On Tuesday afternoon, walking to the parking garage after work I passed a perpetually trash-strewn patch of plants and stopped to free a Macy’s bag impaled on a thorny branch. Grumbling with fatigue, heat and misanthropy, I snatched the bag and tossed it in a trash can, not feeling quite self-righteous enough to recycle.
In the trash barrel, I noticed a tiny card from a children’s game. Delighted, I snatched this vintage treasure from the bland refuse that surrounded it. The illustration showed a fisherman hauling a net of blurry colored trash from the edge of an unseen sea. I found the title vaguely obscene: Salty Junk. I couldn’t imagine where the hell this old sod had come from. All I thought of was a haunting story I’d read in the New York Times about the debris field left by the Malaysian plane that crashed in the Ukriane, how the writer reconstructed passenger stories through objects: Bali guidebooks, passports and a scattered deck of children’s playing cards.
I tried to engineer a reverse synchronicity in my mind to make the discovery feel inevitable. Hadn’t I just been thinking of how I’d make all of these entries into a book? Hadn’t I just been thinking, how much I’d actually enjoyed cleaning the little piles of dead balloons and tar balls off the beach, especially when my friends came with me? Could the universe, my throbbing narcissism insisted, maybe be acknowledging me for my own modest harvests of salty junk?
My love for piles of free and abandoned things aside, I don’t know why this little card had the force of revelation to me. I dug through the can, but found no other tiny red cards among the Subway wrappers and coffee cups.
The Wednesday walk to my car was similarly uneventful. But today, past the trash can where the concrete sidewalk curves up the hill, I found another tiny red card face down on the ground. I turned it over as if awaiting a revelation from the Tarot. There she was: Wacky Witch like some emissary from childhood classrooms dressed up for the New England fall, the green faced dime-store hag with cat, owl and cauldron, her leering face somewhere between a comic strip and a tribal mask. I scanned the brush for more cards, but found nothing. To what scattered and abandoned game these old icons belong I will never know. But I sensed their odd, intermittent path was something I was meant to follow.