Garbage

The garbage truck appears. Tim’s eyes flare. The truck is bright green, Repco Domestic painted on both sides. Two tiny men sit in the cab talking about the weather. Tim rubs his tiny hands. Today the bastards are in for a fright.

Eight stories up, high enough to see forever and close enough to call his mates on the ground. The truck turns right into the entrance, disappears behind the first block of flats. In two minutes it will be here.

Tim jumps onto the walkway wall. Propped on his elbows he leans over. At ground level Toby and Mike are playing penalty shoot-out. Mike reckons he’s good enough to play soccer for Brazil. Toby’s in goal, he shifts his feet trying to be tricky. Mike’s already scored four times. Five means Toby has to call him ‘master’ for the rest of the day.

Tim’s shout is a loud falsetto. “They’re coming, hurry up.” As Toby starts for the stairwell Mike shoots at the goal chalked onto the brickwork. “You have to call me master,” he says running up the stairs after Toby, “I scored so you have to be my slave.”

Another day Toby would have turned around and lamped Mike as he rounded the next bend of the stairwell. He doesn’t take shit from anyone, especially no four-eyed weakling. But he knows that to reach the top in time they both have to keep running. He can sort out Mike later.

They reach the eighth floor out of breath. Tim is gone. Toby curses whoever broke the lift and they push up the next twelve flights gasping, speechless. They summit the block wondering if ten year olds can die of a heart attack.

Tim hangs over the walkway watching the garbage truck reversing into position.

“Didn’t think you fat boys would make it,” he says. “Good job we prepared.”

Three old bricks lie dormant on the concrete floor. Above the bricks a metal square is bolted into the wall in the centre of the stairwell. Pull the handle on the metal square and it opens like a post box. This is the garbage chute. Every landing on each block of flats has a garbage chute into which residents post parcels of domestic debris, unwanted cats, drug paraphernalia, and the like.

When they were younger the boys took great pride stuffing trash into the chute. They would stand hunched over like old men, straining to hear the rubbish echoing it’s descent before crashing into the giant repository far below. The boys have never been interested in the giant repository, that huge metal dustbin squatting with it’s mouth wide open at the bottom of the chute. But they are interested in scaring the shit out of the bin men who come to empty it.

Tim waits for the garbage truck to finish manoeuvring. He wishes he could have his own flat up here on the top floor. Where the air is wider and it’s easier to breathe. Where the bigger boys don’t hassle you because they’re too lazy to climb the hard cold stairs. Where the view across jaundiced suburbia makes you feel like you own the world. A place where he can come on bad days to get away from Mum. Where he can smoke the cigarettes he steals off her, silently wishing he had the strength to drag her up with him, kicking and screaming all the way, before shoving her over the edge, watching her fall kicking and screaming all the way down. A place where his child’s thoughts of merciless revenge can be real and nobody gets hurt.

The garbage truck rolls back until only the front of the cab is visible. Tim smiles.

“They’re in,” he says.

+ + +

Ian jumps out the cab. Today is a good day, a special day. He made love to his wife three times last night. They haven’t done that in ages. Years probably. He laughs to himself, remembering.

Metal arms project out the rear of the truck embracing the giant bin as if it were a long lost lover.

“Hang on Macca,” says Ian, “it’s blocked.”

Macca chews the skin off his lips and waits. He spends his life waiting. Driving a garbage truck for a living is not what he ought to be doing. But do it long enough and you’re not fit to do anything else. He grinds his jaw and his lip starts to bleed.

Ian climbs over the lip into the giant bin. He keeps meaning to tell someone that the chute goes down too far into the bin. It needs to be a few feet higher. Then they wouldn’t have any problem with blockage. It’s not major. It’s not like solving this problem would stop kids starving in Nigeria. In fact probably the only people whose lives would be made easier from having a less intrusive garbage chute would be his and Macca’s. But if it’s such a simple thing to fix, if it’s so easy to put right, then surely it deserves to be sorted out?

Ian whistles his wife’s favourite song. He supports himself by holding onto the edge of the chute with his left hand while scooping out the rubbish with his right. He spreads it neatly toward the edges of the bin. He knows there is something intensely satisfying about watching refuse tumbling out the funnel. Ian grins as he realises that what he is actually doing is relieving a blockage. That’s a good one. He has to tell Macca. That’ll put a smile on the miserable bastard’s face.

Ian hears the sound coming down the chute like a kind of roar. His ears are filled with it and even as he looks up he knows he should be diving away.

The first brick crushes his arm. It’s force draws him down and forward. Now his head has become a bullseye. The second brick nails it’s target.

Bradley guns the truck’s engine. “Listen you bugger I didn’t come here for a fucking picnic,” he says leaning back out the window. But as he speaks he feels the air change and the tiny hairs rise up on the back of his neck. Later he will say he just knew something awful had happened, he just knew. That it was like an invisible force made him get out the cab to check if Ian was all right.

+ + +

“Did you hear that?” says Mike, “Sounded like a man. Do you think we hit them?”

“Shut up,” says Toby straining his neck like a tortoise so he can hear his own brick plummeting. It ricochets against the metal pipe once, twice, the reverberations chasing each other in the darkness. A dull wet thud announces the journey is concluded.

Something strange happens. Silently, a noose of despair threads itself up the chute and fastens around the necks of Toby and Mike. Something terrifying is happening. They know it but they can’t explain it.

“Let’s get out of here,” says Toby.

“Yeah,” says Mike, “If we get caught I’m dead.”

Tim picks up his brick. “Piss off you two,” he says. He hasn’t felt the noose yet. “It was my idea so I’m chucking my brick.”

Toby holds open the chute.

“Chocks away fuckers,” shrills Tim tipping his brick into the black.

Mike starts giggling, then Toby, then Tim. Adrenalin is produced. Their arms and legs turn to jelly. Mike says he feels faint. Their mouths become sand dunes drifting in the desert. Tim’s pupils dilate and lurch in their sockets as his mouth spews laughter.

Down the landing a door clicks open. Short-sighted Mrs O’ Driscoll steps out in her old pink robe. She squints menacingly towards the sound. The boys freeze, blink like rabbits, and run flinging their elastic bodies down the stairs to reach the safety of their own floors, their own homes. Like three separate armies that have been routed.

Only Tim’s house is not a refuge. He slams his bedroom door shut as the neighbours’ gossiping voices crack like whips against the windows. A moment ago he was a young boy mucking around. Now he knows he is something else. Outside a commotion is rising up out of nowhere like a leviathan from the bottom of the sea. He can hear a man wailing. He can hear sirens in the distance. He knows one of them belongs to an ambulance. Another to a police car. He can feel his heart punching through his chest.

How wonderful it would be to stand on the twentieth floor, watching the rapid lights rush between the yellow islands of suburbia. Tim is there now, watching as they weave through the scattered traffic, coming for him.

His mother crashes through the door. Sees him curled on the bed. Her voice like a thousand shards of glass lacerating him. From the twentieth floor he hears her, feels her, but faraway. Up here he cannot drown in a river of his tears and her saliva.

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