Sorting The Waste
Hello, my name is Ivan. I’m twenty-two years old and a janitor at the Oregon Zoo.
One might be wondering what a janitor might have to say, then again most do not unless of course a janitor is needed to fix or clean something. I’m only writing this because Penny said I needed to or rather she said that I should, but I don’t think she meant right this very moment. However, I cannot be certain that there will be time for this tomorrow or that there will even be a tomorrow for me. This is why I find it necessary to tell the story of how one finds himself in a situation such as myself before it’s too late.
Penny said it was necessary for me to introduce myself first so that anyone who is reading this might see the world as I saw it or at least understand why I saw it that way. I’m not very good at talking about myself but I’m going to try because she said so.
Sadly, I’m not the average hero one reads about in a book and I would apologize for this but it’s really none of my fault. My shortcomings are not ones that can be taught or unlearned, and can be accurately described as genetic malfunctions or variations. Much unlike the super hero who is at least pleasing to the eyes, my portrait is more likely to end up in the missing persons section of the newspaper or the “before” shot of a weight loss client, never to be on the cover of a comic book or movie or wherever hero’s might be displayed.
I’m out of shape to be conservative but most would just say I’m fat. I’m not entirely certain where I stand on this issue, so I will just say that I don’t have an opinion. My physical characteristics are something I might blame on my parents because I imagine they were overweight and its my inheritance to carry on their legacy but I’ve actually never met my real parents. So I can’t be sure.
Because of the hectic nature of the past couple weeks, I haven’t been able to shave and I don’t know if that bit of information matters much. It’s just that, for a lot of guys my age, it can be problematic to go any length without a razor but for me its not. I’ve never been able to grow much facial hair and when I don’t shave, my stubble just looks like fuzz or maybe blonde colored lint but thats as close as I’ve ever been to having a beard. The fact that I’ve been unable to shave is not a big deal, other than my need to confess that I am not only overweight but unable to grow a beard as well. The combination makes me look like a twenty two year old infant posing as an adult. If there’s anything worse than being large, its being large and without the ability to grow a beard. Fat guys with beards are actually some of the world’s favorite people, I’ve noticed. Like those guys from Duck Dynasty or Zach Galifianakis, could one bring themself to watch guys like that on TV if they were babyface blubbers? I think not. I mean there’s always people like Jonah Hill, who are famously fat and beardless, but nobody actually loves Jonah Hill. They just love to laugh at him, to which I can relate.
As I write this, my blonde hair is falling in front of my eyes and I have to push it behind my ears to keep it from blocking my view. I haven’t cut my hair in almost a year and is only recently grown long enough to cover the length of my neck. It was a personal experiment to see if anyone noticed but, from what I can tell, no one has. It’s not straight or wavy but somewhere confusingly in between and would never qualify as charming or dashing like the hero in a lot of tales. My hair is usually quite greasy and pasted against the sides of my head, no matter how many times I wash it. To be clear, I haven’t given it much attention of late either. Just like the hair on my face, it has fallen into neglect. More because of the prevailing situation I’m caught in than laziness because I’m really quite a tidy person. Tidiness is one of the few things I’m actually good at.
Right now, I’m wearing coveralls which are stained from harsh detergents and all sorts of nasty things that smear ones coveralls when one works as a janitor, things that the wash can never take out. This is my work uniform. Underneath the coveralls, I’m wearing my favorite band tee shirt, which is Creedance Clearwater Revival. Its a shirt I’m quite proud of. Although it doesn’t really matter in the scope of things as they are now, I just wanted you to know that there is no greater band in my opinion. Thats why this is just one of five CCR shirts that I keep, I wear one for each day underneath my coveralls at work. Today, I’m wearing the one where John Fogerty is mid air raging down on the guitar like the musical madman that he is. Its my favorite of the five. My only request is that if I don’t make it through the next twenty-four hours that these shirts go to someone who loves CCR just as much as I.
I’m writing to you now at one in the morning on a Tuesday, because it might be the last chance I get to tell this story before I go and I’d like to think that someone will read it one day, someone like you. Maybe you’re even someone I could call my friend, if I live long enough to meet you.
There is a bit of a predicament, you see. A situation that took many previous episodes to lead up to, something that will take a lot of explaining even though my time is running short but I must tell you the whole story if you are to understand any of it at all.
