As Randy drives the Clean ‘n’ Green garbage collection truck into Juniper Street, he thinks of whale song and whalefall. Do whales sing songs of mourning for their dead as they plummet to the ocean floor? That would be pretty darn awesome if it were true, he decides.
He brakes in front of Nos. 13, 17 and 19. His 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, real loud – Randy’s signal to move on.
He stops next between Nos. 21, 23 and 25 and thinks of the bioluminescent lantern shark. He ruminates on what it would be like to be an angler fish with his very own, glowing nose bait? Who would he attract? Certainly not Jennifer anymore – she seems to have taken a fancy to that gigantic boxer chap with the ridiculous sideburns and cement-thick head.
Slap. Slap. The truck rumbles on and halts.
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 frowns. 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 every day.
At Nos. 16, 18 and 20, Randy imagines himself as a serpentine columbine – 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. What he’d give to just ‘phase away’ some days. Away from all the plastic and glass, the incessant slapping, the emotional baggage and unfulfilled dreams, the paper, compost, and germs.
He stops at No. 22 – the subdivision at the end of the street. The little house with lovely, pinkish brick cladding and a well-tended garden contains within it 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 spasming thoughts to brighter, less objectionable 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 he ends up a miserable, lonely 77-year 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; angry with the fact that they don’t show reruns of Downtown Abbey anymore. The phone silent, except for the bank calling to tell him he’s overdrawn again, the TV being the only soothing sound that lulls him to sleep every night.
Randy is silent and contemplative as he turns the truck decisively out of Juniper Street. Karl sits next to him, languid, chewing gum.
“Get that science degree Randy,” Karl says, “It’s not too late.” He goes back to languishing.
Randy smiles. Yeah, Karl can be annoying, but he’s the best friend Randy’s got.
Call Massey and sort it out, Randy makes a note to himself. 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 also appeared in Flash Frontier, Shortbread Stories, The Linnet’s Wings, Writing Short Fiction, Writer’s Ezine, Thirst, and Microfiction Monday Magazine.