This is the first time I've ever submitted anything for others to look at, so I'm not sure if it's good, bad or medocre. If it's the latter two
please forgive me, I'm just a frustrated wannabe. LOL
Something To Look Forward To
They clung on to the side of the vehicle, yellow limpets in their regulation work vests as the refuse cart rumbled into another wide, tree lined
Craning his neck, Charlie peered down the road, indistinguishable from the rest on their route, his heart sinking at the sight of yet more black bags
dumped on the pavement ready for collection, their shapeless huddled forms breaking the neat symmetry. The cart rumbled to a halt. Dropping down the
men walked slowly in pairs with little enthusiasm, Charlie raised his face to the bright, early morning sun, a resigned sigh leaving his body like a
departing, misty soul in the chill air. His partner, younger, studiedly cocky and blasé whistled softly beneath his breath as they reached the first
‘Jesus!’ Daryl grimaced at the fetid odour. ‘This is rank! I shoulda’ bought me facemask.’
‘Doesn’t help much anyway.’ Charlie replied.‘Besides you should be used to it by now.’
‘I’ll never get used to this!’ Daryl snorted as they manhandled the first of the bags towards the cart, stark red pimples standing out on his
Through the thick gloves Charlie felt something squish wetly beneath the PVC. Shuddering he decided Daryl was probably right, you never really get
used to it. He looked about at the silent houses, curtains still drawn. A pure blue sky soared above their red tiled roofs. It was a beautiful summer
They manoeuvred their loads towards the lip of the tipper at the back of the cart, Charlie breathing hoarsely, already knackered, his back throbbed
mutinously, sweat coursing down the contours of his body and still another two hours to go. The heavy bags slithered over the lip and rolled down into
the metal bowl with a soft bonging tattoo. The others jostled him aside to deposit their burdens, an occasional curse or shout punching the air.
‘Out of the way college boy!’ Cindy grunted cheerfully. Chirpy, sociable and not the least bit girly, a small oasis of sanity amidst the bickering
‘When you taking me out for a drink then?’ She dumped the bag, wiped the sweat from her brow and wiggled her substantial breasts suggestively.
Charlie smiled faintly. ‘Any time!’
‘Posh totty!’ She appraised him speculatively. ‘First for me!
‘Fraternizing again college boy!’ Parry sneered, pushing past, his swarthy, sullen features leered at Cindy’s departing back.. ‘Might as well
take what’s on offer while you can!’
Charlie turned, studiously ignoring him and regarded the far-off view. Beyond the huddled roofs, far into the distance the jutting glass and concrete
towers of the city prodded the remnants of evening cloud as it stole away from the dawn. The faraway hum of traffic so light as to be non existent. He
considered getting some breakfast later, wondering if that little café was still open. So many places were closed now.
Daryl was chatting aimlessly, something about a recalcitrant girlfriend! ‘I’m thinking of kicking her into touch to be honest.’ He ruminated.
‘We ‘aint seen each other for weeks, only speak on the phone! She doesn’t think it’s a good idea to meet at the moment, doesn’t like the job
I’m doing. If I find out she’s got someone else…’ He finished darkly
‘You’re being paranoid!’ Charlie offered lightly. ‘It’s easy to be these days!’ .
Daryl grunted cynically. He lived in a tower block in Camberwell and liked to cultivate a dangerous street thug image. No one was fooled. ‘We’ll
see!’ He muttered.
They drew level with the next house; a red Nissan sat brooding on the driveway, weeds and grass curling up the low garden wall. A refuse bag slumped
against the wrought iron bars of the gates, as they bent to take it the front door opened ejecting a small girl of about four. Jumping from the
doorstep she toddled happily towards the gates smiling in greeting with gap toothed abandon. Charlie straightened up, smiling too but backing away. As
he did so a woman swathed in a thick towelling robe burst from the door, her face gaunt, scraped clear of makeup and eyes red raw. Catching up with
the child she dragged her back to the house bellowing in an ugly raucous tone. The two men exchanged glances as the door slammed.
‘Can’t be too careful these days I s’pose!’ Daryl muttered.
