A Great Day Down at the Garbage Dump
© Dorothy McMillan
Cedric Harold Wicks stood motionless in the pale afternoon sunlight at the edge of the garbage dump. He stood alone, searching his mind for the reason he’d come there. His eighty-year old brain felt like a chunk of ice inside a too small skull. How long had he been standing there? The dump sprawled out in front of him for what seemed endless miles. A soft wind rose and fell then arose again whistling across the vast surface of the garbage dump. It blew over him wrapping him in a sea of pungent ferment. It brought fragments of memories, brushed him with tattered remnants of things past, and overwhelmed him with a flood of forgotten emotions. It also brought a sense of overwhelming sadness which quickly spread over him like oil on quiet waters.
He stood there smelling the past. Corned beef and cabbage, pine wood burning in the fireplace, an aroma of antique roses, freshly baked bread, hot dogs sizzling, sweet perfume wafting from his wife’s warm body. He tried to shake off the sensations. He wanted to go home. But first, he had to remember why in Heaven’s name he was there. His aging brain had gears that often forgot to shift. Had he tossed away something he’d not meant to? If so, would he ever discover it in the sprawling heaps of rubbish spread out before him? Were the most recent dumpings the ones closest to the edge where he stood? He looked around, trying to find anything that looked vaguely familiar.
A small box caught his attention. He moved to inspect it. Pulled it up out of the mess of decaying food. Carefully removed strands of silver tinsel tangled around it. He turned the box over in his hands. It was the small polished wood coffin which held the ashes of his long dead dog. The name “SWEETPEA” inscribed on the small metal tag gave his heart a painful tug. His dear little Sheltie who had lived with him for fifteen years. He snugged the little coffin into the roomy pocket of his overcoat. He didn’t remember having thrown it away. It was obvious that his two daughters had cleaned house for him again. They always ignored the sentimental value of his things. He wondered how much they had tossed out this time.
Having found one of his belonging, he was encouraged to look for more. The afternoon sun sunk low in the sky and turned the daylight a deep saffron color. He’d better hurry. Not much day left. The wind kept breathing scents he recognized. It also had a damp coolness, like the air from an open refrigerator. He began rummaging through the piles along the edge of the dump. His bony hands chilled. His ageing legs complained. But he continued to find numerous items. A plaid silk tie in colors of deep purple and bitter green. How his wife, Ellie, had hated that tie. He chuckled to himself. He’d worn it sometimes just to tease her. But he loved it. And she bravely endured it. His beautiful wife of sixty years had left him only the year before, succumbing to a bout of suffocating pneumonia.
He turned over a cabbage leaf and found his old Navy metals, slightly tarnished. And beside them were yellow water-stained birth certificates for his two daughters. Tiny, pink and perfect Rose who was six before she gave up sitting on his lap and hearing his stories about growing up on a Missouri farm. Anica, all ideas, and inventive when it came to mechanical things, taking after her mother with dark sleek hair and serious eyes.
A few feet away he spotted a blue lounge chair. He’d sat in that chair every evening, on the wooden porch of his river front home, watching the river slip past, listening to its moans and sighs. Wondering what it would be like to take a kayak and adventure down its slippery journey to the sea. Why on earth had his daughters tossed it away without asking him? A little bent with a few missing bolts and straps, but still sit-able.
He created a pile of the things he found. He had to be careful or he wouldn’t be able to carry everything home. A slightly squashed sun sat on the horizon beyond the far edge of the dump. In a short while darkness would pirate the day. He waded further into the piles of rubbish and continued his search. A badly chipped byzantine vase he and Ellie had bought in Italy. A bag of marbles he’d had since childhood, several model airplanes he’d built, and a photo of him singing in the high school glee club. Rose and Anica never understood what those things meant to him.
Night crept in and darkness stole his sight. Fortunately he spotted in the rubbish an old flashlight he’d once used for reading under the covers so he wouldn’t disturb Ellie. He clicked it on and to his surprise it flashed a bright circle over the mounds of trash.
His pile of items grew taller. He’d have to leave some things. First he would find what he could, then decide which were most valuable. A marble-white moon rose in the East. Nearby came the rattle and click of night insects. The eerie hoot of an owl gave him pause. Stands of pine trees around the edge of the dump began whispering. Most alarming was the ominous squeaking of rodents that arose from the massive piles of debris.
His hands suddenly went numb from the cold. His legs trembled terribly from all of the bending and stooping. He couldn’t believe there could be much left. However his daughters had been ruthless in their effort to rid his room of as much as possible. He picked up a box filled with matchbooks and found they were his collection from the years he and Ellie had traveled. A shoe that Rose had worn as a toddler. The tarnished knob off his old brass bed. A Kleenex box made of ice cream sticks. A jumble of gold rings tied together with string. Then, quite accidentally he found a familiar box. The toe of his shoe caught the edge of it and wedged it into view.
The lid was jammed crooked but he wrenched it open. Inside were nine full prescription bottles. He lifted one, having some difficulty without his reading glasses trying to see whose medicines they were. Then with a breath-sucking realization he realized they were his! Each bottle still sealed with Scotch Tape. Had Rose and Anica accidentally tossed them in the trash with all his other things? Why hadn’t he taken any of them? He couldn’t remember, any more than he could remember why he’d come to the dump site.
A bank of fog put out the moon. His flashlight’s small bright circle was the only light. He held the box of medicines tightly in one hand, afraid to let go. He turned and flashed the light along the ground and found the pile of his belongings. He made decisions on what to take and what to leave behind. He clung to the meds, and scrambled for other items he could carry.
“Cedric, dear,” came a voice muffled by the bank of fog. “Put all those things down. You don’t need them.”
He looked around, wondering if he’d imagined the voice. “What’s that?” he asked?
“You don’t need any of that old stuff.”
Then he recognized her voice and saw her face. “Ellie!” he cried. “Is it really you?”
“Of course dear. Now put everything down and come with me”
“But I need the meds.”
“No, Cedric, you don’t.”
Reluctantly, he dropped the box of medicines.
“Now all the rest of it,” Ellie said. “And Sweetpea’s little box. After all, she’s up ahead waiting for you.”
Confusion whirled through his head. “Well, if you’re sure . . . .” And with that he let go of all the things he’d been holding. All, that is, but the deep purple and bitter green plaid tie which he quickly tucked it into a pocket. He couldn’t help giving a tiny wry smile as he did.
“Come on dear.” Ellie said. “It’s time.” She turned and started moving into the misty fog.
He quickly caught up with her, leaving behind all the things he’d found in the dump. He’d had a last look, and realized that he needed only the memory of everything. There would be new memories to make, new things to remember. With that thought, the sadness that had washed over him earlier drained away.
He caught up with Ellie, and found Sweetpea running to greet him as she always did. He gave her a gentle pet, and then took Ellie’s hand. He finally understood . . . he was going home, at last.