Somewhere there is a brand new couple asleep in bed together for the first time. Somewhere someone is pulling out a plastic shopping bag at the checkout counter in the grocery store, its plastic body puffing proudly up with air. It carries the packages of beef jerkey and cans of pork and beans home, happily, gladly.
Somewhere someone is opening a packet of Oreo cookies, placing them carefully in a circle around a plate, covering them up tightly with plastic seram wrap and taking them to work to leave on the table in the teacher’s lounge, where they can sit all day lovingly, invitingly.
Somewhere there is a pile of pizza boxes in the recycling bin with cold greasy hunks of cheese still cemented oozily to the cardboard walls.
Somewhere a child sneaks into the teacher’s lounge, opening the door as quietly as possible (there is a certain angle where he knows you need to pause at so that the hinges don’t creak). He stands over the plate and crams his mouth full of cookies, teeth and tongue and crevasses between teeth and space under tongue turning black and powdery as though he’s swallowing mouthfuls of soil.
Somewhere a girl is sitting in front of her computer screen, staring at the notebook besides her, at the sentence that she just wrote: I have a big black feathery malignant thing that sleeps inside me and makes me do stuff. She is trying to write a poem. She is a poet who hasn’t finished a poem in ages. Can you still be a poet, she wonders, if you never finish your poems? She’s one-half of the naked new couple, and her lover is still in bed with his head propped up on the pillows and his eyes closed, thinking about how nice it would be to get a foot massage from her right now, or about the Barcelona scores, or whether or not he should apply for those unpaid public policy internships in Washington D.C.
(Actually, God knows what he’s thinking.)
The girl is going to be late for work because she didn’t pack her lunch into her plastic bag last night, the one crumpled up on the kitchen counter wistfully, longingly. By day’s end it be stained by the pork and bean juice leaking out of the tupperware container, and will have to be crumpled up into a tiny ball and stuffed into the overflowing garbage bin, away under the dark sink.
The garbage is full of all sorts of different things and who knows where it will all go. Somewhere someone will sort through it as a giant voice on a loudspeaker blares out “MILK CARTONS,” and then again in Spanish, and the workers will all have to sort through the items passing before them on the conveyer belt as fast as possible, milk cartons and then pizza boxes. The tired woman will peel off her skin-tight see-through plastic gloves and get a ride home in her co-worker’s Honda with the broken window covered in bubble wrap. Her child is not home yet, so she will sit down at the rickety plastic white table in the dimly lit kitchen and sort through the mail, a rare private and quiet moment to herself.
Somewhere someone drives a truck every week over the U.S. border towards the giant dump, called el dompe by its residents. Once an enormous canyon, it is now completely filled with garbage. A man living there combs through it every day, looking for the most prized commodities: dented yet unopened cans of pineapple and stewed tomatoes, whole glass bottles, sheet metal and copper wire that can be exchanged over a counter for small yellow coins. He pulls out a particularly large plastic shopping bag and smoothens it out across his bare thigh; it is relatively clean and could have many uses: a sleeping mat, a curtain. In the end he uses it to stuff in a gap between the planks of wood of his makeshift hut, but a few days later a harsh wind will blow the hut over and the bag out to sea.
The child is not home yet. Instead he is running, running, running through the playground, the tip of his index finger black with a layer of dust, since that’s what gets left behind after writing the words “BITCH” on a car’s rearview window, along with “I wish my hubby was as dirty as this car.” It’s the teacher’s car, the one who caught him slinking out of the room: she saw his jaw fall slowly open as though a hinge there had been broken, saw the tell-tale black crumpled-up wet damp mess inside, the black throbbing center that rustles its feathers and whispers to us what to do next, what to do next in order to feed it.
Somewhere someone is driving a truck through el dompe, when he sees a man without any pants fighting with a crow for a piece of garbage. The crow is cawing and pecking angrily at his groping fingers, its black feathers flying, claws scratching. The withered brown dick flopping between the man’s legs is the same color as the rancid piece of garbage he is fighting for. In the truck the driver sees this in the two seconds it takes him to pass by, and then both the bird and the man are gone, hidden by the mountains of plastic bags, styrofoam and toilet bowl seats. If you don’t write it down, he tells himself, you’ll forget all about it. It will be as though it never happened. That night, instead of writing in his journal, he will write a letter to his sister in the U.S. instead, asking her if she thinks she will ever move back here with her only son. It is not right, he will write, for a child to grow up alone like that.
When the teacher sees the words on her car her jaw will fall open as well, slowly, helplessly. Instead of going to aerobics class she will go to the Vietnamese bakery, where she will order beancurd sweets and stuff herself with them, one after another, like there’s something empty inside her that needs to be filled. She will wipe away the sesame seeds on her lips and drive home, the words still on the rearview window. In the kitchen that night, spooning out barbecued pork from a plastic takeway box onto her lover’s plate, she won’t tell him what she’s thinking, the words that are on her mind: Today that child wrote more than me. The words will sit inside her like a thing that has just hatched, naked and bald and a wrinkly peach color, the most vulnerable part of herself she doesn’t ever want anybody to see, touch, smell or know is there.
The garbage men are coming today; it’s garbage day. They curse the family that always puts their bins out just far away enough from the curb so that instead of relying on the truck’s mechanical humming arms, one of the men has to lumber outside in his thick plastic orange suit to empty the bins. What is with these people, they ask one another, moving their lips behind their protective masks, are they not from here or something? They leave the bins tipped over on their sides, their lids flopped open like blue plastic tongues.
The child runs and runs until a stitch in his side causes him to collapse onto the wet grass and roll over the dirt and the sand and the popsicle sticks until he eventually becomes still. He lies there on his back, panting and looking up at the stars in the night sky, his hands over his belly. For now it feels like there is nothing inside him asking for anything, scratching him for more. He waits to see what will happen next.
Somewhere someone is walking on a beach and their sandal slips on a plastic bag. Somewhere someone is looking at a man in a bar and wondering if he’s single.
Julianne Pachico was born in England, grew up in Colombia and graduated from college in the United States. She currently lives and works in Portland, Oregon. She tries to blog about books and writing at doubtsbestally.wordpress.com.
© 2011, Julianne Pachico