Image by Christine Renney
After almost twenty years Jack took his job for granted. He was a refuse collector, a garbage man, or at least this is what he told anyone who bothered to ask. He in fact worked at a landfill site, one of the largest in the country. He was the man on the ground, in charge of the day to day operations.
Much of society’s waste can be recycled, can be shredded and pulped and will break down and disintegrate. But much of it will not and burying this safely and as efficiently as was possible Jack considered to be an important and necessary task. He didn’t want to look at the bigger picture, hadn’t any desire to grapple with the wider implications.
He worked in the here and now and far too often he had stood as if accused, had been pulled into unwanted debate time and again. And so he had started to lie, he was a bin man and Jack wouldn’t elaborate and he couldn’t be drawn, not anymore.
Over the years, after each promotion, his wife hadn’t been able to help herself and had boasted to her sisters. But all family had been warned not to talk about work with Jack and although this had proved a little awkward at first it had soon become commonplace and was accepted.
His three daughters, now all teenagers, were thankfully unafflicted by any sort of youthful idealism. They were entirely uninterested in environmental or green issues and couldn’t care less what their dad did for a living.
Jack hardly thought about his work at all. In the mornings he rose alone and as the others slept he moved almost soundlessly from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen. When he left the house was still in darkness and seemingly undisturbed but when he returned in the evenings it was noisy and alive, the four women bickering and laughing together. Jack didn’t mind that he was excluded, taken for granted and quite happily he moved at the periphery, occasionally glancing in at them.
Jack had been on site half an hour or so at most when the two men from head office arrived. He recognised them instantly although over the years their paths had crossed no more than a handful of times and as far as he could remember neither of them had ever visited a site before. They wanted something, this much was obvious.
‘How can I help you?’ Jack stumbled, trying not to sound surprised.
They were straight talking and businesslike and pulling chairs they sat in front of his desk, and without an intro or any fanfare they told him what they wanted him to do. It was to bury a man, dispose of a corpse. They couldn’t tell him any more, only that it was important and necessary and that he had been carefully selected to perform this particular task. That it needed to be done swiftly and the employee who delivered the casket would help him but no-one else on the site could know. He would be rewarded financially and of course it wouldn’t be forgotten.
They were asking him but Jack really hadn’t any choice. Somehow he managed to agree and proffering his hand he even shook on it.
Jack couldn’t remember being at home on his own during the day before. His wife worked part-time but not today and he hadn’t any idea where she was, what she was doing or at what time his daughters returned from school. He realised that they led lives he knew nothing about and that he could so easily just go back, make the necessary arrangements, make the phone call and become a part of something. But he didn’t.
When they came home it was together, his wife was first through the door and when she saw him sitting at the kitchen table, dropping her shopping bags to the floor, she stopped abruptly and behind her his daughters stumbled.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, ‘has something happened?’
‘I have to quit,’ he said.
‘What do you mean? I don’t understand.’
‘I need to quit my job.’
The girls pushed their way past their mother and stepping over the shopping the four of them then stood and gaped at him.
Jack told them what had happened, what it was they had asked him to do. He put it succinctly, was as workmanlike in the telling as the men from Head Office had been earlier. When he was finished they didn’t react as he had expected they would. They didn’t question, didn’t try to make sense of it. Instead of engaging in awestruck debate they stood in awkward silence. His wife looked up, down, everywhere but at him and at last she said, ‘Jack, I really don’t think that you should have told us this. Come on girls,’ she sighed, ‘let’s go in the other room. Your father needs to be alone, he needs some time to think.’