trash-can-mdThe Garbage Men

by MB Vigil

Silver Street was always one of the cleanest and most peaceful in Sunset Days Retirement Village on Florida’s Gulf Coast. We all kept our lawns tidy, our fences mended, and our blinds half shut. In fact, everyone there seemed painfully private. For a same-sex couple, it was ideal. Like most of our neighbors, my partner and I typically retired by ten-thirty and rose shortly after dawn. The only noises after midnight were the odd duck meeting its end in the gator-filled canal and the trash collector/street sweeper team that visited Monday and Thursday mornings between four and five. And the time Geraldine Rosenblum’s security alarm malfunctioned at two AM.

I’d often wake up when the sanitation vehicles rumbled by our house. It was a soothing sound, meditative. Once, I told Patrick it reminded me of the train that rattled the walls of my childhood home at night. Purring by in the wee hours, it would assure me that I was safe in my bed, that my big brother was in the bunk overhead, and that our overprotective grandparents were asleep in the next room. I’d roll over, grab my pillow, and drift back into dreamland.

Oddly, no one in Sunset Days could remember ever paying for trash collection service. Perhaps it was included in the city’s water & sewer bill, or else in our property taxes.

When the Edelsteins’ granddaughter disappeared one night, nobody was particularly surprised. They found her bedroom window ajar and assumed that she’d run off with her boyfriend again or hitchhiked up the coast…again. She had the reputation of a wild child–tattoos, nose piercing, dark clothing. We all knew she was trouble and decided that Frank and Edna were lucky to be rid of her for the rest of the summer. After the police had concluded their investigation, we all whispered about it within the privacy of our separate abodes.

Unbeknownst to me, Patrick had agreed to take his sister’s Chihuahua while she was in Madrid with her fiancée. This would be her third husband, the one who, according to Jackie Onassis, you married for companionship (the first two were for love and money, respectively). I’d married Patrick for love and companionship. We both had had prosperous careers.

Colleen dropped the dog off on a Friday evening. Taquita was an angel throughout the weekend, but she started to become distressed Sunday before bed. At four in the morning, we awoke to the dog barking and scratching at the door. When I stepped outside, she darted between my legs and ran straight for the street, where the garbage truck had just turned onto our block. A golf-cart sized street sweeper followed closely behind.

Yipping and growling, Taquita chased after the goliath and its sidekick. Today, I’m not sure I didn’t imagine it, but at that time I would’ve sworn that no one sat in the driver’s seat of either vehicle. They seemed to move of their own accord, engines growling like ravenous hellhounds, headlights trolling from side to side like giant reptilian eyes. A team of five or six little people in black coveralls (not one of them stood more than four feet tall) hopped off the cart and bustled about with push brooms that seemed too long for their little arms. In spite of the apparent challenge, they swept up behind the procession.

One of the little people signaled with a quiet whistle and pointed at Taquita. In response, a long insect-like arm reached from the side of the garbage truck and snatched her up as I stood dumfounded on the curb. With one crunch, the dog was silenced. Its insides spilled out onto the street, and the arm craned up and held the remains over the back of the truck. With a whoosh, the empty carcass was sucked down into some gaping mechanical maw. The truck emitted a vulgar belch from its exhaust stack while the gaggle of little people hobbled over, set their brooms aside, and dropped to their knees before the splattered offal. Making the most disgusting sounds, they lapped at the ground with their tongues until all signs of Taquita had been…well, cleaned up.

I didn’t realize I’d been screaming until the little monsters looked up at me and then around at the neighbors, who stood aghast under the glow of the street lamps. The jig was up. In a unified front, the private, isolated residents of Sunset Days Retirement Village closed in around the night creatures. Frank Edelstein was armed with a shotgun, while his wife screamed obscene accusations at the little people. We were too many for them to fend off. Still, they lashed out defensively with their broomsticks as they jumped back onto their cart. The cart, in turn, rolled up onto a ramp and into the back of the garbage truck. The whole monstrosity then made a low, sorrowful moan and drove into the canal at the end of our street.

No one ever spoke about what we’d witnessed that morning. The Edelsteins moved out before the sun had had another chance to set. According to the grapevine, their granddaughter has never been found. Mort Gray, president of the neighborhood association, hired a private trash collection service the very next morning, and that was that.

On Silver Street, no one ever goes out after midnight these days. No matter what. Just over half the original homeowners have relocated or passed on since that summer. Before she died, Geraldine Rosenblum wrote to us that she never again saw a single duck swim in that canal. Shortly after the incident, Patrick and I purchased a double-wide mobile home and several acres of desert in Joshua Tree, California. It’s a long way from the temperate Gulf Coast. There are few neighbors, mostly young blue-collar families. There are no lawns, no picket fences, and no paved road leading to our property. Most importantly, there’s no trash collection.


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