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Apocalyptic's Waste & Collection Center

Where does everything go when the world ends?

By Alexandra HubbellPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
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Apocalyptic's Waste & Collection Center
Photo by Alex Caza on Unsplash

Joe brought another pile of junk today. This one is pure junk--moldy food cans, scraps of paper, plastic up to your eyeballs. Disgusting heaps of rotting garbage. I have to sort it all into mountains. Sometimes, if I’m drunk enough and I squint a little, it almost looks pretty. I never got out to see any real mountains, but I imagine they’re kind of like this. I always start with the metals. Cans, tire rims, rusty ladders--you name it, it ends up here. Then I go for the plastics. Baby doll heads. Cheap lawn chairs. Water bottles with fancy names and promises of health benefits. I mean, it’s water for Christ’s sake. All bullshit. Might as well throw away the electrolytes, the vitamins. Nobody’s getting healthier now. Joe says kids are being born with extra pieces or parts missing. Brains like mush. I try not to think about it.

They’re trying to fix it. I don’t know who “they” are, so don’t ask. Maybe the government, maybe the scientists. They send the junk here. The material all gets broken down to liquids first. Toxic, bubbling vats that then get purified or something through these tubes. Tunnels and chutes crisscrossing to giant tubs covered in gauges that I can’t understand. Science-ese, Joe calls it. It all turns into energy somehow. They want to turn the world back on, reverse the damage, and get the people back to work. Nothing worse than people not working. The whole edge of the landfill looks like one of those playgrounds they used to have snaking around those old Chuck E. Cheese’s. I can’t believe we used to let kids climb in those grimy things, snotting all over each other and shitting themselves. I wonder how big Macey’s kid, Ellie, is now. I wonder if they’re both still alive.

When the world as we knew it ended, they didn’t really tell us much. It all just sort of stopped, bam, just like that. Without electricity, everything goes silent. The major news networks cut out. No more Twitter, no more Facebook. People learned about things through word of mouth I guess. Nobody knew what to do. Macey didn’t even say goodbye. I don’t blame her. By the time I woke up from my last normal-world bender, the entire hallway was empty aside from me and Mrs. Terrence in apartment 3A. She said she was too old, said she’d die the same place her late husband did, in their bed, and that was that. No convincing her to come with me, even when the air got so thick you couldn’t be in the city without a respirator. I must’ve been warped out of my mind for a week--liquor, drugs, you name it I tried it. I wonder if Macy tried to get me out. I’m sure she did. But she had little Ellie to worry about. I broke into her abandoned apartment, right next door to mine, and grabbed whatever supplies I could find. I took a picture of Ellie off the mantle, stuffed it in my pocket.

I tried calling and texting anyone I could think of, but the brownouts had started and the service was out. Then the thing died--in my belligerence I didn’t charge my phone. By the time I’d made it out of the apartment, every solar charger in the city was sold or jacked up so high it’d cost me a month’s rent for some power. If that isn’t poetic, I don’t know what is.

So, I bought liquor instead. It was also flying off the shelves, but Felix at the corner store always took care of me. Sold it to me without the markup. Everything was cash only, then after the cash ran out the looting began. Finally, at least in our neighborhood, people started bartering until the money got sorted out. The government came in and set up something. I don’t understand it all really. I didn’t try to.

I checked my mailbox regularly for a while, looking for my mom’s snobby stationary, something lavender or powder blue. Not even a sticky note. They’re either dead or don’t give a shit. I don’t really care either way. That isn’t totally fair, I guess. I don’t even know if the mail runs anymore.

The city smelled like it was rotting. After a few days, I got used to it. Started walking around with an N95 and my usual bottle of Evan Williams, sipping under the mask with a long straw, just picking up shit and throwing it into bags to sell. There was nothing else to do. That’s when Joe found me. I thought he was an old creep at first, but he ended up being the most decent man I’ve ever known. Never tried to lay a finger on me, never made any comments about my rack. I’m an easy target, the perpetually wasted girl with no family, no friends. Found out Joe had a husband, lost him before the fallout, and he said it was a good thing. His husband wouldn’t have wanted to see the world like this. He looks sad when he talks like that, but I guess we all look sad now.

So, Joe picked me up. Said he had a job for me. Said if I like sorting through shit so much I should get paid for it. I was running out of liquor money, people quit buying the junk because they were out of money too, and Felix had kids to feed. The favors stopped.

That's how I ended up at Apocalyptic’s Waste & Collection Center. It’s been a little over a year now. I throw the plastic in one pile, paper in another. Food scraps and plant waste are a totally different thing, apparently they’re the real game changers. Gotta be really diligent about sorting anything that was once alive--Joe said it’s something to do with the carbon. Thinking about the science too much sobers me up, so I usually don’t.

