Garbage to Curb
by Jennifer Evans
I’m instantly reminded of why I skipped the last few of these—the room is all hot breath and squeezed shoulders, and I have two giants in front of me blocking my view. One wears a blue topcloth with the words Garbage to Curb carefully painted across the back, staring me in the face.
My brother says this day is important. Says too many people forget. The room is less packed each year. And I say, “It was more packed than this once?”
“Once,” he says quietly.
I can’t see the small upfloor in the middle of it all on account of the stupid giants, so I watch my brother’s eyes, and when they widen, I know what he sees. The Three Preservers stand from their chairs on the upfloor, and each approaches a pode with a clearpane box on it. Their robes are brilliant blues and greens, from what I remember. They contrast the gleam of white walls, the sparkling black outside the windows.
My parents are probably somewhere right up front near the Preservers. They woke up very early for this.
“What are they doing, Russel?” I pull on his sleeve. My brother is named after the Second Record. I’m named after the Third.
“They’re decasing the First Written Record,” he says, all annoyed, even though he’s the one who can see everything and I can’t.
“Once a year, we gather to remember,” a low voice like the buzz of a radibox calls out to the room. “The Three Records are our only glimpses from where we came. Their words are us, our home.”
“Us, our home,” Russel calls back with many others.
For a second I can peek between the two thick necks of the giants in front, and I spot the First Preserver in a robe that’s green as algappe. Wearing two soft handcloths, he carefully lifts the lid of the box. The hands lower slow, raise slower, and like he’s cradling a fragile micro-florey, he carefully holds the singed paper. He brings it forward to the central pode. Then the bodies in front of me shift and it’s back to Garbage to Curb for me.
“The First Record,” the voice speaks again. I look up at my brother and his stare is intent, fixed. He waits for the words.
“Carwash,” the Preserver says. He pauses, lets the word linger. My brother closes his eyes and nods before opening them again.
“Chicken out of freezer.”
My brother moves his mouth with the words.
“What’s chicken?” I ask Russel. He shushes me.
“Call Tess back,” The Preserver says.
“Do you even know?” I ask.
Russel doesn’t like me asking questions, I can tell. He haws out a deep breath. “You don’t need to know the words. Just feel them.”
I laugh at him. “So you don’t know.”
“Garbage to curb,” The Preserver reads. The people in front of me holler. A few others too. There’s always a back and forth with the Records.
“Did you feel that?” My brother smiles.
“No. What’s a garbage? Or curb?”
“You’re focusing on the wrong things, Bash,” he whispers again. The Preserver drones on, “Bill Pay Online,” “Reservation for 7:00,” but my brother really tries to get to me. He puts his big hand on my shoulder. “Some think garbage is kind of like their word for receptacables.”
“So it’s just junk.”
“Maybe. Others think this was a motto down there. Garbawgetocurb,” he says all at once, reveling in the music the words make. “Like, take the clutter, put it somewhere else, live your life.”
I stare at the shirt in front of me. I have a feeling that if Russel ever gets a tat, it will say this.
“Or…” Russel goes on, “Maybe it’s about a change. What was once garbage became curb. It is no longer what it was, it is something transformed. Garbage to curb.”
“And lastly,” The Preserver says, and my brother’s eyes snap back to the front.
“RESPOND TO THE FUCKING EMAILS!”
“RESPOND TO THE FUCKING EMAILS!” the room calls out with resolution.
“What’s a fucking email?” I ask, but my brother ignores me.
The stuffed room grows quiet again, and I know that the First Preserver is recasing the Record and taking his seat. The Second Preserver is probably opening her box, removing the next Record. I wait for her to begin.
“Ode to Oke Trees,” she calls out. This is Russel’s favorite. He lifts his chin and focuses his gaze onto the topwall. I try to see what he sees.
“Ode to Oke Trees, by Jack Grade Five.”
“To Jack Grade Five,” a few people call out.
The Preserver continues:
You are a big oke tree.
You have many sounds
that make me smile.
Goes the birds.
Goes the wind.
Goes the leaves.
You have many sounds
that make me smile.
“You have many sounds,” I say with the crowd, trying to get into it. My brother looks at me, and I can’t tell if he knows I’m faking.
“The Third and Final Record,” a new, younger voice says. “An excerpt from Page 56 in Waterfalls of the Northeast.” Everyone in the room is silent. The young voice carries on: “BASH BISH FALLS: Four stars. This stunning plunge waterfall, located in Berkshire County, is one of the most breathtaking in all of Massachusetts. Follow the marked, easy to moderate half-mile trail in Bash Bish State Park to the gorgeous fall. Let both the noise and beauty of the falls reach you.”
“Noise and beauty,” my brother croaks out. He is trying not to cry. The people in front of me don’t try, just cry. Many put their arms around each other and embrace.
The Final Record is recased. The First Preserver speaks again. “This is all that was found. This was us, our home.”
“Us, our home,” we say. People who dressed up in their best blues and greens start to trickle out of the room. I can already see my parents have stayed behind to talk to the Preservers, so Russel and I follow the crowd back out to the light-filled hallways. A few people shake hands with one another, saying sincerely, “Garbage to Curb.”
“I’m glad you attended this year,” my brother says. I’m quiet, so he fills the space by adding, “That was something.”
Russel’s trying to make me admit that I feel it, but I don’t think I do.
Like he’s reading my mind, he makes a final push. He looks out a window, puts his arm on it and really leans forward, so his face almost touches the thick clearpane. “The people who wrote the Records. They lived there, all those tons of years ago. They saw things we will never see, experienced things we will never experience. And they wrote that down for us. It’s only Three Records, and maybe one day we’ll find more. But I take what I can get. And what we have from them is beautiful.”
I look out the window too, and stare at the distant grey ball that was once more.
“I just…I still don’t know what it was like. The Records don’t tell me anything.”
“They don’t tell everything, but they tell a lot,” my brother reassures me. He takes my shoulder again. “Where we came from—it was chicken and waterfalls. It was garbage, but it was also carwash. Tess was there, and someone wanted to call her. There were okes, big okes, and people on Earth wrote to them. The wind went swoosh. Sometimes you reschedule dentist, and sometimes you witness beauty. Don’t you see?”
I shrug and stare out the window at the orb again. There’s so much I don’t understand. But I try to let the words of my namesake reach me.
I imagine a clear tower of water, falling down a spout from space. I try to think of the loudest thing I can think of that could capture the sound of a waterfall—ten radiboxes all blaring at once. Then I picture someone standing at the base of the constant spout, drenched. The leaves around them go Russel Russel. They are wet and the world is noise, but the person smiles anyways. They have taken the stunning plunge.
Somehow my eyes get all vapor-like, and my brother notices.
“Sorry, I don’t know why I’m…”
“It’s okay,” he says, and wraps his arms protectively around me. “Take the chicken out of the freezer. Respond to the fucking emails. Let the noise and beauty reach you.” He releases his hold on me. “Garbage to Curb.”
I nod. I begin to understand.