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Oklahoma-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Claire's Disposable Distraction-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Doing the Trash-Fiction by Sean McElhiney
Kinks-Fiction by Don Stoll
Heads or Tails-Fiction by Ambrose McJunkin
Brother Smith-Fiction by Bruce Harris
Designated Driver-Fiction by M. A. De Neve
Dr. Flytrap's Home for Women-Fiction by Michael D. Davis
Bhopal 2-Fiction by Doug Hawley
There He is Again-Fiction by Thomas Bailey
Genital Pulp-Fiction by Matthew Licht
There is Nothing-Fiction by Rick McQuiston
La Mere Mauvaise-Flash Fiction by Dini Armstrong
One Dark Quiet Night Disturbed-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
Prankster-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Petal World-Flash Fiction by j. brooke
Reading Bukowski-Poem by Bob Kokan
Preparing the Children for Grandma's Visit-Poem by John Grey
Marble-Sized Raindrops-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Never Any Good at Magic-Poem by J. J. Campbell
Red-Poem by Meg Baird
Spigot-Poem by Otto Burnwell
Wrong-Poem by Ruth Ticktin
In the Backyard-Poem by Holly Day
Harry the Hippie-Poem by David Spicer
Michelangelo's Handshakes-Poem by David Spicer
Flaxen Hair-Poem by John Short
Once Every Four Years-Poem by John Short
A Recap of the Main Points-Poem by Mark Young
Morning Raga-Poem by Mark Young
Corona-Poem by Marc Carver
Pandemic-Poem by Marc Carver
The Secret-Poem by Maec Carver
Consideration-Poem by Richard M. Prazych
The Apartment-Poem by Richard M. Prazych
Holiday_Poem by Richard M. Prazych
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

79_ym_doingthetrash_okeefe.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2020

DOING THE TRASH

 

by Sean McElhiney

 

I packed my work-stuff, pens on the left side of the file drawer, notes on the right; the two hanging files I pushed to the back of the drawer, as usual, then I bagged the trash. I emptied my garbage into the bag in the lunchroom, then grabbed the bathroom trash and tied the whole thing off. I knocked off the air conditioner, killed the lights, and walked out the door, trash in hand. 

The moonlight was different; I remember that now. It had a haziness to it, a foggy translucence. A fleeting thought—a touch to the senses that would not have been remembered had it not been for the events that followed. Day-to-day existence is littered with this kind of thought, these almost memories—a strange scent, an odd-shaped flower, uneven  headlights on an approaching car—little eye and ear and nose catching things that come and go and only stay if something grand encompasses them and keeps them there. 

In the car the air-conditioner still whined from hours ago when it was needed; now it got cold fast. I shut it off, then turned down the radio which blared too loud after the loss of the noise of the air-conditioner. I ran the windshield wiper to get the condensation off the glass, then turned the fan on high and set the vents to aim at the window… 

So if I was thinking of anything as I pulled away from the office, this was it: it was nothing. Barely thinking: feeling, reacting—cold, warm, loud, quiet. Just reacting really. Isn’t that what we’re all doing most of the time?  

The green plastic garbage bag with its office odor of coffee grounds and cigarette butts and mostly-empty microwave meal containers rested on my lap. I turned right, right again, then bump. 

Bump bump. 

The front of the car lurched up. I thought curb. You’ve hit the curb. But I was turning the corner behind the building where there was no curb, heading toward the dumpster. 

As I quickly slowed the car, the right back tire bump-bumped softly, and something in my stomach went sour. A quick identification shot to my consciousness: Animal. Ignoring instinct, I rifled possibilities—large bag of garbage, bag of grass, old carpet, dirt, mattress, rocks—in a futile split second. 

I stopped the car. In the rearview mirror my brake lights illumined the thing I’d hit. I could make it out now. 

Rags. Old denim. Blue pants, black with dirt.  Sooty, leathery arms. Mangled, distorted legs. Overcome by a rush of nausea I jumped out of the car, buckled over, lost it. 

