stopping for what my young, impatient self felt like was forever, so that he could catch his hoarse breath. There was a hole in his throat.
“I loved her more than anything else in the world… even though it lasted only a brief while… It was the serene nature… I think… I can still see the meadows…”
I was disappointed. I thought the old man would tell me the wonders of industrialized combat. I thought he would tell me of battles, and bullets, and tanks, and planes, and all that stuff. I had just seen a movie about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, so I asked him if he was there.
The relic looked at me and sighed. He then told me that he was.
“Can you tell me about it?” I asked, so eagerly.
He looked at me some more. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know what he was thinking.
He must have decided right then and there that he was going to engrave something into my consciousness.
“Yes I will tell you… You see, we were in these boats… and we were supposed to land on the beach.”
His words were slow and muffled.
“The Krauts were shooting the hell out of us… and we were getting blown to bits.”
Each word was painstakingly forced.
“Uh… our battle ships were eventually able to blow up their pillboxes on the hill and…”
He said a bunch of other things, but I didn’t pay attention because something else was happening. Water was navigating through the soft crevices of the hot melted wax. I realized that he was crying while he was telling me this. I didn’t know what to do.
I made out something about his buddies in the other boat screaming, and something else about shrapnel and smoke, and vomit, and blood, and death. I couldn’t make out most of it though. The old man’s eyes were puffy and red, and I felt like I did something wrong.
There was a heavy chance that if the water droplets were allowed to run their course that they would then fall through the hole in his throat. I could have wiped the tears from his face. I could have stopped the cycle, but I still wasn’t fully aware of his suffering, so I didn’t. Even though the thought crept through me, and my cerebellum was ready to coordinate my hand, my vertebrae only tickled me; I willingly made no effort to help him.
His tears were inside him again. He croaked despairingly. The small noise he made was my personal revelation. I became aware. I had animus.
It was deemed time to leave. We had to push the vestiges in their metallic chairs back to the giant salt box that was their home. Only a half an hour had gone by, but the plump nurses decided that the relics needed time to rest. There would be plenty of time for that soon enough. At that moment, I decided on something that some would claim to be quite awful. I made a conscious decision, but it was mine own. It wasn’t what I was supposed to do, nevertheless, there was nothing wrong with it.
The tension and awkwardness advised me to stay silent. I was going to take him back with the others. They say that charity begins at home, well it doesn’t… charity begins in someone else’s home.
“Mister…” I said, “I’m sorry… I didn’t know…”
He made a grunt noise, and I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. The others were filing out of the park. Some ample, flesh filled woman in white guided my wrist, with her nails clenched to my skin for a second and a half, towards the veteran’s movable chair handle.
She didn’t need to guide me anymore, so she thought. Yet my mind swam in an ambivalent ocean once again. Any moment I could have triggered, overriding my second thoughts, and that is exactly what I did.
I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t know how, so I just waited. I carried out my deed with apprehension. I guessed that the staff would be negligent, or apathetic at the least, and my blind assumption may have been completely right.
None of the old folks had family, we were told that before our class arrived. We were supposed to keep them company for a little while. They were terminally ill.
We were alone, just me and him in the park. I sat with him for awhile. The old man looked at me again, for the first time since he began to cry.
He sighed two words of gratitude in my ear.
I gathered the courage to ask him his name again. Everything was peaceful except for the cars passing by us, and so it was mostly quiet.
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear you the first time, but what was your name again?”
He didn’t answer me, but signaled towards his breast pocket. The nursing home had placed a name tag on him, I didn’t notice it until that moment- it read “jim”.
We sat in silence for a few minutes more, while any awkward or negative feeling that persisted between us faded, and then we came to know one another.
I spontaneously grasped his chair and led him to a lone willow on a peninsula in a creek only a few hundred feet away, hidden from the road by shrubs.
As we sat in unbroken silence, I contemplated how this man’s perception of the world must have become. I thought I knew the horrors of war from what I saw in video games and on television. He knew them intimately; I realized that, but I wasn’t able to do anything except assist him in escaping that box that those humans were expected to wait out the rest of their days in.
The old man named Jim said nothing still, he was slowly rocking back and forth, as if in a trance. I wasn’t aware, but he was meandering along a stream with an ageless girl named Angeline.
Jim was a few inches away from the water. I made another spontaneous decision to take off Jim’s slippers. He soaked his feet in the water, and closed his eyes. I let him enjoy his existence, and I felt joy at having a part in helping this man be at peace. I sat on the strongest root of the willow, and acknowledged to myself that me and this man were two separate entities, yet I couldn’t help but to think that we were the same person, only in different bodies. That comforted me, but I knew the thought relied upon belief in something beyond the material plane which I was sensing around me.
I knew I didn’t believe in God anymore, I never truly did, I only accepted it as an innocent child because it was forced upon me. I knew also that I believed in something else, in everything around me, but I couldn’t put it to words, and so I remained quiet.
The creek was flat, the willow was still.
Why shouldn’t I have felt that way? Every individual piece of nature: the willow tree, down to the sturdy roots, every pebble and grain of sand around it, offered meaning. Jim and I made essence for ourselves through the world around us.
Dusk came and went without our acknowledgment. The wind made waves that looked like tiny moving mountains, and the willow swayed in the air.
Little did I know, there was absolute panic that could be described as the antithesis of what I was experiencing in that giant salt box. The word responsibility was thrown about, harshly. Administrative staff, nurses, and teachers were all openly blaming one another. Even though they were casting stones they still felt fault within themselves.
Of course there was no yelling, they were adults, but they believed that they had a very serious problem on their hands. And for all they perceived, they did. A kid and a terminally ill elderly man in a wheelchair were missing. The teachers went back to the park to search, while the staff debated on calling the police. When the teachers came back at night and said that they couldn’t find us the nursing room lobby became sullen.
“Hey, it’s already dark outside, you want to go for a walk or something?” I asked.
Jim chuckled, “You’re gonna have to help… an old man out.”
“Oh yeah.”
I put his slippers back on and led him around the bushes. We had not noticed the sirens earlier, but now all was silent except for the crickets and the cars. We were blinded by blue and red. There was shouting, and I didn’t notice, but firearms were drawn for an instant. It was deemed a necessary precaution.
I was only twelve so I didn’t get into any serious trouble, but at first they treated me like a criminal.
“What made you think it would be alright to do that?”
“I wanted to stop his pain.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“What were you going to do to him?”
“I don’t know.”
“What were you doing by that tree?”
“Sitting by the water.”
“Okay, but your intentions were to ease his pain, what were you going to do to him?”
I didn’t know what they were getting at, the word euthanasia wasn’t in my vocabulary at the time. They didn’t seem to understand that, and so I was punished by my school. It was as if Jim didn’t even have a say in the matter, he tried to talk to the authorities for me.
“Look here…” He croaked, in an explanatory manner.
No one listened to him. Instead they insisted that he was delirious, and in need of rest, so they closed him back up into his little room. The last look of despair I saw on his face made my chest feel like it was ripping in half. Then I wept silently.
I don’t regret what I did that day. If it wasn’t for that experience then I would have only thought about the possibilities of what could have happened, if he was free. It would not have been real unless I had acted upon my thoughts. On the contrary, I regret what I did not do that day. I failed, I was a coward. I ultimately only helped him for a short while. The police said that I would be held accountable for my actions through the school. I deserved it. I gave myself the responsibility of freeing this man and in the end he was just another passenger in a box. Certainly, there was nothing stopping me from carrying out my thoughts, only the circumstances which influenced me. He could have at least passed with his feet in the water and his head in his memories. They never let me see him again.

