Each year he tried to surprise his wife for her birthday with something meaningful, something she would treasure for a long time. That was easier said than done. With Christmas around the corner, followed quickly by their anniversary three weeks later, and then Valentine’s Day, it was certainly a challenge. Now, after all of that, his own birthday was fast approaching.
He told his wife what he wanted for his birthday — no surprises. A cake would be nice, maybe with candles. But forty-seven candles seemed a bit too much. A book he had his eye on. And some polish.
She turned around, “Polish?”
He knew what he wanted: a cake, a book he had seen in the bookstore, and polish. But he was somewhat hesitant to explain it to her. Not the cake; she knew he liked a good coffee cake. And certainly not the book, it was a non-fiction book no different than most in his den. It was the polish.
To be sure, he wanted the best polish possible, not just any kind. He thought to himself he had better show her.
He went to the bedroom closet past the last partition, reached down behind some clothes, and picked up the old, dark briefcase. It had sat in the closet, nearly unused, for over a decade. It had belonged to his late father. But, now the deep black leather exterior was dry and cracked on the bottom corners. It needed attention.
He could have stopped there but she still looked puzzled. Maybe he should explain it a bit more. He pulled up a nearby chair, sat down, and placed the briefcase on his lap.
She watched him snap open the outside buckles and lift the top half, exposing the writing tablet on the bottom and, on the top, a snap-tight filing index and compartments of the fifty-year old briefcase. Then, he lifted the writing tablet to reveal an unopened deck of Salem playing cards, an unused, miniature metal shaving blade in a box, a square, miniscule military sewing kit, and a pack of Dentyne gum, cinnamon flavor.
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, and for a brief moment…
He is 7-years old, standing next to his dad in his office, watching him open the briefcase on the desk. They are overseas in West Germany; his father a Sergeant Major in the US Army. His dad presses each release button outward, the clasps snap back, and the lid opens. The briefcase is always filled with important papers — and Dentyne, cinnamon flavor. His father reaches for it and hands him one of the pieces. He couldn’t be more excited to be with his dad once again.
He closed the briefcase, looked over at his wife, and repeated his birthday wish: something meaningful, something he would treasure. Cake, a book, and polish — for his time machine.