A collection of short stories for Sunday

A collection of short stories for Sunday...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Garbage Man

By J.D. Clark

My name is Marcelo Vásques. I'm thirteen. When my friends talk about their dads I used to get very quiet or try to change the subject. Their dads are all doctors and lawyers and real estate brokers. They make mucho dinero. That means a lot of money in Spanish. 

My Dad's a waste management engineer. That's what I used to say if anyone asked me. I made it up. It's just a fancy way of saying he's garbage man. When we came here from Argentina ten years ago that was the only job he could find. That's right-my old man's nothing but a poor garbage man.

That's what I used to think of him. But I had no idea what he really did. 

No freakin' idea.

Then, one day I got out-of-school suspension because I got caught cheating and since Mom works too, Dad made me go with him to work.

"No way-What if somebody sees me?" I said.

"You wanna end up like me-you wanna do this job, che?" said my Dad. He always calls me che which means like dude in Spanish. And he always wears a cap and has a sucker in his mouth.

I shook my head. No, I totally did not want to be a garbage man. No way. For once I actually wished I was in school.

"Well that's where you're headin' when you cheat," he said.

We got in his garbage truck. The step up to the seat was past my waist. It was like a two story building on wheels! 

First, we picked up his partner Julio. Julio is a wrinkled old guy, and quiet cause he doesn't speak English too well. But he smelled like he had already bathed in garbage to get ready for the day.

"You stink, man!" I said.

Julio just smiled at me like I told him he looked like a movie star.

When we got to the route, Julio got out first and picked up trash while my Dad drove. The motor and brakes took turns groaning and hissing as we stopped every few hundred yards for a couple hours. I knew how they felt.

Then it was my Dad's turn. He handed me a pair of gloves. 

"Dalé, hijo!"he said which means C'mon, son!.

I didn't want to, but Julio stunk so bad, I needed to get some fresh air.

"Hang on, che!" said my Dad,"We're goin' uptown!"

Riding a truck hanging off the back end was actually pretty fun-like surfing through the streets. The road passed under us like we were standing still and the world was a treadmill. Huh, a treadmill, I thought, that's kinda how my Dad is, going nowhere fast.

Then I ducked when I saw Jeff Walker's Mom drive by. I would've died if she saw me. Freakin' die!

The first house we came to was huge. It looked like the White House. It had a red sports car, and an SUV in the driveway. I could only imagine what they kept in the three car garage. That's where I belong, man, I thought, Not living in a dump. 

Dad grabbed the garbage can and as he dumped it, I thought I saw a ton of dollar bills spill out of a bag.

"Gita!" I yelled. That's another name for money in Spanish. I tried to reach for it. But my Dad stopped me.

"Not ours, hijo!" he said.

"But they're throwing it away!" I argued.

"Yes-and look how happy they are."

In the window, we could see a man and woman yelling at each other.

"Hombre!" I said as we drove on. Hombre is Spanish for man. Then I said, "I can't believe, people throw away freakin' money!"

"Oh that's nothin',"said Dad.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, I try not to peak in the bags, but I see really valuable things get tossed like week-old leftovers all the time."

"What kinds of things?"

"Opportunities, friendship, marriage, trust, integrity-"

"Manda?!" I said. That means What!? in Spanish. But the way I said it was like Have you lost your freakin' mind?! 

My dad just smiled.

Three more stops down the road was a small house with no garbage can out front. But we stopped anyway. My Dad knocked on the door and then just went in. He came back out about five minutes later with three small bags of trash.

"Whose house is that?" I asked as we moved on.

"Mrs. Palantino," my dad said,"She's an old widow. Can't get around too well so I grab her trash and check on her."

"Cool," I said.

"One time she accidentally threw away some letters from her late husband," said Dad.

"Que hizó?" I asked meaning, What did you do?

"I went thru the whole back end of this truck but I found them. I couldn't let her lose him all over again."

At another stop there was this lady trying to get groceries out of her car while her twins were screaming in their car seats. My Dad and I helped her load the bags and and he popped a sucker in each of the twins mouthes.

"Be careful or your gonna make future garbagemen outta them," I joked.

"You're angels," said the lady.

"No ma'am," said my Dad,"just garbage men."

No-he's just a garbage man-I'm a freakin' kid! I wanted to say. But I didn't.