We have a lot to cover, so we’ll begin at the beginning. It all started back when I was nine years old, doing what most nine year olds do when they want to increase their chance of privilege and decrease their odds of sitting in the corner or writing their name a thousand times on a wall, I was doing my chores. That’s when everything changed.
It was the end of a blazing summer day and evening was rolling in as the sun fell below the horizon. All the windows were open in my parent’s house and fans were working frantically throughout to move the stale air, in hopes to bring the temperature down to a moderately survivable level by the time we all crawled into our beds.
I remember vividly, the way only a child might recall, the seductive jingle of the local ice cream truck as it made it’s last revolutions around our neighborhood and closing its radius with every passing moment. I’m not sure why it sticks out so clearly, even though the things I hear is what this whole tale is built upon, but I think it’s something to do with the fact that not once in my childhood did we ever buy ice cream from that truck. I would still be a bit sore about that if it wasn’t for fact that I learned to associate that jingle with the creepy parts every film where a child goes missing or someone is killed, which has made me suspect anything that sells products on wheels.
Aside from the musical notes of the ice cream truck, there was the soft ripple of laughter from kids playing evening games of frisbee or whiffle ball or whatever game they might have invented in the low light.
The faint rush of vehicles in the distance could be heard, some nearer than others but it seemed that none of them ever drove past our house on Holly Street. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that our house was at the end of Holly street, which was in fact not really a street but a cul de sac.
I heard my parents talk in the kitchen as they chatted about things a nine year old doesn’t really understand like the DMV, taxes, work, or whatever. They never indulged details about these things to me and that’s a good thing because I wouldn’t have cared in the first place. I only remember that the DMV was bad because they wouldn’t let one of their vehicles, a rust bucket mini-van, to be out on the road because it smoked to much. Which I remember thinking was odd because neither of my parents smoked and it was strange that they owned a van that did.
In the living room a few of my younger brothers and sisters played with Legos and fought over who could build the best dog shaped monstrosity. In the basement the older ones were playing noisy video games of little people who jumped up and down on the TV screen to music not at all unlike the tune that came from the ice cream truck. More of my brothers and sister’s were in the yard playing like the other kids, some knocked around a soccer ball, others in a sand box with miniature plastic construction equipment, and others more lost than found in a game of hide and seek. No matter what they were doing, I was certain that all of them would be too dirty for bed when that time came. That was no fun because each of them would need to bathe and make sure there was no sand in their ears by the time their sleepy heads hit their pillows.
Back then, it didn’t seem strange to have so many brothers and sisters. I suppose, as all children do when it’s all one knows, that whatever situation one find oneself in as a youth is normal and everyone else who has it differently is something rather odd.
It was the second Tuesday of the month and that’s why I was doing chores instead of out in the yard dirtying my jeans or getting sand in my sneakers. I liked doing my chores on the second day of every second week, because it gave me plenty of time to warm up to the idea of doing them. There were fourteen of us kids in all and we each took turns doing the little things that alleviated the trouble on our parents. I was the ninth youngest of the lot.
I had just finished up cleaning in the kitchen, swept up the errant Cheerios that didn’t quite make it into the mouths of my siblings, and mopped up the floors which was mostly a sticky mess of orange juice and grape jelly. After I put away the broom, the mop, and the bucket, it was time to take out the trash. A part that I reserved for the end of my chores, more so because I could linger outside for a bit without my mom hollering out the window at me to come back inside and finish up the rest.
Plus, I wanted to save the easiest of tasks for last because it seemed like the right thing to to when you have to do chores after a hot day.
After I properly shelved the tools involved with my kitchen area sanitation, I marched over to the garbage cans and pulled them from under the sink. There were two different cans. One was for basically everything you couldn’t decide how to throw away, which always smelled a bit moldy and sometimes like cat vomit. The other was cleaner with metal cans, empty soda bottles, and boxes from the many shipments that arrived at our house.
I never liked to make more trips than necessary so I always took as much as my little arms could carry, this usually involved piling the garbage bag with the moldy stuff on top of the bin with the loose cleaner stuff. Then I would bump down the halls all the way to the back door where I would set it all back down again, open the door, and bump my way through the opening to the back deck.
