“Garbage Day”

By Brian Kayser

The cardboard box was soaked. It sat on the curb, next to the rusted trash can peppered with glints of silver, memories of what it once looked like. Donna watched the empty street with small puddles in the slight dips and curves of the cracked asphalt, a light rain slowly filling the small pools. She listened for the familiar hum of the garbageman, the predictable whine of the mechanical arm as it lifted containers and dumped the contents into its king-sized bed of trash.

Donna had dragged the box out last night. It was more wrestling, as she pulled the box by one of the top flaps, wrangling it down her flat driveway. She was already dizzy from the three glasses of wine, but she was also exhausted.

The box was crammed with videotapes of her ex-husband Marty’s old games. No, Marty never played, was never big enough or fast enough, but he was a hell of a coach, at least that’s what his assistants had always said. Donna figured they had to say that, but Marty always won more games than he lost and seemed to always be winning some coaching award. Marty always said he was one conference championship away from getting a shot at one of the mid-level division one schools, only that call never came, and with Marty nearing sixty, it probably never would.

That night Donna had stayed up watching one of the games in the dark basement. The handwritten label on the spine of the tape said it was from over ten years ago, right around the time of Donna’s second miscarriage. They didn’t have enough money to get the basement finished when they moved in, so she threw a rug over the cold concrete and painted the walls dark blue and green, the colors of Marty’s new school. It was enough to make the basement look decent, but not enough to silence the cold draft and remind Donna that there was more work to be done. She didn’t really know why she was popping in a VHS cassette and was surprised when the grainy recording appeared on the screen. the legs kicked out on the easy chair and Donna wrapped her arms around herself in an effort to stay warm. She had barely paid attention when she was at the games, always sitting with the other coaches’ wives and girlfriends and trying to discuss anything but football. She had been to too many football games over the years to keep her interest, but she thought she did a good job pretending. She’d always listen to what the fans said around her, then parrot their observations back to Marty, who would sometimes nod or offer a dismissive glance, as if to say It’s cute of you to try, but really, you don’t have to.

Marty’s team was on the far sideline. She could make out his figure pacing, his long, lanky frame. Donna drank as she watched the game, players running onto the field, others running off, then into each other. Repeat. Donna tried to guess what they were doing now, whether they were teachers, accountants, custodians, or something else. She watched how fast they threw themselves into each other. It reminded her of herself, in some ways, how she’d thrown herself into Marty with such force she was blind on impact. How much she didn’t see. When he’d get a new coaching offer, moving a small rung up on the ladder, she’d pack all her stuff, put in her two week’s notice, and be off with him. She’d never stayed at the same job more than three years and had no retirement plan. When she’d mentioned wanting to go back to school for her teaching certificate, he told her not to worry about it, that he’d be making enough money that she wouldn’t have to get a real job, as if her night job frosting cakes at the grocery store was just something silly to help her pass the time, not help pay off the massive debt they were accumulating with each move.

Now he was gone, Donna thought to herself. She had no idea what the score was, or how much time was left on the clock. All she knew was everyone just kept tackling each other and when someone was on the ground long enough, they were helped off and replaced by someone new. Like Erin. Her replacement. She didn’t know how long Marty had been hiding Erin from her, but she guessed it had been going on for some time. Erin was his secretary, a short, stocky, bowling ball of a woman coated in thick layers of make-up and low-cut blouses that showed her fake tits while hiding her paunchiness. Donna never liked Erin, always thought she gave her the evil eye when she’d bring lunch for Marty. She’d tell Marty and he would just laugh, tell her it was in her head, and then bite into his sandwich.

“I doubt she was the first,” Rachel, her sister, told her when Donna called to say she walked in on Erin blowing her husband in his office. She’d dropped the sandwiches when she saw Marty sitting naked in his swivel chair with his eyes closed and his arms over his head. Marty didn’t chase after her. She sat in her station wagon shaking, waiting to see Marty break through the doors and run after her. To apologize, to say it wasn’t what it looked like, anything. He never did.

When Donna caught her breath, she called her sister.

“What do you mean?” Donna asked her sister.

“I mean, he just always looked like a cheater. Like he’d always be checking out waitresses when we’d go out to eat. Stuff like that.”

“Don’t all men do that? Are you saying Dale’s never checked out a waitress?”

“Not like Marty would. He just had a creepy vibe. I just always assumed you knew.”