We also helped a kid get a basketball down that was wedged in a goal, get some water for a thirsty dog after it tried to bite us, and got a kink out of a house for an old man trying to water his lawn. 

But mostly we worked. Worked our colas morenas off. That means brown rear ends, in Spanish. I was exhausted and it was only one o'clock. But it was the kinda tired that felt good.

On the last stop before lunch there was this guy who looked like a drunk sleeping on top of a stack of garbage.

"Pablo!"yelled my Dad nudging him,"wake up, amigo!"

The guy smelled like a bar. "Che!"said the man getting up,"Que pasó?"

"You get thrown out again?"

"Sí-with the trash."

"Hop in the truck. I'll take you to AA."

AA is a place where people who are alcoholics go to get help. It's upstairs from the homeless shelter. Dad says it's Pablo's second home because his wife won't put up with his drinking problem. 

You think we were squished before? Now we were sardines. And Julio still thought he was a movie star.

But then it got worse. On the way to the homeless shelter, we stopped at Kelley's Market and picked up a bunch of old food they were going to throw away. 

I was getting hungry. I looked at the date on a can of peanut butter sitting on my lap. It was like two years old!

"You think I'm going to eat this freakin' crap?!" I said.

"It's not for you, hijo," said Dad.

We took it to the homeless shelter. There was some skinny dudes there. And kids too. They're hungrier than I was, for sure. 

Then we stopped at the park and ate the lunch my Dad had packed cuz' we can't afford real food at McDonald's. Turkey Mc-sandwiches. 

After that, I laid down on a bench and the next thing I knew my Dad was nudging me.

"Vamos, Che!" he said. That means Let's go!

Then we went out for another three hours and picked up more trash and helped more people along the way.

At this one place we stopped, a man gave my dad a big hug and was sobbing.

"You'll never see it again," said my dad.

"Thank you," he said, giving my dad a trash bag he was carrying,"God bless you."

"What was that all about?" I asked him.

"His wife was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver many years ago," said my dad,"The hate was killing him inside. I told him I'd dump it for him."

"Estás loco?!" I asked, which means Are you crazy?

But my dad just smiled again.

At the end of the day, we went to the landfill to dump all our trash. It was like a mile wide of nothing but hills of garbage. All the seagulls flying around it made it look like waves on a sea of trash.

"Looks like your room, eh?"said Dad in Spanish.

Julio laughed til I thought his last tooth was going to come out.

I looked at one pile and tried to make out what some of it was. I must have been really tired because I started seeing all the things my Dad said people threw away. There was a tire that had a kid swinging on it all by himself and crying for his mother who was an old bike too busy to play with him. Two splintered planks of wood became a man and woman fighting. 
A battered desk became my teacher's desk and I saw
her telling me how disappointed she was again. And I saw a huge scary hateful monster that almost clawed our truck. 

We got home about 6 pm and I was too wasted to even eat. I just collapsed in my bed and didn't wake up until early the next morning. Then I couldn't go back to sleep. I just lay awake thinking about what had happened the day before. About my dad. 

I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a word on it. Then I crumpled it up and threw it in my empty wastebasket. I wrote two more words on two more pieces of paper and crumpled them up and threw them away, too. 

Then I cried.

"Que anda, che?" said my Dad coming in my room. That means What's going on? "Got homework?"

"Yeah," I said wiping my eyes.

"Ok-I'm off, gotta go in early today."

"Wait,"I said,"got some trash for you."

I pulled the liner out of my trash can and tied it in a knot and handed it to him.

"But it's not even full," he said.

"Yes-it is," I said. Then I gave him a hug,"sí-pappá."

I could smell the tortas fritas cooking in the kitchen. As I downed a piece of fried bread and sipped mate, I sat on our old thrift store couch in the living room. It was more comfortable than ever.

When I got to the bus stop for school that morning, I heard this rumbling motor coming around the corner. I thought it was the bus.

But it was my dad's garbage truck.

He pulled up beside me and all the other kids at the bus stop.

"Hop in, che," he said,"I'll take you to school."

"Dude-is that your dad?" said Mark Hunt,"He's a garbage man?"

I nodded and smiled. Then I jumped in the truck. I could hear Mark saying, "Marcelo's Dad's a garbage man!" and all the kids laughing as we drove away but I didn't care. Not one freakin' bit, man.