They worked on. Some houses had two or three bags piled outside, some only one, others nothing. Sweating more profusely, Charlie cursed the ever
warmer summer days, the heat and smell intensifying to almost unbearable levels. With any luck this time next year he would be doing something else.
Next summer this would all be over.
Charlie never used to believe in God but along the lines that there are no atheists on a crashing plane he spoke to him all the time these days.
Strange how people adapt. A few months ago he hardly ventured out, now he was more philosophical, you had to be.
‘Oi college boy!’ the driver, Bob leant out from the cab of the slow moving cart. A shaft of sunlight fell across his beefy shoulders and broad,
jowly face. From inside the cab a radio news presenter babbled metallically. ’What’s “escalating” mean?’
‘It means it’s getting worse!’ Charlie tried to suppress the irritation. Despite or because of the fact he’d been a teacher, the uneducated
tended to bug him, illiterates like Bob who saw no need to even redress the problem appalled him. He knew it was wrong but he couldn’t help it. Emma
had always accused him of being an intellectual snob. She’d been smart, highly educated but far more tolerant of others failings.
Bobs face fell. ‘Christ!’ He muttered, his head disappearing back into the cab.
He turned and made his way back towards Daryl. He stood leaning against a garden wall. His face seemed waxier, the pimples more livid.
Charlie stopped, regarding him carefully. ’You ok?’
Daryl took a deep breath and nodded. ’Think I had a few too many cans last night. It’s one of those delayed hangovers, just gets worse n’ worse
through the day.’
The morning freshness had dissipated, heat bleaching the sky to the colour of frayed denim, the sun a hot silvery smear as a warm breeze stirred the
loose bags. From a back garden a dog howled indolently. The refuse cart growled, punctuated by the grinding of the tipper as it jostled the bags to
the back of the cart. From the other side of the road two policemen walked by, armed with small pistols in holsters, eyeing them suspiciously. These
days they eyed everyone suspiciously, ironic that there were more police on the streets than people.
They were manoeuvring another bag when Daryl dropped his end with a wet thud and staggered over to a low wall, leaning over he began heaving in
spastic groaning jerks.
Charlie stood off to one side uncertain, not knowing what to do.
Cindy trotted over, her solid, robust gait somehow reassuring. He caught himself eyeing her soft curves again, He wouldn’t have given her a second
glance once but nowadays he often found himself responding to her wide, ruddy smile, noticing her hair was the blonde of rain soaked corn, her figure
what his grandfather would have called ‘Rubenesque’. She was the complete physical and mental opposite of Emma.
‘What’s up Daryl?’ She called out as she approached. Charlie caught the concern in her eyes but she wiped it away with a broad smile as Daryl
straightened, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘Hung over!’ He mumbled. His eyes were bloodshot and teary, darting from side to side.
She put a comforting arm around his shoulder, rubbing his back as she would a sick foal. ‘Been on the sauce again mate!’ She laughed. ‘Let’s
get you sat down somewhere.’ She looked over at Charlie, the request in her eyes obvious. For a second he hesitated.
‘You’ve been working with him all morning!’ She whispered sharply.
Speared by a vague shame he went over and helped her to jostle him into a sitting position. Daryl gave a small moan and lent his head back against the
cold stone. Charlie jerked his head away to avoid the youth’s harsh expulsion of breath
Cindy bellowed above the noise of the engine and the shouts. ‘Bob!’
The engine was cut, they all crowded around regarding him, hanging back, there faces had the slack fascination of witnesses at a traffic accident.
Bob appeared and pushed his way through looming over them. ‘What’s up Boy?’
Daryl looked up; saw them all standing there. His face seemed to pale even more. ‘Sorry Bob, got pissed last night, should’ve gone easy.’
‘Silly sod!’ The words were blunt but Bob crouched down and patted his shoulder. Charlie felt a chiding shame for his earlier judgemental
Bob regarded his face carefully. ‘Well best you go ‘ome.’
Daryl seemed to jerk. His voice rose in pitch as he spoke. ‘No I’ll be all right! I’m not ill or nothin. I feel better now I’ve been
Cindy, crouching at his side rubbed his back again briskly. Course you do but you need to go and sleep the worst of it off now.’
