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20 Talismans

By T Williams

1. A Wooden Cigar Box

Dad savoured each one. The box only came out on special occasions, when your grades were good or the peach tree you planted bore fruit for the first time. He’d strike a match, inhale, put his hand on your shoulder. Now you use the box to store stationery. 

2.  A Pocket Knife

This was used to carve your initials all over picnic tables and public park signage. The blade’s been in better shape, yes, but the illusion of safety still holds firm in the hilt when you grasp it.

3. A Dried Petal

Years spent crushed between the pages of a dictionary have made it brittle, but not broken. You could crush it, almost powder it, and scatter the dust like a prayer. You put the book back on the shelf. 

4. One Earing 

Where did the other one go? The orphan has been sitting in the jewelry box awhile. Let me think… You wore the pair a lot in the summer. Maybe somebody you slept with then took it off your night stand. Perhaps you left it on theirs. 

5. A Tape Measure

You never needed to take a measure in imperial units. Stretch the yellow tongue out just over 211 times and you’ll have a mile. 

6. A Notebook

Your old email, old phone number, and old name are sketched on the first page. There was never any chance it would get lost. It stayed inside, but you forgot about it anyways. On the third page: a drawing of a water pitcher, a note that reads ‘Keep Focused.’

7.  A Salt Shaker 

Moving day went by slow. Someone bailed on you, the promise of free lunch was not exciting enough. A box was misplaced, perhaps forever. You pour the new salt in the shaker and throw a pinch of it over your shoulder. Hopefully, tomorrow will be luckier. 

8. A Light Bulb 

This wouldn’t ignite in a modern socket. The filament is delicate, shaped like a flower. You don’t expect it to give off much light or burn very long. 

9. A Key Without a Lock

Your best friend found it on a dusty unfinished road. The teeth are all scratched. As a joke, you clicked it onto your keychain. As a joke, you try it in every unfamiliar lock. You miss your friend each time you do.

10. A Pencil

A year has passed since you cleaned out your pencil case. Grimy sticky notes, empty pens, nubs of erasers get flushed out onto the desk together. You spy your pencil. Each bite mark recalls a stressful exam. You broke it in half out of  frustration one winter. The lead is still good though. 

11. Marmalade 

The back of the fridge is an archaeological site, basically. Auntie picked the acidic Seville oranges for you and all your siblings. Beyond that, the process of making marmalade is unknown to you.

12. A Railway Spike 

The tracks used to run through the low hills and lakes. Everyone has a spike lying around, cottagers love them. But when you look at the one on the dining room table and at the old style oil lamp, you imagine what hand might have driven the metal tooth.

13. A Game of Monopoly

It’s rude to leave a gift unused. Whatever. You stopped playing board games when you were 12. 

14. A Coconut

You never found a use for it, but it was fun to find the husk on such an untropical beach. If only the climate was warmer it might have sprouted, settled. The only palm trees native here are plastic.

15. Nail Polish

Can a bottle of nail polish ever run out? Maybe after years you could deplete the whole reservoir, scraping out the last drops of luster like peanut butter from the bottom of the jar. The colour, pearl, is too rare to ever let it deplete completely. 

16. A Number

To have received not just a string of digits, but to have gotten somebody’s number should make you proud. It did, yes, but the feeling mellowed and rotted out of you.

17. A Recipe

Splashes of oil, rains of flour, the ambient factors that give all paper left in the kitchen a delicious yellow tint eventually. Do you really need the reminder when you’ve made this dish so many times?

18. A Boxcutter

A summer spent tetris-ing boxes together and un-tetris-ing cardboard apart, fitting the wreckage into more cardboard boxes, and calling it a day. Besides that, the tool hasn’t seen much use since.

19. A Pair of Shoes

Whenever you walked through a puddle, your socks got wet. Rain always soaked through the laces, gumming them up. The heel has worn down and the thin soles are patchy with gashes and holes. These shoes have taken you through six cities, about five towns, and a few hamlets. 

20. A Cobblestone

You like to entertain the idea that it was embedded in the street for centuries before you pried it out. This is obviously a romantic lie. Roadcrews tear up the cobbles and put them back together, replacing the pieces, again and again.

T Williams is a fourth year English, Philosophy, and Finnish Studies student at the University of Toronto. They write poetry, prose, and tabletop role playing games. 

In the world of tabletop role playing games, it’s common to see 20-item lists whose contents can be randomly selected by rolling a 20-sided die. Monsters, treasures, encounters are often selected this way. But we can organize other things this way, too: little memories, objects, moments, feelings (or what the youth today call moods).

Photo credit: British Library on Unsplash

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