My dad didn't speak until we got to the school. Then he said,"You know, I try not to peak in the bags. It's not right. But I saw what you threw away."

"Did you toss it?" I asked.

"Yes and you were right-it was full," he said.

Then he grabbed me and hugged me with his huge gloves.

"Te ámo, hijo,"he said, which means I love you.

"Te ámo, pappá,"I said.

I went to school that day feeling proud. Proud of my dad. I wasn't afraid to tell anybody who asked who my dad was. Who he really was. Because it had nothing to do with what he did for a living. In fact, I wanted to announce it on the intercom: 

"Good morning, students. I'm Marcelo Vasques. My dad isn't a doctor, or lawyer, or real estate broker. He's makes a living as a garbage man and does a dang good job at it. But that's not who he is. He's a hero. My hero!" 

That's what I would say, I swear.

I smiled as somewhere in a landfill rotting in a sea of trash were the crumpled up pieces of paper with words:
SHAME, ENVY, and PRIDE written on them. 

Rotting. Freakin' rotting, man.

The End.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Pen Collector: Chapter 1, 2, 3

A written story.

by J.D. Clark

Chapter 1

There once lived an old man who had a very large collection of pens of all different colors, shapes and sizes. 

But he was very unhappy.

His wife, whom he loved dearly, had passed away several years prior, and he had spent his time since traveling the world, seeing the wonders of it in hopes of filling the emptiness he felt inside since she had departed. He had been to the highest mountain, the deepest sea, the grandest waterfall, the most luxurious mansion, but none had provided any lasting pleasure.

At every lodging where he stayed, every place he ate, or gift shop he visited, he signed in or paid his bill with the pen he was handed, and after doing so, he had a most terrible habit of putting the pen away in his worn suit jacket and walking off with it.

On the evening after returning from his final trip, for he had seen everything there was, he lay awake in his bed and asked God a simple question: 

How can I be happy again?

Not expecting an answer, the man drifted off and just as his usual snore commenced, a very distinct, but soft voice awoke him whispering,

"Return the pens."

The man opened his weary eyes, expecting to see a person at his bedside, but saw no one. Again the voice said,"Return the pens."

The old man thought the request very unusual, for not one of the writing utensils in his possession must have been worth more than a few pennies, and he himself had left plenty of pens in places to balance out the justice of the universe, but believing it must be God's answer, he made the decision to obey.

And so he gathered up his pens and began retracing his steps...

The first place he returned to was Paradise Falls, the tallest and most beautiful waterfall in all the world. The pen he had stolen from the Paradise Hotel's reception desk was a large black pen, six inches long. 

Fountain, of course.

But when he arrived, he found the hotel was empty except for a bellhop who seemed frantic on the phone.

"Yes, police!? This is the Paradise Hotel," said the bellhop,"A young woman is about to jump off the falls-come quickly, please!"

Being curious, the old man rushed outside and climbed to the very highest point of the falls where a crowd of panicking onlookers were trying to persuade the young woman to climb back onto the safe side of the railing.

"No!" cried the young woman as a hotel worker reached for her,"Back away or I'll jump!"

By this time, the old man had made his way to the front of the crowd and was staring down at the violent water descending thousands of feet, splashing into the canyon cut river below.

Suddenly, he felt a compulsion to speak to the young lady, and so, without knowing what would come out, he opened his mouth...

"That's certainly an amazing drop!" he shouted,"In fact, the only thing more certainly amazing would be to see someone plunge off this falls to their certain death! And I'd certainly love to watch! But before you entertain us all, may I ask why you are jumping?!"

The crowd gave the old man a rather displeasing look, and some of the women began to practice their screams, for this old man's sarcastic comments would certainly push the young woman off the edge. And even the old man was alarmed at what came out of his mouth, for he generally kept to himself and was far to shy to encourage someone to commit suicide. 

But to everyone's surprise the woman responded with equal sarcasm,"Certainly, old man. I've lost everything: my job to another country, my husband to another woman, my home to the bank and now I have nothing left. Most certainly nothing to live for."

"Ahh, I see,"said the old man, once again without thinking,"those are certainly good reasons, good reasons, indeed. Quite right, you have nothing to live for. But what do you have to die for?"

"What do you mean?" said the woman.

"Joan of Arc had the oppressed of France, Martin Luther, the faith of the ignorant masses, Romeo had true love, what cause do you have to die for?"