Daryl’s frantic gaze went from her to Bob to the others. ‘I shoulda worn me mask!’ His voice broke in a muffled sob.
‘Don’t be silly son.’ Bob offered gently. ‘You’ll sleep it off and be right as rain in the morning. I’ll call the van out.’ He
disappeared off towards the cab to call for assistance.
The others drifted away leaving Cindy with him. Daryl calmed down, claimed he felt better. Cindy cooed soft-spoken encouragement.
Charlie mingled with the others as cigarettes were produced and lit. He took the one proffered to him. He used to think smoking was disgusting.
Parry’s wiry frame curled relaxed and nonchalant against one of the trees lining the street. ‘He wont be going home!’ He laughed mirthlessly.
‘Sod off Parry!’ One of the others spoke up nervously but the man merely shrugged. ‘Truth ‘aint it! One more down, only another eight of us to
Charlie, looking over at Daryl slumped against the wall, weyfaced and petrified, winced.
‘What’s up college boy, my blunt manner too much for your refined sensibilities! Parry’s gaze narrowed with amusement . There’d been plenty of
stick over his educated, middle class manner in the beginning but now with the high turnover half the old crew had gone! There was a bank manager and
a vicar in their ranks now, a classless society. Bob was the only genuine dustman. They liked to have one on each shift to show newbies the ropes.
He wished it was Parry, not Daryl, Parry was such a bastard!
His thoughts were jolted as the works van, the same sickly yellow as the cart, rumbled busily up the road towards them, stopping at the kerb where Bob
and Cindy stood with Daryl. They helped jostle him into the back, he cast one fearful, beseeching look at them as they stood and watched. Charlie felt
a withered, atrophied sense of pity steal through him. The driver, dead eyed and burly virtually dragged his replacement from the passenger seat at
the front, depositing him on the curb before driving off with barely an acknowledgement to any one.
He heard Parry’s barely stifled giggle from behind as Bob led the figure towards them, eyes bugging above the face mask, the thickly padded suit
rolling his gait as he tried to walk in it’s constraining fit.
‘You look like a womble mate!’ Parry crowed and despite themselves the others smirked nervously. The newcomer was too phased to pay much attention
to the comment. Bob dragged him in front of Charlie.
‘This ‘ere’s the bloke you’ll be working with. He’ll show you the ropes but any problems come to me!’ He made his way back to the refuse
cart. ‘Back to work!’ He shouted over his shoulder.
‘I’m Charlie! Nice to meet you!’ His tone was neutral, polite.
For a moment the eyes fixed on his face, barely focused, churning with anxiety. Then he seemed to pull himself together. ‘Dermot, my names Dermot’
He was young, younger than Daryl even. Despite the muffling quality of the mask Charlie picked up the accent.
‘From Scotland right?’
The youth nodded quickly. ‘Dundee...near to Dundee.’ He amended shakily. ‘They brought me down. They made me!’
Charlie nodded sagely, things weren’t too bad up there yet, still manpower to spare, to move around where it was needed. ‘We were all made.’ He
replied. ‘Apart from Bob…and Cindy, she volunteered, used to work on a farm out in Kent somewhere.
‘It’s not right!’ Dermot’s voice took on a tremulous quality, his eyes filled with tears. ‘They shouldn’t make us, it’s wrong!’
‘I know!’ He offered calmly, ‘But that’s how it is.’ He pointed at the suit. ‘And that and the mask wont help, they say it does but it
doesn’t, just makes you hot and uncomfortable. You may as well ditch them, make each day as bearable as you can. Nobody follows the rule!’
The cart rumbled back to life and lurched forward. Dermot thought for a moment then stripped off the suit, stepped out of it and kicked it against a
wall, a curious look of defiance in his eyes.
‘That’s right, if they want it back they can get it themselves. Sod ‘em!’
The youth nodded gravely but still didn’t remove the mask or gloves.
Seamlessly they resumed the routine, there was not much he needed to be shown, how difficult is it to pick up one end of a bag and help throw it into
the back of a cart. Charlie made a stab at conversation but Dermot seemed too tuned out to respond, throwing distasteful glances down at their load as
they handled it, in the end they lapsed into silence. At a few of the windows curtains were being drawn back, pale pinched faces peering out, hopeful,
A woman leaned out from an upstairs window, remonstrating loudly with Parry.
