I was visiting this elderly couple that I knew. I was helping them go through some old junk that they had stored in a large overstuffed closet upstairs. We carried some wooden chairs up from the kitchen and we sat half-buried in the brown suits and dresses hung up around us as we sorted through boxes of old papers and photographs. There were papers from the old man’s war service, along with metals and citations. There were letters that the old woman had kept, correspondences from friends and relatives who had passed away.
In one of the boxes I found a bunch of small, loose, mechanical parts. I wasn’t sure what they were. The old man explained that he had patented the design for a toy robot many years ago. The parts were from the prototype that he had made. He had taken it apart and stored it up in the closet. He had forgotten all about it. He reached out eagerly for the box. He wanted to show me how the whole thing fit together. Then we could wind it up with the brass key and watch it hobble around on the hardwood floor.
As I went to hand him the box, I noticed that there was some kind of green goop on my hands. I sniffed at it. It smelled rotten and sweet and foul. The old man told me that some of the battery acid must have leaked out from the battery compartment after sitting in storage for so long. I could feel it burning on my hands. The old man tried to tell me not to panic. But the more I tried to wipe the acid off, the more of a mess I made. I had spread it to my arms and there was even some on my face. I felt it burning in my throat, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I got all tangled up in the hanging clothes trying to get out of the closet. I felt around for the doorknob and I burst out the door and ran down the hall clawing at my skin.