The Waste and the Wasted

Andy sat atop the gross lime green colored city dumpster, lifted his nose as far up as he could, and filled his lungs with any fresh air he could get. Unfortunately, fresh air was in short supply, and what he got instead was the smell of rotting food and a terrible undercurrent of rust and iron. He could handle the scent of the food; he’d been a dumpster diver for most of a semester now, but the metallic addition to the scent made his stomach churn.

“Eliot was right. April really is the cruelest month,” Russell said. Andy was startled by the comment. It had been silent atop the dumpster for so long he’d almost forgotten the other three people perched there with him. Russell was at the end of the dumpster, his dark hair slightly obscuring his bright blue eyes. Next to Russell was Quinn, a physically immense but verbally minute man. Beside Andy was Brian, Andy’s best friend.  Brian’s hair reminded Andy of a lion’s mane, but in a dainty way. Andy looked over at the other three, but they weren’t making eye contact, like defendants at a trial. They were scanning the surrounding landscape, Andy deduced, just like him. They were searching for signs of human life around the vacant parking lot and buildings. It was really useless though. Andy knew that at any second some school official could come around any of the corners and bust them. It was like they were in the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

Russell, after a brief pause, spoke again. “Yup.”

“Mmhmm,” mumbled Quinn.

“You got it,” said Brian with his deep resonating voice.

When Quinn opened his mouth, Andy was sure he was going to say something about the undercurrent of iron, but instead he said, “Man, I wish I was a pair of claws scuttling on the seafloor.”

“Yup,” Russell said.

“Mmhmm,” Quinn mumbled.

“You got it,” Brian resonated.

Andy sighed. Why did it even surprise him? He was going to have to be the one to talk about the elephant in the room, or dumpster in this case.

“Guys, I understand getting poetic, but we need to deal with the body in the dumpster.”

“Yup,” Russell said.

“Mmhmm,” Quinn mumbled.

“You got it,” Brian resonated.

He looked his friends over. They were all still looking forward. They were either attempting to ignore the problem, or they were still in shock over finding it. He looked back into the dumpster and nearly gagged at the smell. When he was looking away, he could trick himself into thinking the smell of blood was just iron, but when he looked right at the body, the scent became overpowering. He pulled away before examining the body closer. He didn’t even know what the man inside the dumpster looked like.

When Andy had first seen the man’s jacket, he thought it was going to be his first good find all day. After nothing but broken electronics and used lotto tickets, he was gonna get a sweet suede jacket. It was a black jacket that still had a shine to it, but when he pulled it at the collar, the head of the man and the stench of blood came with it. He had fallen out of the dumpster, screaming about the body. He didn’t remember exactly what he said before he’d thrown up next to the dumpster. It had tasted like a cheeseburger and cheap beer, not an unfamiliar combo to Andy.

“Come on, guys. We need to actually do something,” Andy said.

Finally, someone made eye contact with Andy, but he wasn’t happy that it was Russell. “What do you think we should do?”

Andy needed to choose his words carefully, because Russell was clearly the leader of this small group. He had been the one to make Andy stop screaming.

“What are you doing?” He punctuated the sentence with a slap. “We aren’t supposed to be here! Do you want us to get in serious shit?”

“I don’t know, maybe report it to the police like you’re supposed to?”

“Andy,” Quinn began, “maybe this is this man’s last wish, to be treated like trash as he was in life.”

Andy gave Quinn a crazy look. He knew Quinn was the youngest, about seventeen, but that was seriously stupid.

“No one would ask for that, Quinn.”

“Some people have some strange wills, Andy. My grandma wanted to be eaten by her cats. True story,” Brian said, still avoiding eye contact, his voice was calm and controlled.

That statement stunned Andy for a second, because it was so bizarre, and it couldn’t have been true. Andy had known Brian since middle school, and he’d been to his grandmother’s funeral. She had been cremated, and the funeral home had smelled like cheap lavender candles.

“I saw your grandmother’s ashes at the funeral home.”

“Those cats were assholes. That was a really expensive cremation.”

“Is that why you took the duffel bag full of money?” Andy said.

That had been the second thing discovered in the dumpster. Russell had pulled it up once they couldn’t find any ID in the guy’s back pockets. When the bag’s brown leather connected with the concrete, it had made a loud dull thud. The money inside was all 10s and 20s wrapped with blue and red bands that read 100 and 200. Brian had been the only one besides Russell to touch it. Brian had zipped up the bag before Russell had finished counting and threw it in the back of the gold colored Toyota Camry they’d pulled up next to the dumpster.

“It’s a lot. We don’t need to count it,” he said as he locked the car.

“Nope,” Brian said. “I did that because that was a lot of money.”

