Buttons

 

           The wind whipped through the wrinkles on Benny’s face as he hobbled across the parking lot, one hand on his cane, the other holding down his hat. He wore his old brown winter coat, leather gloves, a knitted scarf and a bowler hat. His clothes had begun to wear with use over the years, and ever since his wife had died, there was no one to sew up frayed ends or patch up ripped holes. A particularly large gust of wind hit Benny in the face and he staggered back a step as the top button of his coat popped off.

Blinking his dry eyes, Benny reached out to pick up the button, but it rolled out of the way. Harrumphing, he straightened himself on his cane, took a few steps and stretched his hand out again. His shaking fingers had barely grazed the button when it was pushed along the way by another burst of icy air. Benny’s hand flew up to his hat, holding it tight to his head. Muttering a few unfriendly curses, he smashed his bowler hat onto his graying head and began to limp down the street after the button.

The button was now picking up speed, rolling down the pavement over all the bumps and holes. It hit a manhole, but instead of toppling to a halt, it flew into the air and miraculously landed on the ground rolling. Faster and faster it spun down the hill, under car wheels and through pedestrian legs. It flew out of the parking lot and continued down the street, rolling right through a red light. It turned the corner, and spun right past little Jimmy’s front yard, where Jimmy himself was pulling up weeds in his meaty toddler hands.

“Hey, lookit Mommy!” Jimmy cried, pointing with a fistful of dirty snow at the lone button. By the time Jimmy’s mom looked up from her poor frozen pansies, the button had moved on.

It streaked on by the Johansson girls, who were skipping rope on the sidewalk.

“Mindy, look!” said Cindy, causing Mindy to trip over the rope.

“Hey, you did that on purpose!” Mindy cried, stomping her foot.

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

And still the button rolled on. Benny, meanwhile, had just staggered around the corner huffing and puffing, leaning heavily on his cane. He looked around and saw little Jimmy sitting in his front yard.

“You there, boy,” He said gruffly, wheezing slightly, “You seen a button?”

Little Jimmy pointed down the street wordlessly, his mouth full of icy dirt and his eyes full of wonder. Benny turned and began to falter down the street with a rigid determination.

The button had just hit a rock in the road, spinning around onto Cotton Blossom Lane, and passing the grand old home of crazy Miss Amelia Pinch. She had just hobbled outside to get the mail, clutching her robe tightly around her body and muttering incomprehensible words under her breath, when the button rolled right by her feet.

“What on earth….” her voice trailed off as she squinted off into the distance after the button.

The button rolled by Mr. Burbury, scraping ice off his car windshield, and Owen, a teenage “rebel” shoveling the driveway. It skidded past newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. McAllister, who were out for a walk in the snow, and past Lacey Hembrow, a brainy 14-year old, who pushed up her thick-rimmed glasses to squint at the button as it spun down the street. It continued rolling right between the legs of a very confused and grumpy Sonya Biscay, who bent over to look at it, and in the process, knocked a few apples out of her grocery bag.

The whole time the button was rolling on, Benny wasn’t so far behind. He had interrupted the two quarreling Johansson girls, and they both pointed him in the same direction before starting up their argument again. He stopped a cold and cross Miss Amelia Pinch right before she was about to go  inside to ask her if she had seen a button. She stared at him incredulously.

“Why of course I’ve seen a button before, you dolt! I may be old, but I’m not stupid,” she screeched before slamming her screen door shut.

He was pointed in the right direction by one pink-faced Mr. Burbury, then aided by an peevish-looking Owen. He disturbed a pair of newlyweds who weren’t so thrilled about the interruption, but were only happy to send him on his way. Lacey Hembrow gladly told him which direction she had seen a button rolling in, unlike a Miss Biscay, who glared at him and muttered something about apples.

