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The Dumpster a Short Story by Dylan Gilbert


I've rented a dumpster, large, steel and black, to dump all my junk in.  It sits in front of my house against the curb, eagerly awaiting my old crap. 

First the coffee table with the fractured leg that I've been meaning to fix for years.  I haul it out and throw it into the great steel chasm—a deafening clang sounds as it crashes to the bottom. 

I feel such relief in dumping that broken thing, but also in dumping my guilt about not fixing it, which stared me in the face every time I stepped into the garage.  I'd go to get some nails or empty the trash—there it was, the chore I hadn't done.  Gone forever now.  The good feeling makes me hungry to dump more. 

A beat up set of golf clubs, cob-webbed and bent, a pair of ratty beach chairs, shoe boxes full of old letters and postcards from college, a giant plastic dollhouse my teenage daughter hasn't touched in a decade, the Roomba 780 Vacuum Cleaning Robot my wife ordered on the Home Shopping Network and used only once.  I lug each item out, hurl it in the air over the dumpster, and listen for the satisfying clang.  And each item, each clang, is relief, like tension being wrenched out of my shoulders with powerful hands.

The junk is thinning—a few wooden tennis rackets, a crate of yellowing books, a bag of my dead Wheaten Terrier's old chew toys.

I dig deeper, into crowded closets and cabinets, hidden crevices, spots that had been buried by other items, and find junk I'd long forgotten: my daughter's headless Barbie collection, the pile of unworn Christmas sweaters from my mother-in-law, two boxes of expired Rogaine foam—all chucked into the dumpster. 

In one of those secret spots on the cold cement floor of the basement, hidden behind the water heater, lies a misshapen thing, brown and oozy, about the size of a microwave, but bulbous and tentacled.  I snatch a pair of work gloves and hoist it up to my shoulder.  It's from the evening last fall at happy hour when I skipped lunch, and the gin and tonics flushed my face with heat and enriched my vision, when the receptionist, Anita, went from cute to dirty sexy.  The goodbye kiss on the cheek accidently turned to lips, open with a hint of tongue.  She jerked away, as did I.  Then we snuck into my cubicle for dry humping and a hand job.  We never spoke of it again, just the awkward nods as I passed her desk each morning.  Hid it, buried it here.  It's heavy now, stinks of old swamp, dripping on my shoulder.  I heave it into the dumpster and it lands with a wet thud. 

It's such a relief; I feel so wholesome, so pure, the toxins drained from my blood.   I want to find more, so I dig up the shame of getting fired from my first job out of college.  It's a nasty gray thing, like an old dried out iguana, hidden in a dark corner.  As I pick it up, it begins to flake and crumble in my hands.  I throw it into the dumpster like a football and it bangs against the metal wall.  Then I find an ugly little puss-filled creature, looks like an over-cooked eggplant, my guilt for losing my temper and smacking my daughter once when she was five.  I hold it far in front of me as I carry it out and chuck it in the giant metal bin.  I dig up the anxiety about whether I'll make the next round of cuts at my job, the disappointment in myself for being a weak athlete in high school, and the remorse over not having spent more time with my dad toward the end of his battle with cancer, each thing strangely malformed and grotesque.  I dump them all.

I give the metal bin a couple of friendly slaps with the palm of my hand, then go inside and collapse on the carpeted living room floor, relieved, spent, enjoying the golden sun streaming through the window.

I pull my cell phone from the front pocket of my jeans and call Bavona Disposal and tell them to come pick up the dumpster.  "But you have till the end of the week, sir."

"No way, take it now."  But he tells me there's a two hundred dollar fee for a weekend pick up.  Fine.  I'll wait till Monday.  It's all out there contained, soon to disappear. 

*          *          *

The next morning I hear clanking and rattling outside.  I slip out of the covers, rub my face, and go to the window.  There's some guy digging around in my dumpster.  He shoves a bunch of junk aside, then pulls my old gooseneck lamp out of the heap and studies it.  "What the fuck?" I say under my breath.

Ella shifts, the bed creaks.  "What is it, Don?"

"Some guy's digging around in the dumpster."  He tosses the lamp back in and walks around to the other side.

"All right, that's to be expected."

"I don't like it."

Her mouth opens, a giant yawn.  "It's fine, honey.  Maybe he can use something in there," she says, her sweet demeanor irritating the shit out of me.

"It just feels strange.  He's going through my belongings."

Ella pats me on the shoulder.  "It's just junk," she says, then walks to the bathroom.

The guy hauls out one of the old beach chairs.  I watch him, my belly tense.  I want my stuff locked away in the dumpster.  I want it gone.

I throw on sweats and hustle down to the front porch.  The guy is in the thing now, lifting out a box of books.  He sees me.  "Oh, hi," he says.

I nod, my face grave.

"I hope you don't mind.  I love old stuff." 

I don't really say anything, just grunt and scowl at him. 

"I'm Tanner, by the way," he says.  He looks to be in his early 20's, wild curls and a big grin.  "I just live halfway down the block in the little yellow house, the one with flower garden in front."

"Hey," I say, his friendliness making it difficult to be nasty.

"You've got some amazing books here.  Thomas A. Harris's I'm Okay, You're Okay.  I've always wanted to read this."

"Yeah, just be careful.  There's broken things in there.  Probably glass."

