The First Thing to Go

by Katie Oliver

The rubbish hadn’t been collected for the last three weeks. I peered through the front window to observe the pile of ripped bin bags with dregs and ooze seeping out, and the forest of uncollapsed cardboard boxes sprouting in between. ‘In an apocalypse situation,’ Martin had always said, ‘one that results in the breakdown of society—waste collection is always the first thing to go.’ The council was no longer accepting phone calls owing to recent events, so I put in a complaint by filling out an online form.

Bin day rolled around again and still nothing doing. A rat wiggled its hefty behind over a box that had previously contained a food processor; the upstairs neighbours were still alive and consuming in every sense of the word, with drones dropping new parcels off several times a day. Foxes the size of horses scrabbled in the rotting debris, tiny pink eyes squinting against the clouds of smouldering dust. An iridescent murmuration of bluebottles undulated over the ever-growing mass of junk. ‘Soon there’ll be maggots,’ I remarked to Martin. The rat seemed to hear me and paused mid-scavenge to fix me with an obsidian eye.

A week later, they still hadn’t come, and a further three online complaint forms had gone unanswered. The afternoon light flickered and the sound of scratching burrowed into my skull, drawing me to the front door like an enchantment. The stench hit me first, then a blast of hot ash that coated my airways and scorched the membranes of my eyes. The rat appeared from behind an old toaster, the mange on its back raw and suppurating up close. I inclined my head. It followed me back into the house, dust and boxes blowing in behind us with the fetid stink of the day. We sat down on the sofa next to Martin’s corpse and I filled out another online complaint form.

Katie Oliver writes because it is the perfect foil for her huge yet fragile ego. She finds envisaging dystopian futures worse than our nightmarish present curiously soothing.
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