By Nate Rogers
Ethan Morris opened his eyes. Looking down at the progress of the sun’s assault up his legs, Ethan instantly knew how badly he had overslept. This thought was quickly dismissed with the recognition of a blaring alarm. Ethan leaned over and put the anxious clock out of its misery. Squinting through bloodshot eyes, he moaned with the realization of missing his route. It was Tuesday, too. The Westfield route: the wealthiest neighborhood in Pilgrimage. They always had the most trash to pick up. Obsolete appliances riddled the gutters next to their well-manicured lawns. Every goddamn week. Always a pain in the ass. Certainly not a day to miss.
Ethan suppressed this terrible realization for another: He was dreadfully hung over. What the hell was he doing last night? He shook his head. There was no time to think about it. Throwing on a pair of jeans and an old, torn-up Pilgrimage High JV Baseball sweatshirt, Ethan downed a cup of water from the sink and took a deep breath. This young (but not too young) man despised his job for the city trash company with as much genuine emotion as he had ever felt for anything in his whole life. Still, he had to go. At the very least, Ethan needed an income to drink his nights away at Tilly’s: the only bar in town that isn’t next door to a Sizzler’s.
Dismissing a shower and breakfast without much of a thought, Ethan refused to skip one other morning routine. Stopping just outside the door, he looked into Celia’s note on the mirror that she had written him several years earlier. Right before she dumped him due to, “a lack of ambition,”—a claim Ethan resented but begrudgingly understood. This he could take. Oddly enough, what upset him most about the note was that it was the first and only time that she had not signed her name with a heart over the “i.” The letter hung heavily over Ethan’s head as he gazed into the mirror. He looked like hell. Forcing a scoff, Ethan grabbed his keys and went out the door.
A town of modest size compared to that of Seattle, its closest neighbor, Pilgrimage was easy to commute across. The suburban layout of the city supported a high volume of cars moving across it every day. New Chevys and Hondas on lease made their way out as quickly as possible in the morning. With the help of cheap rent and low taxes, many in Pilgrimage could afford to purchase new things as often as they pleased. It was Ethan’s job to collect their trash as it piled up throughout the week. To buy their used cars when the lease expired.
Speeding dangerously through the empty streets in his fully paid-for 1993 Honda Accord, Ethan was listening to Springsteen’s Greatest Hits. Again. His tape deck had been stuck for almost two weeks. Good god, if Ethan had to listen to “Thunder Road” one more goddamn time, he swore he’d leave the car at the dump once and for all. But it was a purple car, he’d remind himself. And purple was a hard color to find. Any color was hard to find in Pilgrimage.
As quietly as possible, Ethan rolled down the dirt road into the parking lot. Hey that’s me and I want you only, Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone aga—. With a cringe, Ethan removed his key from the ignition and walked carefully towards the trailers nearby.
In the quiet at the edge of town, however, every single employee knew who had arrived. It was lunch hour. The trucks had already dumped their hauls into the pit, but had yet to begin the afternoon process of piling on the dirt. Sitting in a few small circles, the trashmen all turned their heads to view the sorry looking twenty-something as he approached with an embarrassed grin on his face.
One man stood up. It was Mr. Wharton, moustache and all. Holding a half-eaten corndog and a clipboard, he motioned with his head that Ethan should follow him to the trailer. The smell of cheap, microwavable lunches as well as the lingering odor of the fresh trash reminded Ethan of his nausea. He took a deep breath and followed, keeping his head pointed down at his toes.
“Just where in the hell were you?” asked Mr. Wharton, just outside the door of his office-trailer (and strategically within earshot of the rest of the group).
“Mr. Wharton, I’m really sorry, I have no idea what happened,” Ethan lied.
“Well that’s great, because I do have an idea, dipshit. What happened was that because your sorry ass slept through the Westfield route, Eddie sliced his hand open on a tuna can lid. Right through the fucking glove. And do you know what that means? I’m sure you don’t, you moron, so I’ll tell you. It means that he can’t do his route for the rest of the week. And I have to pay him for it anyway. You know, Ethan, just because you don’t give a damn about your job here doesn’t mean you can make my life miserable. Just imagine being in my position. What would you do?”
“Whatever you’d like me to do, sir.” Ethan deliberated for a moment. “Mr. Wharton, I can’t tell you what this job means to me,” Ethan lied again.
“Well that’s fantastic because if you want to keep your job you’re going to be taking over his route for the rest of the week—without overtime. As for today, you can spend the afternoon Dumpwalking. I expect fifty dollars worth of crap by the time you come back. That ought to cover the gauze it took to wrap Eddie’s hand, you fuckup.”
After walking through the laughter of his fellow trashmen, Ethan began his punishment. Dumpwalking is a unique form of wasted tax dollars. The motto of the Pilgrimage trash company is, “There’s always money in the trash.” While this was certainly true, nobody ever felt like digging through it to find out just how much. This was a task especially reserved for people in Ethan’s position of embarrassment.
