Taking out the garbage
Taking out the garbage
There was another fight at the house tonight. Nothing much different than many other nights. It was tiring. It was ridiculous, these little fights over nothing much at all. They were pointless, and words, but not things, were tossed and thrown, hurled and spit out in torrents of anger and misunderstanding coupled with a near complete lack of empathy or sympathy among the fighters. This Tim knew. The fights seemed to be nothing more than the consequence of several people who were forced to live together due to an accident of the cosmos – they were all of the same blood. Yet, they were all so different, intractable even, like the religious fighting over Jerusalem. But there was nothing much to be done about this, at least not on this night, which was so similar to so many other nights that had met their maker after the sun and moon cooperated in pummeling the daylights out of the hours between their risings and settings. Oh, those two globes were in control of events far more than any human could possibly be, and they didn’t care whether humans came or went, either. Though humans certainly cared whether the sun and moon came and went, for our existence depended on them, and they did not even know we existed.
Tim put out the garbage that night, as he had on many other nights. This was nothing new. There was a sameness about it that was both comforting and bothersome. After all, stability had its virtues, while adventure had its merits. They were competing forces in the world. The sun was stability, the moon was adventure. The sun was the same everyday, mostly. The moon was different every night, its cycle a bit less predictable than its brighter and warmed buddy on the other side of the globe. He took a long meandering trip at a slow pace out to the curb. Orwell came with him for his late night stroll. Tim looked up into the clear, black sky where not enough stars to guide an ancient mariner twinkled. But he stared up at them anyway, marveling at the sight, wondering what lay around the suns out there. He was living in an era when we knew stars were suns and they had planets. He lit the joint he had pulled out of his pocket and inhaled that magical first puff. The stars could be more intense now, and his imagining could go further, into the details of life on those planets, such as he could conjure. Pot did serve to broaden his mind. Often, on those distant planets, there was no fighting, no yelling, no harmful words strewn around the dining room like the detritus of a college cafeteria food fight.
Orwell nosed around the garden’s edge, which was clearly lit by the rather intense street light at the end of the property, on the corner, in the trees, but bright enough, still, to cast its pale. Nearly 60 feet away and it hurled its light, the color of ash, down on Tim, illuminating the garden. Tim could sometimes imagine that it was a pale sun for a different world, where the sun didn’t set, but went around the horizon at a slightly cockeyed angle. Where 50 degree nights and 75 degree days continued forever, and every afternoon the forever puffy clouds gave the slightest drizzle for an hour or two, to appease the plants before the sun’s warmth came back to please the people. Orwell barked at something he thought should be barked at. Tim was pushed away from his contemplation; perhaps the dog was reminding him that there was more to do in this world.
Tim went back to the side door for the second can and brought it out to the curb, placing it carefully on the brick square his father had laid out years before. Everyone else put their cans on their manicured lawns, leaving an ever moving little circle of brown grass, like modern crop circles. The brick made life easy. You could even shovel the snow off in the winter. He was tired of shoveling snow, however, and thought of other worlds, and places on this one, where there was no snow.
Spring was here, clearly, and it was a great one so far. He re-lit the joint and started to look at the trees and shrubs and flowers in the garden, under the ashen glow. He was somewhat impressed, this he could admit. His father had lived in Japan with the army back in the 1950s. Over there, in his youth, he had developed a keen appreciation for Japanese landscape techniques. So he did his best to reconstruct this ideal right smack dab in the middle of Atlantic seaboard suburbia. The whole yard was a forest of carefully placed trees and shrubs, long and thin leafed next to short and fat leafed, short shrubs under tall trees, dark green leaves contrasting with light green leaves. Red flowers played next to yellow, next to orange, next to white, played a game of tag across the little hills and tiny valleys that broke the flat lawn. Which was so different than the flat lawn that seemed to never end, not in any direction. A flatness leaping from property to property, impeded only here and there, barely, briefly, by a fence or driveway. The flat green sheet crossed the streets like a forest fire jumps a firebreak. It was, Tim decided, very monotonous, and, he concluded, what his father had done was not so bad after all. It was good to be a bit different among the sameness, he reasoned.
Tim’s walk to the brick square was a meandering path of brick through the forest of vegetation, through weeping trees and upright trees, through plump bushes and sprightly flowers. The yard of house next door, and all the yards down the block, and up the next street, and down the other side, too, were more like the Nebraska prairie, with barely a tree to break up the monotony. It was easy to imagine being in a far away place there, too. Tim’s mind wandered, and the lust for something different than what he seemed to have always known flowed through his existence. The first car of the night passed and it broke Tim’s concentration. The radio was pumping out some forgettable song of the 1950s. That driver is living in the past, Tim thought. How boring, he realized. What a waste, he concluded.
