A cold morning is never pleasant to wake up to. It creeps into one's bones and makes them want to pull further under their covers, remaining in the comfort of the bed. However, often, this is not a choice. Often one had to get up despite the cold, shivering in the morning's icy hold. The man woke up to such a morning, pulling himself roughly off the bed. His left leg brushed his right and felt the cold chill of metal. He ran a hand through his short hair and looked down at the prosthetic. The metal limb glared back at him, reflecting the watery sunlight that entered through a dirty window. There were worse fake limbs, wooden ones, that left splinters, and ones that did not bend, but his was not the best. It chilled the stump above his knee, and it was stiff and hard to move. He had to grab it with both hands and force the joint to bend.
The painful screech of metal that assaulted his ears was familiar by this point. "Be quiet you old tin can," he muttered to the fake limb. A bottle of oil sat beside the bed and he applied it generously. Even with the leg he needed a cane, some days he felt like the contraption hindered him more than it helped. Leaning on his cane he made his way to the bathroom. The face in the mirror watched him sullenly, he was a young man, almost to his thirties, cut down at his prime. There was a metal on his dresser, mocking him. A hero they had called him. But he didn't feel like a hero.
He had never even seen a battle, the land mine found his leg before he could. He had been a strong young boy, full of life and dreams. Dreams of protecting people, dreams of entering into the service. He had done well too, he was promising to be an excellent soldier, but no one needed a soldier with a tin can for a leg.
The discharge had been honorable, but it hadn't helped him much. It was hard to find a job that he could keep up with now, and he barely scraped by. His face was marred by years he had not seen, the last few had not been kind to him. Once he was dressed, which was a difficult activity in itself, he limped into the kitchen. Drinking watery, weak coffee, he greeted the day with a scowl. It was not very early in the morning, but he had no reason to get up with the sun.
A scrawny, raggedy cat wound its way around the table legs. He scratched at its head, smiling at the animal. He intended to get a dog, but upon seeing this miserable bag of fleas, he had changed his mind. The cat was much like him, chewed up by life and spat back out. It was a good mouser at least, and had kept the rats from his little hovel. It proved more useful than he was. The cat rubbed against his good leg, purring loudly. "Yes, yes, you'll get your breakfast too," he got up and filled the cat's dish, setting it on the floor.
A knock on the door startled the two of them, and he frowned in the direction of the wooden door. It was not often that he had visitors. Standing slowly he headed towards the door, his leg creaking on the way. He scowled; he would have to grease it again. He rapped his cane upon the limb, as if to hush it, and stood up as straight as he could in front of the door. When it swung open he was greeted by the sight of an old friend, one that he hadn't talked to in a long time. But then he hadn't talked to anyone in a long time. He had withdrawn from his friends after the loss of his leg. He couldn't stand the way they stared, the way they talked so softly around him, afraid that they may upset him.
The young man at the door had done much better than he had. He was well off and engaged. He reached out a gloved hand, smiling, "It's been a long time, I wanted to see if you'd still remember me."
The man rubbed at his face, there was a short, scratchy beard, he had neglected to shave for awhile. "Hard to forget, Samuel." He released his cane long enough to shake his hand, leaning heavily on his other leg.
Samuel kept smiling. "To tell you the truth, I wanted to invite you to a show with me tonight. A ballet actually." The man looked down at Samuel's shoes. They were so well polished that he could almost see himself in them. They looked out of place on the grimy, puddle covered streets of his road. One of the smaller flying machines sped by, silencing them for a moment; it was next to impossible to hear over the whir of the blades.
The man took this moment to glance past his friend, and the automobile that waited for him. It was polished and shone, brighter than his metal leg. But then he didn't polish the metal anymore, he didn't spend any more time caring for the prosthetic than he absolutely had to. He looked back at Samuel, the dull roar of the flying machine growing further away. "I don't have the proper attire for something so fancy, I'm afraid I'll have to turn you down. It was nice to see you again Samuel." He turned, glancing at the radio on his entryway table.