The dumpsters stood in a little gated area not too far from the left side of the deck, at close radius with the parked mini-van that smoked too much, and just out of view of the kitchen window. Which was good because neither of my parents would be able spy on me and tell me to hurry up if they did, I hated when they did that because it seemed like someone was always telling me to hurry up.
I repeated the process of setting down the bins, opening the gate, and fumbling my way into the dumpster corral until I was faced with four large dumpsters in which I was to sort the trash. This was the first time I had ever seen the new bins. There had been a change in garbage company over the past couple weeks and my parents tried to upload a gigabyte worth of instructions to my brain about which items of trash belonged in which bin, something about them being color coded. Once I stood in front of the bins, all of them opening from the top which was eye level for me at the time, I entirely forgot what it was they were trying to hammer into my skull. I stood in the garbage corral gazing at the bins and wondering what kind of person doesn’t put labels on things and why it seemed so much easier to just sort by colors, something I still don’t understand.
I picked up the white garbage bag which strained by the strings and dripped something wet and brown and entirely awful smelling out the bottom. It took some swift maneuvering to avoid dripping it all over my shoes and if I had, I would not have heard the end of it from my mom. As if staining my sneakers with the putrid water was not enough punishment in itself. I hovered the bag just above the ground before I managed to swing it over to the side and set it there for later.
First, I wanted to get all the loose trash taken care of. It was getting dark out now and I could barely make out the color of the bins in front of me. One was white and it stood out like a beacon, the other two looked more or less the same color in the darkness. But I knew it was imperative that I figure out which was which before I started lobbing all the trash into them or I would never hear the end of that, either.
I stepped up to the bins and opened the lids, stretched up on my tiptoes, and looked inside. I hoped that their contents might leave clues as to which trash went where but, much to my dismay, they were all empty. Now if that wasn’t a bummer, I didn’t know what was. It never happened before that trash was empty on a Tuesday but I realized it was possible with the fancy new bins, the schedule of the garbage man had changed as well.
So, I did what any nine year old might do under the circumstances when its getting dark and you can quite figure out which bins are the proper ones to put each item of trash in, I just started lobbing cans and bottles into whichever one seemed to match the color on the outside of each article of trash.
“That doesn’t go there.” A raspy voice called from behind me as a glass bottle went sailing from my hands into the white bin.
I swung around and expected to see my dad standing behind me, hands on his hips with that little bit of a smirk he wore whenever he found a chance to correct me, but he wasn’t there. No one was. Odd, I thought. Maybe it was my own mind judging me because of my uncertainty in the situation.
So I went about my business, starting where I left off. I checked the labels, put white bottles and cans in the white bin, the red ones in the red bin, and the blueish stuff in the blue bin.
This worked out fine until I came across a green labeled can and I was at quite a loss with were to put it until I saw the taller green bin gleaming in the corner. I hadn’t noticed at first. Ahh, I thought, missed one. I moved to the green bin and pushed open the lid. It was a bit taller and I was unable to see inside but once I opened it the worst smell I’d ever been exposed to smacked me in the face and made me dizzy. I nearly lost my balance in the process. It was then that I realized green trash must be the worst smelling of all, even worse than the brown water trailing out of the garbage bag behind me.
However, I needed to finish the trash and began again, tossing the green labeled stuff into the green bin.
The sound of someone clearing their throat pierced the night air.
“Ahem”, the voice said crisply, “I said, that doesn’t go there.”
I whipped around, this time hoping to catch my dad before he vanished again but he was nowhere to be seen. This frustrated me because there’s nothing worse than someone playing a practical joke on you when you’re just trying to do your chores and get it over with.
So, I marched to the gate and swung it open but there was nothing behind. Then I looked up at the back porch door and it was just as closed as I’d left it.
“Hey, over here.” The voice called again, this time from somewhere inside the dumpster corral.
I wheeled around, stared into the darkness which had tightened its grip on the space and willed the practical joker to be seen. There was nothing and no one.
“Where are you?” I asked firmly, believing one of my siblings to be the culprit. I moved to look behind the bins, nothing. Then I dove low to search under the dumpsters, barely missing the brown river from the messy garbage bag as I pressed my chubby stomach against the ground, nothing. No tittering, no scrambling feet. Nothing.
