By John Thomas Tuft

Morty gets up at 4am six days a week. It’s not quite night and it’s not quite morning. It is the time for nightmares and the time for very strong coffee. The others stirring at this hour are bread makers and donut dippers, sleepy cops and drivers of delivery trucks dropping off bundles of newspapers. By 4:30 he is shaved, dressed, fed the cat, and out the door. He climbs into his old panel truck, backs out of the driveway and heads across the bridge. He stops at the railroad crossing, looks both ways, then rattles across the iron rails and proceeds to the high slatted fenced around Estelle’s Salvation Recycling Yard, named for his now deceased wife. He stops at the gate, climbs out to unlock the big monster of a padlock, and pushes the gates open with a teeth-jarring screech. He pulls the old truck into the yard, swallows the last of his coffee and goes into the warehouse. There he counts out how many burlap sacks he needs for today’s rounds, turns out the lights and sets out into the realm of broken dreams and unanswered prayers.

In the parlance of days gone by, Morty is a junk man; not just any junk, however. He gathers the detritus of the soul: the remains of the spirit. Emptying the slop bucket of plaintive unanswered prayers filled with fear and pleadings for sure ways around the laws of the universe and its daily grind. Or, collecting the soft rags of wishful murmurs rising like dust specks caught in a beam of sunlight, the beseechings of relief for pain, uncertainty, healing and light. They float out the windows and chimneys during the nights, slip beneath the crack in the door, to gather in tired heaps at the curb. There is the odd judicial robe or constitutional parchment, holy transcripts or political speech, purporting to bear the weight of the world in their rows of ink or stains that might be marinara sauce, or might be blood. Whatever. It is now abandoned, used up, worn out fashion, that readily drifts away. Junk, to be carted away and forgotten.

Back in the warehouse Morty carefully separates out all the dashed dreams and broken hearts. They can be repurposed into trinkets of jewelry or wall hangings. The unanswered prayers and lost hopes he sets aside while he searches through the cupboards and drawers until he finds what he needs. At his work bench, Morty selects bright layers of tissue paper that he folds and glues together, attaching string or yarn in just the right places. One special drawer is filled with votive candles and one each is attached to the tissue balloons, with an unfulfilled beseeching nestled into the wax, next to the wick. Morty takes his collection of mini hot air balloons to the banks of the river. There, with great care and reverence, Morty lights each candle, and as the breezes of the dawn play across the water, the little balloons float off, high and wide, ever rising, until they are indistinguishable from the last of the morning stars.

Then it is back home to the little house, lost in his loneliness, ready to sit and stare into the corners. Estelle loved their little house. He can feel her memory in every corner, picturing her puttering with her fine china, watering the plants that she loved to mother, talking to the cat the whole time. The Salvation Recycling Yard had been her brainchild. “Morty,” Estelle would say, “we have been blessed. It’s only right that we help with the impossible. It’s like that song says: The house you live in will never fall down, if you pity the stranger who stands at your gate.” And her being Estelle, she dove right into the impossible: unanswered prayers and lost dreams. Morty sighed and kicked at the cat, who knew enough by now to be on alert when Morty got back from his rounds. Estelle had a way of getting her way, but he always wondered if he had been enough for her.

A knock at the door interrupts Morty’s reverie.  He grunts his way back onto tired feet and opens the door. Before him is a child, no more than eight or nine. “I’m Jojo,” says the child. “Estelle sent me to the house you live in.” Morty is taken aback. “Estelle is gone. Forever.” It is like a curse, this last word. Jojo is unfazed. “Whatever you say. But I’m here and it is because of Estelle.” Now nonplussed, Morty remembers his manners and invites Jojo to step in. Jojo produces a small burlap sack and opens it. Slowly a mangled tissue paper hot air balloon emerges, still attached to a votive candle. “I found this in my tree. It is one of Estelle’s unanswered prayers.” Stunned, Morty can only stare at the small figure before him.

Jojo takes Morty by the hand and leads him back to his chair. “She asked for someone who would take care with you. She knew you would be lonely,” Jojo says, gently pushing Morty into the chair and climbing into his lap, arms encircling Morty’s neck. “I’m here to cry with you.” It is a benediction.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.