THE GARBAGE MAN
By R. Peralez
The note reads:
‘Dear Garbage man, Please make sure you get ALL the trash out of the can.
Thanks! The Brewsters’
I stand there just holding the damp piece of paper. The A-L-L scrawled in all capital letters and underlined. The exclamation mark after the ‘Thanks.’ I look over at the white house nestled among the pruned Spanish oaks and ball the note up. The bathwater rain makes rivulets of space between the white maggots humping up my arms as I hoist the cans in the back of the truck. They feel muscular and clean inching their way under the cuffs of my gloves. My back burns, and the smell of cat urine puffs out of a half-tied bag as it smacks the bottom of the compactor. I grind my teeth and think about how Mrs. Brewster’s wrists must be so silky and warm. About how her perfume would just touch the air around my nostrils as I bit into her heavy breast. A drop of my sweat would fall in the deep divot between her collar bones and how she would moan about how strong I am. How powerful my arms are. I pound the side of the truck and give my driver the thumbs up. Next house.
Sometimes, I go home and think about Mrs. Brewster and the lesbian couple with the hyphenated name on their mailbox. In my head I arrange them in order from smallest to largest. Then from happiest to saddest. I keep all the notes. The apology notes. The critical notes. The notes about Christmas. I wad them all carefully into the smallest ball I can and then tuck them in beside one another in a plastic Wal-Mart bag hanging from a nail above my recliner. Sometimes I just lift them in the sack above my head and pretend I am a doctor doing a breast exam on the lesbian couple at the same time. Sandy has peachy, small nipples that contract under my very professional touch. Alma’s are aggressive, and she leans into my palm.
I jog beside the truck toward their Colonial style home. There’s a tin full of butter cookies with a glossy-eyed Santa beaming at me sitting on top of their immaculate cans. A damp note flutters in the breeze.
‘We thought you might enjoy these!
– The Rodriguez-Browns’
I turn toward their house with the cedar playground equipment nestled back in the white pines and look for Alma or Sandy, but the porch is deserted. They have a little boy. He looks like he has mirrors for eyes, and I hate him. Before he came, Sandy threw out beautiful trash. I know it was Sandy because she wears blue, Oxford button-ups and doesn’t wear any makeup on her freckled face. My momma never went out without her face on. But Sandy. Sandy doesn’t care if the neighbors see her. Alma is too sweet for nipple clamp catalogues and ATM receipts from some strip joint in Harahan. I know that joint, and Alma wouldn’t be interested in the collagen-pocked flesh there. Too kind. I know it was her who left me those butter cookies. I still have those catalogues wedged under my mattress and sometimes I think about Sandy licking the skin behind Alma’s ears.
The driver is honking, and I’m still holding the goddamned cookies. I put them on the curb and grab the cans. Their trash is ordinary now, full of empty baby carrot bags and electric company envelopes. Later, I will eat the cookies in front of taped episodes of Full House until I fall asleep in my recliner where the devil will perch on my chest and keep me from moving. I guess he’s the devil. He wears a suit, and I always imagined the devil in a suit. My eyes will pop open, and he’ll just have his feet pressing against my ribs and his knees folded under his skinny elbows. His head is too small for his body, and his teeth seem forced into his grayish gums, like shells stomped into the sand. He’ll look me in the eye, and roll his tongue behind his lower lip and grin. The television will flick promises of hair in a can or lab grown diamonds. Then he’ll be gone and I’ll be able to breathe again. But my house will be different. Somehow. I sling the boring trash into the compactor. A stray maggot is crawling over the cookie tin and inches over Santa’s right eyebrow making him look skeptical. I take the tin from the curb and jog up to the cab of the truck to chuck them through the window.
“Jennings, If you eat these, I’ll kill your duck dogs.” I smile at him. “I’ll know. I counted them. There are twenty-four cookies,” I say.
“Jesus Christ, Hutch. I don’t want your cookies. Just hurry the fuck up so we can get done before traffic gets bad.”
Next house. I find a dead cat in a white trash bag. It has a piece of string tied around its tail and its matted fur has patches missing. I knot the bag and throw it in the compactor. I imagine the cat’s bones crunching and snapping and its guts spurting out like ropy red toothpaste as the metal slab presses and presses. I take my tin of Vicks out and dab my ring finger in the sticky stuff and rub it inside my nostrils. Four more streets then the fill.
When we finish, I get in the truck and open the cookie tin.
“See? I didn’t take your cookies.” Jennings tosses me a tub of wet wipes. It bounces off my shoulder and rolls to the floorboard.