Seething with an anger that resembled something of a personal performance, Ethan trudged through the hillsides of waste. Dirt roads wound through stacks of trash two-stories high. Rogue bits of garbage fell from the mountains, sitting patiently alone in the dirt. Broken light bulbs, old school notebooks, greasy McDonald’s bags. An empty container of Elmer’s glue. Bar-Mitzvah cards with the money carefully removed.
Ethan was just beginning to enter a new realm of self-hatred when something caught his eye. A glimmer of brightness amongst the pile of trash. It appeared for a moment and then sunk back into the abyss. Ethan walked over to it slowly.
At the base of a mountain, where a few bags had been torn open, Ethan got onto his knees and put on gloves. He gingerly lifted an expensive, shattered cell phone. For just a moment, Ethan sat in silence and shock as he observed the discovery. A well-manicured finger lay severed and pale at the base of the pile. Certainly the fourth finger of a woman’s left hand, as a diamond ring the size of Ethan’s apartment clearly indicated. It sparkled brightly in the sun.
Ethan remained in a crouch next to this fresh pile of trash for several minutes without blinking. In training, he had always been told to keep an eye out for body-parts. However, Pilgrimage was known for its low crime rate. The trashmen had long since given up on treating their city like it was New York. In fact, they had long since given up treating their job as anything resembling what it was: a civil service. Still, Ethan wasn’t so jaded by the profession that he had completely lost track of his obligation. This was a crime scene. Somewhere in the pyramid of waste towering over him was likely to be a blood-stained scarf or purse to go along with the finger. Evidence. Redemption for a distraught family. Punishment for a murderer.
The reflection of the ring surged with intensity. Ethan locked in on the diamond sitting in front of him. Well now, that is a hefty ring, isn’t it? With his legs starting to cramp, a new expression developed on his previously blank face. Starting with the left side, and then slowly straightening out to the right, Ethan’s mouth contorted to a form what was an increasingly rare sight to see on his face: a smile. Maybe a bit more of a smirk than a smile, to be sure, but Ethan would take what he could get.
After all, when was the last time that he had been given any opportunities to make a better life for himself? This woman was already dead, he rationalized. They would just take this ring and put it in an evidence bag never to see the light of day again. Now, Ethan could use it. Oh yes, he could use it. He could sell it! A diamond of that size could get his purple Honda out of Pilgrimage for good. He’d grab Celia and show her that he wasn’t going to stay in this town his whole life. They’d leave tonight. Maybe they could go to Seattle. Get a job at the Spaceneedle or something. Certainly someone has to work that gift-shop. Why not him? Why not right now?
Without so much as a grimace, Ethan removed the ring and put it in the coin pocket of his Levi’s. He walked straight out of the dump and put a working watch that he had found earlier in Mr. Wharton’s hand. Trying to act casual (and doing a bad job of it), Ethan then made his way to his car and turned on the engine. It purred gently. It coughed. The tape continued playing.
Well now I’m now hero, That’s understood, All the redemption I can offer, girl, Is beneath this dirty hood…
Ethan’s head was spinning. He felt very dizzy and sick, but it had been such a long time since adrenaline had flowed in his veins that he actually felt good. He felt alive. Thinking quickly as he spun away from the dump, Ethan devised a plan. He’d take the ring right over to a pawnshop and get what he could for it. Then, he’d drop his old, useless existence at the curb, to be picked up with the rest of the trash tomorrow morning. Although, Ethan wouldn’t be the one picking up the trash tomorrow. Oh, no. They’d be doing that without Ethan Morris from now on.
These two lanes will take us anywhere, We got one last chance to make it real, To trade in these wings for some wheels…
The first thing to do was to pick up Celia. There was no time to dawdle. They had spent quite enough time in Pilgrimage. Ethan hit the gas, hard. His purple Honda gave it everything it had as it sped down the main highway. It was rush hour.
But tonight we’ll be free, All the promises’ll be broken, There were ghosts in the eyes—
Officer Perry sat in his cruiser behind the only billboard in Pilgrimage. Appropriately, he was the lone cop on duty at the present moment. The ad was for Brixby’s Used Car Lot. Just as the officer had begun to let his eyelids close, a purple blur flew right past him. But before he could turn on his lights, there was a tremendous crunch of metal that lasted for several miserable seconds. Then all was quiet.
Hoping that he was dreaming, Officer Perry pulled out from behind the sign and drove up to the wreckage. He radioed in for an ambulance, and after the slightest hesitation, added, “Better call a couple of tow-trucks, too. These heaps aren’t going anywhere.” He got out of his cruiser and trotted over to the purple car that was now lying upside down with one wheel still spinning. Taking a quick look inside the shattered driver’s side window, he turned away with a grimace. It was then that he realized that the radio was still playing.
Published on page 22 of the Spring 2011 issue of Leviathan.