Playin' Dress Up

        Coming home from work smelling of shit and death, Molly’s guy had a story to tell. Danny, of course, came home smelling of shit and death most days.  He was a garbage man. To Molly, her man had the heart of a poet and the beauty of an angel, and she was sorry that he had to tote those cans to pay the rent.
        Too eager to wait until after he showered, a rank Danny sat close beside her on the couch and began to tell his story. 

***

        “It’s mid-morning, and I’m on a new route.” 
        Danny patted his empty shirt pocket.
        Molly said, “I have some.” And they both lit up.
        “So I hop off the truck, grab the bin, and go behind this house over on Park Street. Big house, huge. Like one of those antebellum plantation houses in the Old South. While lookin’ for the trash cans behind the garage, I see a pretty little girl with blond hair. She’s all done up like one of those beauty pageant kids. And rather than being scared of me, a total stranger, she stands her ground, just scowlin’ at me.”

***

        Danny took a deep drag on his cigarette. Noticing that Molly looked tired, he said, “Hey, babe, give me those achin’ feet of yours.”
        Molly put her feet in Danny’s lap, and he held them with tenderness. “Rough day at the diner?” he asked.
        She nodded.

***

        Getting back to his story, he said, “You know, Molly, it’s possible to find good stuff thrown out by rich folk. At a house like that, I look at the rubbish before I dump it. Remember that big old dictionary I found that time. I know it was kinda moldy.”
        Molly nodded again.
        So I’m about to empty her family’s can into my bin when I see tossed on top of the trash something that looks like a stuffed animal in a fancy pink dress.” 
        “Did you lose somethin’, baby doll?” I ask the girl.
        Holding her head high like a storybook princess, she answers, “No, I did not.”
        “Lookin’ closer at what I thought was a toy, I see that it sure is a toy, a toy dachshund, a dead toy dachshund. The pink dress that it’s wearing looks stiff like a doll’s dress. Not wantin’ to upset the little girl thinkin’ that it must have been her pet, I hoist the bin onto my shoulder and hustle back to the truck.” 

***

        Danny noticed that Molly was frowning. 
        “What’s wrong?” he asked her.
        “I wish you weren’t a garbage man,” she said, looking sadly at her good-natured guy.
        “Hey, it’s not so bad. Mid-shift on the way to the dump I get to sit inside the cab and drink three tallboys, and then on the way back from the dump, I get to finish off the other three.”
        “And then, drunk off your ass, you climb on the back of that damn truck,” she said. “You’re going to fall off and kill yourself.”
        “I won’t be totin’ forever, honey. Just last week they made Jimbo a driver.”
         “You can do better than this lousy job,” Molly insisted.
        “Sometimes it’s nice, you know. When I’m riding in the back of the boss’s pickup comin’ home to my woman, the wind feels good on my face.”
        “I wish the wind could blow that smell away,” Molly said, holding her nose. “Your work clothes make the whole apartment stink.”
        “But what about that little girl and her dead dog?” Danny asked.
        “She smothered it.”
        “No . . .  you think?!”
        “Probably. Playin’ dress up.”
        “No . . . really?!”
        “Could be,” she said. “Didn’t you say the dog was wearin’ a dress?”
        Bummed by both his job and his story, Molly said, “Jump in the shower, babe.” 

***

        A week later, on his Park Street route, Danny once again jumped off the back of the garbage truck at the same little girl’s house. A gardener edged the grass along the manicured drive, and a housemaid, visibly distraught, tried to get the man’s attention. She ran up to the man shouting something that Danny couldn’t hear over the roar of the motor. Then the man threw the edger down, grabbed her hand, and together the housemaid and the gardener ran to the house.

***

        Going round to the back, Danny didn’t see the blond girl. But as he dumped the refuse from her family’s can into his larger bin, he shuddered at what he did see.
        It was definitely dead, cemetery dead. 
        Thrown out with the garbage, a dark-haired infant lay in a tiny crumpled heap, squeezed into a stiff, lacy dress way too small for it with a frilly little bonnet tied tightly around its neck—all dressed up like a little doll.


Rita Hooks lives in Florida where she works as a writing tutor at a community college. Her work has appeared on East of the Web, Haibun Today, Deep Water Literary Journal, Pear Tree Press: The Literary Hatchet, and 99 Pine Street.