Tin Dreams

Jeb leaned against the door jamb, sleeves rolled up, skinny arm stretched across the doorway. He gazed out across the prairie, smelling strong coffee brewing in the kitchen and an omelet frying in butter. Purple, red, and yellow flowers were scattered across the grassy plateau and the sky couldn’t get any bluer. The fig tree was weighed down by hundreds of fat figs. Jeb, the warden said, handing him a metal cup with steaming black coffee. The warden’s hands were beat up from his former vocation in construction. Marla came up from behind Jeb and hugged him, her black eyes looking towards the warden. She wore a kerchief that encircled her perfect doll’s face. How much is all this worth to you? asked the warden. All what? asked Jeb.

All this. The smell of breakfast, the prairie in front of you, your beautiful wife. The warden took a drink of coffee. Jeb turned from the warden to look into Marla’s dark eyes. All this is priceless. Why does it have to ever end? Jeb said. Then the three stared out at the blue sky until they had to go their separate ways.


Marla, remember years back when the three of us were here, at this cabin? When we were all having coffee and breakfast? the warden asked. His hair had gone grey but he still had dark eyebrows. I can’t forget it, said Marla. The sky was blue like a robin’s egg that day. The two of them stared out the doorway now into the darkness of a country night. There was no moon and the prairie was quiet.

Look at us now. I’m missing an arm. Jeb’s gone. I can’t remember the last time we had chickens in the barn or the fig tree bore fruit.

You don’t have to tell me that, warden.

Let me tell you something. When the men first arrive at prison I let them have everything, all the perks. Clean mattress with a blanket and a pillow. Phone calls. The luxury of sleeping through the night without someone checking in on them every fifteen minutes. Why? Because you have to have something to take away. For every offense they commit in prison, we take something away. He tamped some tobacco gently into his pipe. It’s a lot like life, you know, Marla. No one can get through a day of life without sinning, even small sins. Little white lies, you know. And for every sin God takes something away. Until in the end you’re left with a body that can barely walk. A head that can’t think anymore. But take a look at this. He held up an antique tin soldier, the legs swinging.

Marla looked at him. Why are you showing me that, Warden?

It’s made out of tin.


Tin, it turns out, is an accumulator. It’s very receptive. Believe it or not, science has found a way of transferring a person’s soul into tin. Before the person’s body deteriorates.

Marla stared at the warden and the tin man with its little serious face under its captain’s helmet. What do they have you on, Warden? I’m serious. What drugs do they have you on?

MARLA! but it was Jeb’s voice. Marla looked to the open doorway, out into the night, but no one was there. Marla! Jeb said again. Marla would know his voice anywhere. Then she noticed another twelve-inch tin soldier standing in the doorway, waving at her. We did the procedure with Jeb, Marla. The warden said. When his body failed we transferred his soul into the tin of that soldier. Now, he’ll never die. They can’t take anything away from you anymore, Jeb!

Damn right! said the tin soldier with Jeb’s voice. The soldier ran haltingly over to Marla and hugged her leg. I’ve been missing you, Marla! So good to see you again. The tin soldier began to sob, pressing his face against Marla’s leg as he hugged her tighter. When the warden went into the kitchen, Marla carefully lifted the tin solder up and stared into the little crying eyes. Is that you in there, Jeb? she asked the soldier.

It IS him! said the Warden from the kitchen. It’s an easy process. It takes twenty-one seconds. The tin soldier with the captain’s helmet came strutting in from the kitchen doorway. It’s me, Marla! I changed like a butterfly! the tin soldier said, speaking with the warden’s voice. He laughed. Look, I have two arms again! he waved his tin arms. Marla put the Jeb soldier down on the ground and he ran and hugged the warden soldier. You made it! Jeb shouted to the warden. Now it’s your turn! Jeb shouted up to Marla. You’ll never get old! You’ll never die! We’ll be together forever!

All three of us! said the warden, clicking his tin heels.

He’s right, said a bald man in a lab coat appearing from the kitchen. If you don’t, your heart will, eventually, stop beating. Your brain cells will die from lack of oxygen. Prior to that you’ll likely suffer dementia and incontinence. If you’re tin, none of that will happen! And if any part of your body gets bent or scratched you just buff it or bend it back. Come on in, darling, I’ll show you how it works.

Let him show you! said tin Jeb.

That’s Proffessor Prakowlin. He did both of us, said the tin warden. With the two soldiers pulling her by her pant legs, Marla followed Prakowlin slowly into the kitchen. Off to one side, the warden’s human remains slumped against a chair, a thin metal pipe poking out of his chest. Oh, don’t look at that, said the professor. He laughed. That’s just MATTER. Decomposing matter. Look instead at this. He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her towards a cast iron contraption on the large kitchen table. There were cranks and giant gears. Think about it. A finite life on earth as your flesh withers with each passing day. Or you can dance every day away with these gents, eternally! He drew the thin metal pipe out of the warden’s chest and moved toward Marla. Come here, honey! You’ll be an immortal tin goddess! He grabbed her arm.

Do it! Do it! the tin soldiers chanted, pulling hard at her legs.

GET AWAY! Marla shouted, shoving the professor back and kicking the soldiers skidding across the tile floor. The professor lunged at her with the bloody metal tube but she sidestepped at the last second, and he crashed to the ground with his own momentum. Then Marla took off running out of the kitchen, across the living room, and out the front door into the country night. She ran like crazy across the meadow, not stopping until she could see the lights of town ahead and hear the familiar sounds of Friday night revelry. She pushed through the swinging doors of an inn and went straight up to the bar. After a drink she thought she saw the two tin soldiers out of the corner of her eye but when she looked again they were gone.

She slept uneasily in a room above the bar that night, windows shuttered and door locked. Every hour she’d hear their little metallic voices. Marla! Marla, don’t you want to dance with us …FOREVER?


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