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Joe P. Squance

Your Burden

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You are a man who is floating somewhere in the wide and nebulous belt of middle age. You are not handsome in a traditional sense, but you have a core of pain inside of you like a candle in a pumpkin that fills you with heat and anguish and molds the skin of your face into a series of expressions that are enigmatic and haunting. Your lips bubble up and pop like hot tar. And your eyes—oh my god, your eyes. The things they have seen. They are fathomless, those eyes. It’s clear that people think so.

And you have strength, that’s for sure. Strength like a man—no, not like a man. You have strength like a Kodiak bear. Yours is a bear’s strength, and it has to be so for you have such a heavy burden to carry and you carry it everywhere, you carry it always. Your burden is made of cardboard and you have taped it to a stick. It’s small enough that you can slide it into one your pockets, but just barely, and often it has to come out again when you’re reaching for something else—your wallet, say, or your keys. You never draw anyone’s attention directly to your burden, and if anyone asks about it you demure. You say, “Oh that. That’s just something I must carry with me.” And you smile sadly and you shrug and you put it away quickly but not too quickly.

And sometimes, when you’re sitting on a park bench looking wistfully at some birds or eating lunch alone al fresco or standing under an umbrella outside of an empty playground or whatever your burden will fall out of your pocket or slip out from under your arm and will clatter to the ground, and you’ll catch the eye of that woman that you hadn’t even noticed standing there and you’ll give her a look of surprise and then embarrassment and then resignation and you’ll hold up your heavy burden on its stick and you’ll give her a little wave with it, reveal the depth of your sadness to her in a moment of vulnerability but also your great Kodiak strength for bearing your burden with such steady arms, such a straight back.

Then later, maybe, after you’ve gotten yourself all dressed again, you’ll find yourself on all fours in the half dark, waving your arm back and forth under her bed trying to find that thing, your burden, trying to feel for it through her dust and her dog hair with the tips of your fingers. You won’t even consider simply leaving your burden behind, not for a second, because you know very well that if you didn’t have your burden you wouldn’t have anything at all.

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