"Don't worry.  I won't sue you," he says with a playful smile.

"I'm serious."

"It's cool." He stops digging around and faces me.  "It's okay I'm checking this stuff out, right?  I mean, you're throwing it out anyway."

"Of course," I say, my jaw muscle tightening.  I step back inside.

"Nice to meet you," I hear as I close the door.

I stand there in the hallway, listening to the bangs and clunks.  

"Wow, gross!" I hear.  I peek through the window and see Tanner has black slime on his hand.  That's why I don't want people in there, for God's sake.  I want my mess left alone. 

A white van with a missing hubcap pulls up.  A tall guy with a gray ponytail jumps out and starts poking around the dumpster too.

I've got to get this shit out of here. 

I call Bavona Disposal and tell them I need the dumpster picked up as soon as possible.  "It's attracting pests.  Raccoons, I think," I say, trying to give a reasonable excuse.  I'll pay the extra two hundred." 

*          *          *

Early in the afternoon, a steel beast pulls up in front of our two-story colonial, then backs up toward the dumpster—its hazard lights flash and it makes a shrill beeping sound.

The truck bed lifts at an angle, its hydraulics wailing, and slides down toward the dumpster.  The tension locked in my neck and shoulders eases.  It's leaving, thank God.  No more maggots digging around in my underwear.  A pot-bellied guy with a crew cut jumps out of the truck and drags heavy chains from the truck bed and hooks them to the dumpster.

Locked in place, the dumpster is dragged onto the truck bed, the screaming hydraulics simultaneously lowering it.  It looks like a lone locomotive car, moving in slow motion across a track. The truck bed flattens with a loud clunk, and the dumpster is locked in place, a part of the truck now—not an extension of me.  The driver removes the chains and jumps back in the cab.  The air brakes squeal and hiss, the engine revs, and the truck pulls away.

I feel pure.  Clean.  The truck is just a Hot Wheel in the distance now.  I'm smiling so hard I'm laughing.  My organs feel loose and loopy, like noodles in a pot of hot soup.  I skip up the stairs to our bedroom.

Ella is squeezing into her workout clothes.  "It's gone," I say.  I take her shoulders and kiss her, open-mouthed and deep.

"Wow," she says when I pull back.  She is so uncomplicated, so innocent, I just want her.  I smile, my front teeth indenting my bottom lip.  "Take these off," I say, gently tugging on the strap of her tank top.

"I'm going to the gym."

I kiss her again.  "Can you go to the gym after?  It's been a long time." 

She leans her head on my shoulder, then snakes her hand under my shirt and up to my chest.  "When I come home, okay?  I have my class.  You get ready for me," she says, giving me a mischievous smile, followed by a peck on the neck. 

I nod, grinning like a fool.  I'm going to purify the room; I'll sprinkle lavender carpet cleaner and vacuum.  She'll faint!  I'll change the sheets—these are wrinkled and musty.  I'll take a shower and scrub my skin with her exfoliating sponge. 

As Ella gets dressed, I peek out of the bedroom window and see the empty space where the dumpster was and my shoulders release a hint more.  I feel cleansed of my burdens, light, floaty.  "It's gone, Ella."

"I know, honey," she says with a patronizing smile.  

Still at the window, I notice a shadow where the dumpster was sitting.  But where is it coming from?  There are no trees or cars around it to block the sun.  I study the dark spot on the asphalt, my hands tightening on the window sill.  I race down the stairs and out the door.

That's no shadow.  There's a big blob of black sludge where the dumpster was, a nasty puddle.  The damn thing must have had a hole in it.  "No, no, no!" I say.  This can't be.  My heart pounds.  I move toward it and see a trail of black ooze running down the street—it must have leaked as the truck drove away.  It feels like a scab ripped open.  It was gone, it was better.  I was clean.  It can't be back again. 

I grab the hose and drag it across the lawn.  I shove my thumb over the nozzle, creating a  powerful jet of water, and spray the blob.  It makes a hollow in the center and sends shreds of black muck splattering and flying.  I work at the edges, the jet scraping the gunk off of the street and diluting it.  It begins to fade and wash away into the gutter.

I keep spraying till the sludge is gone and it becomes a dark smear with no thickness, a stream of water carrying tendrils of gook down to the gutter and into the storm drain.  But the black shadow remains, unaffected by the water I march toward the trail in the street to spray it, but the hose jerks taut at its full length.  The line of filth appears to go all the way to the next block.  I can't see after that.  It might go on for miles.

I slam the hose down, but it bounces up like a fish writhing on the dock and douses me.  "Fucking shit!"

I turn the hose off and stomp inside.  I'm wet and disgusting.  Ella comes down in spandex and sneakers with the car keys in her hand. 

"There's a big black splotch left by the dumpster.  Some nasty gunk spilled.  I cleaned some, but there's still a dark stain and a trail of muck all the way up the street."

She looks out of the window.  "All right, you won't even be able to see it in a few days."

She leaves.  I watch her get in the Jetta and pull away, her wheels crossing the path of slime. 

And she's wrong.  I still see the spot days later, months later.  When I look, I see it. 


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  Bio: Dylan Gilbert's fiction has appeared in The Westchester Review, Slow Trains, and Word Riot, among others, and he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  He can be found online at



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