10 13 2021
In my newsletter on Tuesday, I talked about the little flash fiction story that won a contest in a local newsletter. I also am offering the book I won (on how to write flash fiction) in a drawing. You can still enter the drawing, which I’ll do on Sunday if you want to sign up for my newsletter! http://tinyletter.com/KGnews
Making good on the offer to share my winning story, I’m putting it here on the blog today. Hope you enjoy it! It’s very gentle—no one even dies.
ONE WOMAN’S TRASH
word count: 997
Nancy Beth stumbled as she hauled the roller trash bin down the driveway to the curb. It was cold and dark. She silently cursed the absence of her husband. This had always been his job. She stopped herself before she became angry at him for dying, remembering how he had always done chores with no complaining. Why had she forgotten the trash until so late? She couldn’t see very well at night, the way her eyes were these days, with that cataract her doctor wanted to wait to remove. Also, this time of year, skunks came out at night. She could always smell them the next morning in the yard. Sometimes she even smelled them inside the house if they sprayed too near. Nancy had never met up with a skunk face to face in the wild and she never wanted to.
When she got back inside without any wildlife encounters, she washed her hands and dropped onto the couch to catch her breath. Everything seemed to be such an effort lately. She sorely missed Harvey. He had not only taken out the trash, he’d taken over doing the dishes and laundry for the last few years, telling her that she had done it long enough.
There were so many reasons she missed him. Being alone during the time of COVID had been hard. She hadn’t had anyone to talk to in the evenings, no one to warm the bed, no one to hug. And she loved him. Things were better now, but she didn’t have the energy to do much.
The discards in the trash bin weighed on her mind that night. She had finally, after three years, gone through Harvey’s last few things. Months ago, her son had helped her take the wearable clothing to the charity store and the other kids had picked out what they wanted as keepsakes of their father. What was left, besides what she held onto, was worthless. Some worn out shoes, old clothing with holes and torn places, a down vest that had leaked most of the stuffing years ago. Still, she thought about those things sitting out by the curb. And missed him even more.
John shook the leash and Candy came running, ready for her early morning walk.
“Who’s a good girl?” he crooned, squatting down and putting his face near hers while he fastened the leash. Candy’s tail whipped harder than ever. She knew she was a good girl.
They set out on the usual route, three blocks up the street, then turn around and come back three blocks home. The sun was warm on his head and shoulders and birdsong serenaded them. John felt good. Finally. He would always miss Carol, his deceased wife, but getting Candy, a beagle mix, from the shelter six months ago had been the best idea he’d had in ages. Before Candy, he’d been challenged by learning to cook and clean, all the things Carol had done for him. But he felt years younger and stronger since he’d started walking Candy every day. She was someone to talk to, and to cuddle with on the couch watching TV in the evening. Or during the day, for that matter. His days and nights sometimes ran together since Covid.
When they reached their turning-around point, Candy reversed, but John wanted to stay outdoors and pulled her forward.
“Let’s go another block today, girl. Expand our horizons.”
She eagerly agreed and surged ahead. Halfway up the block, a trash bin teetered precariously over the curb. Candy lunged at it and knocked it over with a clatter.
“That’s not good, Candy.” John watched the contents strew into the street. Before he could rein her in, Candy tore into one of the plastic bags. “No!” he shouted, and pulled her back, but she had a blue vest in her mouth, a down vest, mostly flat and devoid of the filling. Men’s clothing scattered from the bag, some items clinging to the vest. He wondered if there had been a divorce at this house.
“What am I going to do with you?” He pried the garment from her teeth and looped her leash around the mailbox on the other side of the driveway, then knelt and started to gather the clothing to stuff it back into the bag. No good. The bag had a huge hole now.
A shadow fell over him and he looked up to see a woman standing over him, shaking her head and smiling.
John jumped up. “I’m so sorry. My dog knocked over your trash bin and pulled these things out.”
“I know. I saw it from the house.” Her smile was radiant. She held a new plastic bag, which he took and filled with the clothing, and a couple of pair of shoes.
When he was finished, he made sure the bin was secure, not threatening to fall off the edge of the curb.
“I put it out too far,” she said. “It was partly my fault. It’s hard to see in the dark.”
Unable to contain his nosiness, John asked, “Did your husband get a lot of new clothes?”
She shook her head and her lovely face crumpled slightly. “No, I just got around to getting rid of the last of his things. He passed away a few years ago.”
“I lost my wife a few years ago, too. It’s been hard, hasn’t it? I’m John.”
He liked how easy it was to talk to her. “Can I take you out for coffee? To make up for tipping your trash over?”
She liked that he was kind, and that he had a dog. You could trust dog lovers. But she would go slowly. “Yes, coffee would be nice. Thank you. I’m Nancy Beth.”
When she leaned down to pat Candy’s head, the dog licked her hand.
One woman’s trash was another man’s treasure, John thought.
Copyright 2021 Kaye George