“No.” The voice came again, this time sounding very much irritated. “I’m up here, Chum.”
I wheeled around to face the voice but I didn’t see any human. There was, however, a raccoon on the fence above. This frightened me because I’d heard my parent’s talk about how aggressive these animals could be. A week ago, a neighbor had to fight off a pack off three with a broom. What’s worse, as my mom told it, the little beasts tore the broom from the neighbor’s hands and took off with it. As if the worst thing an animal could do was take someone’s broom from them and not even have the decency to bring it back.
Now, I didn’t have a broom and there was nothing in close range to defend myself with. Which always seems to be the case with things like brooms or rakes or shovels. I’m always tripping over them somewhere for no good reason but when I actually need one to save my own skin from a savage beast, it’s nowhere to be found. I wondered what the raccoon might take from me since I didn’t have a broom for it, maybe it was after blood this time. The thought set my skin to boil.
I backed away along one of the dumpsters, giving the animal a wide berth, as it pranced along top of the fence and hopped down onto the trash bins in which I had been throwing all the recyclables. Then the raccoon raised up to stand on its back legs and faced me, it’s front paws hung in front like little hands. The beast looked me square in the eye.
I’d never been this close to an animal who was not on a leash or at least civilized, except at the zoo and at the zoo they had barriers to keep this sort of thing from happening. I did my best to keep my cool but my courage was quickly draining like the air from a balloon with a freshly torn hole. I started to back away out of the garbage corral, certain the raccoon was about to pounce at any moment.
I returned its stare and in the dark we held the space between us with, like an invisible game of tug of war. At this point, the wood fence that surrounded the garbage corral might as well been made of iron and topped with Constantine wire because I felt like a prisoner faced with the bandit eyed creature in front of me.
In the darkness, I could just make out the the silver halo of fur around him, his hands or feet or eyes or anything black were barely visible. Which was a bit frustrating when the one is faced with a raccoon in a garbage corral at dusk because keeping track of where those body parts moved seemed like it would be crucial to a successful escape.
I slowly moved one foot a little further back, hoping it was a step toward the gate, but I couldn’t be sure since I didn’t dare take my eyes off the creature.
The little beast sensed my movement. I froze. His eyes didn’t blink and I wondered just how long he could go without doing so. A tickle of sweat ran down my temple and I realized for the first time I was actually not just a little bit scared but more or less frightened out of my mind.
Thats when the raccoon leaned forward in slow motion and I was certain it was bracing to make a superman leap directly onto my face. I was prepared to run for my life.
The raccoon jerked forward, stretching out its hands toward me.
“Boo.” The voice might as well have been a gunshot.
I turned and ran, right into the fence. Smacked my forehead and knocked myself dizzy as I crumpled to the ground. I’d missed the gate by a minor three feet.
Hearty laughter filled the space of the corral, the kind I’ve associated with the chubby old guy who’s served my family ice cream down at the local parlor for the last few years. It was full and disarming.
I looked up from the ground at the raccoon to see his head bobbing up and down. It looked like he was patting his own knees, doubled with laughter.
“Tell me, do they make all you young ones so skittish?” The raccoon said, with a full voice that sounded much like what I’d imagined my grandpa’s would have if I’d ever met him, full of life but a little raspy from years of cigars.
I sat on the ground, mouth agape and head a little slow from the recent collision, not quite sure what a typical nine year old would do when a puppy sized raccoon starts talking to you. But when anyone calls you skittish and you don’t believe yourself to be, its not so hard to think of what to say next.
I awkwardly rolled and stood to my feet. Now level with the raccoon, as he stood on top of one of the shorter bins.
“I’m not a scaredy cat.” I said in my most determined voice. Which, looking back now, I like to glaze over the fact that my lower lip was quivering at this point.
“Well, well. It certainly is a good thing I didn’t make the mistake of calling you that.” The raccoon said. His eyes gleamed, wet with laughing tears.
“You said I’m skittish, its the same thing.” I sharply replied.
“On the contrary, it means nervous, anxious, jittery or a list of many other things but scaredy cat is not among them.” He replied patiently, listing off the different synonyms by counting his claws.
“Hmmph.” I replied, not quite sure who was correct at this point. Then another thing came to me. “Well, raccoons don’t talk.” I added, almost proudly. As if I had revealed the answer to a little known math problem.