Joe brings me liquor, sometimes some good stuff as a little work bonus, but I’m still partial to anything under ten bucks. I don’t tell him that, because when he brings the good stuff he’ll have a drink with me. That kinda feels normal. Not that I’d been normal for a while. Like how normal looked on TV, I guess.

I make $100 a week plus my liquor and lodging. I stay in a camper on the property. Joe does all my errands which consist of canned food runs and the occasional new pair of socks or underwear. Nothing to save for. Nowhere to retire anymore. Everywhere is a landfill now. Florida is one big swamp. California is a giant bonfire. Anywhere tropical is now underwater. I wonder if 1000 years from now people will think Costa Rica is the lost city of Atlantis. I wonder if 1000 years from now there will even be people at all. I wonder about Ellie. Will she have kids one day? Grandkids? Will I?

That’s such a crazy thought, I have to finish the bottle in my hand and crack the lid of a fresh one. I'd need a man to have a kid. And all I have is Evan Williams, Joe--who couldn’t be less interested--and a bunch of piles of junk. The whole place looks fuzzy now, and I’m getting a good buzz. I find a mirror in the mess, and I almost don’t recognize myself. I look disgusting. I laugh. If I were to go on a date, what would I wear? I go over to the fabrics, dig out a dress that had a slit up to the hip. A black slinky thing. I strip naked right there and try it on. It only stings my skin a little bit. It smells like body odor and a musky perfume. I twist my hair into a knot at the base of my neck. Jewelry next.

I sift through the smaller metals. Paper clips, a bunch of screws, some cabinet knobs. Something gold sparkled through the mess, and I untangled it. A locket. I open it, and I see an initial on each side, an “L” and an “M”. “L” for Lila, I think. My name is Lila. “M”… Matthew, Marcus, Miles. Who could be my “M”? I spot a mannequin among the plastics and set it up across from me. M for Mannequin. I giggle. I pour a little whiskey for “M” into the empty bottle and cheers it with my full one.

“So, Mannequin,” I slur. “Manny? What’s a guy like you doing in a dump like this?”

Lights flash behind me, and I duck. I slap over Manny, clear up the pretend date. I yank the stupid bun out and pull the dress down as far as it’ll go.

“Lila?” Joe calls. I stumble over the mess and call back that I’m up here.

“Lila!” A woman’s voice. I can’t make her out. I shake my head, trying to get the drunk off. A redhead is waving at me from the valley of the junk piles. My stomach flips and I vomit. I wipe my face, and she comes into focus through my watery eyes.

“This lady says your friends,” Joe said. “I told her you don’t—"

“Macey,” I whisper. I find my voice and yell. “Macey!”

I slide down the pile, the dress ripping, exposing my white cotton underwear. Not so sexy for date night. She catches me at the bottom and holds me to her.

“You’ve been doing all this?” she says. She looks at the junk in awe. She sounds impressed.

“I mean, I didn’t come up with it,” I say.

“Auntie Lila!” I feel Ellie barrel into me before I can see her. Joe’s all teary now. They’re all looking at me in some kinda way. I remember my dress, and I try to cover myself.

“Here,” Joe takes his flannel shirt off and ties it around my waist.

“The trash,” Macey said. "They're converting it. We may be able to move back to the city in a year or two if it keeps improving. And it’s because of all this. It’s all over the news, Lil. Do you have that out here? We got the news back. Internet in some places.”

I shrug and take a sip from the bottle. I didn’t know that. I’d never asked though, either. Macey looks at Joe sharply.

“Well good,” I wipe the snot from my lip. “Good. So, I work here. At the landfill. I’m sorry, the collection center. Ta-daaa.” I do a twirl.

“It’s important work, Lil,” she says. She’s serious. I laugh. “Really.”

“Look,” I ignore her compliment. I open the locket, show the inside to her. “L+M. Lila and Macey. You found me. You aren’t a Matthew or a Manny, but you’ll be my ‘M’ right?”

She grabs Ellie’s hand and pulls her close. I know what she’s thinking. Lila’s still a drunk. Shouldn’t be near Ellie. She’s regretting finding me. She takes the bottle from my hand. She’s going to leave. The world is going to end all over again.

“Yeah, Lil,” she says. She takes a swig from the bottle. “I’ll be your ‘M’.”

I pull them both into a hug, and I reach out a hand for Joe. His palm is callused, and I squeeze it tighter. A warm feeling like whiskey radiates through my core, rising as a burning sob in my throat. We look out at the vapors rising from the vats. It almost looks pretty, with the sun setting. Like a mist among the mountains I made. Important work. Macey hands me the bottle, but I shake my head. Ellie clings to my leg, and I have trash to move.

science fiction
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Alexandra Hubbell

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