by Lupe Fernandez
Another in the a series of "Where Do Ideas Come From?"
On a cold, crisp Wednesday morning, I step out to the curb and watch a waste management truck pick up a green plastic bin of residential garbage. All along the street, the green and black bins - black for recycling - wait to be emptied. The waste truck uses an mechanical prong to pick up the bin and dump its contents into the hulking truck. There's a loud grinding sound of gears and hydraulics at work.I step up to the curb. The clouds clear and the sunset is a beautiful orange fire.
I'm fascinated and my mind starts to wonder and I imagine this scene...
This girl in a grimy green tunic shivers next to me. "I like when it rains," she says, rubbing an gray lesion on her cheek.
"Yeah?" I say, watching the vapor pour from my mouth. She's standing too close to me. I hope she doesn't notice I smell like rotten fruit. "Everything's all wet." I tug the sleeves of my black tunic over my scabby hands.
"It makes everything clean." She hops in place; her left leg is shorter than her right. "The air smells new. I don't know. Makes me hopeful. Know what I mean?"
"I never noticed," I say. I look down the street. "They always come around now."
The girl pulls up her tunic pant leg to keep it from staining. She stumbles and grabs my shoulder to keep from falling. A warmth floods from her hand into my arm and spreads across my chest. I take a deep breath and suddenly feel hopeful. Her teeth chattered.
"They should come in the afternoon when it's warmer," I say, "I mean who decided this. This is so stupid. They should like built a shelter or a have heaters or something." There's a blanket in the shed. I turn to walk off the curb and back onto the sidewalk, when my body goes rigid. A gurgling hiss comes out of my mouth. I leap back to the curb.
"You shouldn't do that," she says.
"I'm okay," I say. The signal shock makes the stabbing chest pain come back. I don't scream this time. I'm good at hiding defects. "Did they put you out last night.
"Can you believe that?" She laughs. "Last night. They couldn't do it this morning. I mean why green? I don't look good in green."
Geese honk and fly by overhead in a V formation.
"Lazy parents," I say. I'm burning inside.
The girl points to another set of pick-ups across the street to distract. "Look, it's 2216 and 2218." She laughs again. How can she laugh about this stuff? "They've been out there for a week and no pick-up."
"A bunch of losers," I say.
Others line up on the curb and mumble; their breaths puff vapor with every quick exhale. 2216 in the black tunic coughs and then everyone starts coughing all along the street. Fat grey clouds return and smother the sun. The sky spits rain.
There's complaining from both sides of the street.
"Yay!" the girl tilts her head up and smiles. Fat drops plink on her face.
Then we all hear the beeping of the truck. Everybody shuts up. "I wonder which one it is?" I don't look.
"It's always the green one," she says. Her nose and cheeks flush red.
"You should tell them to put you out in the morning."
"They don't listen to me." She rubs her red filmy eye.
The green squat truck grumbles around the corner; the carrier pod spouts vapor from its exhaust. It stops by 2211. From the side of the pod, a yellow prong folds and slips under 2211 shoulders and flings her into open carrier hatch. The prong folds back into the pod and the truck moves to the next pick up, and so on down the street.
"They're stupid," I say.
The girl looks at my black tunic. "Black looks good on you." She traces the white symbol on the chest of my tunic. I hold her trembling hand. "I've never talked to a Return before. What's it like?"
The beeping truck pulls in front of us.
"It's a mistake!" I yell at the truck. "She should be in black." The cab has no windows, so nobody's listening.
"It was nice talking to you." Her hands slips away from mine.
The truck prongs spring out, catch her under the shoulders and she's gone.
My fingers dig into my palms. When the black truck comes and takes me to the station, I'm not coming back. I'm not come back until I find her.
...and scene. The next time your stand on the curb and hear a garbage truck coming down your street, you should...well, I'd be careful.