About Sean William Lynch
Sean William Lynch is a poet from New Jersey who was born in 1992. Lynch's first book of poems "the city of your mind" was published in 2013 by Whirlwind Press. Frank Sherlock, the poet laureate of Philadelphia, called Lynch's debut poetry book "visionary." CA Conrad claimed that the book was "marvelous!" S.W. Lynch's writing has been featured in numerous publications online and in print, including Milkfist, Poetry Quarterly, and Tincture Journal.

16 Responses to The Metal Box Passenger

  1. Peruzzi says:

    Powerful connection established between very young and very old. The question that invoked the emotional response stemming from a combat situation is an excellent literary tactic leading into the interaction between the young man and the old man..

    • Sean Lynch says:

      Seeing that old man cry while him telling me the horrors of D-day is a memory I will never forget.

      • Socorro says:

        Abnormal this post is totaly ulntraeed to what I used to be looking google for, but it surely was once listed on the first page. I suppose your doing one thing right if Google likes you enough to position you at the first web page of a non related search.

  2. alicebrook1502 says:

    Loved it

  3. Great story. I always enjoy reading about similarities and relationships between the young and the old. Thanks also for following my blog!

  4. Seth says:

    An amazing story, one I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks for following my blog and giving me the chance to read this. I look forward to reading more.
    Seth.

  5. linneann says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and trust that I don’t offend you. I’m assuming this is not fiction. I wouldn’t have read this had you not stopped by my own blog today so I am very glad you did. I’m a lot older than you but not as old as Jim. I am also a Christian. Unfortunately, that “title” carries a lot of negative connotations for some, but I couldn’t help but notice that the boy in the story no longer believes in God and that’s okay. One of my dearest friends, and my mentor, has been an agnostic for many years. It is not an issue of contention for us. This story moved me far more than most of the things I read in blogs and all I can think to say is that for me, it indicates the very real probability that there is a God and Creator who is good, and you are one of his creations.

  6. dalefurse says:

    I enjoyed that immensely. Very moving. Thank you.

  7. legionwriter says:

    Great story. It reminds me that there are very few of these WWII gets still with us, so interactions like this won’t happen much longer. Thanks for the reminder.

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