It was very old, and he had to twiddle the knobs and hope, to get a channel. He would spend the day sitting in front of it, not at some silly show. But his friend was persistent, "Nonesense, you should come, I simply must have you meet my fiancé. I will let you borrow a suit."
The world weary soldier sighed, "Very well." His friend had always been very persistent, and if he continued to decline his offer, he would only be badgered into it. "I'll go and get my coat then."
A smile lit Samuel's face, "Wonderful, the performance is this afternoon, we'll get you dressed and head that way." He walked quickly in front of his friend, who sighed as he limped behind him. The plush leather seats of the automobile felt foreign to him. He had never ridden in a car as fancy as this. His friend chatted all the while, while they bumped along the road. The man kept his gaze straight ahead, replying when he must, his hands clasped over the top of his cane.
The house was as nice as the car, it was much grander than the hole in the wall he called home. Samuel's wife smiled and greeted him politely but she saw her eyes dart down toward his leg. He shifted uncomfortably, noticing her glance. His friend was taller than he was, so they had to find one of his older suits to actually fit him. After he was dressed and semi-presentable, they left.
At the theater he caught a glance of himself in the reflection of a window. He almost looked like he used to, before the land mine. The suit fit him well and with his hair neatly combed he looked like a smart dressed and handsome bachelor. His cane was ill suited for the outing, as it was plain, rough wood, compared to the finery he was dressed in, but he needed it.
The doors of the theater were finely polished brass, with designs etched into them, they were held open and the three of them were escorted to their seats. The curtains were hammered thin, silver chain, that pulled open in a rustle of clinks, and clanks as the show started and the lights dimmed. Even the dancers were dressed in outfits the colors of precious metals or jewels. This world was in love with metal, he hated it. It cursed him, mocked him, and glared at him viciously. Twisting his hands on his cane he grimaced. The songs continued and he sat through them, miserable.
Then the music changed, softened. A new dancer appeared on the stage, and the others melted back. Her outfit was the softest green, like the color of a new leaf in spring, her makeup was not thick and shimmery, but complimented her own soft, pink, complexion.
She danced with such skill, that it was as if every move she made created the music. With every bend of her legs and arms the music swelled and quieted. The notes responded to her dance, the song was her dance partner. He watched her, captivated by her beauty and grace. He was unable to look away.
All too soon the music ended, and she walked to the front of the stage to take her bow. As she looked out at the crowd, her eyes found his. In that moment his heart contracted and he felt like he couldn't breath. In that moment, he loved her, and he knew that she could love him. That she could make him feel happiness again, and wholeness. The world narrowed and shrank to only include the two of them. Then the lights dimmed and she disappeared, his heart ached and he wanted only to see her again. The lights in the auditorium came back on and everyone began standing. His friend put his hand on his arm, pulling him away from his thoughts of the ballerina. "Come on, it's intermission time."
He got up and followed his friends into the intermission area. There were small tables of food, and people mulled about, talking in quiet voices. He lost track of Samuel in the crowd and made his way through people, trying to find him again. When he saw him he stopped in his tracks. Samuel and his fiancé were talking to the ballerina. She was just as beautiful off the stage. Her eyes lit up as she laughed.
He took a few steps back. He could go and introduce himself, and get to know the beautiful girl, but then he thought of her eyes, traveling down to his metal leg. He wanted her to look at him, to see him and feel the way he did. He knew she could love him. But as he started to move forward, his leg creaked loudly and he stopped. She would know, she would look at him and see his shame. His heart shuddered at the thought and he looked away. He tightened his grip on his cane and turned around. Outside it had started to drizzle and the rain was going to ruin Samuel's suit. He couldn't bring himself to care at that moment in time. He needed to go home, and put more grease on is knee joint. He had to stop pursuing useless fantasies, such as true love, and heroism. After all that was what got him here in the first place. Besides that, no one as beautiful as the girl behind him would love a washed up tin can of a soldier.