The Crown Top Cap — Published in the Local Colors Chapbook
The Crown Top Cap
“C’mere, Daisy. C’mere,” Ray reached into a pocket on his wheelchair and pulled out a tissue. “Here.”
Daisy’s tears streamed down her rosy cheeks as the hiccup cries of the five year-old continued, and she sat on the paint-worn wicker love seat beside him.
“Mom said we don’t have enough money for tap shoes so I can’t take dance after class, and it starts tomorrow!” Her face welled, and she burst out blubbering.
“Hold on, sweetie. There’s a solution for everything.” Ray shuffled through the hallways of his mind, trying to figure where the maze might lead and what answer he would find at the end. He ran his fingers through the knots of his gray beard down to his bulbous belly.
“Hold on, sweetie.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“I guess.” Her crying quieted. Tears continued to trickle.
“This is partly my fault.”
“After the war,” he rubbed her back and stared at the mock-mosaic floor lamp as he spoke, “I wasn’t able to work and, well, haven’t been able to. My sister -your ma- was kind enough to let me move in with her, and my government money hasn’t been enough to cover the cost of having me here. I’ve been livin’ with your ma long before you were born. She’s been taking care of me, like she does you. If I wasn’t here, she could be somewhere better than this trailer park. Somewhere less miserable than Tucson. It’s really all my fault, and I’m sorry.”
Daisy didn’t say a word and ran into her room, slamming the door behind her. Ray could hear her bawling through the paper-thin walls. He rolled around in circles listening to Daisy’s cries diminuendo into silence, figuring at that point she fell asleep. After a few moments, he rolled in, wheels catching on the door frame, making a terrible ruckus. She slept through it. Finally, he found his way to her closet and pulled out a threadbare pair of hand-me-down faded-red Nikes that she only wore if her ma had the other pair of shoes in the wash.
Daisy woke to the commotion Ray made when trying to leave her room.
“What are you doing, Unka?”
“I’m going to make you tap shoes,” he smiled.
She jumped out of bed, ran the four steps it took to reach him, and clumsily wrapped her arms around him.
“C’mere, I’ll show you.”
She pretended to push him while he controlled the wheelchair and rolled into his bedroom. He pulled out a navy denim bag about the size of a watermelon.
“I’m sure you noticed I leave every night for a bit.”
“Yeah, Unka, why?”
“I collect bottle caps. I roll around in the dirt, as far as I can go without my arms goin’ weak. Me and my metal detector, and we find bottle caps. See my arms? They’re just long enough to reach the ground.” He strained his voice when showing her.
He pulled a hammer out of an old rusty cheery red tool box and dumped contents of the denim bag on his bed. The glimmer of metallic crown top bottle caps clinked into a mountain of reflective light breaking through the dirt and mud, as he never cleaned the things.
“They’re not worth anything, I just do it to have something. Anything. I need something. It’s too hot during the day, so I go just before the sun starts to set. I’d go crazy if I didn’t.”
He grabbed a Dad’s Root Beer cap and hammered it into the front her left shoe’s sole. Then a Diet Coke into the back of the sole. He noticed one with a horse on it that he thought she’d like because it was pretty and hammered that into the back of her other shoe’s sole. The last was hardest to hammer. It said “Holiday Heinies” on the cap, but the underlay was filled with cork, and this made the cap require an extra tap to feel firmly affixed to her shoe.
“Here,” he said handing the pair to her. “Go try ‘em out the stairway out front.”
She ran outside. He heard clicking, clacking, then the patter of feet on the carpet, and he found her embracing him again.
“Thanks so much Unka!” She had tears in her eyes, but this time with a blooming chapped lip smile. “I’m going to sleep so I don’t have to wait so long for tomorrow,” she said, running into her room and slamming the door shut.
Ray slept most the day. September heat made him weary and his legs sore. He despised sweating, and even in bed he was drenched. He was awakened by clicking, clacking, and the quiet thumps of hustling feet on the carpet, and a knock at his door. He could smell his sister’s stew, but he hated stew when it was this hot out.
“Come in.” He didn’t have to raise his voice to penetrate the thin walls.
“It’s magic, Unka!”
“What happened?” He looked down at a new pair of bright white tap shoes, radiating through the shadows of his dimly lit room. He hadn’t seen anything that clean in a long time. “What happened to your sneakers?”
“Oh, I threw them away.”
“You did?” Ray grimaced. “I thought you loved them.”
“I did but Mr. Smit, our dance teacher, said I can’t use them. Then he looked at them and saw the things you put on them. And he liked one so much, he gave me new shoes for it. He said if I give him that, he’ll give me shoes and I can dance. So I did! And he’s dumb, because he left the horsey one and took the one with the wood on the bottom. And that’s dumb because that was the hardest to put on a shoe to make a tap shoe.”
Ray started to cry, “I’m happy for you, sweetie. I am.”
“Then why are you crying?” asked Daisy.
“Just sometimes you feel like crying.”