No longer sealed in the muffled cocoon of my car, I could hear the moans. I listened intently and moved closer, trying to make out words. The moaning turned into a wrenching, inhuman scream. 

“Oh man, are you, oh God,” I cried.  

The rags writhed and whimpered. 

It, he, was bloody and gritty. Young, no older than thirty-five, his grimy hair was here and there matted down and sticking up; his bare feet were twisted and crushed into one another. The bottom of one foot, hard and black, faced up at me and the other was wrong the other way. I ran, leaving the car running, its hum and my victim’s cries receded behind me. 

“A bum, some homeless guy, a derelict. I hit a bum,” I shouted into the phone.  

“Slow down. Take it easy,” 911 said. 

“I crushed a homeless guy with my car,” I enunciated forcefully. “He’s hurt bad.” 

Back behind the building my headlights shone on the side of the dumpster and I could see the tied-off bag of trash on the ground by the driver-side door. My victim whimpered like a whipped dog. 

“Help is on the way,” I assured him as he rolled his eyes back into his head and clenched his fists in pain. “They’ll be here any minute.” 

“Son of a bitch,” the bum groaned, then he drew a staggered breath, aimed a piercing stare at the inside of my eyes, and screamed again. 

“You’ll be okay!” I snapped and I turned toward my car. 

Real fog rolling in now, anger; I tried to shake the feeling off. 

“You shouldn’t sleep right in the middle of the damn street,” I growled, turning back. He squinted up at me. 

“Is this murder?” I said. “If you die am I a murderer just because you decided to sleep on the pavement?” 

“Son of a bitch,” the bum said again, and he squeezed his pathetic eyes shut. 

A stream of hard white light then lit up his gray-red face as a police cruiser pulled up behind me. 

“Get up,” the cop ordered as he stepped out of his car. The cold light burned an impression of the bum’s blinking features into my mind’s eye. 

“I hit him,” I said. “I didn’t see him. I had no time to react.” 

“Hit him?” the cop said. 

“Rolled him over. Rolled over him. I didn’t know what it was at first, then it was too late.” 

I looked up toward my fading car. The trash bag was open and coffee grounds were scattered like so much mud. 

“Trash. I was doing the trash. I drive it around, you know, so I don’t have to deal with things – with things like this! There’s always some bum. Some hobo, you know? Some car. Some couple parking. Somebody prowling. There’s always something to avoid so I drive it instead of walk it. I was doing the trash.” 

A neat stack of food-smeared plastic containers stuck out of the coffee grounds as if they had grown there. My stomach rumbled. 

 “Move out. You can’t stay here,” the policeman said, then he poked me with his nightstick. 

“It gets cool a lot faster now,” I said, “what with the fall coming on.” 

“You can’t be here,” the cop said, and he poked me again. 

“The pavement is warm,” I mumbled, staggering to my feet. “It’s just a parking lot.” 

“Don’t let me see you here again.” 

He poked me once more, then shoved me back away from my trash.  

I sidled off the pavement and walked, wounded, through the gravel and brown grass field, away from my dreams, toward my deeper dream, this life under the tree-cover by the edge of the freeway. The fog was getting thicker. 


“Doing the Trash” was originally published in New Times, San Luis Obispo, CA, in 1993.

 

Sean McElhiney is the founder and host of Writing Itself, a podcast featuring conversations with writers from all walks of life.

 https://www.writingitself.com. He is a crew member at Trader Joe's on California's Central Coast, where he lives with his wife and two pugs. 



Sean O’Keefe is an artist and writer living in Roselle Park, NJ. Sean attended Syracuse University where he earned his BFA in Illustration. After graduation, Sean moved to New York City where he spent time working in restaurants and galleries while pursuing various artistic opportunities. After the birth of his children, Sean and family move to Roselle Park in 2015. He actively participates in exhibitions and art fairs around  New Jersey, and is continuing to develop his voice as a writer. His work can be found online at www.justseanart.com and @justseanart on Instagram.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020