I set the box down, turn my back to it, walk to the door and hear CRASH! CLANG!, the harsh, concussive orchestra, the echoing collision within glass walls/aluminum chambers, anticipate a soft plastic pop but find it’s drowned out/overwhelmed/consumed by that abrasive cacophony born of late drunken beers, breakfast cans of Coca-Cola Zero, jagged-edge pull-lids still covered in chowdah, all of which feel this crushing urge to prove their worth.
She keeps one hand on a cart/a tank—a prop from some post-apocalyptic time, with ruined treads and bulging sacks of scavenged somethings strapped to its flank—while she squats and sifts through the box. She plays the drum major, conducting a loose percussion section as her hand shuffles through the box/blue box/green box with its tri-angle’d arrow design and the sound slays a single cilia in my eardrum. She looks up at me with sunken, slanted eyes that bleed to jaundice at the edges and offers a glimmer of graciousness, an uncertain/empty smile from behind her dry, sagging lips. Not empty in that vapid way that other people offer—empty in her mouth, where nearly all her teeth have rotted out.
“Sankiyu, sankiyu!,” she slurs excitedly.
I respond with a slight nervous smile. You’re welcome? I never did much worth a welcome. I didn’t realize beer still made folks giddy three days late, especially when there’s nothing left to drink.
No, wait, there’s a little bit left, dripping on her fingers, flowing with the age’d, weather’d patterns/grooves cut into her sandpaper skin/making a medley of sugary juices, mold and soup in the base of the box/puddling on the curb/coating her frail old hands. They looked like latex gloves, her hands, six sizes too small—more like a finger condom used for five and a palm—stretched out, weathered nearly to the breaking point, worn down to a weak, translucent film of thin plastic, filled with pebbles and stapled to her sleeves.
I stand still and silent on the front steps, watching while she finishes her task, tossing empties into her cart with ardor and zeal; the steady clamor of the clinking cans hypnotizes/keeps my attention like raindrops. When she’s finished/when the box is barren, save for the sickening puddle of purée inside, she turns back to me and waves/mumbles “Sankiyu,” again as she pushes her cart up the hill and away; it must weigh 300 pounds, or more, but her fragile, 80-pound frame is determined. She conquers gravity and somehow makes it to the top of the hill. How did I not hear her approach in the first place? I tighten my velvet bathrobe belt. The sharp, discordant jingle/jangle of bottles and cans reverberates down the corridor of rowhouses on the street and I’m amazed it doesn’t wake the neighbors. With one hand, I grab the newspaper; with the other hand, the box/head back inside/wonder if the seven dollars and thirty-five cents she’ll make from the bottle deposit is really worth it.