Trashcan Man

By Gemma Sidney

When I was still relatively young, I did some bad things. I was somewhat of a delinquent. Problem is, I never got the chance to grow out of it. I was mixed up with a bad crowd and one day, someone with a lot of power used it against me and my so-called friends let me be their scapegoat. This someone worked with a team of his best scientists to take soul surgery, a procedure that extracts a soul from its body, to the next level. Until me, they’d only ever tried it on stray dogs and cats.

My procedure was deemed a success, but it was kept totally secret from the outside world. Only the people at the very top, the wickedest of the wicked, knew of my imprisonment. You see, they’d managed to extract my soul from my body and then transfer it into a metal figurine in the form of a man, which was then welded to a trashcan. The irony is not lost, believe me. It’s not your average trashcan but almost a piece of modern art that they positioned next to a busy public park. After the first few weeks where the scientists would visit each day to check me with their soulmeter, to make sure I was still in there, they were reassured that I wasn’t going anywhere. I was promptly forgotten and left to go on with my new, sedentary existence.

I can only imagine that my soulless body ended up in a ditch somewhere once they’d contented themselves with beating the life out of it.

It’s pretty cold most days. I find myself hanging out for the few hours of precious direct sunlight I get each afternoon, which is gradually becoming obscured behind the trees nearby. As the seasons change I observe the leaves and flowers form, grow and then drop to the ground, only to be swept up and placed into my receptacle. There’s all this crazy technology in the world these days but nothing replaces a good old trashcan. And our rubbish still stinks. Thankfully I became accustomed to the smell of rotting trash pretty quickly.

My eyes are permanently open as the scientists didn’t think to give me eyelids for my shiny metal eyes. Nothing can hide what happens in my field of vision, so I see it all; the joggers with their unfortunate sweat stains, the brawls, the crying children, the drug deals, the continuous decomposition of humanity… 

In spring last year I did have a brief reprieve from vision after a child smeared the remains of his hamburger on my face. There it gently decomposed for a week and a half before I was washed clean by the rain. 

I’ve found a way of tuning out, so I’m still seeing but not entirely registering what I’m seeing. With practice, I do it more and more so that I spend more time away than I do being conscious. When I tune out I’m able to relive my memories, see people I knew and places I visited when I was a kid and still had my parents. At the beginning I recalled only the bad memories but now I find that I can focus more on the good ones. 

That girl is back again. I can always pick her out of a crowd. It’s the haunting stare that does it. That look in her grey eyes. I first saw her when she disposed of an empty 50 millilitre grapefruit juice bottle. The vision of her only lasted an instant before she was gone behind the trees, but it stayed with me a long time after. It took me a while to realise why. When she’d looked at me, there had been recognition in her eyes. She’d looked at me not as a statue but as a being. Today, she watches me for a full three minutes before hastily making her way off into the crowd of Sunday visitors in the park. 

I don’t have many hobbies these days, but one of them is to keep track of people via their rubbish. I have my regulars. There’s Fat Judith, as I like to call her, who eats a large bucket of chips and gravy each morning on her way to work. There’s Running Man Dave, who pauses to throw away his empty can of energy drink and do his stretches against me on Saturday mornings. I’ve also become friendly with the local wildlife, particularly the birds. There’s an entire family of crows who visit me regularly to select only the tastiest morsels of trash for their daily feed. 

Once, a woman peed on me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. She just climbed right on top of the trash can and let it all go. It felt very warm. She succeeded at fulfilling a fantasy I’d never had. My old friends would’ve been jealous. 

It’s dark when I regain consciousness today. While my vision adjusts to the lack of light I see the girl sat watching me from a nearby bench. When she approaches she actually says something to me, so hushed that I barely catch it: “Everything’s gonna be alright. Trust me.” And I do. It’s the first sentence that’s been addressed to me since my imprisonment. If my metal eyes could have had a stock of tears, I would have shed some at that moment. It’s then that I see a flash of light catch on a metallic object in her hand. A hacksaw. “This won’t hurt a bit,” she says, getting to work. She’s right, and after about fifteen minutes of furious sawing, I’m tucked under her arm and together we leave the park. I bid my trashcan a silent farewell, for old time’s sake. 

She takes me home with her and places me in prime position on her mantelpiece. The room is cluttered with miscellany – a plaster cat, a couple of bobble-heads, a toy stuffed gorilla, a taxidermied marmot, a Jesus on a crucifix. I realise that what I’m surrounded by is a bunch of other poor souls trapped in various inanimate objects. 

I don’t know how she knows we’re in there but it doesn’t matter. She talks to us, introduces us to one another as soon as there’s a new arrival, fills the silence with chatter and music. We are often moved around the room and sometimes even put next to the window so there’s always something new to see. 

When I was in my human body, I was basically a piece of trash and as a result I became a Trashcan man. I survived it all. Now I’m just a man. My life begins here.

6 Responses to Trashcan Man

  1. Carina Tan-Van Baren says:

    Gemma, what an interesting and original idea. The simple, emotionless style of writing captures so well your character’s situation and his resignation to it. He accepts it like he had it coming. Yet there is the hint of tragedy, that a troubled childhood, not inherently bad character, sent him down this grim road. The end is unexpectedly warm. Redemption against all odds. But we are left with some serious questions: who are these powerful people that extract and abandon souls at will? Do they perform their evil in the shadows or is this a widely practiced, if awful, form of justice? Who are all the other trapped souls? And who and what is this girl who has the power to see their misery? The possibilities are fascinating. If you ever expand this, please let me know, I would love to read it.

  2. ara jansen says:

    Hey Gemma, I can TOTALLY see the poor trashcan in the park. It’s a great idea and vivid enough that there feels like much more to it. I’ve just finished watching Joss Weddon’s Dollhouse so the whole idea of moving spirits / personalities is fresh in my mind. There’s definitely a longer story or even a book built on a universe like this. I can even imagine it as a comedy movie with someone like Jim Carey or Jack Black as the soul voice. Am I getting way too ahead of things?

  3. alphabetagemma says:

    Thank you for the comments… I will try and expand this I think, as I’m interested to explore several possibilities. Ara – I watched the first season of Dollhouse a little while back, I thought that the series was based on a great idea but somehow it didn’t always work. I’m still a big fan of Joss Whedon, though.

  4. ara jansen says:

    Dollhouse didn’t go the distance and got axed, but i reckon it was starting to hit its straps (with some bumps along the way) before going in a totally odd direction which lost me. Am hoping Joss Whedon comes back with something new and interesting soon. Having only been a recent convert to Buffy and Angel, am hoping there is something in the pipeline. His shows always have quirky characters.

  5. jgavinallan says:

    Your style, well-revolutionary. I enjoyed it from what Carina described as emotionless. It works. Your prose are very well done in giving us a picture of this poor wretch. We also get to feel the growth and development of his resilient character.
    I felt happy at the end. Dealing with problems, and not blaming others will ensure success. This is a “just plain inspirational” story.

  6. Gemma Sidney says:

    Thanks Jaye. I’m glad you found it inspirational, as I’d hoped the story wouldn’t turn out too sad and hopeless. Still not sure where the inspiration for this story came from!

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