‘You’re s’posed to leave it out on the pavement!’ He accused huskily. ‘Haven’t we got enough to do without dragging it all the way from
you’re front door, lazy bitch.
‘I couldn’t move it, he too heavy.’ The woman was foreign, Italian or Greek maybe. ‘No one to help me!’ She screamed hysterically. ‘I
barely get it out of door you bastard!’
Parry shot her a V sign and turned, Dermot lifting one end of another bag was too busy gawping at the exchange to pay attention. Being supported only
by one corner, the black PVC suddenly rent with a juddering rubbery squeak, falling back with a thud against the pavement.
Charlie looked up from his end, saw the youth staggering back a keening whimper squeezing from his throat behind the mask, staring in horror.
A face peered out, framed like a macabre portrait between the tattered, black fabric, it’s chalky features frozen into a rictus of wide eyed
surprise, the eyeballs rolled far back into the head. Around the stretched, grimacing mouth dried flecks of spittle, blood and sputum crusted like the
remnants of a scoffed feast.
Dermot was backing off, muffled gabbling stole from around the edges of his mask, eyes rolling like a terrified horse.
Bloody useless cheap bags! Charlie cursed inwardly seeing the youth was about to bolt. He dropped his end, moving towards him as Dermot tensed with a
whimper to flee but Cindy was already there, grabbing his arms swinging him around away from the sight.
‘It’s OK, it’s alright!’ she barked the words into his face in an effort to break through his panic, dragging him away. The others were
pausing in their work, staring as he suddenly began screaming into the quiet air, the sound hysterical, almost effeminate.
‘I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to die! I’m scared, I’m scared!’ He collapsed sobbing.
Bob was leaning out of the cab, the others gazed stupidly, even Parry lost his customary sneer. The words jolted them. He’d unwittingly broken the
code, the situation only ever addressed in oblique terms of callous indifference or gallows humour, a tenuous grip that got them through. Charlie felt
a sudden wearying envy, to be able to sob out all his loss and fear and anger to someone, how good it would be.
Cindy soothed him as she would a frightened child, the others slowly resumed their tasks. ‘It happens!’ She told him. ‘You’ll get used to it,
or learn to cope but it’s no good running cos there’s no where to go.’
Dermot sniffed like a child. ‘I know…it’s just seeing it… like that!’
She nodded knowingly. ‘But one day when all this is over, when you’re old and safe and surrounded by your grandkids you’ll tell ‘em about
this.’ She took his chin and lifted it so he gazed straight into her eyes. ‘Cos that’s what you have to do, think about a future, when things
He looked at her beseechingly as though trusting her words would make it so.
‘They ran out of body bags, we have to make do with binliners but sometimes there are accidents. It can’t be helped.’
Charlie was on his second cigarette before she finally stood, leaving him alone to pull himself together.
‘Give him a few minutes!’ She winked. ‘He’ll be right as rain.
‘How do you do it?’
She stopped, blinking at his question.
‘I mean managing to stay so…positive, humane. You…’ He thought for a moment, amending his words. ‘and Bob are the only two.’
‘The only two?’ She regarded him quizzically.
‘That give a toss about anything but themselves and surviving.’
Cindy raised her head. ‘Because I know I’m indestructible.’ She gave him that curious, pixie grin, not at all elegant or feminine yet somehow
beguiling beyond words.
‘Yeah we all want to think that. Daryl probably did too.’ He responded bitterly, aware he was breaching the unwritten rule, bleak jokes, cynicism
but never a cold admission of their predicament.
She blinked again, surprised. Suddenly thoughtful she dropped all pretence. ‘All this…this despair.’ She sighed wearily. ‘I’m sick of
seeing it day in and day out.’ She swept her arm in a broad arc. ‘If no one else is going to try and make this a little more bearable then I will,
I have to cos it has to start somewhere, if we lose that then we wont make it; And I aim to make it Charlie.’ Her tone was defiant.
He gave a cracked, mirthless laugh. ‘We’re just clearing away the dead to make way for more dead.’