A pensive look came across the young woman's face.
And after a minute or two she replied,"Well, I am not quite sure, but-"

"I detect the uncertainty in your reply," interrupted the old man,"Now I suggest you at least delay your last leap until you are absolutely certain you have a cause worthy of death."

Miraculously, the woman seemed to come to her senses and tried making her way back to safety, but slipped on a loose rock and was about to fall into the abyss.

Instinctively, the old man, who was just about six inches further away than arms length from the woman, held out the black fountain pen, which she grasped, and he pulled her to safety.

The crowd's sighs crescendo'ed into cheers and clapping for the old man's heroic deed.

"Anyone have a small piece of paper to write on?" asked the old man.

A hotel worker handed him a small notepad and pen.

"Just paper, thank you,"said the old man,"I certainly have plenty of pens."

Then he wrote his name and address on the paper and handed it to the woman.

"Now I certainly don't want to miss this event when it eventually occurs," he said,"Do inform me beforehand, would you?"

"Certainly," said the woman.

Then, the old man returned the notepad and black fountain pen to the hotel worker and went on his way.

Chapter 2

The next stop for the old man was the Bellmont Mansion, a luxurious estate built for the aged scowl-faced banking magnate, Harry S. Bellmont, who, being an entrepreneurial man rarely at home, had turned his unbelievable opulent and spacious mansion into a tourist destination.  

But on his way there, the old man became lost and stopped at what appeared to be a cramped boarding school in a state of unbelievable disrepair to ask directions. A tired-looking elderly lady answered the door.

"Good morning,"said the old man," I'm from out of town, and usually know exactly where I am, but for some reason, I presently do not. Could you tell me exactly where am I?"

"Well, yesterday, you would've exactly been at the doorstep of the Freemont Orphanage, in Freemont township." said the old woman,"But presently, you are at a condemned building foreclosed and reposessed by the Bellmont Bank. Where exactly are you headed?"

"Coincidentally, I was on my way to Bellmont Mansion, madam. I have a rather fancy golden pen to return there, presently. Is it far?"

"No. Three miles down and about two more to the right,"said the woman,"Exactly."

"Thank you. Good day," said the old man.

"Not so much,"said the woman,"But perhaps yours will be."

When the old man arrived at the Bellmont Mansion, it was just as he had left it, rolling green grounds garnished by colorful flower gardens leading up to the massive white stone-pillared estate.

But what was different on that particular day was that in the board room just off the lobby, Mr. Bellmont, his cold scowl now approaching ninety years old, had gathered his family to discuss his will.

As the old man stepped up to the ticket counter, he said nothing, but pulled out the golden pen from his suit coat about to lay it down.

The receptionist returned the silence and pointed to the meeting room to which the old man gave a puzzled look.

"They're expecting you,"whispered the receptionist.

Still perplexed, the old man walked to the board room and quietly opened the door. Mr. Bellmont was seated in a wheelchair at the head of a large table, surrounded by his lawyers and the well-dressed lawyers beside the well-dressed family members they represented.

"I am a wealthy man,"began the tycoon, scowling at his posterity,"Presently, I have more fortunes than would fit in King Tut's tomb and we see how much good they did him dead."  

Then, noticing the old man, pen in hand, Mr. Bellmont motioned for him to approach. "At last, bring it here," he said.

The old man complied and brought him the golden pen. 

Then Mr. Bellmont continued with his speech from his scowling mouth, "As I was presently saying, I have no need for money where gold is used as asphalt (if, by the grace of God, I am deemed worthy of such a place). And so I wish to do the most good for my three children, six grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren, with the exactly limitless fortunes that I have acquired. How shall I divide it all?"

"Well, father, you know I-"began one of the children. 

But his lawyer interrupted."Being the oldest son, my client is entitled to-"

But then he was interrupted by another lawyer, this one representing the second daughter,"And my client has a promising business venture that could further expand the-"

And the interruptions continued until it was nothing but noise and fingers directing that noise, filling the room.

During the confusion, the old man, having completed his purpose, was making his way back to the door and was about to step out when Mr. Bellmont shouted,"Wait!-you that brought my golden pen-What exactly do you think should be done, presently?"

Stunned, the family and their lawyers suddenly got quiet.