“Ahh. You see, that is where you are mistaken again. I most certainly am talking, and I am a raccoon. Do you see the problem with your assumption?” He spoke to me like a teacher, and did so while he stood on his hind legs.
“Raccoons don’t talk.” I said again, more to myself than anything. The raccoon most certainly was talking but I was not one to relent so easily.
“See here, Chum. I am talking and there isn’t a whole lot left to determine here.” The raccoon stated as he folded his little paws across his stomach.
“How is that possible? Animals don’t talk, people do.” I grunted.
“Look Chum, we can argue all night about who is doing the talking and who isn’t but we have something else quite important to discuss before your supervisors wonder what it is thats taking you so long with the simple task of sorting the waste.” The raccoon offered, looking quite amused but determined all the same.
“What do you mean supervisors?” I asked.
“Those older humans, the ones that tell you what to do and what not to do”, The raccoon stated.
“Oh, you mean my parents.” I said quietly.
“Well, I would argue that fact but for the simplicity of things we will just use your words and agree for now that you are correct.” The raccoon said, dismissing the issue.
“Well, I am correct.” I said defiantly, and stuffed my hands down in my pockets.
“Tut, tut. Lets not allow the trivial to distract us. There is something very important you must learn. Do you know why I stopped you in the middle of your work?” The raccoon asked.
“Uh, no” I said slowly, then quickly added, “But I know raccoons don’t talk.”
“Look, Chum, I thought we were passed that. Do you want to hear what I have to say or would you rather just believe that I am in fact not saying anything at all?” The raccoon asked and cocked his head a fraction to the right. He did a little twitching thing with his whiskers and for a second it reminded me of a mustache.
“Okay!” I whisper yelled “What do you want?”
The corral fell silent for a millisecond and I heard my siblings inside, their feet thumped up the stairs, headed for showers and I knew it wouldn’t be long before my parents noticed that I was missing. It usually takes a few minutes to realize one doesn’t have all their ducks when there are so many of them.
“Well, Chum-“ The raccoon began.
“My name isn’t Chum.” I interrupted.
“Well, what is it then?” The raccoon said, opening his hands out in front of him in question.
“Okay, Chum- I mean Ivan. You see here-“
“Whats your name?” I interrupted again.
The raccoon smacked his paw against his forehead and gave out a labored sigh, not at all unlike the times I’d seen my mother do when I asked too many questions.
Then the raccoon looked back up at me.
“Look here, Chum, we can either get on with what’s important or stay here in the trivial. You choose.” The raccoon exhaled in a very exhausted manner.
“My name is Ivan.” I said, slowly enunciating the last bit. “And if I have a name, then you must too.”
“Okay, okay. My name is Theodore Oscar Radcliffe, the third. There you have it.” The raccoon said, spreading his arms wide in presentation.
“Thats a bit of a mouthful.”
“And you see why it is I’d rather focus on things of greater importance. But for simplicity, you may call me Oscar. All my chums do.” Oscar the raccoon said.
I half expected him to reach out a paw and shake my hand but instead he turned to the trash bins I’d been sorting through.
I felt a warmth, as all people do when they’re allowed the privilege of calling a person or raccoon in this case by a modified name as all the rest of their chums do.
“Well, lets get on with it shall we?” Oscar said.
“Get on with what?” I asked.
“The issue of the waste and which receptacles are appropriated for each item.” Oscar explains.
“Oh. You know about trash bins?” I asked, before I realized the silliness of the question.
“My dear fellow, I am an expert in such things. I was just making my evening rounds when I happened to hear you struggling and decided to have a look. I’m glad I did, because you might have made this quite an ordeal for me tonight if I hadn’t.” Oscar said.
“What do you mean, ordeal?” I asked.
“The ordeal of placing each item of trash where it belongs and especially not using this one“, he points a paw to the green dumpster with the disgusting fumes, “for items other than what it was designed for. Tell me, what is it exactly you know about throwing trash away?” Oscar asked.
“Well, I know that bag goes in there.” I said pointing to the trash bag and the big dumpster which is the only one clearly label GARBAGE. “But the rest of them were a little confusing, so I just matched them by the color. I assumed that’s what its for, it only makes sense.” I said, defending myself.
