As Randy turns the garbage collection truck into Juniper Street, his twenty-five-year old neck craning at the wheel, he thinks of whalesong and whalefall. Do whales sing songs of mourning for their dead as they plummet to the ocean floor? That would be pretty awesome if it were true.
He brakes in front of Nos. 13, 17 and 19. The beast of a truck grinds to a halt. Randy’s mate Karl jumps off to empty the contents of the three recycling cans into the respective slots on the bus. Glass to the right. Plastic to the left. Paper in the middle.
Karl slaps the side of the truck twice, loud –and the truck heaves forward.
Randy stops between Nos. 21, 23 and 25 and thinks of the bioluminiscent lantern shark. What would it be like to be an angler fish with his very own, glowing nosebait? Who would he attract? Certainly not Jennifer anymore – she seems to have taken a fancy to that gigantic boxer chap with the ridiclous sideburns and cement-thick head.
Slap. Slap. The truck rumbles on, sluggish with waste and wear.
At No. 14, Randy notices the lights turned on in nearly every room of the six-bedroom mansion. Probably left on from a party the night before. He remembers a documentary on National Geographic, in which excessively lit up urban areas prevent fireflies from mating. Simply put, the poor buggers can’t have sex thanks to all the light pollution. He thinks of Jennifer again. Cozying up with her on cold, dark nights in her potpourried Otaihanga apartment, enjoying popcorn in bed and watching Clint Eastwood movies till dawn.
Slap. Bang. Slap.
Randy is annoyed at how immune he’s becoming to Karl’s vigorous metal slapping everyday.
At Nos. 16, 18 and 20, Randy imagines himself as that funny little woodland plant that coats itself with dead bugs to shield itself from pests. He thinks of all the dead bugs he’d have to collect to conceal his 6 foot frame. Alternately, he could turn into a sea sapphire – phasing from electric blue to gold and simply disappearing in seconds.
He stops at No. 22 – the subdivision at the end of the street. The house is a wee one, with lovely, pinkish brick cladding and a well tended garden. Inside however, is a truly prehistoric man who quite possibly lived in the time of
Noah. He’s in the conservatory, sitting absolutely still, his stony face vacant, lifeless. Randy wonders if he’s still breathing. Worse, what if he’s got that horrible Cotard delusion – the surreal disease in which a person believes he’s dead and walks around like a zombie?
Randy shivers, and steps on the accelerator as soon as he hears the slaps. He turns his thoughts to other things. Like all the bumblebees disappearing due to climate change; or those lonely flatworms that inject sperm into their own heads.
He shudders again. What if fifty years from now, he ends up a miserable, lonely old flatworm in dingy government housing in suburban Wellington? Still Randy the recycling guy with failing eyesight and aching limbs. Eating microwaved TV dinners that smell like old shoes and taste like cardboard. Disgusted with kids on trampolines and cats on fences, who seem to be doing more with their lives than him.
Randy is silent and contemplative as he turns the truck decisively out of Juniper Street. Karl slouches on the worn out seat next to him, languid, chewing gum.
Call Massey University and sort it out, Randy makes a mental note. Finish that science degree. And while you’re at it, call Jennifer, see if she’ll have dinner with you Saturday evening – nothing fancy, maybe fish and chips in the village. Who knows? She may have chucked that boxer. She may even want to catch a western on the telly, and have some popcorn in bed.
Shreyasi Majumdar has degrees in the life sciences and has worked as a writer and editor since 2008. She enjoys reading and writing fiction–particularly short, impactful stories that pack a punch. Her work has appeared in Kahini, Shortbread Stories, The Linnet’s Wings, Writing Short Fiction, Writer’s Ezine, Thirst, Flash Frontier, and Microfiction Monday Magazine. She currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband, two dogs, a cat, and an occasional hedgehog.