“Darling, please don’t forget to take out the trash,” she called from the kitchen.
“Are you mad? Someone will see me!” he growled in reply.
“You’re so paranoid! No one is even looking for you. It’s just twenty feet from the door.”
Her dismissive tone raised his hackles, as it always did. But he loved her so fiercely that he bottled up the flash of rage. “Fine, dear, fine. I’ll take the trash out. I just want to wait until it’s dark, okay?”
He could hear her rolling her eyes. It was a sort of extra-sensory perception he had. It was rarely useful and more often aggravating. But there it was.
“You know it’s supposed to rain tonight. Don’t complain to me if you get wet taking the trash out.”
He snarled to himself. Rain. He hated the stuff. He’d end up leaving a trail of muddy footprints to and from the garbage bins, adding fuel to the fire. Those kids up the valley would make more nasty comments about the size of his feet if they caught sight of the prints. They’d probably even try to make plaster casts of them.
Which would be worse, going out in daylight and running the risk of encountering one of those damn kids with their camera phones? Or waiting until dark and leaving an unmistakable trail for them to find? He sighed. Best get it over with quickly, and leave no trace.
“I’m making your favorite for dinner,” she called in her sweetest tones, trying to mend fences. Clever woman; she knew the way to his heart. He hauled himself up off the couch where he’d been browsing the big and tall catalogue and ambled over to the kitchen, where she was pulling fat, pink salmon steaks from the refrigerator. He wrapped his thick arms around her from behind and bent low to nuzzle in, his lips against her smooth, long neck. She giggled and leaned back against him, running her fingers through his dense arm hair.
“Keep mine rare, dearest,” he said, and then released her and reached for the overfull trash can.
It was afternoon, watery sunlight streaming through the loose-knit forest of maple and ash and chokecherry. The clouds that would eventually drench them were still loitering on the far horizon. The path from the door to their garbage bins had sparse cover — just a few trees and shrubs, and assorted old tires and empty wooden barrels — so he watched through the window for a few moments just to make sure all was still. No sign of those damn hooligans. Good.
Bulging trash bag gripped in one large hand, he slowly opened the door and inched outside. So far, so good. He heard no voices in the surrounding trees, either whispered excitement or shouted glee at having spotted their target. The coast was probably clear. He hunched down, trying to minimize his great height, and shuffled toward the bins, scanning left and right as he went. He heard a half-stifled snort of laughter from inside and suddenly realized how ridiculous he must look to her, and anyone else who might see him. A large, hairy beast of a man, crouched down on himself and creeping across his own backyard in broad daylight — he was more likely to draw attention to himself than deflect it. He needed a different strategy.
“Why can’t we just keep those damn trash bins by the back door?” he grumbled, straightening to his full, proud height. Head held high, shoulders back, he took three confident steps toward the bins before catching his foot on one of the discarded tires cluttering the yard. He stumbled, hopping on his right foot while attempting to shake the tire off his left. The tire was tenacious, climbing his calf rather than coming loose. His balance slipped away from him and he began to list starboard, hopping and leaning until gravity decided to have its say and lowered him not so gently to the ground.
Because he decided to lie still and catch his breath before resuming his walk to the trash bins, it was easy to hear the incompletely stifled laughter coming from inside the house. He was never going to hear the end of this, he knew. But he could smell those salmon steaks, and his desire to devour their pink flesh overwhelmed his embarrassment. Best just get this job over with.
He managed to free himself from the stubborn tire and lurched to his feet, bushing dust and twigs from his hirsute frame. Onward.
He immediately knew something was wrong — instead of swinging freely by his side, the trash bag tugged at his hand, lagging behind. He felt, rather than heard when the soft plastic tore, snagged on a rough plank near where he’d landed. He growled deep in his throat, examining the tear. Could be worse. If he was careful, he could still make it to the bins without losing everything.
His grip now tender as a lover’s, he gently lifted the compromised trash bag and continued his journey to the bins. Halfway there. Nothing in his way now. And glorious sweet soft pink flesh waiting for him on his return. His stomach rumbled, and he hastened his step.
