PERHAPS IT WAS the cold weather. Or maybe the fact that I had been coughing and sneezing a lot. Or maybe I had been smugly smacking my lips too much. Who knows?
But whatever it was, it caused me to balm my lips much more than I ever had in the past. So often, in fact, that for the first time in my life, I ran out of chapstick.
I applied the last bit of waxy stick to my lips, but it was scraped off by the bottom of the empty tube. I stood dumbfounded, for I had even seen the little plastic piece that pushes the balm up the cylinder. I had always lost the tube before it got anywhere near empty.
After several moments of confusion, I threw the spent tube into the nearest garbage can.
"WAIT," wailed a voice somewhere in the room. I looked around. I was alone. I ignored the cry.
"Wait, don't leave me here to rot."
The words came directly from the garbage can. I peered over the rim and saw my empty tube of chapstick talking to me. It was floating atop some discarded coffee grinds.
"Why shouldn't I throw you away," I said, realizing later that I was talking to a tube of chapstick. I felt like an idiot. And no wonder.
"Because chapstick is never thrown away," it said. He, too, had never heard of anybody running out of chapstick. He explained that until this day, all tubes of chapstick had been lost before used up. When an owner loses a tube, it makes a migration to its final resting place, the tube explained.
"And where might that final resting place be?" I asked the hapless tube.
"In Nebraska," he said. "More specifically, Chapstick and Sunglasses, Nebraska." He informed me that if I failed to get him to his resting place in the Cornhusker State, I could quite possibly disrupt the balances of nature if I did not.
I ignored the vocal tube and threw an empty can of beer on top of him.
"You'll be sorry," he said. At that moment, the garbage can began to shake and rattle, gradually disturbing other pieces of furniture in the room.
"Stop," I yelled. He wouldn't stop. "All right, I'll take you to Nebraska."
We packed up the car and began our cross-country drive. I woke the tube up (he had been sleeping in the passenger seat) when we got to Lincoln. I let him navigate the rest of the way to Chapstick and Sunglasses, though I drew the line when he offered to drive.
We began to see signs for Chapstick and Sunglasses. As we approached the city, we passed a few suburban communities. The largest was called Bic Pens. Another was called Lone Glove. We sped though Lone Sock, Disposable Lighters, Backs of Earrings and Single Cufflinks.
Finally, we arrived in downtown Chapstick and Sunglasses. The city was about 50 miles square. On one side of the highway were tubes of chapstick as far as the eye could see. In some places, the tubes were piled high; in others, they nestled in small private communities. Blistex had its own private beach club.
On the other side of the road were sunglasses of all shapes and colors, piled just as high as the chapstick tubes.
"WELL, I guess this is goodbye." the tube said as he hopped out the passenger door and headed for his version of Valhalla.
As I waited, I recognized a pair of Ray-Bans I had lost when I was 15.
The tube returned a few minutes later and told me that because he was empty, he had been denied entry. He said that the city would only accept half-full tubes, and only if they had been lost.
"You have to refill me," he said, "or I can't go home."
I ignored him, slipped into gear and sped back east.
The next day I arrived home. As I got out of the car, I noticed that the empty tube had jumped on the tailpipe and ridden all the way back with me.
"Refill me now, or I'll do to your car what I did to the garbage can," he announced.
Not wanting to test the forces of nature a second time, I invited the tube into my room. I poured him a drink and opened a full tube of lip balm. I sliced the top quarter of stick off the new tube and forced it down the neck of my annoying guest.
The once-animate tube now lost all of its life and rolled off the chair it had been sitting in. I picked it up and pocketed it.
It never spoke to me again. My cold went away, the weather got warmer, and my lips were no longer chapped. I put the tube in some medicine chest somewhere. But I lost it.