Donna hung up, her finger barely able to hit the “End Call” button it was shaking so much.

Marty moved out that night. Said he was sleeping in his office and showering in the locker room, but Donna had looked up Erin’s address in the phone book and saw his Wrangler parked in her driveway each night. Donna drove by the house slowly, with her headlights off, telling herself each trip would be her last.

After a week of Marty being gone, with a phone call here and there asking if he could come by the house for some of his stuff, Donna began to like him being gone. It wasn’t that much different than when he was there, except that he wasn’t coming home at midnight, trying to wake her for sex, then saying something under his breath before rolling over and sleeping. She didn’t tell the other coaches’ wives and girlfriends, just stopped showing up to the games. They were only nice to me because my husband was their husbands’ boss, she told herself. Those women were the closest friends she had, but after moving five times in the last fifteen years, she’d stopped worrying about making friends. I can’t even keep the ones I like, she thought.

Putting stuff away in boxes was something Donna was good at, maybe the only thing she really learned in the last fifteen years. She liked the way she could fit items together, how turning something sideways could make it fit, like it was a real-life game of Tetris. She started packing Marty’s stuff, the suits he only wore to banquets and funerals, his high school trophies he insisted be displayed in the basement, his dog-eared coaching books.

“Leave ‘em in the garage,” he said over the phone. “I’ll come for ‘em when I get a place.”

“Seems like you already have one,” Donna said, surprised at the calm in her voice.

“Whatever.” His voice was distant, cold. Donna wanted to ask how long it had been going on for, how many others there were, when did he really stop loving her. But she didn’t want to know. It was easier to box it up and leave it in the attic.

Donna didn’t want to be like every scorned wife she’d seen in movies and heard about at football games, the ones who wanted revenge on their husbands, could never move on and love again, always found something wrong in everything. She had her life, time, and she wasn’t going to waste it on Marty. She told herself it was a blessing he was gone, that she could finally pursue a teaching career, even if she was nearing fifty. She could decorate the house the way she wanted to, no more pictures of her husband posing with famous football coaches at coaching seminars and random players hanging from her walls. It was her house.

“I need you to come get your stuff,” she told Marty two days ago.

“You got a boyfriend moving in?” Marty laughed.

“You have a week to get your stuff,” Donna said.

“A week, huh? Gonna be tough to swing over. You know it’s Homecoming this week.”

“You have a week.”

“I’ll see what I can do. By the way, you want me to leave you a couple tickets at will call?”

“A week,” Donna repeated, hanging up.

Some of the stuff, like Marty’s father’s desk, was still in the garage, too heavy for Donna to move. Marty knew this and Donna guessed it quieted whatever sense of urgency she had tried to instill over the phone. Most of their stuff had been there since they’d moved in, the movers dumping it in the garage. Marty was on a recruiting trip at the time, and Donna figured he could bring some of his players to the house to help him move stuff around. They’d barely been in the house three months before Marty was gone.

He’s not coming for this, Donna told herself. He’d have gotten it already if he cared even a little. She opened the box with the VHS cassettes and took one out. That’s when she took a bottle of wine with a glass down to the basement and watched, just to see if there was anything she’d been missing all these years.

She decided there wasn’t. It was just a game. A winner, a loser. She didn’t know what side she fell on. The garbage truck stopped at her neighbor’s house. Donna knew she could still run out, save the box of videos, his best games throughout the years, the ones he’d probably watch when he was too old to run up and down the sidelines yelling at players and officials. But he had a chance, she told himself. She watched the metal arm of the garbage truck pick up their can and dump it. The man riding on the back of the truck took the can off the arm and placed it on the sidewalk. He bent down to pick up the box, had to squat deeper because of its weight. As he rose, the bottom of the box gave out and cassettes spilled over the sidewalk and into the gutter. Donna imagined the water rushing through the gutter, washing over the black plastic cassettes with the handwritten labels, ink smearing, ribbons bursting loose. The garbageman gathered the tapes in his arms and threw them into the truck. It took him three trips to get all the tapes in, then he signaled to the driver and the truck went to the next house. Donna imagined the sound of the plastic tapes cracking in the back of the truck, the hundreds of nameless, faceless players who would be nothing but a lost memory. Donna took a deep breath and exhaled for the first time in a long time.

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Categories: Essay, Issue 4 | Leave a comment

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