Lilies bloomed with glad abandon along the gravel road. The high sun shone bright and hot, bronzing his neck and arms as he trudged along. Dust, kicked up by his worn boots with every step, hung in the air long enough to cover his jeans with its brief touch. The circular saw buzz of cicadas grew louder, then quieter, then louder again.
He hadn’t decided where he was going. He just knew he needed to leave. He needed new air to breathe, fresh scenery. What was the purpose of life anyway? Not in his work, at least not the work he did. Friendships? Ha. Greetings on the street or at the corner store didn’t prove anything beyond good manners. There was that one old woman at Johnson’s Foods check-out. He’d always waited to go through her lane. She was nice. He didn’t s’pose he had any obligation to anyone. He’d paid his bills. Done his job. Didn’t poke his nose where it didn’t belong. His eyes roamed over the road ahead. It’s undulating path told him nothing of what was ahead.
He kicked an old pop can into the ditch, then stopped. Something was off with the empty sound he had subconsciously expected as the toe of his boot had made contact. Turning back a few steps, he walked into the high grass of the ditch and nudged it with his boot. A lead-like thud answered and a tiny tree-toad hopped to get out of his way. A snake slithered silently through the tall grass. Reaching down, he picked up the can, turned it upside down, and shook it. With a rattle, the noisemaker fell into his hand.
It was a key. Maybe it was to some vehicle. Probably. He slipped it into his pocket and looked around. An old junker roared past, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.
The man made his way out of the ditch and trudged on. Who would put a key in a pop can anyway? Why not just throw it away or sell it for a nickel at one of those sales so popular in the summer where one person sold old stuff and another one bought it? If it was to a car, where was the car – in a junkyard in some other county? Maybe it fit the lock of a house, but he didn’t think so. Sweat trickled down his temple and he wiped it away with the palm of his rough hand, then jumped. Yanking up his jeans, he saw it perched on the top of his boot. He scooped up the toad with one hand and covered it with the other. Its tiny presence tickled his hand and he almost smiled.
“You saw that snake too, did ya?”
He was quiet for a moment.
“Hop. How’s that for a name?” he asked the toad. “You ‘n me, Hop. I got your back. You got . . . you got . . . my hand.”
He reached the next rise of the road when he saw it.
to be continued . . .
Image: http://uploads/2014/07/standard-key-wikipedia.org_.jpg, the-back-of-a-fowlers-toad-frog_w725_h483-public-domain.jpg