Oscar looked at me, his paws clasped together in front of him and twirled his thumbs.
“Yes, yes. As I have witnessed. Although, I’m not so good at what are these, colors? I have heard of them but I can honestly only be certain of things by the texture.” Oscar said.
The image of a raccoon fumbling after a shiny set of keys played over in my mind. I started to giggle.
“Tut, tut. What do you find so amusing?” Oscar says, possibly he knew what was going through my mind.
“Oh-oh. Nothing. So, colors, you can’t see them?” I asked.
“On the contrary, I am actually quite well versed with shades of color but the verity of their hue escapes me. It is not fault of my own, to be clear, just lousy genetics.” Oscar retorts, with a hint of defensiveness.
“Okay.” I said, the words he said flew past me in a blur.
“Anyways, back to the issue at hand.” Oscar hopped down and lumbered over to the bin of recyclables, and I noticed there was a slight hitch in his step. “Lets go over this, shall we?” Oscar said, more command than question. He looked much smaller at my feet while he leaned against the bin.
I nodded. Then Oscar broke into instruction.
“Grab this one. A metal item, is it not?” he pointed to an empty soup can.
“Well, its tin.” I replied.
Oscar wheeled around at me so quickly I thought he might actually pounce me this time but instead places one hand on his hip and points an accusing claw up at my face.
“You see here, Chum, you are in no position to be correcting me when it is I who is giving instructions!” Oscar blared. His claw quivered a little as the last words rumbled out.
I was stuck at that moment somewhere between fear and falling on the ground laughing. I decided it was better not to agitate him farther and gritted my teeth, stifling my giggles.
“Alright. The metal item.” I agreed with him, my hands raised defensively.
“Finally, a bit of progress.” Oscar grunted. “Okay, pick it up.”
I reached down, dangerously close to Oscar to where I could feel the warmth of his breath an nearly felt the tickle of his whisker as I grabbed the tin can. I secured the item and raised up and away from him, still not quite sure if I could trust him yet.
“Okay, what now?” I asked, as I held the can aloft.
Oscar trotted over to the red bin, its about a half step for me but it takes him about four, his left foot winced with each step. Then he tapped the side of the bin and looked up at me.
“This one my dear Ivan, is the metal receptacle. All metal items should go in this one, no matter the sub category. Whether its iron, corrugated steel, copper, aluminum, or any other manner including tin, they all go in here.” He rested on the last part, as if to clarify that he’d not forgotten that I corrected him moments before.
I stood there and nodded. Genuinely impressed with his knowledge.
“WELL?” he booms.
“Well what?” I asked, a frown wrinkled my forehead.
“Well, throw the blasted piece of metal in the bin!” He shouted and banged the red bin with a fist.
“Oh! Okay.” I said, as I nodded in agreement. Then took the single step to cover the space and placed the item inside. It landed with a ringing noise inside the empty container.
“You don’t have to yell.” I said, feeling a little sore.
Oscar just grunted and waddled back to the bin of mixed recyclables and I followed him. He pointed to the glass items and explained that they go into the same receptacle as the metal waste, which was met with another round of questions by me because I was generally confused why one would put glass in the same box as metal. Which was met with a round of short rapping on my shin with his little paw, something that happened many times over the next year because he continually found reasons to correct me. We moved on to solve the same problem with the plastic items and I learned that they go in the blue bin, this time I didn’t see the bother in questioning why this is or how someone decided that blue was the best color code for plastic, instead I kept my mouth shut and rubbed the sore spot that was developing on my shin.
Oscar would point at trash, walk over, and point to the correct bin. I would place the item in the bin and return to where we began. It went on like this until all the loose trash was sorted and the bag of moldy garbage went sailing safely into the only bin with a label on it. Unfortunately, a drop of the brown water fell onto Oscar’s head as I hoisted the bag. This was met by the most furious set of shakes, much like when a dog gets out of a bath, that I thought his fur might start flying off his skin.
After he’d sufficiently rid the water from his back and beat his little fist on my leg because that time I couldn’t hold back my laughter, Oscar had one final lesson for me.
“You see this one here?” Oscar asked, tapping the green bin with his paw.
“Yes, the terrible smelling one.” I replied, nodded, and pinched my nose for emphasis.
