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Garbage-man

Cahill Expressway (Smart)

By Melissa IngoldsbyPublished 12 months ago Updated 12 months ago 6 min read

I grew up to be a garbage-man. I don’t love what I do yet I feel like it was my calling. I feel like taking out the trash and cleaning the streets was the reason I was born. My mother Prudence was a stern schoolteacher and taught me how to read and write. She tried to get me to understand mathematics and science and other subjects I just couldn’t quite grasp.

“Lawrence! You must get this right!” She’d chastise me, her soft roar hitting my ears like a light boxing. I would try and try and try. I would often get it wrong. She would huff and puff and her light brown hair would stand on end, but in the end, she’d drink too much tea and leave me alone with my pile of homeschool work. I’d stack up the tea cups and play with the tea leftover at the bottom.

“Get your work done before you try to sneak into my art books… that is for when you’re done with your work!” She’d repeat across the house and I’d nod, biting my lip.

I loved art, even as I didn’t understand it. It made me feel better about not understanding what most people seemed to know about life. I felt like I was alone but art made me feel like I was real and here just unseen yet. I felt like Jane Eyre hiding behind window curtains in her aunt’s estate when my father would get home as I would go through the large art history books my mother would have in her study. Each piece would speak to me. I would feel a part of the piece was inside of my life and I felt like they were a part of me. Never the whole story, but a part.

I feel like I’ve always been unseen. My father never saw me either. He worked from dawn to dusk in a restaurant and never cared about me. He never asked how I was or anything about me. Just made the money necessary for us to live and looked miserable doing it. He refused to see me. Maybe it was payback for having to take care of me.

Now, I am seen in different ways. By the clean streets of the city and the public parks and the schools. The libraries and the churches and the city halls. All of it is seen because someone like me cleaned it.

So, in a sense, I feel seen.

Now, I am thirty-six. Both of my parents have passed away. My father died of gout and my mother died of a broken heart.

Yes, I meant that. It was a broken heart.

After my father died, I noticed my mother was listless. Sad. I tried to visit her often. We had tea. She’d read to me as she often did when I was a child, the same stern, strict manner I was accustomed to. Only now, it was sad.

I’d ask her if she was proud of me, a pathetic last grasp of attention that I still needed from my mother as an adult. She would pout her thin lips and sigh, and pat my head, her cool palms reaching my cheek as our eyes met.

“You’re a garbage-man, Lawrence. At least you are cleaning up messes instead of making them.”

I hugged her and she hugged me back. I felt a warm glow and I smiled, finally feeling like I was seen by her. I couldn’t help but feel she meant that last part as a reference to my father. I never understood romance. I wished I did. I always wanted someone to call my own and for them to say I was theirs… but it never happened.

We said our goodbyes and she gave me her art history book.

“I know you loved this book as a child. I remembered you’d sneak in my study to read it. I want you to have it,” she gave me a tired smile and handed me the book as we hugged goodbye.

That was the last thing I can remember before I had heard of her passing. A neighbor called me and told me an ambulance took her to the hospital early that next day.

She had a heart attack.

I cried and bawled and went into a deep state of depression.

I saw the art history book.

It had a page folded over.

It was of that painting I loved as a child.

Cahill Expressway was just the most important and honest and beautiful painting I had ever seen in my life, bar none. How did she know? Did she notice me stare at it often as a child?

The lines are so crisp. The streets are so clean. The light and shadows are so dreary and perfectly lit.

And the man...

He is going nowhere. Like me.

But, he seems peaceful. At ease. Nothing needs to be done and nothing needs to be said. The page hummed and I felt every part of myself vibrating. I felt my pulse in my throat. I felt my pores melding and fusing, a frantic melting of mediums: rich oils and plywood and skin and flesh and glands and brain matter.

Was I going mad from my grief? Crazy from the toxic fumes of the garbage over the years? I didn't know. But I heard a voice calling to me and I felt a strange pulling in my heart.

“Where do you go when you don't belong?”

I heard a barely discerning whisper hit my senses, and I felt myself answering as I was sinking into the restless oils.

“I... I go and take out the trash?” I say with a bit of humor, my longer strands of brown hair getting in my face. I frantically push it aside and I hear a chuckle.

“There is no trash here. Just me.”

I sigh. “Then, I guess I have no purpose with you. I am only a garbage-man, after-all.”

“You're lonely. Lovely, too. Lovely and lonely. I'm lonely. I've always been lonely. You don't have to be a garbage-man to be here with me.”

I feel a heat rising on my neck and I cough in a nervous shyness. “Love-lovely? I am not lovely. I always smell like trash.”

“I wouldn't know. I've been standing here for decades. All I know is you've been staring at me this whole time...”

“I can't believe this is real. I'm dreaming...” I mutter to myself, and I almost scratch my eyes in a fury trying to make sense of this crazy delusion or phantom-like fever dream...

I suddenly stumble back in my dysphoria and almost fall.

A strong hand catches my arm, and pulls me close. It's warm and soft and cozy all of sudden.

I see him and he smiles at me like we've been best friends for year's.

“Hi Lawrence,” he says softly. I feel my face burst into a soft warmth and I wave as I recognize the scenery.

“There is no trash here,” I say longingly.

He chuckles softly. “Cheer up. You may not have garbage, but you cleaned up so many lives in your selfless duties. And now, mine.”

I feel safe with him. It is a wholly connected feeling of trust and deeper understanding as we continue to talk.

It is strange not having anything to do or anywhere to go. It is good to know someone can like me just for existing...

And I realize that is what it really is all for. Life. Love.

Nothing to do. Nothing to get right or get wrong. You just are.

And they get you. It does not take much more than a soft look and touch, and real listening.

You're seen and heard and felt.

Under the Cahill Expressway, we created better dreams in brighter oils and fresher violets, I was lovely & so was he, and we were no longer lonely.

JourneyFiction

About the Creator

Melissa Ingoldsby

I am a published author on Patheos,

I am Bexley by Resurgence Novels

The Half Paper Moon on Golden Storyline Books for Kindle.

My novella The Job and Atonement will be published this year by JMS Books

Carnivorous published by Eukalypto

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Comments (3)

  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock12 months ago

    Such melancholy sweetness.

  • Naomi Gold12 months ago

    Lovely story. I’ve had a few paintings I was mesmerized by as a child and wanted to step inside of. Your protagonist was so well fleshed out, and the ending was perfect. You really understand love. Now I have “Garbage Man” by Hole stuck in my head, but that’s okay. 😊

  • Awww, this was such a wonderful story! I loved Lawrence so much. So selfless, so kind. He has my heart 💖

Melissa IngoldsbyWritten by Melissa Ingoldsby

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