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Stephen stared at it like it was a ticking bomb or a room full of snakes or his psycho ex-girlfriend. The suitcase was quiet in its contemplation of him.
It was a nice suitcase: smooth black leather with gold latches and a faint scent of cologne. It might have been the nicest thing he ever owned. It certainly wasn't trash, like the old man said.
Stephen's day had started out normally, with him upending heavy waste bins into the open back of the truck at 4:30 in the morning, when the elderly gentleman strolled up to him. He
was dressed in an old-fashioned tuxedo with a polished cane on his arm, a bowler on his head, and the suitcase in hand. He had addressed Stephen with the warmth due an old friend, not a bleary-eyed garbage man in lime green overalls. “Good morning, young sir. Would you mind disposing of this bit of trash for me?”
At least that's what Stephen thought he'd said; after all, he hadn't had his coffee yet. He must have stared at the man for a long time in astonishment because the next thing he remembered was the elderly fellow shoving the suitcase into his arms with surprising violence before turning to walk back down the street.
The old man kept walking.
“What's in it?”
That got his attention enough to turn and tip his bowler to Stephen. He quirked his lips into a smile of sorts.
“Your future, young sir, your future!”
What's in it? Stephen didn't know, but he sure wasn't going to throw it out. The suitcase rode shotgun with him until the end of his route. He had carried it back, with the theme from “Goldfinger” playing in the background, to the apartment he shared with his mother, where it now sat in the spotlight of a fluorescent bulb on the kitchen table.
What's in it? It could be anything: a pot of leprechaun's gold, a severed head. Stephen scoffed at himself. It was probably empty – the cruel joke of some senile fool with poor eyesight.
His future – what kind of future could such a small space hold? Besides, what kind of future did he have? He was 23 years old, a lanky failure that could only look down at his oversized feet and hope he tripped when no one was looking. He'd had only two years of school at the local community college, with no degree to show for it. His girlfriend had dumped him for the guy who worked the midnight shift at Toys R Us.
What future, when he woke up every day and looked at himself in the mirror knowing that today he would haul away others' trash, like he did yesterday and would do tomorrow and would continue to do it until his overalls became a second skin and he was an old man reeking of rotten and discarded things? No future, that's what.
Stephen glared suspiciously at the suitcase. Unless the old man was right; that inside that innocent suitcase lay a future that didn't rattle when he shook it and smelled of leather polish. A future of almost six decades and countless moments, for better or worse. For the first time that day, Stephen took his eyes off the suitcase and looked at himself, still dressed for his job, still stuck in his pointless, unhappy life.
The suitcase was elegant in the stark light.
Stephen got up and opened the suitcase.