The morning was being overtaken by a hazy and dull sun that had drenched Stan’s jumpsuit in sweat over half an hour ago. The smell of refuse and decay would have made Stan and his partner, Phillip, cringe had they not been immune to it as the seasoned garbage-men they were. The everyday smell of the city’s air pollution wouldn’t have been much of a step up anyway.
Stan pondered that for a moment, trying to remember if the smell of garbage ever bothered him. Even as a new worker so many years ago, he couldn’t recall ever being the least bit repulsed by the varying, season-sensitive smell of trash. I guess there’s a calling for everyone. Even for chumps with iron nostrils, Stan thought with a bit of self-disdain.
Shaking off the reverie, he thought of his other daily ritual of getting back to the plant in an hour, clocking out, and searching for the elusive answers to life’s problems at the bottom of a whiskey glass later. Life had been having its way with him lately, and the stack of bills piling up next to his refrigerator at home was testament to that.
His wife, Lydia, was little help since she had been laid off from work months ago. Stan had been supportive of her, assuring her daily that things would turn around. As it turns out, he had even managed to get her an interview at the waste management facility as a receptionist. She turned down the offer with a light kiss on Stan’s cheek, saying she appreciated it but that she wanted to take some time off to “soul search” for another career choice. The product of that soul searching were the soulless pile of bills on the counter at home.
He gripped the bar tighter and adjusted his feet as the truck swung around the second to last block of the morning route; on the very street where Stan called home. He didn’t have to even think of this simple action of physical adjustment, as he glanced at the spot across from him that Phil usually occupied. Phil wasn’t feeling well yesterday, and wasn’t able to help at work today. Stan didn’t mind working solo. In fact, some days he preferred it. Today happened to be one of those days.
Mike, the truck driver, pulled to a stop on the first section of road that Stan had to collect from. The apartment buildings that Stan lived in were unspectacular, if not approaching the point of dilapidation. Cigarette butts littered the sidewalk and made semi-permanent residence in many of the cracks of the ill-maintained walkways. Urine streaked a wall in a ghost-pattern near one of the exits to the building opposite Stan’s; he only really noticed this peculiarity because it was near the first pickup on his street. He hopped off and quickly made his way to the pile by the side of the truck.
He always wondered how the people that shared his complex could generate so much garbage in a week. The buildings only housed four apartments each; there being only four buildings total, set adjacent and across from each other. Out of all of them, Stan seemed to make the least amount of trash every week. He glanced across the street at his two trashcans, neatly side by side, awaiting his heaving arms. He didn’t find it strange that he took pride in how his trashcans looked compared to the slobs who left the scene in front of him. Stan took pride in his professional work; why not show some of that pride by the garbage he made, even if no one noticed?
He lifted the first of many bags on this street, even noticing some French brochures that must've been left by a traveling neighbor, and threw it into the back of the truck. One bag had the audacity to rip at the bottom from his effort, leaving what must have been the contents of someone’s bathroom, littered on the street. Another bag burst open in the back of the truck, more French-looking papers, the contents being weeks old.
He finished with his neighbors’ refuse and made his way across to his complex’s garbage. He began with the neighbors’; secretly relishing saving his own garbage for last. This had been the way he had always done it. Phil always gave him shit about that, wondering what sort of type of obsessive compulsive behavior triggered this weekly ritual. Stan always laughed it off with a shrug. Let him wonder.
He finished hauling the emptied neighbors' contents back across the street from the truck, and walked up to the Toters left by him the night before. Grabbing the first, he wheeled it dutifully to the back of the truck, and heaved the contents into the back. No bags ripped. Nothing that should have been in any of the bags strayed into the truck’s interior. Even the very bottom of the can, where time seemed to create a black residue of scum for other people's trash receptacles, was clean. He wished everyone could’ve been as tidy with their undesirables as he was.
He returned the first can then began wheeling the second one over. Getting to the back of the truck, he gently heaved the contents into the back of the compacter, then set the empty can on the ground. He quickly pushed the yellow button that began the crushing process of all the garbage he just put in. He looked at how well his tightly bagged contents compared to the other ripped, careless bags and debris his neighbors had left for him.
Even the fluids from Lydia’s body hardly marred the truck’s filthy interior. After he had driven the screwdriver into the back of her head, he had made sure to individually wrap her limbs, torso, and head three times with heavy plastic wrap, before stuffing her into an industrial-strength waste-bag. Nothing but the finest for the condescending, lazy little bitch.
He was also impressed at how the black residual scum that lined the inside of the truck didn’t seem to show any signs of Phil’s blood anywhere, since Stan pushed him in before their first stop. Ten whole stops already, and all Stan could make out was part of Phil's scalp stuck to one of the compacter's teeth. One of Phil's exposed arms suddenly jutted from the filth, making a slow, fracturing sound as the compacter did its work. Then the limb bent over to rest upon the bag where Lydia’s remains were.
How fitting, Stan thought, remembering the texts he discovered on Lydia’s phone last night between her and Phil.
He smiled, and knew this day's whiskey intake might warrant a day off tomorrow. He returned his empty can to its place by its silent partner, hopped on the truck, and signaled to Mike to drive to the next pickup spot.
He looked at the garbage cans of the next group of apartment complexes next to his own, remembering how much he hated all the noise those two college girls used to make at 3 in the morning.
He licked his lips, walked to the curb, and wheeled the large and heavy garbage cans to the back of the truck.