‘That isn’t going to happen! It’ll get better.’
She nodded slowly.
‘Why can’t I feel that, why can’t I feel anything.’ He was horrified to hear the hitch in his voice.
‘But you do feel something! She looked left and right then lowered her voice. ‘At least you must do for Emma!’
He started at her words. That was his secret, a dangerous one. He opened his mouth but Cindy cut across him.
‘I recognised you from the very first day, from the wedding photo, the one they used in the papers when they listed the first cases.’ Cindy
lowered her eyes. ‘She looked so beautiful Charlie, you must’ve been so proud.’
‘’She was! I was!’ His voice thickened as he spoke.
‘Don’t worry I haven’t told anyone!’
Charlie felt some small relief but caution about discussing it seemed to melt away as she regarded him evenly. He was suddenly overwhelmed by a need
to talk. ‘Some of the papers blamed her you know, and the others. The five vector cases.’
‘It wasn’t their fault!’ Cindy whispered. ‘People get scared, need someone to blame.’
‘Doesn’t make it right!’
She nodded in agreement.
‘She didn’t even want to go, they begged her to attend that conference, she was so clever, had helped set up so many successful businesses,
Eastern Europe was crying out for input from people like her.’ He paused, thinking about that grey depressing little town, it’s only claim to fame
a new conference hall where she had lectured and the old research facility that nestled in the hills above. A research facility so secret no one was
exactly sure what it was they worked on.
Until the virus escaped!
‘Nobody even realised they’d been an accident, until the first cases were taken to the local hospital, by then she was already on her way back
along with the other delegates.’
He never got to see her, she was already sick by the time she got off the plane at Heathrow, they’d taken her straight to hospital, then placed her
in an isolation ward. These days you just stayed home and died, or got hauled off to ‘field hospitals’ like poor Daryl.
‘She’d already infected half the passengers, people at the airport, the others went home and did the same.’
‘At first people were sympathetic, understanding. Then as it got worse I noticed the resentment, the animosity. Somehow it was my fault, guilt by
association. Some bastard at the University put forward my name when they began press ganging people for ‘clearance’ work.’
‘But you’ve been doing this for longer than most of us.’ Cindy observed. ‘And your still well. You could be immune. Some are.’
He laughed. Her optimism echoing softly in his own mind. ‘Maybe!’ He responded with surprised wonder.
‘Look at Parry. Even if he makes it he’ll never get over it. He watched his wife and three kids die one after the other and it’s crippled him,
twisted him. They’ll be no life for him after all this, he’s being eaten away.’
Empathy softened her features, this despite the fact Parry had heaped some of his worst invective upon her, for being a woman, for being overweight
but she only ever responded with an understanding smile.
One of life’s givers, Charlie decided. The thought, normally accompanied by a mental sneer, today evoked a grudging admiration.
Cindy suddenly took his arm. ‘Don’t end up like him. Don’t let it beat you! It’s one thing dying but it’s worse to survive and be as good as
For one long moment they stared at each other then Bobs bellow distant but distinct cut the air.
‘Back to work you lot get a shift on!’
‘I mean it about the drink!’
‘When things get better!’ Charlie replied softly.
Cindy gave a smile and turned to walk away.
He watched her go. It was something to look forward to, a reason, no matter how small, to wake in the morning and keep going. No point in surviving
then finding nothing to live for.
Dermot was rising shakily to his feet as Charlie reached him. He looked up wiping his eyes and straightened.
‘I’m okay!’ He asserted, his tone calmer. There was a look hovering somewhere between resignation and determination. ‘I’m ready to go!’
Charlie nodded. ‘Good, there’s only a few streets left to do.’
‘Then we take the bodies to the pits’ Charlie shrugged. ‘Then it’s done for another day.
The youth digested this, for a moment the fear flared momentarily but he pulled himself together visibly. ‘Right then!’
As they walked Charlie turned to him and said. ‘If you’re feeling up to it, there’s a little café I know, we can get a bite to eat or just a
tea if you’ve no appetite. It’s something to do.’ He finished somewhat lamely.
Dermot gave a faint, shaky smile. ‘Something to look forward to. Yeah sounds good!’