By Aileen Donohue
The sun hasn’t even come up yet, but Jeff and I are making our rounds. He drives the truck while I ride on the back and do the dumping. Jeff always claims he’s too pretty to do the dirty work, to which I reply with equal snark, “Yeah, right. You got a face only a mother could love.”
I sigh after emptying what must be the hundredth garbage can of the morning, and my warm breath forms a cloud in the air. The brutal cold bites at my face like a rabid animal.
Before the move from North Carolina, I dreamed about what winter up North would look like… now I know better. Jeff gives me a nod from the truck. He has the heat roaring inside the cabin, and a Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand. I finished mine before shift, but he sips his slowly, like a sissy—and I tell him so. The first grin of the day grazes my lips. Sometimes, I think I’m too clever to be a garbage man, but then I remember that I almost flunked outta community college.
“They what!” Grandma’s shrill voice pierced my ears, and her wrinkly jaw hung slack.
“They kicked me out. Said I can’t come back.” I try not to let the disappointment on my face show.
“Too many D minuses last semester. My advisor said I should consider other options. I never wanted to go to college, anyways.” I say, only a half truth.
“You were supposed to be the first in our family to graduate, and now you’re going to let some hoity toity professor tell you what you can and can’t do? Well, I guess you’re more of a sissy than I thought.” Grandma just looks away, focuses her eyes on the pink plastic napkin holder in the center of the kitchen table.
There we stand in near silence. The only sound I hear is the ticking of a small, blue circular clock on the wall. Grandma will not meet my eyes. I feel my face flushing red. Her outrage fuels me more than my own ever could.
“You’re damn right. Who the hell are they to tell me what I can and can’t do?” I pace towards the front door furiously fast, grab my keys off the hook, and slam the door behind me without another word to Grandma.
When I finish defending myself to my advisor and explain my plans to work harder this semester, my advisor reluctantly agrees to prolong my academic probation. I enter our small Cape-style house that evening with a triumphant grin on my face. The smell of my favorite dinner, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, greets me as soon as I walk through the front door.
I traipse into the kitchen, take a seat at the wobbly kitchen table, and smile graciously at Grandma who places a plate of supper in front of me. She can tell from my demeanor that the visit to my advisor was successful.
My fork lifts a bite to my mouth; it tastes like heaven. Her prideful grin is warmer than the roast beef that just came out of the oven.
We start early and end late every week, but on this Monday morning, we hope it will be different. As the truck pulls to the next house, there is no garbage can out, and I groan. The old woman who lives there often forgets. The dilapidated Cape-style house looks a mess. The grass has not been cut in ages, and the light yellow paint on the exterior is peeling. There are no lights on in the house, and every week when we drive by during our rounds, nothing about the place changes, except for the location of the garbage pail. As if the place were frozen in time or something. Just like my ass is frozen in this damn twenty-two-degree weather.
The engine revs as Jeff prepares to drive on, but I yell, “Stop!” and he does. The garbage can is perched at the top of the hilly driveway, and out of the kindness in my heart—or maybe because my grandma raised me—I hop off the truck and jog to retrieve the bin. I tug the half-full barrel down the hill and empty it into the humming machine with ease. The job becomes second nature after a while.
I roll the shabby waste bin back up the driveway and leave it in its rightful place. Everything is in its rightful place now: exactly as it should be. Out of nowhere, the elderly woman peeks out the window from behind a pink floral curtain. She nods her approval at my actions, but her lips sit in a tight leathery line. I wave politely, unaffected by her lack of warmth, and jump on the tail of the truck.
In one of the side view mirrors, Jeff glares at me and points to his watch to remind me of our goal to finish on time today. I roll my eyes and shrug nonchalantly, but think maybe he has a point…Who’s the sissy now?
Very enjoyable read! Your writing style and clever word play kept me hooked. Excellent work, and I’m looking forward to more!
Good story, great characters, but I’m a bit confused. Is the garbage job between semesters? Has (s)he been kicked out again and this is his or her permanent job? Did I miss something?
l like the voice of the narrator. Engaging story. I want to hear what he does next!