He had awakened with the itch on his face, from a lone and long hair floating across one eye and one lip, or was it a cob web, a remnant, a silver runner of aerial flight? It definitely was cob-web thin, a filament, a gossamer streamer, light as thought, but not the thought of a spider like the one he had seen eye to eye above his camp bed as a kid. That one hung on such a silken, thin, lone strand that almost wasn’t there. He had always believed he had smashed that black-eyed spider into space with the magazine he had been reading earlier.
The note reads:
‘Dear Garbage man, Please make sure you get ALL the trash out of the can.
Thanks! The Brewsters’
I stand there just holding the damp piece of paper. The A-L-L scrawled in all capital letters and underlined. The exclamation mark after the ‘Thanks.’ I look over at the white house nestled among the pruned Spanish oaks and ball the note up. The bathwater rain makes rivulets of space between the white maggots humping up my arms as I hoist the cans in the back of the truck. They feel muscular and clean inching their way under the cuffs of my gloves. My back burns, and the smell of cat urine puffs out of a half-tied bag as it smacks the bottom of the compactor. I grind my teeth and think about how Mrs. Brewster’s wrists must be so silky and warm. About how her perfume would just touch the air around my nostrils as I bit into her heavy breast. A drop of my sweat would fall in the deep divot between her collar bones and how she would moan about how strong I am. How powerful my arms are. I pound the side of the truck and give my driver the thumbs up. Next house.
It happened in the town that had no butter, a town where little popcorn was sold and nearly every person was thin. Most people living there liked to run. On a snappy dawn some of them ran marathon distances without breaking a sweat, climbing often into the lower ranges of the Smokies. If butter was in town, the butter packers brought it, illegally.
He often told his wife about his twenty-first birthday. He and his father had sat under a bright red canopy on a dark, starless night. They were at some nameless Chinese restaurant in one of the metropolitan corners of Atlanta, just a few blocks south of Terminal Parkway, where commercial airplanes stitched long blinking lines across the sky. A half block away, he remembered, a street cleaner inched across the asphalt, brushes spinning in a lopsided, broken rhythm.
It’s sort of hard to put into words.
Well, it happened a long time ago. You’ll think I’m wasting your time. But I’ve been thinking about it, going over and over it. And it means something.
He was a shit junky, a shit shoplifter and a shit human being.
Those were his words. Nobody else bothered enough to comment.
“Brisling!” yelled his boss Marquis, “if you don’t get out of the way, I’ll kick your ass for good.” And Marquis, darker but plump himself, wearing an atrocious suit with orange lines in it, smiled that puffy-cheeked grin he’d always use, like it was punctuation itself. I’m the boss and you’re the slob, it said. It was nothing less than a tongue speaking right at Brisling’s ear. Even commas and periods were in place, the exclamation points by the fingers. If there were question marks, he’d know them. He bet he could quote him verbatim, all the ways the boss man moved. All of it was catalogued, scored, filed away in his mind.