The Scale of Everything

As a young man Barden loved to weigh things: pens, rings, shoes, his thumb. His father was a jeweler and Barden had to spend a lot of time in the shop because his mother also worked and there was nowhere else to go. There was a flat scale with a copper-colored metal plate on the counter. He would place whatever item he found that he wanted to know its weight on it. Did you know your average pen weighs 4.6 grams?

His father was a busy man with little patience for Barden playing around on his equipment, so he’d have to do it quickly while his father was helping a customer or getting an order from the back.

This was years ago, back before the war came and the part of town where his father’s jewelry shop was located was bombed by German war planes, but Barden was looking back on it now, and it was like he was still a little kid, playing around and bored, looking over his shoulder.

It was a game he played, and often won. The rules always shifted for how close he had to come to guessing the weight of something, so it was an easy game to win. He’d find a plastic spoon and estimate that it weighed 6 grams and when it clocked in at 5.2 grams he’d smile, pleased with himself for coming that close. Did you know a battery weighs 30 grams?

Barden is an old man now and his father has been dead for thirty years, but he felt nervous remembering the scale and his game, as if now that his father was in the afterlife he would have access to all of Barden’s thoughts and would be displeased at the long-ago deceit.

But aren’t there a lot more things to be displeased about if you were a ghost?

Barden stood up and went over to the window where he watched a young boy rolling a tire in his father’s auto repair shop across the street. The boy’s name is Miguel and he has an unfortunate scar on his left cheek that is shaped like a piece of steak. Barden says hello to Miguel everyday on his walks and takes pity for the long hours he has to stay there waiting for his father. It reminds him of the jewelry shop. Everything does these days. It’s like when you get to the end of your days you actually get closer to the start of them.

The city has changed a lot since the war, the buildings are much taller and made of glass now, and the people are harsher and busier, but in many ways it is the same, he concluded, watching Miguel standing on the tire, wiggling it side to side, until he fell off. Barden picked up a coffee cup and went to pour himself a cup when he had a sharp, painful memory of his wife’s coffee and how much better she used to make it. He set his cup on the table and sighed so heavily his dog woke up from its nap.

Barden hoped Sydney would get up and come over to him, but the dog merely put its head back between its paws and closed his eyes again. Barden counted how many hours he had until it was time to go to sleep, which these days was 9 o’clock, and didn’t even bother to figure out ways to fill up those hours. He knew that there was something he wanted to watch on TV tonight, but couldn’t remember what it was. It didn’t matter. He’d turn on the TV and flip through the channels until he came across it.

He looked back outside and saw Miguel’s father arguing with somebody next to a car with a giant dent in the side. They both were looking at it, pointing and yelling. Barden didn’t see Miguel anywhere. His father probably told him to go to the back whenever things got heated, just like his own father did in the jewelry shop. Doesn’t he know this only makes a young boy pay more attention to what is happening?

Barden picked up the paper and noticed it had yesterday’s date on it and realized that today’s paper must still be outside at the door. What does it matter anyway?

He began to read the paper but the words seemed to shrink and move around like an army of ants; it’s difficult to read anything like this, so instead he tried to guess its weight, then he looked at the dog and remembered that the last time they went to the vet, Sydney was 13 kilograms. He looked around at the items in his kitchen and thought about what everything weighed, starting with the refrigerator; then he moved to the living room, sat down in the chair and proceeded to guess the weight of the TV, couch, paintings, etc..

Barden then wondered if he could guess what all the things in his entire life weighed. What if he took everything he ever came in contact with and put it on a giant scale the size of the English Channel? All the homes he lived in, the cars he drove, the bowling balls he rolled, the hats he wore on his head, his keys, his books, ticket stubs, tools, the people he met along the way, etc..

The scale of everything.

When he thought about his wife, he remembered going through her things when she passed away and staring at her driver’s license for an hour. He remembered turning it over and over in his hand, because it was something that she held daily and he thought he could touch her through it. Or some memory of her touch. It said she weighed 58 kilograms, which was a lie, but one of the only things she probably ever lied about her whole life.

He gave up his guessing game at that point, because he knew he could never find a scale that could weigh what she meant to him.

He then turned on the TV, because the silence was like a lead coat being placed over him, and went looking for that program he couldn’t remember the name of that he wanted to watch.

old man


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