I pick up the metallic item popping in the middle of the lawn and stare at it. I've never seen such a thing. I wonder what it's worth and if I can make money out of it.
I bring it home and hand it to Dad, hoping to find an answer. “It’s old and looks cheap. Where did you find it?” he asks in turn, to which I reply that I found it while mowing the lawn.
Dad picks the object and returns it to me after one minute. “That’s a bell whistle. It’s unusual to find one in such a place. This is a residential area, after all.” He’s right. Where does it come from? Maybe our neighbor knows better than us.
I rush outdoors and climb the fence, landing on the other side of the lawn—Mr. Atkins’ garden. To him, there are only two precious things in his life: his wife, and the garden. While I shouldn’t be here, I need to find out where that object comes from.
I knock the door and then retreat. But, surprisingly, Mr. Atkins doesn’t lash at me. Instead, he notices the bell whistle and signals for me to hand it to him. I obey, then ask, “Is it yours? Why would you keep a bell whistle in your house? Did you work on a train? Or were you in the state railroad?”
He shakes his head. “No, Kelsey. I wasn’t employed at the railroad. I just kept it because it’s a gift from an old friend. That was back in 1968. We were both deployed and sent… there.” His answer makes me shiver. Is he talking about the Vietnam war? I can’t shake this feeling that it’s something really painful he doesn’t want to talk about.
I say, “I understand. It must be really precious to you. As much as your family or your house.” Okay, I’m going overboard. I cover my mouth to prevent myself from making another poor figure and make three steps back before greeting my elderly neighbor. To my shock, however, he invites me inside.
“Come in. Don’t you want to know the full story of this bell whistle?”
It’s so embarrassing. I wish I could pass, but I’ll feel bad for him if I just refuse, so I follow him to his living room. It’s not like he’s about to tell me anything traumatic, is he?