“Well, okay, we can stand here and argue all night about the way it smells but that isn’t important. What IS important, is that you must NEVER, under any circumstances, put any of the metal, glass, plastic, or paper products in this bin.” Oscar said, and twitched his nose at the end.
“Oooookay.” I said emphatically, clearly versed in the correct receptacles by now and not quite sure why Oscar was making such a fuss over it.
“Okay then.” Oscar said, and jumped, quite lithely, to the top of the bin labeled GARBAGE. Then he sauntered away and lept from bin to bin. When he made it to the top of the green bin, he stopped, wheeled around, and held a single claw in the air. “Oh yes, one more thing. Please do not secure this contraption.” He said as grabbed the the animal proof latch on the top of the bin.
“But my parent’s always tell me to be certain I do!” I pleaded.
“Well, since you only empty the trash every Tuesday on every other week, I’m sure the mistake will be slight enough for them to overlook. Besides, I will be certain to secure it after I pass by.” Oscar said, and he bounded to the top of the fence.
“How do you know which days of the week I take out the trash?” I asked, a little taken back by the revelation.
“Very simply, I have a keen eye and know most of the details of the garbage corrals in the neighborhood. Including, but not limited to, their curators. Your little fortress here has not slipped from my attention.” Oscar said plainly, as if noting the weather.
I nodded. Then shifted uncomfortably in my sneakers and drove my hands down deep in my pockets.
“Are you leaving now?” I asked.
“Yes, I have a few more rounds to make before my evening is over. You on the other hand, must get back inside before your supervisors notice something is amiss.” Oscar said, and twitched his nose up toward the house.
I followed his gaze. The light from the second level windows emitted like a beacon through the darkness outside. I could hear the laughter and splash of water through the bathroom window from my siblings as they washed up, and realized I needed to do the same. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay and talk to Oscar because there are so many questions one might ask a talking raccoon who has just taught you how to correctly sort waste.
“Will you be back?” I asked, as I turned back to him.
He was gone. I could hear the rustle of bushes from behind the corral as he walked off through them. I ran toward the sound and pressed myself against the fence. I peered through a gap in the slats and could barely see the movement of the dark bushes he’d just wondered through.
“Oscar?” I whisper yelled, a little more yell than whisper. The movement stopped.
“So long, Chum.” Oscars hearty voice careened though the space and I heard the quicker steps of his little feet as he hurried away.
“So long.” I whispered back, as I pressed my head against the fence. Not entirely sure if I would ever see Oscar again.
Later than night, as I laid in my bed on the bottom bunk, I wondered if the exchange with Oscar had even happened. It seemed so different and strange that one might talk to animals, admittedly I’d always wanted to.
When my parents quizzed me on why it took me so long outside, I just shrugged and told them it took me a little while to figure out the new system. Which was met with a round of questions of which bins I’d placed each item, if I had latched them all down correctly, and why on earth had I not listened better in the first place. All of which I felt certain I had responded appropriately enough to disperse any doubt on the issue but I did not reveal the truth about how I’d figured it all out.
If there’s anything thats certain about being a nine year old, in a house with too many kids that you might misplace one, its that you don’t want to start telling stories of talking animals when there is no one but yourself to verify that fact. So I kept the secret, even though it burned inside of me for air. Because I knew there would be no end of teasing, especially from my older brothers who’s imaginations had by then been dulled by things like cars and girls, and there was no point in setting myself for that kind of petty terrorism. I already got enough of that as it was.
I rolled over in my bed, and faced the bedroom window which let in a glow from the street light a the end of the cul de sac. There was a tree between the light and the window that often played tricks on the eyes, sometimes it looked like a ghostly shadow dancing in front of the glass which would send shivers up my arms and keep me awake for hours. But this time it was not like that at all, instead I saw the prancing shadow of a raccoon that looked very much like Oscar, complete with the little hitch in it’s step, before the shadow vanished and my heavy eyes fell dark with sleep.
That night I dreamt of Oscar. We went on strange and wild adventures, none of which I can quite recall at the moment. What I do remember was that for the first time since I had arrived at the house on Holly street, to parents that were not really my parents and siblings who weren’t related to me at all, I no longer felt alone.
And that is how it all started.