…a systematic plan or a deceitful plot
“My God! You’ve got to see this,” Henry called out to Oscar. “You’ve got to see this. It’s Helen. She’s crazy. My god. She’s crazy.”
Oscar stood up, shaking himself back into the world around him, picking broken glass out of a cut on his arm, squinting his eyes in order to better make out the bent-over shape of somebody at the gap in the curtains, where the yellow streetlight leaked into the darkened room.
“I think Helen’s just thrown her television onto the street. Just now. She’s just thrown a television onto the street and she’s run back down the street.”
Oscar turned on the lights. Henry’s face was still stretched with a look of surprise so that his usual look, a blend of confusion and frustration, was effaced.
Shortly after Henry managed to explain to Oscar what he really saw, Helen was tapping a sharp series of knocks on the back door, after having climbed over the back gate, after having run down the street, after having come full circle along the back alleys, after having crashed her broken television onto the street, after it having bounced up off Oscar’s mattress which had already been dumped in the skip , after having attempted to throw it into that skip, thus taking advantage of the stupidity of a distant neighbour who had left an empty skip on the street, after having put on a show for the whole street – the world had witnessed Helen’s escapade.
“So everyone just throws in their rubbish?” Henry seemed somewhat bemused by this tradition.
“It’s not some ancient tradition.” Oscar was a little impatient at Henry’s academic interest in this phenomenon.
“So it’s just you and Helen?”
“My God! Everyone does it.” Helen was still on a high from her performance. “You have to do it. Like it’s an ancient law.”
The truth of the matter was eventually communicated to Henry in a literal manner, avoiding any facetious comments, metaphorical flourishes, or even ornate language, and just as the last simple word was uttered, Henry’s brain was working, the wheels were turning, and soon were nearly coming off, the lights went on and shone brightly, flickered and burned, someone in there was working hard, sweating like a pig, the old machinery built up a head of steam, a whistle, a series of calculations were made, the sums were added up, and the winners and the losers of a zero-sum-game were jostling for position, all with the result that Henry’s eyes widened as he stood up, he pointed a finger in the air, adopted the stance of someone who was about to make a very important pronouncement, took a quick intake of breath, and in expelling this breath of air, he let out the words, “I think I might have something at home.” And he was gone.
Henry’s car could be heard to leave as Oscar and Helen sat down, each on either sofa in the back of the living room. They sat facing each other over the shattered glass of the coffee table, each with nothing at all to say, each not knowing what should happen next, each thinking what might be on television now, each about to stand up and slink off into another room, but neither going anywhere, both sighing, both avoiding each other’s gaze, both catching each other’s gaze and shaking their heads sagely by way of a conversation they felt trapped into, and both standing up to get the door as soon as there was the briefest of knocks, which was followed by the sound of the door opening, not being closed, and there he was, he had appeared, it had to be – Smith.
“Guys… you seen…”
“… you know…”
Smith sat down on the arm of the sofa, looking up at the faces of Helen and Oscar, waiting for them to sit down. They sat down.
“So Henry’s off to…”
But neither Helen nor Oscar offered an answer to what became a question which Smith left hanging in the air.
“That skip’s been there since half-two.” Smith started what sounded like it would be a substantial story; he sat back to get more comfortable, but seemed to get more uncomfortable in the reclining position he adopted, so he sprang forward again, nearly knocking his head against Helen’s, who then sat down, sat back to give the man more room to swing his head about as he told the story he was about to tell.
Oscar made a point of making himself comfortable. He cleared his throat. Shrugged his shoulders. Sniffed. Sat back. Crossed his legs. Stretched out. His hands behind his head.
“By four o’clock it had been half filled with bricks and plaster. And then there was a sink and toilet set. Nothing else went in – and that was at four o’clock!”
Oscar and Helen nodded their amazement.
“Leaving a half empty skip on a street like this with only hours of daylight left? Well, you’ve got to do something. You’re only human.”
“You are only human,” Oscar conceded.
“So the plan is… there’s a theory you see. An idea. You have to have an idea. From an idea a theory is born. From a theory a plan. And the plan is that I make two piles. Structure. It’s important to have a structure. So there’s two piles. What I wanted to get rid of went in one pile. What I could have done without went in another. And then there were the things that I could use, but was very unlikely to use…”
“So there were three piles?” Helen sought clarification.
“No – two piles. There were ever only two piles.”
“There were two piles,” Oscar added, for Helen’s further clarification.
“But the longer I’m making these piles then the less chance there is of my getting rid of any of it. An empty skip on a street like this?”
“I know,” Helen and Oscar said at once.
“And then I hear this crash and I’m thinking that’s it, people are getting careless – the free-for-all stage has commenced. I may be too late. So I abandon my attempt to lever that broken radiator in my kitchen off the wall and I check out the streetscape. There are definitely shadows in the skip, so there’s still room. And then there’s this woman running up the street, obviously going back for more stuff to throw in the skip.”
Helen smiles the smile of someone who has done something great and is wholly deserving of an instant, effusive and undiluted string of high praise. Oscar avoids her hungry gaze, preferring to confer his admiring glances on his own shoes.
“So time is running out. So I start. The largest pieces first – that’s important. You get rid of the biggest pieces of rubbish first, because if you think about it, and I thought about it, I thought about it a lot…” Smith looked at them both to confirm their awareness of that fact. “…you have to balance the odds of a certain piece not fitting in the skip, which were low at that point, with the odds of not having time to go back to get it at some later point. Then you have to factor in the chances of getting discovered, which rises exponentially with the size of the item you are depositing. Then there’s the matter of the negative value of each item, which rises proportionally with the size of your item, not the weight, because it’s the cumbersome level of an item which renders it unfit for normal refuse collection. Then there’s the matter of number of journeys. The fewest number of journeys should get rid of the maximum quantity of waste-material…”
Oscar and Helen both cast glances at their respective shoes.