“Twenty-four. They’re all there.”
“You sure they aren’t for both of us?”
“It just says ‘Garbageman.’ Plus, I know them.”
“Whatever man, they never leave the driver any cookies,” he says.
“Maybe you’re not as handsome as me.”
“Maybe. You are one sexy son of a bitch. Look at that face.” He grips my ear and pulls. Hard.
I don’t squeal. He wants me to squeal.
Sometimes I wake up and there’s nothing. No one. Just the pressure on my chest and I am nowhere. If I could speak, what would I say? No. I would say “no.” When I finally can move, sometimes I’m up in the oak tree outside my trailer, and all the dead things I see wrapped in trash bags, stirring with maggots, are stacked on the lumped roots with their paws stretching the filmy plastic until something gives, and the air is filled with flies, and I am not a man, but something bigger. Something more. I leave my tree on wings made of dog food bags and follow the scent on the women’s scribbled notes, if only to see Mrs. Brewster dip her fingertips in a pot of cold cream and scour her face with sad, vicious strokes. Then, when I wish like a beggar does, not for luck or a pot of stew, but for too much, for a million dollars, for a slender goddess blowjob, I am transported to right outside Alma and Sandy’s four-bedroom, three and a half bath house seated among those heady trees. And I wait. They begin consuming each other from the top of Alma’s black curls to the soles of Sandy’s feet, and I, in turn, am left with my empty chest, for when they are done there is nothing left. Nothing left for me.
It’s Sunday, and I don’t have to work today. My dreams sweep in through the morning light, and I remember how warm it was in lesbians’ bed and how I watched them lap each other up. I get out of bed and wander into the kitchen where my zebra finches bounce from perch to perch and beep for seeds. I have named them all “Bird.” I reach into their cage for the feed tray and feel their tiny hearts pumping away as they flutter from my calloused hands.
I have never fucked a woman, and I am thirty-five-years old. My body is fine and does what bodies do, respire, perspire, consume, defecate, but not fornicate. After I feed the birds and eat a bowl of Golden Grahams, I look up porno on the internet. The Saints don’t play until three today, so I have time. I put my fingers on the home keys and tack out “Mexican Bride Pegs New Husband and Groomsmen with Big DILDO!!!!!” It’s one of my favorites, and I reach up to touch my plastic bag filled with the crumpled notes scrawled by manicured hands. I imagine Mrs. Brewster pursing her thick, red lips, gripping a stick pen and writing to me, for me,
‘Hello trash man!
Do us a favor and please don’t leave the trash cans in the driveway. We appreciate it!
-The Brewster Family’
The porno folds into a kaleidoscope of flesh and masculine frowns. I am imagining Mrs. Brewster unhooking her bra and those heavy breasts tumbling out. I reach for them. To weigh them in my hands, to bite the nougat-colored flesh until it softens into warm, saltwater taffy in my mouth. But my hands are covered in wingless flies that shimmy up my fingers and pour onto her skin. They track up to her mouth and pour into her orifices. She is filled with them, and I am close to coming. Mrs. Brewster is choking now and a thread of saliva spins from her bottom lip. I am coming. I am coming.
Regret. I wanted to tell her I loved her this time. That I have always loved her and can make a nest for her in my bed of bath towels and pink polka dotted sheets and feed her butter and ground meat. Everything I touch turns to flies. My tears dot the pillow, and I understand that the nothingness must be filled and that only I can fill it. All I have is their notes to stuff into the void. I clean up with an old tie and kiss my bag of notes. Sometimes, I wonder if she can feel it on her soft cheek. Like a breeze cutting through the heat.
The Saints are losing. My dad would have been piss drunk by now, knocking over two liter bottles of St. Genevieve and pissing in the closet with his hand curled around the doorknob. He would have ripped something off the wall and thrown it against the T.V. I can hear him in my head and remember he is safely in the ground now. His liver quit working, and he wasted into a pile of yellow skin draped over bones. The capillaries in his nose burst into pink fireworks across his face, and all he wanted from me was one more glass of wine. I call my mother. She is probably drunk too. The phone rings five times, and I hear her voice on the machine.
“It’s Judy and Rob. Leave us a message, and we’ll get back to you. Have nice day!”
I guess I should go and see her. She forgets me more than my brother who died when he was seventeen. He took her Station Wagon and drove it to California when she sent him out to get milk one day. He drove it right into a freight train. Everybody said he was on drugs, but I knew better. He used to crawl under the bed with me when Dad started hurling wine glasses across the room, and pick at the white gauzy fabric of the box spring until it tore. We drew pictures of pigs and dragons and later women with giant balloon breasts with nipples of purple crayon. When he died, I was thirteen. I crawled under the bed and wrote,
‘I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.’