A distinctly non-natural clicking noise snagged his ear. Did that sound like a camera shutter? His head snapped up and twisted from side to side, scanning the trees for movement.
Which was why he failed to see, and avoid, the garden hose. Of course, they had no garden. They’d had very little luck getting domesticated plants to grow in this hardscrabble clearing, and had given up after a few years. The garden plots that once held her medicinal herbs, hellebore and feverfew and lavender and sage, now held a few autumns’ worth of discarded maple leaves, undisturbed by shovel or trowel. But a dusty, half-buried garden hose still snaked its way across the yard, the last remnant of their failed experiment. His large toes somehow managed to slip under an exposed bit of hose, and his forward momentum finished the job. His arms flailed, and he watched as the trash bag flew through the air, the ragged rip shedding a parabola of coffee grounds and banana peels.
We should compost more, he thought.
It took a few moments of blinking dumbly up at the sky to realize he’d knocked his head pretty hard against the packed earth. Those weren’t real stars he was seeing, were they? It was too early in the day for stars. Which would explain why the constellations were unfamiliar and outlandish. That one almost looked like Ursa Major, but the bear sat back on its hind legs, anthropomorphic in its bipedalism. And over there, perhaps a shark? It fled from the bear as quickly as its fins could propel it through the sky of his concussion-addled mind. And that constellation in the middle, looming large in his vision — he was sure he’d never seen a constellation of a luchador before.
“Sweetest, are you hurt?” The worry in her voice just barely overpowered the amusement, which was better than it could have been. He shook his head, regretted shaking his head, and took a few deep yoga breaths before replying.
“Nothing bruised but my pride, dearest.” He pulled himself to a sitting position, woozy, and surveyed the carnage that both surrounded and covered him. Potato peelings dangled from his forearm like bangles, and spent tea leaves filled the spaces between his toes. What might that foretell? he wondered. The deflated trash bag, after winging its way through the now constellation-free sky, had landed in a dejected heap in the shadow of the bins. Whatever that clicking sound from the trees had been, it was gone now. The surrounding forest was subdued, startled by the violence of his latest tumble.
He slowly stood, brushing away the detritus. He couldn’t leave this mess out for the raccoons — they were almost as bad as the hooligan kids when it came to scavenging where they weren’t welcome. With one hand to his head, either to support or shield or steady it, he wasn’t sure, he hobbled his way over to the shed to fetch some work gloves and a rake.
* * *
She kept her voice low as she spoke. “Did you get it? Oh, good. You got lucky today. He doesn’t usually put on such a good show.” The phone was mashed between her shoulder and ear; her hands were occupied with seasoning the salmon steaks as she waited for her griddle to heat up.
“Yes, of course, the usual arrangement stands. You can place the deposit directly in my account. I’m guessing this photo series should keep your editors happy for a while, don’t you think?” Her laughter, usually a bubbling brook that flowed to fill every space it encountered, was dammed back just a bit, to keep him from hearing and wondering what she found so amusing. “Do they really think he’s Bigfoot?” This time her laugh was a snort, astonishment and derision warring with amusement. “Well, there’s one born every minute, or so they say.” A pause as she listened, and then, “Oh, heavens no. He’s so terribly self-conscious, you know. He mustn’t find out about our little arrangement. Don’t you worry about him; I can manage him just fine. I’ll create the opportunity, and you keep those deposits coming, and he’ll get to eat his fresh salmon whenever he likes and be none the wiser. We all win!”
She glanced out the window in time to see that he was replacing the rake in the shed and turning back toward the house. “Yes, yes, I need to go now. Dinnertime and all. Kisses to your family. We’ll talk soon.” She let the phone fall to the countertop beside her, three soft tones indicating that the call had ended.
Kelly Wright is an editor and writer living almost, but not quite, in Chicago. When she isn’t busy earning a paycheck by editing anything and everything sent her way, she splits her time between writing, making music, reading good (and not-so-good) books, parenting twins, and — whenever possible — lounging on a Lake Michigan beach.