His life fit in a dumpster. One dumpster. One life.
Of course he would’ve fit in the dumpster himself, quite comfortably had the dumpster not been made of rusty metal. Not that it had been constructed with rusty metal. The metal used to build the waste receptacle was once unrusted. With as much as the thing would be outside in the harsh and unforgiving elements, they may have well just made it rusty. What kind of company would purchase a rusted dumpster advertised as new?
The dumpster, rusty and hard, would’ve certainly provided ample room for his body. But a dumpster is not the proper resting place for the deceased. There is no dignity in that. It is much more dignified to be placed in a box, buried six feet underneath the earth. One wonders if they ever really measure out that six feet. The body certainly won’t complain if it is a little too deep or a little too shallow.
It’s also more dignified to be burned to ashes.
It didn’t really matter that his body would’ve fit in that dumpster. The point is that his life should’ve been bigger than the body.
It was an oversized dumpster. As if that was any consolation.
Each component of his life, save for the body, the other people, and a few large items like the car and sofa, one by one tossed into the dumpster, gradually filling it not even to the brim. The first few items made a hollow echo that boomed through the neighborhood. The last few hardly left a mark, silently piling themselves upon the rest of useless junk. Up close, but not too close, it was easy to see that the dumpster housed hundreds and hundreds of pounds of old belongings, but from a distance, provided that distance was on equal or lower elevation, the dumpster appeared the same as it had before the filling had begun. It could just as well have been empty.
In his lifetime he had eaten enough food to overflow the dumpster, thrown away enough trash to fill it tenfold, cried enough tears to leave a small drowning pool inside. He could’ve filled that dumpster many times while alive.
And now here I was filling it only once with all that was left. One dumpster. Not even full to the top. I wanted it to overflow. That dumpster didn’t deserve to hold all of those contents, least not in the smug way that it did.
With each trip from the musty basement up the cracking concrete steps, ducking my head each time to prevent unwanted trauma, I battled for hours with that dumpster, desperately trying to fill it. Some items I would toss gently over the worn walls. The first few bags may have scarred the already worn-beyond-repair container, but most of them just landed atop other bags, having no impact upon the dumpster other than to suffocate its inanimate bottom. Other items were not received so gently by the dumpster. The mirror, for example. Showing no regard for the potential seven years of bad luck that awaited me, I lifted that old mirror high above my head and spiked it upon an unfamiliar metal bar that protruded from the mountain of life. Much to my dismay, my attempt at destruction had fallen short. I gazed into that dumpster only to see my own undistorted face staring curiously back at me. Carefully I reached my gloved hands inside to retrieve the undamaged good and repeated the process. Perhaps I had weakened the glass the first time around, for this toss of equal power shattered the mirror, its pieces forced by gravity somewhere to the bottom of that bin, slicing their way into plastic garbage bags as they searched for the small gaps in between. No more could I see myself in that dumpster. But there was plenty I could see.
Some of it would have been nice to keep, but you’ve got your own stuff and your own life. What are you supposed to do with it all? The more I keep, the more for the next in line to throw away. Might as well take care of it now. I guess this is my way of honoring his memory, by discarding everything he owned.
After countless hours that made up countless days, numbers that could’ve easily been counted had someone actually bothered to keep track of something so trivial, all I had left of his life were a few pictures and a few insignificant trinkets that I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away. And my memories. But those will fade too, thrown out to make room for other memories just like I threw out all of his life to make room for a new life. I guess that’s why we need to keep all the pictures and stuff. And that’s why we need to get rid of them.
Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 50 online and print magazines. A story of his, “The Oaten Hands,” was named one of 190 notable stories by the storySouth Million Writers Award in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, is due out in July 2011. Visit him at http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm.