In bare feet, my soles slightly sticking to the dirty hardwood floor, I walk into the kitchen and eye the steel garbage can. With dread. My husband, with no advance warning, left me two days ago, on July 4th, and tomorrow is pick-up day. In twelve years, I’ve never taken out the trash. I hesitate before it, seemingly unable, me, a grown woman, to pull out the plastic bag.
I flip open the lid. A small swarm of fruit flies rises into the air. Apple cores, scraps of meat, wadded napkins. With forefingers and thumbs, I tug the edge of the bag. More strength is required. I grip it tighter and yank. Once. Twice. The bag levitates from its container. I plop it on the floor. My restored Victorian house, here in Michigan, is still. No male feet plodding down creaky stairs or across the living room. Distant shouts from kids filter through the screens. Neighbors, still celebrating the holiday weekend, laugh in their back yards. Everyone will know my husband left me if they see me hauling out the trash. But how long can I wait—a month? A year? Can I simply pile the bags in the kitchen until I die and let whoever finds me cart them off along with my carcass?
The bag contains refuse from my husband: a banana peel, the pit from an avocado. The tuna can belongs to me. I’d forgotten to wrap the sharp top in a paper towel; a slit pierces plastic. Chicken bones from our last dinner together.
If our garbage disposal worked, there wouldn’t be as much in the bag, but it broke the first day we moved in. Probably that was as clear a sign as any if I paid attention. Which, clearly, I did not. We never bothered to fix it. Never bothered to fix anything. Another sign? What does it say about a marriage when the husband and wife can’t even adequately discard refuse?
The bag is white, the ties red. I lift the ends and knot them. Then knot them again as if the garbage is a secret. I don’t want anyone to see inside. I don’t want anyone to see the garbage my husband left behind.
There are reasons, of course, my husband left me. I don’t want children; he does. I complain about fixing dinner every night. He likes a clean house while I don’t see the mess—until it’s too late. This might also be the time to mention I had an affair—a series of affairs. I was—I am—sorry, mortified, ashamed. But I’m more into chaos than self-preservation, so I accept full responsibility for trashing the marriage.
I lift the bag and head outside to the garage, to the large rubberized receptacle. I pry off the top and drop the bag inside. Now, I must only wheel it to the end of the driveway, past a row of arbor vitae, under the canopied branches of the maple arching over the drive. The plastic wheels clatter the pavement. I focus on this, no longer hearing shouts of children. Not seeing birds tucking wings, preparing for evening. Not smelling the scent of family cook-outs. Just me, the clatter, and my fingers gripping the handle.
Years ago, after graduating college, I lived alone in a high-rise efficiency apartment in Washington, DC. Evenings, after work, I fixed myself a simple dinner. Every Saturday I vacuumed and dusted. I wiped kitchen counters. Cosmetics, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb—each had its proper place in the bathroom. Before sleep, I stood on the small balcony overlooking the city: the white pristine monuments; in spring the scent of cherry blossoms. Then I curled up on my sofa-bed to read. Not that I owned the apartment, but it felt like mine. My job, my money, my schedule. Nothing to cause disruption. If I heard the next-door neighbors, well, they had nothing to do with me.
My garbage. In that high-rise, I neatly placed it in a paper bag and slid it down the incinerator chute. Whenever I wanted. No strict pick-up schedule. I could discard my refuse at six in the morning or midnight seven days a week. A much neater arrangement. The flexibility—all of it—provided enormous satisfaction. I loved the idea of waste burning to a crisp. It, like my modern apartment, felt clean. As if life itself could be spic-and-span. No residue. No messy marital discord. Even my emotions felt clean.
Sue William Silverman is an award-winning author of seven books including “How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences” (gold star in Foreword Reviews Indie Book of the Year Award) and “Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction” (Lifetime movie). She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.