Jason was born in Illinois in the winter. It was cold, dark and loud when he was born. The whirring of a huge machine threading steel wire to form nails was the first thing Jason experienced as he himself was spit from its mouth and moved along a conveyor belt to be dipped into a protective chemical coating. A huge magnet sorted and packed him into a box with other nails his size. He spent quite some time wedged neatly in the dark of that box, his head alined carefully next to the others. A silent but safe waiting game ensued as Jason was shipped from factory to warehouse to distributor to stockroom and finally to the shelf of a hardware store in Lawrence, Kansas. It was a lifetime before Jason was finally seized by large hands, taken to the register, paid for, and carried home in the back of of a truck filled with miscellaneous home improvement tools.
Jason remained in the dark for sometime, unable to see anything except those other nails stacked on top of him. It was only when a probing finger dove in to grab a nail of his size that he was jostled to the top and able to peek through at the world. He found himself in a room filled with boxes and scattered furniture draped in white cloth. He could make out people painting walls and days later the rearranging of furniture. The boxes disappeared one by one over time, and their contents resettled on shelves or to various rooms around the house. Jason and his ever decreasing companions were moved to a lower shelf and the hand that rummaged into their box became less and less frequent.
The room was surprisingly still for days, even months. Jason listened to footsteps move around other parts of the house, but rarely into the room where he was set. He could hear the murmur of voices—one loud and jolly, another soft and patient, and a final the whimsical sing-song of a small child with a big imagination. The day came when those three voices made themselves apparent in the room where Jason stayed. He watched as two oversized stuffed chairs were moved to the side so that what should have lived outdoors, was dragged indoors. A huge tree was set in the corner and together the three strung lights, ornaments and fancy strands of glittering paper on the tree. When that was done the big rough hands (that Jason recognized from their digging in his box) lifted up the small child so she could place a large glowing star on the top of the tree.
From then on he still heard the three voices and the various footsteps in the house, but he also spied the little girl come and peek at the tree, inspecting its every ornament and light. He watched one evening as she tiptoed in quietly, a pad of paper and crayons of many colors in her hand. She spread herself down on the carpet in front of the tree and studied the view for sometime before purposefully picking up crayon after crayon and filling first one page, then another, and finally a third. She looked at the tree, and looked at her paper, and ran on her toes out of the room, leaving no evidence behind of her ever being there.
Late one night Jason heard a rustle in the room. Roused from his slumber he saw that under the glittering tree were boxes of all shapes and sizes wrapped in shiny paper and topped with ribbons and bows. He stayed awake that night, as sleepy as he was, to watch as the little girl danced into the room and silently snuck a crudely wrapped box on top of the pile of presents.
That morning was full of smiles, surprise, and many moments of laughter. When only one present remained under the tree, the girl presented it to her parents and watched with delight as they opened a framed picture. The father flashed a knowing smile and the mother cried out with joy, small tears welling in her eyes. Jason still couldn’t see what was in that frame but he knew instinctively it held something beautiful, something powerful, something full of love.
The three of them together looked at the walls of the room and then went over to the shelf where Jason kept watch. Instead of the rough big hands, the small pudgy fingers felt around in the box, settling on Jason much to his delight. He was held in between her thumb and forefinger, warmed by her small hands. In her other hand she held a hammer that outsized her 100 to one. He was concerned for her, and for himself, with such small hands and such a big tool. But as she held him to the wall, the big rough hands encircled her small pudgy ones and together…tap, tap, tap…Jason moved slowly into the wall. The small hands grabbed the frame, a red ribbon strung from the top, and hung it gently onto Jason. The three stepped back, arms around each other, smiling at Jason and at the masterpiece hanging below him.
Most other nails were hidden by their photos, frames or various cargo. Not Jason. With a the ribbon hanging from his trunk he could happily enjoy his surroundings. The only thing he couldn’t really see was the picture in his frame. It was like looking down his nose and that made him dizzy and confused. Instead he looked out the window keeping track of the world by the oak tree out front whose leaves told stories of time. The room he lived in was rarely used. Occasionally it would fill up with friends for an evening of loud chatter and bite-sized food but mostly Jason looked forward to the time of year when the tree would come in and his room would once again be filled with warmth, delight and surprise. He also knew that he would be acknowledged and admired during that time. Well, maybe not so much him, but at least the precious picture that hung from his spot on the wall.
Year after year, once a year, Jason drank up the joy and love that came from the tree, the gifts and that room. The pattern repeated until the once little girl grew big, and the joy was slowly replaced with something like impatience and frustration. The smiles around the tree were half hearted, and the day was no longer as much of a celebration as it was a forced ritual. There was less of the careless pitter patter around the house, and more of the stomping and yelling and slamming that seemed to be caused by the little girl’s new height. The previously jolly loud voice of the father was still loud but less jolly. And the mom’s soft patience turned to silence. And finally there were no more voices. Only silence and the rattling footsteps that belonged to the feet of the rough large hands.
There was no tree that year, nor the years after. There was no little girl peeking in for presents and no smiling family to acknowledge Jason’s hard work of holding up a masterpiece. There was only the echo of lonely loud footsteps. Sometimes Jason recognized the voice that previously held whimsy and imagination, but now was laced with sadness, as she visited for a lunch or a dinner. Jason looked out at the oak tree and watched as time passed. The next time the echoing footsteps entered his room, Jason could no longer recognize the man whose hands had helped guide him into the wall. There were wrinkles on his face and white hair on his head. He wore glasses and moved like someone trying to avoid cracks in ground. The man took a look at the picture and smiled, not with his mouth, but with tear filled eyes. Then he turned and walked out.
Jason was used to waking up with the footsteps. But one morning they didn’t come. The phone rang, and rang. The footsteps never arrived. The day turned to night and then morning came again. Nothing. He heard the door open on the other side of the house and the inquiring Helloo of that once little girl. He heard the gasp and the cry and the phone, and he listened to the rush of boots on the floor and a of squealing tires outside. The house filled with chaos and emptied just as quickly. Then the house returned to silence and Jason returned to watching the leaves on the oak tree.
Jason’s room finally filled for one last time. There was the same bite sized food, but the chatter was silent and labored, and there were tears instead of smiles. When the last of the guests, all dressed in black, filed out, the only one to remain was the young woman who grew from that once little girl. She walked over to Jason’s place on the wall and looked at that picture hanging below him. She removed the red ribbon from his body and held the frame close to her chest. Her eyes swept the room, then she turned to walk out. Jason remained on the wall. He watched the leaves on the oak tree fall and thought of his companions hidden behind their paintings in the wall. He thought of the things they didn’t see. He thought of the pockets of joy and wonder he had witnessed, and he thought of the sadness in the eyes of the family that had once adored him. He thought of how cold, dark and loud it was when he was first created, and compared it with the cold, dark, silence that he now lived. He remembered the box that he spent so many of his first days in, packed in stillness and darkness and never knowing, and he missed that box.