The dog tag, snug in its rubber prescription case, is attached to a gnarled and beaded chain. A greasy film of Jungle Juice coats the mass. Two of the same keys remain in custody, singular and attached to the knot of the chain. Loosening the bead chain, I snap the last bead out of the rusty clasp. I untuck the chain from itself, using the tips of my fingers to wriggle out the burdens of the tangle. One of the brass keys falls free and lies perfectly upon a shadow of white desk.
The process creates the wind chime tinkle sound of waves crashing over a bank of seashells. Pulling the rubber case off, a washboard chorus starts, then ends in silence. It pushed the last key off the chain. Now the three rest on my Thesaurus in a neat row with the chain draped on the cover, cascading over the unbound pages and miscellaneous paper protruding from its sleeves of parchment.
My father's name, his SS#, blood type, and religion are stamped typed letters. Impressions in the thin metal, not Braille, just permanent type. The beads bring soothing comfort as I glide the ball bearing strand across my palm, it reminds me of sand in an hourglass. I hold the tag in my hand and bring it close to my nose. The metal brushes my upper lip as I draw a stale remnant of my parents' basement and Vietnam into my lungs. I drag the edge of the tag against the grain of the dark stubble of my face and wonder where the other tag could be. In his boot? I think.
I want to bend it, swallow it. Maybe I can release some of the spirit it owns. Instead, with difficult dexterity, I snap the bead back to clasp and put the tag where it belongs. My thinning hair stands on end as the cold metal touches my neck. A flooded Mekong with long boats drifting beyond homes on stilts relieves cold feet and the snow outside. I remind myself that I am to grasp tightly to my dreams to avoid chasing them.
The keys represent a different story. What locks may they solve? A footlocker, a long ago cabinet within an Olive Drab canvas structure with doors and locked handles rattling every time a Huey came thumping over the tree tops. A padlock? They haven't been used in over thirty years. These are lost keys.
The memories my father owned are not lost in me. Though I feel shallow and gritty in the sparse substance. This is the rubber sheath that held the dog tag. With life, memories are snug and secure. They can be reminded, emphasized, held close and laughed about. In death, speculation and doubt creep in and the devious culprit of forgetting spreads a veil over reality. Whole things separate, drift. I weep for this sacrifice. I challenge the unknown to explain. I yearn for a rewind button.
Listen to yourself. That voice inside you is shouting for a reason. What are you going to do about it? Time. I'll give it time. This is the easy way out.
I sheath the tag and thread the keys back onto the chain. I resnap the clasp and wrap it snug in a ball. I give it a firm clench in my fist before letting it fall from my hand into my front pocket. Shrugged shoulders of slight smile takes a moment before continuing on.