I know you better than the milkman does.
Sure, he can tell by your bottle count whether you’ve had a baby or lost one, whether you’re trying to lose weight or pamper a pet. He may see you in your skivvies as you reach through the door. He may know if you’re broke.
But on my route, I see the things that you don’t love anymore. And the things that you’re trying to hide.
The fella at number 16 throws out girly magazines. There’s so many of ‘em, so often, he must be a distributor or something. The fella at number 23 did not have a happy childhood. ‘Cause when his mother passed, the bins were overflowing with her things right away — from boxes of family photos to her anniversary mink. And the wife at the clapboard house on the corner is a good cook, though the husband doesn’t agree. Many mornings there’s a whole supper in the bin. From what I can tell, if it’s not up to his standards, or she didn’t keep it warm enough when he was running late, the whole roast gets tossed as well as the potatoes and the pie.
I see her sometimes, silhouetted in the kitchen window. I see how her whole form relaxes in hunting season once he treks out to his truck in the morning dark.
Winter collection is better. In the heat of summer, the plastic bags thin and leak. The bins are ripe. Once it starts to snow, folks get more cautious about the number of trips they take to the curb. But there’s still enough loose trash that I know what’s going on.
On my last run, I found a dead raccoon in the clapboard house bin. It was curled up on a pile of meatballs. At first I thought it had frozen to death. There was brown gravy crystallized in its whiskers and each five-toed paw was an icy fist. But its eyes were wide open, unnaturally blue, and a meatball was still lodged in its sharp, tight jaw.
This morning is bitter cold. My hands ache and each haul seems heavy as sin. The couple’s bin is open a crack and I approach with caution. There could be another scavenger inside. As I slowly lift the lid, I see only antlers on top. The husband must’ve bagged a big one and gifted me the deer cadaver instead of disposing of it properly. It’s so damn cold that the bone and hide and bloody bits have all conformed to the shape of the bin. It’s one single block of frozen carcass.
I take a deep breath, bend my knees, and lift. The carcass block slides from the bin into the back of the truck like an ice cube into a glass of whiskey that you’d never want to taste. It’s still solid as it tumbles toward the crusher mech and that’s when I catch something. Between the guts and crumpled hide I glimpse what could be a tattoo.
I look toward the kitchen window. There’s a slim shadow, perhaps the swish of apron, and the light goes out.