Nov 17, 2012

The shopping cart

Victor worked the late shift at the corner store on weeknights.  The store was an establishment with a small footprint, dingy, occupying a crowded corner on the avenue between 29th and 28th.  The low slant in the awning above the entry way kept most potential customers at bay, not that Victor minded.  There was a small deli counter, where they sold hot pressed paninis and toaster ovened bagels.  That toaster oven was pure genius, in Victor's mind.  It put their establishment a step above the knish place a block and two slanting awnings away that had only a microwave for heating up their potato cakes.

In the mornings, Victor worked as a janitor for the city parks.  Responsible for the cleanliness of one, albeit small, corner of his grand city.  They had given him a set of keys to the trash bins, a broom and dustpan, and a well-starched forest green uniform with creases in the sleeves.

His schedule had a rhythm to it; unchanging and steady.  He'd wake up early, heat up a leftover panini that he had brought home from the deli store the night before, and button up his uniform to make the long trek to the park.  It was a few blocks from the deli, but about two miles from where he lived on the east side of town.  When it got colder out, he'd take his bike, but on a day like today -- sky a tepid blue color from the lifting morning haze -- he enjoyed watching the rest of the city lazily come to its senses.

It was early November, about 5:30 am in the morning.  A cool 53 degrees with a sharp, intermittent breeze that cut through his three-day beard.  The walk was a long one today - he arrived at the park a little past 6:10.  The small plaza that occupied the majority of the park was quiet.  There were a few homeless men sleeping on the benches on the north side of the square, under the large maple tree that shone with its late fall dress of burnt copper.  The meteorologists had been predicting a cold winter, and this tree was celebrating the fact like a spoiled red haired child.  At the other end of the plaza, there was a small walking garden with benches where couples liked to spend their time.  It had a habit of collecting random articles of clothing -- last week it had been a turquoise sweater and a pair of oxfords.  The week before he'd found a fedora and a pair of woman's socks.  The west side was shady, and cool this morning.  There was an almost full shopping cart at rest in the grass beneath the trees, on the western side of the south-central fountain.  There was a slight slope down from the the fountain on the north side of the inner walkways; the cart appeared to have rolled from one end to the other until it came to rest against the stone curb of the central walk and one of the many public trash cans.  It was rusty and heaped with plastic bag bundles of various shapes, all covered with a layer of grime.  There was usually an owner of the cart somewhere nearby, but this one looked as though it had been momentarily forgotten.

Victor took his broom and dustpan off his shoulder and began sweeping the plaza, beginning at the eastern end of the park, and working his way south.  It was 10 o'clock in the morning before he finished his loop, picking up trash and sweeping off the non-occupied park benches.  The day had brightened considerably, cooling off a bit as the morning fog burnt off.  With his broom and dust pan over his shoulder, he began the walk home.  

The next morning at the plaza was quiet again, the overcast sky drizzling melancholy into the early shadows.  The shopping cart from yesterday was still there, knocked on its side in the wet grass, its contents spilled haphazardly onto the lawn.  A ratty blanket and a few stuffed plastic bags were slowly soaking in the drizzle.  A second shopping cart was perched next to the first cart on the walk, with a few bags piled up beside it.  From his side of the plaza it was hard to tell, but Victor was fairly sure they were previously occupants of the cart now toppled into the grass.

He sighed and began sweeping the east side, slowly making his way clockwise down towards the south end of the fountain.  It wasn't the mess that Victor minded so much as the uncertainty.  Regardless of their contents, he assumed them to be prized, if to no one else the their owner.  Or previous owners.  It was commonly known that the majority of shopping cart owners were mentally ill; not so much persons down on their luck as just out on a mental limb that no one had wanted to climb after them on.  

But what to do with them?  One lonely shopping cart was harmless, but once a crowd began to form (of carts, that is), it suddenly became his responsibility. He glanced northward toward the maple shaded trees, then headed in that direction.  

The park's night time inhabitants were no where to be seen this morning.  The cold drizzle and plunging temperatures must have driven them to seek warmer shelter elsewhere.  Victor sighed, and turned, with growing unease, of how to deal with the problem spilling into the grass on the southern end.  

He removed the trashcan lid, and hefted the first of the bundles into the can.  It was surprisingly lightweight, and looked to be filled mostly with plastic bottles -- a few used Coke bottles (though really, you didn't see many of those these days) mixed in among a plethora of water bottles.  Aquafina, Poland Spring.  Victor wasn't sure what those words stood for, but his grasp on the English language was tenuous, even on better days.  In Romanian, aquafina passibly translated to 'fine water'.  Someone had forgotten to leave the space between the words -- as it was it passed for marketer's Latin.

The last of the trash bags disappeared into the waste bin.  These had been a bit heavier than the first, but Victor made quick work of them.  He pushed the carts out of the north park entrance and left them sitting outside the gates to the park, hidden next to one of the entrance posts.  

He returned to finish sweeping.  On his way back to pick up his broom where he had left it beside the trash can, he realized that even the heaviest of the bags had failed to make a sound when tossed in.  Nor had there seemed to be a lack of space, even though he had dumped a full two carts worth of bags.  

The trash can was a more modern design, a tall solid cylinder of heavy molded steel with two large holes cut on the sides to allow trash to be tossed in. Curious now, he removed the heavy steel cover, propped it carefully against its side and peered in.  There was no sight of the bags he had just tossed in, just the billowing black of a newly opened trash bag.  With trepidation, he reached down to feel for the bags he had certainly just placed there himself.  The back of his neck tingled, his ears filled with a rushing sound, and suddenly Victor found himself hurtling over the event horizon of a black hole.

In the plaza, the rain picked up and began to soak through the wooden handles on the dustpan and broom, propped beside the waste bin on the western side of the south fountain.

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