In a minute Tim was back in his contemplative mode. The quite was nice. The soft breeze soothing his unruffled nerves. The electric transformer at the corner continued its Buddhist like UMMMM, The stars, the garden, even the ummm, reminded Tim of far away places. He went and got the third can; it was amazing how much garbage a family of five could generate. He plopped the can onto its brick landing pad and made sure all the lids were tight. That was a bit tough to do, but had to be done. He would have no time in the morning to clean up anything that some stray cat or dog ripped out, leaving a mess all over the place. Between the amount of garbage stuffing the cans and the bent rims of the metal can itself there were two opposing forces that seemed to say “You will not close me tight.” The garbage, if it could, might be thinking “I want to see the stars, I want to feel the breeze, I want to breathe the fresh air.” The cans, bent from the furies of the garbage men, hellbent on getting the job done faster than they did the day before, so they could no doubt go home early, seemed to not want the garbage within them. They seemed to want to expel the foul smells and oozing glutinous fluids from their inner sanctums, and who could blame them? He struggled a bit, but won the battle, which was one of the few battles he ever did win. The lids securely in place, Tim called to Orwell, “Let’s go in,” and Orwell dutifully came bounding along. Tim stepped quietly through the darkened house, Orwell found his spot and laid down. Tim was quickly upstairs up to his bedroom, and faster into the bed, and went to sleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
In the morning he imagined his dreams were sweet, but he didn’t remember them, so he didn’t know. He finished the last of his preparations, such as they were. He put the last of his clothes in his luggage, which was just a small bag, as if he was going to the gym, or on a weekend trip. Then he came downstairs. “All right, folks, time to go,” he said. His parents looked up at him and sighed. “Breakfast …” his mother started.
“We’ve got no time,” he said. He smiled at her, she wondered why. Their boy was leaving, and they didn’t quite know why, no. Though they supposed him old enough to go. The drive to the airport was pretty quiet, but his mom got all teary eyed at the gate to the plane. What the tears were for he could not tell. Perhaps it was her being sorry for being so ornery all those years. Perhaps it was merely that she did not want him to go, and few mothers ever really wanted their children to leave. Especially to a place so far away, where he knew no one, and would be in danger, though of what kind it could not be foreseen with clarity. There were only vague visions of the usual dangers of a stranger in a faraway place. He smiled at her, she wondered why. Why was he so damn happy, she thought. He was leaving her, shouldn’t he even be just a little upset? But is a young bird upset when it makes that first leap into the void and feels the air beneath its wings and soars off as best it can to some other tree in the forest? Probably not.
The call was made, “Flight 93 to Seattle is now boarding,” and Tim stepped up to the attendant with a big smile, and she smiled back at him and said “Have a pleasant flight.” He stepped through the door to the gangway, as if leaping into a looking glass. Who knew what was down this rabbit hole? There was no way to tell. Who could tell, also, what was at the bottom of a garbage can? Why did dogs bark at unseen and unheard things? Why did people fill this planet and seemingly no others, at least not that we knew of, yet. It was all a mystery, and there were so many more awaiting him.
In a few moments, walking at the same pace as everyone else, he stepped through the side of the big aluminum tube. Of a sudden he was on the plane for a trip far away, buckling himself in, looking out the window at the other planes going who knew where? At a steady place, in the allotted time, the seats filled up, and the only thing that he could discern about them was they were going to Seattle too. Who knew why? Who cared? He did not. People fumbled with their things, some more ably than others. He heard the door shut, and the pilot said something about flight time and the weather at their destination. The attendants prepared for takeoff by giving their interminable speech about the safety features of the plane, which always proved pointless once the plane started a fatal descent towards the earth. The plane jerked, then moved more smoothly. Then it swung to the right, then to the left, then it crept along slowly, inexorably, with nothing to stop it but a crazy man or mechanical failure. On the ground was the best place to have either one of those. It swung once last time, paused, and then the engines revved up and the plane lurched forward and sped up and hurtled down the runway until air and speed met their cooperation point and tens of thousands of pounds of solid mass improbably lifted off the ground and floated on the invisible nothing. Things got smaller quickly as they rose into the tame blue blankness, a blue that can never be reached, just as one can’t touch the clouds which poured past the rising tube of people. There was nothing wild about this yonder.
The drone of the machine he was riding in continued, and it lulled him into a stupor, though that bubbled with excitement of some sort, inexplicably, for exciting stupors seemed to be a contradiction. Later, but on schedule, with no mishaps, the plane landed, and he got off with everyone else, walking at their pace. He did not want to lead, nor to follow, but only to walk among, as if he belonged, even though he did not. He went about his business, which he wasn’t sure what it was, other than to not have to take the garbage cans to the square of brick his father had put down so many years ago, and to find a hotel. He had not made a reservation anywhere, which puzzled his mother, he recalled.
“How can you go out there without knowing where you’ll sleep?” she had asked. He wasn’t sure if she was really worried, of if she just thought he was crazy, or both. She didn’t say.
“Oh, I don’t know, I can’t worry about it, it’ll work out, there will be hotels, mom.” He was exasperated at her worrying, he was calm in his desire to avoid worries.
But that was last week, this was this week, and it was different, which was good. He felt alright in the next few days. Things worked out as he hadn’t planned them, which was the thrill, especially since they had worked out just fine, as he sort of figured they would. He had even let people who knew him, like his parents, not to expect to hear anything more for awhile. Later that week, on a clear night, with a few stars poking through the dome of man made lights which hovered over the city to inspire his thoughts, to clear his mind, he took a small bag of garbage out of the can in his kitchen and went outside, into the ashen lights of city streets. He put it in the can that rested on a square of bricks that someone else had lain down years ago to make life easier and avoid the ever moving brown circles in the grass which lay flat across the yards in every direction. He heard a dog bark. He thought of home. Orwell probably barked at something he thought should be barked at, just like this dog here was doing, which was probably “What happened to Tim?”
From my short story collection …The Garden of the Quick …http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PKR1FWA
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