Friday, August 12, 2011

FICTION: The Garbage Audit by Peter McMillan

Standing in the middle of a pile of garbage, he lays the clipboard on the floor and begins sorting.

Metal filings mixed with dirt and dust, twisted duct tape, rolled up sections of yesterday’s paper, shims broken and splintered, disposable blue latex gloves, oily red rags, safety glasses with a lens missing, candy wrappers and empty chip bags, some rusted-out metal screws, an incisor chipped on the corner, dozens of yellow earplugs on blue strings—

At the temp agency, they said he’d be sorting recyclable material in a plant and to show up at 8:00 the next morning. “Just ask someone if you don’t know. And don’t forget to get your timesheet in if you want your cheque next week.”

—a tangle of black electrical tape, a shrivelled blackened banana peel, a blood-stained tube sock, water bottles, clumps of reddish hair, dust masks torn and smudged, a couple of Coke cans, a foot from an aluminum ladder, a melon-sized mass of mucous-clotted tissue, some apple cores—

The blue shirts had ribbed him in the lunchroom just before the shift started, teasing him with names like garbage collector, litterbug, CSI wannabe, and maggot mate.

—a few soiled Band-Aids, coffee cups with the rims rolled up, some orange rinds, a used condom, a work boot with a nail clean through the heel, and a half-used roll of safety tape.

One of the old guys—wrinkled and leathery-faced but queerly futuristic with his safety yellow ear protectors pushed up and looking like they might be permanent—had come over to join him.

“Don’t mind them,” he said nodding in their direction. “They’re just blowing off steam what with shutdown coming next week. Every year around this time—at least for the last five anyway—the company does what they call an eco-assessment. It's a one-day garbage audit—what you’ll be doing. Ain’t nothing to do with the environment. Pure PR. See those plaques over there next to the Coke machine. That’s one of the stops they make when a tour—“

A loud buzzer interrupted everything and everyone on cue, and a swarm of blue funnelled through the double doors. The supervisor came up to him as the buzzer was silenced and walked him into the plant and over to a large roll-up door in receiving.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” said the supervisor, looking past him. “All you have to do is sort through and count up the paper, the plastics, the glass, and any non-recyclable materials. All yesterday’s garbage, including night shift’s—what you’re standing in right now—has been numbered and put on plastic sheeting here. But don’t worry. There won’t be any trucks today.”

“Oh,” said the supervisor who was turning to walk away, “you get two breaks and a half-an-hour lunch. Just follow the guys. Any questions, make sure you ask, OK?”

He watched the supervisor walk away, and then turned back to the garbage pile. With his boot he moves the clipboard a few feet further away. Sifting through the waste, creating smaller piles, he pokes at a rolled up piece of clothing at the bottom of the pile and lifts it with his garbage wand. Holding up a blood-soaked white t-shirt, he looks around to see if anyone else saw the ring drop onto the plastic.

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