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The things we melt down


By CD MosbyPublished 13 days ago 5 min read
Top Story - April 2024
The things we melt down
Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

“How old do you think this beauty is?”

I’m on a short walk around my neighborhood when this riddle is hurled at me. The question comes from a middle-aged man wearing a Cleveland Water Department T-shirt. It’s too cold for this attire, but he seems unaffected by the chill breeze. He’s surprisingly fit for a man his age, but his hair grays on the edges, betraying his bid for youthfulness. A baseball cap shades his glasses. His cell phone is kept in a black pouch dangling from his belt. His jeans are light blue and authentically worn and tattered. Paint splotches dot the knees and bottom hems of his pants. There are moist spots on his shirt and legs and shoes. Droplets of water cling to his hands. He's smiling, but he's damp at the edges like he’s waiting hopefully for mold.

The man holds a big red wrench and taps it against the fire hydrant while waiting for my answer. The hydrant’s paint is flaking away, so I’m unsure if this thing is deceptively young or deceptively old. Is this man's question a comment on the quality of the hydrant’s paint or the longevity of old things? The stem nut and outlet look corroded. A rusty chain dangles and swings with each tap of the wrench. I find myself suddenly pulled out of my head and truly, deeply studying this fucking fire hydrant.

“I don’t know, uh, 1985,” I guess.

The man snickers and shakes his head. “Way off. This baby was made in 1913,” the tech says before hitching his wrench to the stem nut, twisting it loose, and letting the water spray around the edges of the outlet. “Imagine that, 100 years old.”

“Technically, it’s 110 years old. Well, 111 years I guess.”

“Exactly,” then the man ponders for a second, weighing whether or not the cliché is worth it. He decides it is, “They don’t make stuff like they used to.”

They used to make everything with lead and asbestos. Now, they make it with plastic and pesticides. So, sure, that’s different, I think.

“This thing saw two World Wars,” I say. I do not know why I am compelled to say this, but the words vomit out of me before I can shut my mouth.

The Cleveland Water tech nods at my comment like it makes sense or holds any meaning whatsoever. Then he starts talking again. “There’s one like this in Slavic Village. I used to live there, y’know? And I’d take our new guys over, show them the hydrant. A century-old hydrant just sitting in some overgrown grass in the middle of a nothing street. A piece of history. But they painted it. Real fresh paint, metallic looking. You can’t even tell how old it is now. But it’s old. It’s real old.”

Now, it’s my turn to nod. I wait for him to continue.

“They never believe me when I tell them how old it is. But come here,” he motions for me to step into the street and look at the hydrant from another angle. “You see this, right here,” he taps the front of the hydrant, beneath the outlet (which still has water leaking around it). “You can just make it out.”

He’s right. Chips of old paint are washing away beneath the stream of water and I can make out the numbers on the hydrant, “1913.” There’s a company name next to the year, but I can’t read it. It’s lost already.

“100 years old,” the man says.

“111 years,” I say.

“Right, 111 years,” he says.

“Doesn’t look a day over 109 though,” I say, trying to sound less like a know-it-all as I start to walk away. Then I pause, morbid curiosity getting the better of me. “What’ll happen to it? The hydrant, I mean. Do they just throw it away?”

“Oh yeah, they’ll scrap it and dump it,” he says.

I’m not entirely sure what this means but it sounds bleak for the hydrant. This seems to conclude our dialogue, so I begin moving away again.

The man smiles at me and then goes to his van. Before I’m out of earshot, he opens his driver’s side door, leans on the frame so his head is above the roof of the vehicle, and shouts after me. “Check the one up the street. I bet it’s the same age.”

I feel obligated to check now, I think. The man was too kindly to ignore and our chat about aged fire hydrants has left me with a peculiar sadness. That hydrant was installed before World War 1. It saw the neighborhood rise around it. It protected its neighbors. It marked distance on the street ("We're the house just past the fire hydrant.") Children played in its stream in the summer. Those same children matured, went through puberty, moved away, came back, bought their own houses, and had their own kids. Those children played in the hydrant’s stream for summers on end and the cycle continued for 100 years.

Well, 111 years.

And its ending is ignominious. A nondescript man in seasonally inappropriate attire will drive down the street, park a large white van in front of a tree lawn, and then collect the disconnected hydrant. He’ll throw it in the back, where it will rattle around for a while, unsure of its surroundings, unsure of its purpose or direction, unsure of where those happy children are. Then they’ll take it to a scrapyard, and they’ll melt it down or break it apart and the collected memories of all those years and all those families will disappear.

The notion made me incomparably sad. But when I got to the end of the street, and saw the next decaying hydrant, I was compelled by an unnamable urge to walk onto the asphalt and push aside the chain and read the year.

“1912,” I say. “Even older.”


About the Creator

CD Mosby

CD Mosby is an author and journalist. He hopes his words bring you a sliver of joy.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Eye opening

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Comments (8)

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  • Esala Gunathilake4 days ago

    Congratulations on your top story.

  • Ameer Bibi10 days ago

    Congratulations for top story 🎉🎉Your tenacity is truly remarkable. Keep pushing through any obstacles in your path.

  • Rachel Deeming10 days ago

    To make me feel sorry for a fire hydrant takes some doing but you did it. A lot of memories wrapped up in that object. Great writing.

  • Andrea Corwin 11 days ago

    What a fabulous piece! So interesting and isn't just serendipity that a conversation like that could take place? Congrats on TS. Love this!!!

  • Anna 11 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!

  • Gabriel Huizenga11 days ago

    This is an absolutely masterful short story. Really, really compelling writing. Thank you for sharing, and congrats on the Top Story! :)

  • Christy Munson11 days ago

    Your story is moving and caught me off guard, just the way I like it when I read. You had me hooked with, "he's damp at the edges like he’s waiting hopefully for mold." Thereafter, it was a joy ride I want to take again and again. Loved it. Congratulations on writing it, and also for earning TS!

  • ROCK 11 days ago

    I loved this and the riveting reminder that there's a story in everyone if we just take the time to listen. I, too, have earned a few grey hairs. Think of how many hydrants you'll have discovered and stories you will have to share by the time you reach 111 years!

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