By mid-January I am over wanting alcohol, mostly, and over wanting anything in my coffee other than heat. I’m over writing in favour of making small bad cartoons. I’d rather play with lines than words. Because words can be so bad, and words seem to have gotten worse since president-who-rhymes-with-dump took office, either more hurried or more boring or more full of poison, with more exclamation marks. But drawn lines, even the most crooked, seem fun and friendly, and they stream out of the pen like a helium balloon slipping out of a hand. They are the steadfast rebels—they won’t be directed. We humans are all supposed to be activists now, but what type of revolution accommodates no group, no speech, no certainty that one is right? I begin stuffing things into garbage bags. The skin on my hands is what you’d mark on a form as white, though if I had to describe them by what they actually look like the word white wouldn’t occur to me. Bony, orange, and freckled would; dry and wrinkly would. I leave room at the top of each bag to tie triple knots, as a trap against looking back inside at the treasures. I won’t peek back at what I made or collected, or at any reminders of what I did where. And I won’t again catch a glimpse of my very soft, very ripped pajama pants with cowboys riding on them, or I will dive head-first into the bag to pull them out. Some of the bags I label Trash, and some I label Thrift, and by the end of the week it is like a whole party of squat droids have infiltrated the house, from the Kingdoms of Trash and Thrift. The droids from the Kingdom of Thrift radiate a perk, superior air, like they know they will have longer, warmer lives and be liked all over again. The Trash droids seem to slur, in deep slumps: We’re gonna die, herea goes, we’re gonna dieeee!
A friend mentions making a run to the dump and thrift store in her big truck. We will go off-island because the dump here is just a transfer station and charges steeply, even with my friend’s “blue-eyed gal” discount. The guy at the dump really told her that’s what she got, which I know just made her big eyes even bigger. The island thrift store we like—the magic one, where I once found a Mount Gay Round Tortola hat with salty lace around the inside where a sailor had sweat into the band—is dependent on over-worked volunteers. So they seldom accept donations, and we don’t want to overload them. So we will make a trip. That’s what we call it, a trip. But it takes a long time to go anywhere. First my kids get sick. Then her kids get sick. Then I get sick. Then she gets sick. My ten-year-old is so much braver at throwing up than me, I realize. I fight against it so hard I dry-heave even when my stomach is full. I whimper and moan, leading up to it and during it and after it. But my son lies very still and then rushes to the toilet and throws up everything. It is strange to connect the word grace to vomit, but he goes about vomiting with a sort of grace. Afterwards he lifts his small sweaty face and says It’s all yellow because I guess everything I ate today was either white or yellow. I watch in awe, forgetting to hold back his long bangs.
When the day arrives that everyone is well and we can finally drive to the dump without cancelling for a fifth time, my friend and I feel a disproportionate giddiness, like we are headed rather to the airport, bound for Madrid. One of my overfull garbage sacks splits in the parking lot, vomiting (the obvious parallel) a slew of broken toys, and I laugh so hard that even though I am doubled-over, I have trouble scooping them up. That night when I pull off my boot, a red LEGO with a chewed-off corner will tumble out. But now my friend slides a tube of Mr. Stanley’s dark chocolate nougat bar from her purse, which is like manna but instead of falling from the sky it drifts in by plane or steamer from a factory in England. She fiddles with her phone and puts on a song we like, and when the angry part slows to the soft part the singer purrs, No I won’t bring too much of anything/ Maybe a little slicker for the rain… We are driving into August, towards Madrid, and on the back seat rests my leather satchel, with nothing in it but a swimsuit, three sundresses, and a toothbrush. This fantasy is hard to maintain, as we are both wearing mittens and trash bags are oozing into our view, casting big black shadows on the front seats. To distract myself from our lack of plane tickets I contemplate an enterprise manufacturing giant and very durable trash bags that come in pastels, in brights, in patterns, in metallics—in every single colour but black. I would be that unicorn: a minimalist who mass-produces trash bags. And I would have to prance from our striving-for-zero-waste island in the night, before I got driven off on stakes by outraged environmentalists. But at least I wouldn’t have much to take. Not even a rain slicker: I could use a yellow trash bag for that.
As we approach the dump I feel guilty for having so much stuff to get rid of. I say to my friend: Let’s tell them that your dad is on life support, and he’s like a pack-rat, and we had to clean out his entire apartment. She rolls her big blue eyes. As it turns out we don’t say anything, because the truck gets weighed as we pull over the platform, and then it gets weighed again as we leave. They charge you for the weight you leave behind. Once we pull in the sky opens up gloriously in a way it can’t on our island, with all the trees. It is a washed-out sky but very elegant, how it is spread so still and then suddenly cut through with crying seagulls. In heaven it might be the opposite, is what I think. They might reward you for the weight you leave behind, on earth. I don’t really believe in heaven but a big sky could trick you into it. At the free store I set down a box of trucks that my sons used to play with but don’t anymore. My eye lands on a favourite one, the wooden cement-mixer with the rolling belly that their tiny hands pushed across so many floors. For a moment it’s as if a pair of two-year-old boys are sitting in the cardboard box. Their legs hang over the side, and they’re bouncing the heels of their little shoes against it. Shoes that I can still choose, shoes that they don’t yet wear holes into within months. Goodbye little kids, I don’t say. And they don’t say goodbye back. Maybe they’re offended at being called little, or maybe their mouths are busy making cement-mixer sounds. It doesn’t matter. The seagulls wheeling above the mud and grey sky look washed clean. I’m still staring at them when a woman eases up beside me and begins rummaging through the box. She lifts the green tractor and I think of something I can say about it, but I decide not to. Her little kid will like whatever he likes. She pries open the driver’s door with her fingers and then draws her open palm across its wheels, trying to gauge how far it will roll.