Benny walked with a hurried, crooked gait, his breath coming out in little white clouds. Yes, there it was, he could make out a little brown circle rolling in the distance. The button was heading towards a field full of snow, where kids were currently in the midst of an early morning snowball fight. The button was going at full speed when it hit the snow, and toppled over. Suddenly, a pair of gloved hands reached down and scooped up the button along with a handful of snow. A distracted and pink-nosed ten-year-old Tommy Greene had hurriedly reached down to reload on ammunition. Packing the snow together in his hands, he ducked behind a tree.

“Wait, boy!”

At first, Tommy paid no regard to the distant yelling. But as he reared back his arm to throw, he heard the call again, but closer.

“Wait! Don’t throw!”

Tommy cautiously stepped out from behind the tree to see an old man hobbling towards him as fast as was possible. The man was leaning heavily on his cane, and clutching the top of his open coat closed. The wind had displaced his bowler hat, which now lay crookedly on his head.

“Wait!” The old man gruffly called, coughing into his sleeve. “Give me that snowball, boy.”

Tommy clutched his snowball defensively, wary of strangers. He eyed the old many for a few seconds, unsure of what to do. Then, the old man held out a shaking hand expectantly – no, beseechingly. Tommy slowly set the snowball into the man’s hand. Leaning his forearm on his cane, the old man used both his hands to squeeze the snowball, uncovering one big round brown button.

Pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, the old man held it up, and a small glimmer of satisfaction crossed his face, shining in his eyes and pulling at the corners of his mouth. Suddenly, he cleared his throat, as if he had just remembered Tommy was there.

“Chased this button all the way from Coffee Cafe parking lot,” he said brusquely, pocketing the button. “Thanks.”

And with that, he turned to go away. As he limped down the road, Tommy suddenly realized how far away the Coffee Cafe was.

“Sir!” Tommy called out, running after the old man. “Wait, sir!” The old man stopped, turning to face Tommy, who skidded to a stop. The old man stared bewilderedly at Tommy, his brow furrowed. All of a sudden, Tommy felt very intimidated by the man, but swallowing hard, he forged on.

“It’s just, well, sir – it’s a button.” Tommy said with an almost apologetic tone. The old man stared down at Tommy, uncomprehending. Tommy’s face grew red, and he looked down at the ground and cleared his throat.

“Why would you go to so much trouble for a button?” Tommy asked. The old man continued to stare at Tommy for a few more seconds, his face impassive. He then took a deep breath and shifted his weight on his cane.

“Kid,” he said, clearing his throat, “Do you know what buttons do?”

“Sure,” Tommy said, looking up at the man, “They hold things together. Like your coat or your pants.”

That’s right,” The old man said with satisfaction, “They hold things together.” There was a pause. Then, “Kid, do you ever feel like your life is falling apart?”

Tommy chewed on his lip, his brow furrowed in thought.

“Um, I guess so,” he finally answered.

“I have. And you know what you need when your life is falling apart? Buttons.” The old man sighed, shifting his weight on his cane again. His eyes took on a hardened look to them. “My wife was a button. And when my parents were alive, they were buttons. They held it all together. She held it all together. Those people are gone now. But I held onto those buttons for as long as I could.” The old man shifted his gaze back to Tommy, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the brown button. “These buttons are the only buttons I’ve got left.” He tucked it back into his pocket. “I’m not about to let them slip away so easily.”

The old man inhaled the frosty air, took one last hard long look at Tommy, then hobbled back in the direction he came. Tommy stood there for a lengthy while, staring after the man and trying to make sense of what he said. Eventually, one of his friends came up and waved his hand in front of Tommy’s face .

“Dude, you coming inside or what?”

Tommy pulled his eyes away from the road. “Hey, your jacket doesn’t have buttons,” he noted, looking at his friend’s zipper.

“Nah, man, buttons take too long. C’mon, everyone’s going inside for hot chocolate. It’s cold.” His friend shifted impatiently in the snow. Tommy looked down at his own black buttons.

“I like buttons,” he declared.

“Whatever,” His friend rolled his eyes. “I’m going inside.” He ran away and quickly disappeared through a front door. Tommy stood in the icy wind for a few more seconds, fingering his buttons, then he too, ran inside for hot chocolate.

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