Mrs. Thornby Gathered Dust
Mrs. Thornby looked at the sky to assess the state of the weather, and since it seemed to cooperate, she continued walking, at a speed that defied her age, dragging her feet a little like a bratty child to kick up the dust.
Her sensible demeanor made it look like she had somewhere very important to be, somewhere she was obviously late, and she grinned at the thought, picking up the pace to maintain the illusion of purpose.
That day Mrs. Thornby had sorted her prized collection, which had taken her a whole lifetime to accumulate, boxes and boxes of it, stacked on top of each other, and noticed there was a slot left in one of them. If there was something she couldn’t stand it was an empty slot in one of her boxes. Hers was a collection unlike many others, and she was very proud of it, although she was otherwise a modest woman who would never let her pride show.
Other people gathered porcelain figurines, or commemorative plates, or coins, or rare stamps, or thimbles. Mrs. Thornby gathered dust. Most people laughed at her. They couldn’t understand why she called hers a collection, her little box of tiny dust bins. It wasn’t any regular dust, either, she only gathered it from her shoes, a testimony of her travels.
At the top of the lattice was a little container of dirt from a hike through the Rockies she took when she was only fourteen. Her parents had devised the trip as a reward for her ending the school year with nothing but the best grades. Sadly the weather didn’t cooperate; it rained most of the time, with glorious thunderbolts, thick as a forearm, which whipped through the sky to find their way to the ground. Her parents were distraught, because what they had thought would be a reward turned out to be more like punishment. All of them were cold, wet, and covered in dirt the entire time, and the rain was so thick they couldn’t see the hands in front of their faces. They had nothing to gaze at but the thunderbolts slicing through the wet sky.
Mrs. Thornby had never seen thunderbolts like that, and when they arrived home, she scraped the mud off her shoes, allowed it to dry and kept it in a little box as a reminder of nature’s glorious power.
This was the start of her collection, she didn’t really mean to start one, but she made a point from then on to shake her shoes over a white sheet of paper whenever she came back from one of her exciting trips and put the dust in a box, carefully labeled with the place and the date.
There was a lot less dust from her travels to large cities, and more of it from her walks through the parks and the countryside, but she was proud to say she had dust almost as old as she was, and, honestly, she was quite old.
Mrs. Thornby opened her little box of samples and picked one at random: it said Lisbon, 1949. The dust was a fine loess, the kind that gets windblown over cobblestones in the dead of summer, baked by the sun and dried until it turned to a yellowish powder that now covered the bottom of the tiny black box it was stored in.
She remembered that day, with bright sunshine gleaming over the hills and the sea, and the cheers of her vacation buddies, who had had a little too much sangria.
She wasn’t supposed to go on that trip, but the opportunity presented itself at the last minute, and now she had the dust of Lisbon in her precious collection, almost seventy-year-old dust, yellowish-gray and finer than powder.
Mrs. Thornby smiled to the memory, which included the heart melting dimples of the boyfriend she had at the time, what was his name, Estevao, Eusebio, she couldn’t remember exactly, but she remembered the dimples.
She had to buy a cheap toothbrush when she arrived at the hostel late in the afternoon, to gather all that precious dust that coated her black shoes after a whole day of wandering through the city.
She was tired and thirsty and dreaming of a tub of cold water to sink her blistered feet in, and almost sad to disturb the light veil of powder, translucent like a cobweb.
The toothbrush’s first touch was brash and stroke a discordant note on the perfect coating, but tired as she was, she wanted to make sure the dust was safely stored before it scattered on the floor.
She carefully closed the box and placed it in the lattice of black containers, all the same, with only the labels different: San Francisco, 1969, New York, 1934, Sydney, 1986, Oslo, 1992, Reykjavik, 2006, New Delhi, 1956.
There was one space left in the box and she had thought long and hard what to fill it with. She walked the streets for an hour or so, until the sun went down and she got tired.
Upon arriving home she took off her shoes and placed them on a white sheet of paper, brushed the dust carefully into the last bin, labeled it “Home, Now” and placed it in the empty slot, to complete her collection.
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