One day in a small town outside Portland, the people rose from their beds and began throwing away all their possessions. It was Tuesday. The garbage trucks would not come until Wednesday, but they moved as if responding to orders barked from a megaphone.
Todd Blankenship marched out of his house with a desk lamp in each hand and several baseball caps stacked on his head. He pitched the lamps to the curb and bowed, the caps cascading into a pile. He gave Mrs. Ter Beest an airy high five as she tossed nine perfectly fine umbrellas onto her own curb. Her boy, Chandler, pedaled his Big Wheel down the driveway, got off, and with a hard kick sent it careening past the piles of castoffs into the middle of the street.
He looked at his mother. “Leave it,” she said.
Old man Chutney came out again and again with boxes of food. The perishables: mounds of ground beef, a salmon filet, pale chicken breasts wrapped in plastic. A sixteen ounce carton of large curd cottage cheese. (He loved cottage cheese.) The dry goods: a box of angel hair spaghetti, cans of Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup, a large tin of Maxwell House coffee.
There was little eye contact and nobody spoke, though Ms. Felcher, the kindergarten teacher, hummed a song she’d taught her students, something about working hard every day with a smile, smile, smile. And she was smiling as she hummed and dragged her mattress out, then the plastic Santa climbing out of a plastic chimney, the Minnesota Vikings jersey that belonged to her ex-boyfriend that she slept in sometimes, a package of disposable nail files, the coasters with depictions of Civil War scenes her grandfather gave her.
She hesitated over the battery operated waterfall, but added that to the pile, too.
By late afternoon, the streets smelled of sweat and dust, of machinery and old books and sour milk. The only sounds were the odd ringtones from discarded cell phones, the screeching of crows jostling for scraps.
The streets clogged with Hefty bags and furniture and clothes and food and art. Bicycles and lawnmowers and bottles of shampoo and toys. And the people all stood on the grass, at a loss, as the sun began to droop.
Then, as if a whistle had been blown, they began to shed their clothes. Bermuda shorts and sundresses and Levis and Nikes were thrown to the piles. Even the babies were stripped of their onesies and their sailor dresses and their Pampers. Old Man Chutney undressed down to his socks, which he refused to remove.
A beaming moon rose and propelled them off their lawns into the clotted streets. The naked women and men and teenagers and toddlers and babies glowed like rich people’s teeth as they threw themselves upon the piles of their worldly belongings. And there they lay, tangled and weary, waiting for collection.
Kathy Fish’s stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Yemassee Journal, Guernica, Indiana Review and various other journals and anthologies. She is the author of four collections of short fiction: Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2013), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2012), a chapbook in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008) and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). She has recently joined the faculty of the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver where she will be teaching flash fiction. She blogs at www.kathy-fish.com.
Photo by Mark Bray