A cashier at the hardware store scanned the small bottle of metal polish. “Be careful with this stuff,” she said. “I hope you realize it can be dangerous.”
A store employee watching from one aisle whispered to another: “Oh my god! What do you think that guy is going to do with a bottle of polish? I wonder if he’s going to drink it. He’s probably going to sniff it.”
Dirk took his purchase into the weeds near the freeway off-ramp. He settled into a spot that no one could see. He felt a little safe there. Just to be careful, he made a castle with his bulging plastic bags and hid himself.
He ate a several mouthfuls of hard pizza, drank some warm water. Then he began carefully searching through his bags.
Dirk suddenly realized what he sought was in one of his pockets.
Lying down, stretching out, he reached into the pocket, pulled out the small round brass medal. He held it up with a trembling hand and gazed at it.
The ribbon of the medal had disintegrated long ago. But the brass and the words stamped on the brass shined brightly in the sun. So brightly that he could almost see his own face.
Dirk slowly sat up. Carefully, he opened the small can of metal polish and put some on a rag.
“We know you’re there!”
Dirk shoved the medal back into his pocket.
Two people he knew came crashing through the weeds. One grabbed a plastic bag and picked it up and scattered its contents everywhere. “What are you doing?” asked the thin one with a sneer.
Dirk didn’t say anything. He turned his head, pretending to ignore them.
“I’m talking to you dumbass! What are you doing? You got any money?”
“No,” Dirk replied without looking up.
A hand came down and snatched the small open bottle of metal polish. “What’s this?”
A foot kicked Dirk, then the two scrambled off through the weeds.
“Metal polish!” said one to the other as they followed the dry ditch under the freeway. “What can we do with this?”
“Nothing,” said the other.