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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin

‘Human Waste’ – a new story

Well I mentioned an odd fixation with Royal Mail/letters in stories in my last post – so here’s another story which, while not primarily about the post man, does feature a rather unfortunate one…

This will get a looking over soon, but here’s the first draft I wrote mainly on the train to Port Eliot a while back and have finally typed up. I hope you enjoy it (if anyone reads it!)…

Human Waste

She’s not sure how long she’s been sitting here, at the end of the corridor facing the front door. She daren’t go nearer to it because she knows the box is there, just outside on the pavement. Her stomach rumbles loudly, and she jumps. This was not the diet she had envisaged and fight-or-flight responses were not the exercise she wanted.

A number of options have now passed through her mind to escape, but the absurdity of it all has stifled them. She should just walk out, through her front door. At the moment – it’s around 10.30 on Tuesday – she’s waiting to see if the post arrives. Or rather, she’s waiting to see if the postman arrives. She shudders as she remembers yesterday morning: the thud of the letters on the doormat, the single step the postie took before SLAM the lid of the food waste bin, a muffled cry and a faint crunch. She assumed the post bag must still be there, unless that went too, so surely someone would be along to get it soon? They probably don’t care, she thinks, Or they’ll just send another temp. Another temp, like me.

One of yesterday’s (possibly final) batch of letters was from her current employer informing her they would no longer be requiring her services, but that they ‘wished her every success for the future.’ Was this what they meant? Perhaps it was the letter slopping on the doormat which has heralded her present incarceration?

A couple of hours have passed and she thinks it’s time to eat something. There’s some slightly-past-it apricots languishing in the fruit bowl. She picks one up, and it has begun to turn soft and discoloured beneath, like a half-moon, waxing. Instinctively, she goes to place it in the little food bin under the sink, then stops. It’s too full and too old and she doesn’t want to open it. Why this week for the bin-men’s strike? Of all the weeks they could have done it?! In a moment of rage, she storms down the corridor towards the front door, yale lock down, second lock open, steps out and leans – rotting apricot in hand – to open the large brown box. In the split-second she does, it starts to shake violently, the lid begins to lift and something starts to emerge from within, slowly. It’s hairy, but not in a mammalian way – more like something seen under a microscope. Attached to one of the hair-like things is a scrap of red fabric, just the colour of a Royal Mail uniform. She turns, apricot at arm’s length, through the door, closes it quietly, walks back down the corridor and turns around. She realises she’s crushed the apricot in her hand and orange gloop is dripping to the floor.

In her head she can see the image of a pop-up book about insects she had as a child. On one page, a paper recreation of a trapdoor spider lurking under its hatch to punce on a printed ant each time you opened the book. She wishes she turned the box’s handle over to the ‘locked’ position, though she doubts that could stop it. She wishes she didn’t feel so much like an image of prey. She’s holding the letter from the stationary company who have sacked her and thinking about the manager’s comments:

On Monday last week, it was, ‘Nice weekend? You’re looking really well.’ Really well.

On Tuesday, it was, ‘That skirt’s nice – it really suits someone your shape.’ Your shape?

On Thursday, ‘Did you see Nigella last night? I bet you love her, don’t you.’ It wasn’t a question, it was an assumption.

Finally, on Friday, ‘You going out for a few drinks tonight? Yeah.’ Yeah. She didn’t wait for the answer, she just knew she’d be eating, drinking, eating, drinking, growing ever less her idea of woman-shaped by the day until she galumphed back into the office for another round of not-quite-insults. Beneath every phrase which slipped through her lips was a layer of Heat–magazine close-up-on-the-thighs paparazzi FAT. So as the last two weeks have passed, our hallway captive has started putting ever more food in her brown bins. And, at this very time, the bin men have struck, the transition from one telecommunications company to another has meant no phone, no internet and the joystick of her mobile phone refuses to go down or right, as well as the poor reception in this urban canyon. The word ‘canyon’ makes her think again of the trap-door spider in the sandy desert and the ant printed on the page, an eternal and unattainable target. This all feels like a trap. This all feels like something the predator in the brown box arranged. Tomorrow morning, the Telewest man is due at 9am. She doesn’t want him to go the way of the post-man. She doesn’t want it to have another meal.