I get myself another Dixie and the butter cookies. I open the tin and shake it from the bottom. The cookies have maggots bunched around the jewel of jam in the middle. Jennings probably opened it and let them in. Motherfucker. I push them around with my forefinger, feeling their taut, cool bodies writhe away from my touch. I pick them off and turn the cookies over. I clap the lid back onto the tin and toss it next to the trash can by the television. The Saints are still losing by two touchdowns. It’s the fourth quarter.
We thought you might enjoy these.
I will go see Ma. The finches flutter around their cage and cling to the gold bars. I grab my keys and dust cookie crumbs from my shirt. I’ll get her some flowers. No. I’ll get her a burger from Dairy Queen and a blizzard.
I finally get through the long drive-through line to the window. A pretty girl thrusts the upside-down blizzard out of the window and whips it upright again right out of my reach. I open my door and press my chest against the door, reaching for the cup. She is looking at me. She has a strawberry birthmark just over her eye and full lips. She smells like cotton candy and berry deodorant and sweat. Her name tag reads ‘Allison.’ I imagine her holding onto to some blond boy in the backseat of his Camaro, her knees gripping his skinny sides, panties around one ankle.
“Will it hurt?” she asks.
He’s petting her, but his fingers tangle in her long brown hair, and he pulls and pulls until she’s screaming, and hair floats around her like shining fall spiderwebs, and she digs into his throat, but he’s grown to the size of a bear, and his spine juts, and his knuckles crack. Her creamy thighs puddle under his weight, and she bucks against him. I reach through the car window for her wrist, to drag her from under his chest.
“Sir?” The girl holds a grease-spotted bag. “Sir?”
“Yeah?” I can feel damp fabric creased in my armpits.
“I said, do you want ketchup with that?’
“No. Thank you for asking.” I take the bag and start to ask her if her boyfriend has a Camaro. She’s already taking another man’s order on her headset. “Uh huh.” She slides the window shut.
Ma hates it when I bang on the screen door. So, I set the blizzard on the porch swing and open the screen. I rap one, two, three. Nothing.
The wind stirs the puffs of cat hair on the porch. The blizzard tumps over, spilling a little cookie dough in a white puddle.
“Ma? It’s Hutch. I brought you some food.”
Shuffling and banging. The door opens a crack.
“I don’t know no Jimmy.”
It isn’t her voice. It isn’t anyone’s voice. I realize that I am not at the right house. This house is too big. Our house is smaller. It has camellia bushes, and little green lizards that dart over the walls and my cowboy bedroom, and a concrete birdbath with an angel on top. My mother is there. She’s always been there, and her hard, gray eyes get soft when she spoons out butterbeans. When Dad died, she stood outside the church smoking and you know what she said? She said, “One more to go.” When my brother died, she grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “At least I know where he is this time.” And hugged me to her until it hurt my neck.
I cried. I cried when I remembered. I went home and set my finches free. They fluttered and beeped, and disappeared into the purple sky. I sat in the grass and thought about the women. About their notes. About Alma’s lacy cursive, about Mrs. Brewster’s jagged scrawl.
I could wear my father’s suit and ring their doorbells. I know when Mr. Brewster is at work and when Mrs. Brewster comes back from taking the kids to school. She would see me sitting on her porch and spread her white wings and fold me to her breast. My own wings would break off and blow away to the gulf, where crabs and seagulls would huddle in them until the loud boats pass. She could forgive me for my trespasses and kiss my brow. She could show me how to fold a fitted sheet. I could tell her about the sparkling landfill filled with dolls, and microwaves, and her children’s diapers.
I could return Alma’s tin with warm smile, and she would invite me in, and we would drink some kind of fancy tea. She would put her small hand on my wrist, and I would follow her into every single room of the house, watching the fabric of her dress cling and swish around her hips. I could fix her sink and take out her trash. She could tell me about Sandy and together we could flip through photos. I could show her my hands, creased with black. I could drink her up.
I could tell them my name. No more trashman. No more garbageman.
About the Author:
Rachael completed her undergraduate degree at University of Texas and my MFA in creative writing at the University of New Orleans, where she received the award of Best Thesis for a collection of her short stories. Her work has recently been published in the Crack the Spine, Furtive Dalliance, and Literally Stories literary magazines.