Empties

13Jul11

Recently liberated from the Save-Easy two streets over, the shopping cart has been put to a nobler calling, rolling true on new casters, freed from a life of produce and foodstuff serfdom. A redemption, if you will. Breathing deeply in the damp morning air, the cart’s saviour feels pride in his newly aquired assistant, exploring the shiny new plastic of its handle with his calloused hands while the streetlights flicker and die across the exurb. Early still and, already, the fog is no friend as the million pin pricks of a fresh sweat make their presence felt along the backs of his legs and the small of his back, adding something of desperation to his already jagged gait. Desperate in the knowledge that this will be the best part of a long day ahead, the man always tries to make the most of it.

Eyes dart back and forth down the street as he makes his way house by house. The residents of the sleepy little street are rousing themselves, taking their weekly bags of garbage to the curb before retreating inside again to steel themselves against the bleakness of coming day with coffee and microwavia. They know it’s out there, waiting. Spreadsheets and email. Headaches. Lower back pain. Higher blood pressure.

The good things in life.

Most of them ignore the man with the cart, avoiding his eyes as they would a swarm of angry bees. They spin around from the street, ducking and fairly running back towards their hovels of vinyl and MDF.

“Got any empties?”

Nothing.

“Sir, any empties?”

Fleeting eye contact, then a shrug.

“Bottles? Got any empties?”

This one shakes his head, then raises his eyebrows in a show of what he must think of as sympathy.

“What?”

“Oh, uh, sorry,” he stammers, “I mean I, uh, don’t have any bottles.”

“Really. None at all?”

“Yeah, uh, I mean, uh, no. I don’t have any. Sorry.”

“Do you think you’re better than me?”

Caught offguard and still half awake, the sympathetic man is inching towards his house, half turned towards the man with the cart who stands eying him up and down, grinning.

“I’m just kiddin. I only been pickin for a week, ya know. Yeh, that’s the truth alright. Worked at a fast food joint before that, and before that I was a salesman — used cars, but then one day everyone stopped buyin them.”

“Huh, well that’s the way things are going lately.”

“I mean, look at me, do I look like a bottle picker?”

The man in the housecoat wants desperately to get away to his coffee and wife, but he takes a hard look at the man leaning against the shiny shopping cart. A misshapen Moosehead Pale Ale ballcap stained to something beyond offwhite sits perched on the top of the man’s head, his face a patchwork of stubble and dirt over well-tanned leather framed in stringy, grey hair making a run for his shoulders. Grey eyes return the subdivided man’s stare, a fitting complement to the greying teeth which lie beyond thin, sneering lips.

He does look like a bottle picker.

“Uh, no. I didn’t know bottle pickers had a uniform.”

“No no, you know what I mean. Do I look like a scumbag? A bottom feeder?”

“Of course not. Listen, I gotta go… the wife and all that.”

“Sure sure, go ahead.”

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