She holds the letter in one hand and traces the word ‘Success’ with her forefinger, over and over. Even the manager’s signature is prim and priggish, all straight lines and little loops.

A few minutes later, there is a chirpy mewing from outside: a local cat, eager for its evening meal. She recognises its sing-song dinnertime patter: it’s the same tortoiseshell cat which has left dismembered mice and non-specific rodent viscera outside on the pavement a few times – as a token of its love, no doubt its owners would say. It is chirruping while it marks its scent on any available doorframe until there are reliable human legs to rub against. Not my doorframe, she thinks, Not now.

Moments later she can hear the box rumbling against the pavement and the merry meowing becomes a guttural screech as the inevitable happens. A crunch, a low rumble and what sounds like a belch issue forth from outside the front door. It’s hardly a Sheba advert, she thinks – the cat never becomes dinner in those.

People joke about it, don’t they? Don’t leave those socks there, they’ll grow legs and start running around on their own if they get much smellier.’ But they wouldn’t count on this.

I found something prehistoric at the back of the fridge! But that was just mould, a fluffy culture on a piece of cheese.

I don’t know what it used to be, but it had almost evolved into a new life-form…But if it really did, would this be it?

For the last two weeks she just hasn’t felt like eating. Food which would usually have gone into her stomach has slid into the fetid box, then into the strata of decay in the larger one. It was only a day or two ago she realised the bin men hadn’t collected anything and by that point it must already have been packed to the brim. Not only with food, but with the snide comments which had put her off it. She could see straight through them and yet in her subordinate state all their subtle, pernicious seasoning had burrowed into her subconscious. A bead of sweat – it’s been the hottest June for years – drips from her brow and on to the letter. It lands on the word ‘future’ and the ink runs. The paper rips in her hands and she tears it into as many pieces as she can.

Her head feels like it’s full of sand. She sees an arid landscape covered in a banquet of cream cakes, pavlova, gateaux and they all begin to turn fecund, sizzling in the sun and decaying at high speed. It’s like an M&S dessert desert. As night falls double-time over the landscape it isn’t dark blue but the brown of the food waste bin lid enveloping the sky.

As it does, a shape is silhouetted against it, something living. She wants to see it fully, to witness it and note down its features, but all she knows is that it’s hungry. As the bin-lid night slams finally shut, her eyes spring open and there are several loud raps at the door. The letterbox is pushed inwards and from her position on the floor, she can see a human eye peering in.

‘Hello?’ says the eye.

She stands slowly and walks towards the door. Turning the lock down, her head swings instinctively down to the ground on the left to the food bin. There’s one there – but not the one she remembers. This one is shining clean and there’s a slip attached to the handle (which is still in the ‘Unlocked’ position) printed in bold, municipal typeface and friendly graphics of people looking implausibly happy to be recycling.

We’ve replaced your food bin because it appeared to be broken. Thank you for continuing to compost with us!

‘That’s good, isn’t it?’ – she has forgotten all about the man at the door. It’s the post man. Well, it’s a post man.

‘Oh yes. Who are you?’ she enquires.

The man gazes down at his red uniform, his reflective bag and gestures to the little crown emblazoned on his chest.

‘I’m the post man…’ he replies, at the edge of sarcasm.

‘No, you’re not.’

‘Oh – well now I am: the last guy just walked off the job apparently. So they just got me in from the agency. It’s such a disposable culture now, know what I mean?’

‘Yes. Sure.’ She says, taking the the letters and smiling, but not all the way to her eyes. She doesn’t know about that, but she knows she’s hungry.

On the way to the shop, she sees a photocopied, handwritten sign on a lamp-post, with a forlorn image of a tortoiseshell cat on it and a mobile number to call. She hopes they find Tammy – she really does – but she doubts it.

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