Andy sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. He immediately regretted doing that. He’d been dumpster diving all day, and now the putrid scent of the city’s waste was stuck to his face along with some grime, which he was sure would give him acne later. If he’d just stayed home today, if he hadn’t joined this stupid dumpster diving club with Brian, he wouldn’t be having this problem.

“Why did I agree to become dumpster divers with you people?” he said out loud, though it was more to himself than the other three.

Unfortunately, Russell decided to answer. “In order for us to connect. To learn that neither kindness or cruelty by themselves, independent of each other, create any effect beyond themselves; and learn that the two combined, together, at the same time, are the teaching emotion. And what is gained is loss.” Andy was stunned again. This time was from how familiar that statement was.

“Bro, that was deep,” Brian resonated.

Andy heard a sniff and noticed that Quinn was struggling to hold back tears. “That moved me, man.”

Quinn’s statement jumped Andy’s memory, and he recalled where he’d heard that statement before. It was from the school play that they had all been forced to see for theater class. Quinn had cried then too.

“He just quoted the school play!” Andy screamed.

“Oh yeah, sounded familiar,” Brian said.

“I know. It’s still so meaningful,” Quinn said in midst of tears.

“Gosh, Andy appreciate some art!” Russell called out.

“I am very cultured, thank you,” Andy screamed again. He inhaled deeply. He needed to remain calm. Yelling was not going to help. In fact, it might just make the guys think he’d lost it–the vomiting and screaming hadn’t made him look like the pinnacle of self-control.

“Look, that’s not even the point. We need to call the police and put back the money.”

“Whoa, man!” Brian exclaimed. “Let’s not go rushing into anything.” Andy looked at his watch.

“We’ve been sitting here for an hour!”

“And I think we can all say that we’ve bonded in that time,” Quinn said.

“Exactly,” Brian commented. “Nothing brings you closer than pulling a dead guy out of a dumpster because you wanted his jacket.”

Then Quinn said, “And peeing yourself about it.”

Andy leaned forward and, sure enough, there on Quinn’s pants was a wet area. Andy took some pride in knowing that at least he hadn’t pissed himself. Russell averted his eyes from Quinn, and Brain took a look inside the dumpster. That wet mark made Andy realize that the people on the dumpster with him were just as confused and scared as he was.

“I’ll just call them, guys. I’ll make it an anonymous call so we won’t get in trouble.” But as Andy raised his phone up to his ear, Brian smacked it out of his hand and into the dumpster.

“What the hell, man!” Andy turned to find his phone but caught another whiff of the stench and turned around gagging.

Andy watched in awe as Brian looked behind himself and down into the dumpster. His face didn’t flinch, react to the smell. Brian was completely unfazed, which scared Andy almost as much as the body.

“Psshh. That’s nothing. My grandmother’s phone worked after it was pissed on by thirteen different cats!”

“Andy, you can buy five new phones after you take your share of the money,” Quinn said almost at the volume of a normal person.

“Whoa, I’m not taking any of your dirty money.”

“It’s actually the cleanest thing in the dumpster,” Brian said.

Andy was about to freak out at his friend’s joke, when Russell said, “I think Quinn is trying to say that you don’t have to disturb the universe. In a minute, there is time for decisions and revisions, which a minute will reverse.”

That made Andy actually freak out; he was fed up. They were making his skin crawl, acting like the body was a thing to joke about. He jumped off the dumpster, feeling the shock run up his legs.

“That’s it! You want poetic, I’ll give you poetic. ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.’ This guy had a life. He had a family. People knew him. People were his friend. They will want to know what happened to him. Wouldn’t you want the same if a bunch of dipshits found you?”

The other three were silent for a few seconds, and they looked the same way they had when Andy had jumped off the dumpster. He felt the tears well up in his eyes as he looked at three guys he use to respect. They didn’t care about a dead man in the metallic uncaring dumpster they sat on.

“You know, my grandmother once said–”

Andy swallowed the lump in his throat, waiting for another insane lie to come out of his once-great friend’s mouth.

” ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ ” The lump dissolved. Brian looked down at Andy with a smile. Then he smacked Quinn in the chest.

“Come on, Quinn. We need to change your pants and get the duffel out of the car.” Both Brian and Quinn jumped off the dumpster.

“Thanks,” Quinn said as he walked to the car.

“For what?” Andy asked.

“For not… I don’t know, man. For caring about a human being like you’re supposed to.”

“Man, change your pants. You’re starting to smell.”

Quinn nodded and walked away. Andy looked up at Russell. The leader of the group sat up on the dumpster alone on his throne. Russell opened his mouth to speak, but Andy cut him off.

“If you quote anything, I’ll smack you.”

Russell closed his mouth and nodded. Finally, he jumped off the dumpster. Brian returned with the duffel in hand. Andy nodded over to the dumpster, and Brian took a long time walking over and tossing the bag into the large green and rust-colored seat they had used for so long.

“Hello? I’d like to report a body.”