By: Jack McKever
He lay there for a moment, eyes closed. A pigeon flew silently past his open window and startled him. He bolted into a sitting position, and looked out the window. A book fell off of his face, he had been reading it the night before, and fell to the ground. On it's cover were the words: Philosophy and Meaning.
Bob looked around his tiny room quietly, he felt like he wasn't even in the room. The old TV he found was on for some reason. Bob looked at the cracked screen, there were nothing but color bars, except they were not color. They were black and white, and they were distorted by static. The loud beeping of the dead signal assaulted Bob's ears. But the nearly inaudible noise of the TV itself assaulted him more.
It was Tuesday, and Bob did not work on Tuesday. He worked only on Fridays. The neighborhood he had only required one garbage day, but it was growing quickly. All the rows of neatly arranged and neutrally colored houses were getting longer. Bob made good use of his free time, which was every other day besides Friday. He spent it in thought.
Bob got off of his old, broken mattress and threw his crumpled blankets down onto it. He kicked his way past pizza boxes, soda cans, paper plates, dirty clothes and crumpled pages of philosophy. He made his way into the living room, and, upon reaching it, he noticed that there were some pages still in his typewriter. He picked them up, and read them. They were all blank except the first page, which read: distortion, detachment and dehumanization. There should have been more, but, as usual, Bob's mind went blank, and he stopped. He forgot to crumple the pages and throw them on the floor before going to sleep.
Bob walked to his clean corner, the only corner of his apartment that was not blocked by waste. When Bob sat here, he felt like he actually existed, it was one of the few places that he felt that way in. He sat down, in lotus position, placed his hands in their relaxed positions, and closed his eyes. For twenty-five minutes, his mind was empty, he was empty, devoid of anything. Every day he did this, emptied his mind like he emptied a dumpster. Every day he did this, yet every day, he found a little more room to get emptier. That place was quite big. Every day he did this, and every day, infinity seemed to exist in a tiny, two room apartment.
The phone rang, and Bob almost didn't answer it. He heard it, but he wasn't listening. It eventually pulled Bob out of himself, and it pulled everything back in on him. Those walls, that ceiling, and that trash covered floor all came crashing back together. He opened his eyes, and the phone rang a second time. He got up and answered it. The phone never rang except on Fridays.
"This is City Garbage, reminding you that your neighborhood . . . Yardway . . . now has two garbage pick up days. Friday, and today, Tuesday. Thank you."
The recording hung up the phone automatically, and Bob heard the empty dial tone, dead. He listened to it carefully for a moment, not entirely sure what he was listening for, then he hung up the phone.
Bob threw a Styrofoam cup of microwave noodles into his broken microwave and started it. He zipped up his totally clean, gray garbage man's jumpsuit, put on his gray garbage man's hat. He took his noodles out of the microwave, finding that they were still cold. He left his apartment, not worrying about locking the door, he never did. His apartment was too far out of the way and nobody would ever want to steal any of the crap he owned. Bob walked down the clean, empty halls of his apartment building to the elevator, got in, and went down twenty one floors, all the way to the bottom.
Shortly thereafter, Bob entered the neighborhood of Yardway in his large, clunky garbage truck, the back of which was empty, and waiting to be filled. Bob wasn't entirely sure how long it took him to leave his apartment, pick up his truck and drive it all the way here because he didn't keep track of time. Bob found that when he did this, things were less constant, and life was less of a technicality.
He went past several houses and empted several dumpsters. None of them had anything extra sitting by them, nothing that Bob had to toss in by hand. He stopped at another house, noticing that there were some lawn chairs sitting by the dumpster here. He emptied the dumpster, then got out to get the chairs. He might have a lawn someday. He picked them up, and stopped when he noticed that there was an old man standing next to him, staring into the gray sky. Bob froze, and looked at the man.
The old man pointed at the sky, and Bob looked in the direction he was pointing. Nothing but gray. Bob tossed the lawn chairs into the passenger seat of his truck, and looked back at the old man, who was still staring unblinkingly into the startlingly empty sky. Bob looked at the old man for a moment, motionless.
The old man kept on doing nothing, and Bob walked around his truck and got in to drive away. He looked out the window, and saw that the old man was gone. In his place there was a plastic lawn gnome, smiling at Bob. Bob stared at it for a moment, then he got out of his truck. He walked over to the gnome, and picked it up, examined it. It smiled at him, cast a cold, empty, plastic stare at him. Bob felt bombarded by it, and almost threw it back down to the ground. But he didn't. He put it in the passenger seat and drove away.
Bob stopped at the next house, there was nothing except a dumpster sitting on the curb. Bob hit the button that operated the robotic arm. It lowered itself slowly, and gently clasped the dumpster and swept it into the air. The lid flew open and the contents of the dumpster fell into the back of the truck. But not all of it. Something flew out of the dumpster, something bounced of the side of the truck, and something hit the road. Bob set the garbage bin down empty, and got out of the truck to grab something.
It was a book. Bob looked at the book for a moment. It was old, and it had been read many, many times, but that was long ago. There was something in the book. But the fact that a book was somehow transmitting it's state of being into Bob's was not what grabbed his attention. The book had no title. There were no words on either cover of the book, no markings except those of age. Bob opened the book and read the first few sentences.
Then he closed it and threw it into the passenger seat with everything else that he found. He got into the truck and began driving again. He looked at the book, it lay open, over the lawn gnome's face. Bob wondered if there was a word for when a book read itself to someone.
He stopped a few houses later, and there was nothing but a dumpster. Bob emptied it into the back of his truck, and he looked at where the dumpster was sitting. Behind it, there was a dead plant in a pot. Bob didn't like dead things. For everything he touched, he became a little more dead. So he let the dumpster down and drove on. He realized something about the plant. It wasn't dead. He slammed on the brakes, and backed the truck up towards the plant, and he looked at it through the open passenger side window, stared at it silently for several seconds. It was alive.
Several hours later, Bob entered his apartment building. He walked all the way to the elevator, tracking a little dirt in the clean hallway carpet. As he was walking, a key fell off the bottom of the plant pot. Bob got into the elevator, and hit the button for the top floor. He noticed the key sitting on the ground just outside the door, and he wanted to grab it, but the doors closed, and the elevator went into motion. Bob hit the button for the ground floor once more, and the elevator went down. When the doors opened again, the key was gone. Bob looked down the long hallway, which stretched as far as he could see. There was nobody.
Bob got back to his apartment. He set his brand new lawn chairs down, and watered his plant. He gave it some extra water, and took a little soil out of some of his other plants and put it in the nearly empty pot. He went to his window, and tried his best to open it. It had not been opened in quite awhile. He pulled and pulled and pulled as hard as he could, but the closed window would not open. Bob noticed his book sitting next to his typewriter. He looked at it for a moment. Then he knew how he would open the window. He unlocked it. The window still had a hard time opening up, but Bob managed. He put the plant in the open windowsill, and put the lawn gnome in it.
For the first time in years, Bob cleaned his apartment out. He got everything he did not need and put it in a trash bag, along with all the garbage on the floor. He took it to the garbage chute, which was right next to his apartment. He opened it, and the metal door echoed down the chute. Bob felt a cold breeze coming through it, to his face, all the way from the basement. He dropped the bags down the chute.
Bob sat down at his typewriter, and he knew.