Nosegays and Regrets
(by Diane Stallings)
Sleepless Nellie rolled over yet again.
Finally yes, the clock read 1:45.
“Desperate times breed desperate measures,” she said to the darkness, to herself for courage, and to Bob, who wasn’t physical anymore yet he always stayed on the right side of the bed. In fact he hung around through the daytime on her right, or so it seemed.
She clicked on her flashlight and pulled her housecoat from the foot of the bed. What a night, she thought. Who could sleep?
Her hand covered most of the flashlight glow as she moved about the bedroom, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t catch sight of her activity.
She took a big swallow from the water bottle on her dresser.
Fingers trembling, she picked up her little stack of twenty-dollar bills.
“Quit asking what I’m doing,” Nellie said over her shoulder to Bob. “You know what I’m doing, the way you hang around and listen to everything. We can agree to disagree, you know.”
She folded the bills and placed them into the large front pocket of her housecoat.
Her heartbeat quickened.
Like a secret agent she peeked out the window at her front yard.
Bags bursting with globs of garbage sprawled chest-high and five feet thick into the choked residential street. Three months of garbage, and it was not all hers. Oh my, no. She had recycled and composted for decades, always brought her own bags to the store. She bought in bulk to reduce packaging. Lord, she had tried.
But a few months ago the local landfill overflowed. The garbage men had to drive further, work longer hours, and they wised up. They went on strike.
“Yeah!” said Bob beside her. She could practically see his fist in the air. He loved labor unions.
Garbage men, shunned and frowned upon when Nellie was a girl, were fast becoming the most powerful men in the modern world. The garbage strike spread fast from city to city.
The drivers stepped into their power.
Legislators had no leverage. Doctors preached about mold.
Negotiations were deadlocked. Garbage men demanded a 500% pay increase. At this point it looked like the market would bear it.
Oh, the stench of it! The rotting flesh of beef bones, chicken skin, moldy beans, decaying pasta fuzz.
“You can’t smell it, Bob,” said Nellie. “You have no idea.”
Nosegays were back in style, updated from medieval times – bits of fluff with essential oils to sniff amid the odors.
One night several weeks into the stink, a couple of neighbors burned trash in their backyards, spreading horrible greasy smoke. Both were arrested on the spot.
Back then Nellie’s grandson Jon took a truckload of family trash including hers sixty miles out to the boondocks in the middle of the night. He could have been jailed for that.
Besides, it was only a temporary fix. The neighbors shoved their garbage in front of Nellie’s house or wherever they could dump it.
The old guy across the street started carrying a billy club to threaten trash gifters.
“It’s not zucchini on the doorstep anymore,” said Bob.
Jon erected a chain link fence along both of her side yards, right out into the street. All the neighbors were doing it, getting territorial.
Nellie walked down the hall to her front door, her heartbeat racing.
Her lungs seemed to shrink up. Hard to breathe.
She paused. Exhaled and inhaled.
“Lord, give me courage.” I’m a law breaker, she thought.
“Go back to bed, Nellie,” said Bob.
“No.” She clicked off the flashlight, dropped it into her other big pocket, and stepped out to the front porch.
On wobbly legs she walked carefully down her driveway.
The gagging fumes intensified.
She’d forgotten her nosegay.
Forced to mouth-breathe scarce air into shrunken lungs, she fretted, “Lord, don’t let me faint out here.”
“We won’t,” said Bob.
She swallowed on a dry throat.
Something caught her eye in the window across the street.
Was Mr. Billy Club awake?
Nervous as a rabbit, she pushed a steely stare in his direction.
“I’m in my own driveway on my own curb, buddy,” she whispered with mediocre menace.
“That window blip was your imagination,” said Bob. “Let’s go back inside.”
“Nope.” Irritation flooded Nellie’s veins.
Anger strengthened her, thanks to bullheaded Bob.
The street was so darn quiet, the trash so smelly.
She paced across the driveway. The scrape of her slippers was loud enough to wake the dead. She froze, feeling desperately exposed. Her pale housecoat glowed too loud.
“Well, I’m early. Why am I always early? The neighbors will report me.”
“Exactly,” said Bob. “Go back to bed.”
“Hush, you make me nervous.”
Two minutes felt like an hour.
Finally she heard the rumble of a truck.
“Here they come, the strikebreakers,” she said.
Bob’s energy flared hot.
“Sit down, Bob.”
An old fashioned dump truck swerved to park right in front of her. Two young men jumped out, grinning. One started hoisting trash into the truck.
The other gave her a business card. He said, “Good for you – got your fences up.”
“Yes, listen, most of this trash belongs to my neighbors.”
“No worries. It’s like this all over.”
She handed him the cash. “My grandson calls this inverted shopping. He gave me your phone number.”
The guy grinned bigger. “That’s us. Inverted Shopping. I’d advertise it on the side of the truck, but I prefer word of mouth. You get on our email list, on that card? Pay online next time.”
“If we have price increases, we’ll e-mail everybody beforehand.”
He started toting the trash with his friend.
“No need to meet us on the street next time.”
“Oh, I was awake anyhow,” she shrugged.
A moment later they rolled away.
She’d expected to feel relief and victory, but her heart felt like mud.
That trash would land somewhere in the countryside.
Nellie shook her head and trudged up the driveway.
She thought she felt Bob’s arm around her shoulders.
When not doing Energy Healing, Biofield Tuning, and Meditation classes, Diane enjoys writing flash fiction. (Thanks to FreeSVG and Needpix for these images we combined.)