"Well,"said the old man,"I can see that by the dress and retainers paid in this room, your children seem to be presently well off enough. It would seem to me that the most good you could do for them would be to take exactly none of it and divide that up equally amongst them. And what to do with the rest? Well, on my way here I stopped at a place that yesterday was the Freemont Orphanage, but presently, has been foreclosed by your bank. I would take the exact remainder of your present fortune and put it into fixing up and funding that place and do the same to exactly as many other orphanages across the country as your fortunes can reach. It seems to me that would do your children the very most good, presently. Good day."

Then, as the old man walked out, and another man with a golden pen in hand entered the room, the noise resumed...

"Father, you can't be-"
"This man has no legal right to-"
"Where does he get the nerve?!"
"I'll sue! Can we sue?"

And a warm grin washed the scowl off Mr. Bellmont's face.

Chapter  3

The old man's third stop was at the Great Wall of Privilege. This was a massive 20 mile wall running through the small town of Privilege, serving not only as an enticing and lucrative tourist attraction to walk along, but also to separate more concretely (pun intended) the rich from the poor. The rich lived on the north side of the wall, right in the heart of Privilege. And the poor, in fact, did not technically live in the town at all. Their community was just south of Privilege or, in other words, under privileged.

Near the box office at the entrance to the Great Wall where the pen was to be returned, were groups of protesters gathered with signs reading,"Down with walls", "Equal Privilege for all", and "Mayor Must Go!"

When the old man arrived, he pulled out his red ink ball point pen, and to his dismay, he discovered it had been leaking profusely for some time. The red ink had stained his coat pocket and drenched the left side of his white shirt and left a rather bloody mess on his hands, as well. 

When he approached a protester to ask where a restroom was to clean it up, the protester yelled,"He's been shot!" judging the old man in his worn suit coat to be one of their own, gunned down by the authorities.

"They've gone too far!" yelled another.

The old man tried to explain that it was only harmless ink, but no one would hear of it. For this was all the spark needed to start a riotous protest which the old man was soon caught in the middle of. What made his arguement even less convincing was when, stumbling to escape the commotion, he fell and inadvertently stabbed himself with the red pen still in hand. The wound, coincidentally, was right in the middle of the ink stain on his shirt. But he only managed to pull out the pen before the sight of it all caused him to fall unconscious.

"He's fainted from loss of blood!"cried a protester.

As the old man slept from what was actually a minor puncture wound, an ambulance arrived and raced him to the nearby hospital under the pretense that he was dying of a gunshot wound.

"I have some good news for you,"said the physician, when the old man awoke on the operating table,"Firstly, may I say that you have not been shot at all."

"Is that so? And by the way, you need no permission,"said the old man.

"Thank you. Yes, turns out you are the victim of a red ink pen gone mad."

"Well, may I say that is good news, but it is old news,"said the old man.

"You need no permission, either."

"Thank you. And what were you going to say secondly?"
"Well, secondly, we feared the puncture wound had damaged your kidney but upon close and lengthy inspection we discovered that both of your kidneys are...well, in perfect shape."

Then a nurse said under her breathe, "And a perfect match," to which the physician ordered her to leave.

"What did she mean-a perfect match?" asked the old man.

"You didn't hear this from me,"whispered the doctor,"but the mayor of Privilege is here in the hospital. His kidneys have failed. He will die soon without a kidney transplant and yours, coincidentally, just happen to match his type."

"I'm starting to lose my faith in coincidence,"said the old man, and then, without thinking, he opened his mouth and these words came out,"He may have one of my kidneys if he will agree to the terms which I will write on paper if you have such a thing."

"Certainly, do you need a pen, as well?"

"Yes-a red ink pen, please. That does not leak."

And so a pen was brought to the old man and he wrote just as he spoke, not knowing what words would come out. The letter was then delivered, accepted, and the old man's kidney was removed and inserted into the mayor's side.

"The mayor's life has been saved, and he thanks you from the bottom of his heart...and your kidney," said the surgeon when it was all over," Is their anything else I can do for you?" 

"Yes-would you see that this red pen is given to the box office at the Great Wall of Privilege?"

"Certainly," said the surgeon,"You know, I have a funny feeling this town won't be the same since you came here."

"May I say that your feelings are no laughing matter," said the old man.

"You need no permission," said the surgeon.

"Thank you,"said the old man,"Good day." And with that, he went on his way.