The truck pulled up at approximately (not exactly) 7:00 a.m. Eastern Central Time. Earl knew this fact because he was conducting his usual shaving routine at the usual time. The truck itself was about twenty minutes earlier than normal and made a sound he was unfamiliar with.
Earl peered out the window and quickly observed that the dump truck was not the standard city one. It seemed to emit a soft and calming glow in the darkness of the pre-Spring hours of early March.
He frowned and went back to shaving.
The door bell rang. Earl looked back out the window at his full trash cans, then at a shadow illuminated under his doorstep. He sighed. No one was going to get the door but him. Not at such a god awful time. He walked into the hall. The kids hadn’t even stirred, their rooms dark, distant.
He walked down the stairs in his bathrobe, careful not to slip. He had fallen twice in the past two weeks by catching his foot on the loose tie. It was easy to forget about that darn thing. It was easy to forget about a lot of things these days, his head pounding with the absence of his wife’s voice, her willing and eager chortle to answer the door amiss.
He turned the lock slowly, ensuring the safety chain was still on. He opened the door a crack and was surprised to find a petite woman on the other side. She was dressed in overalls and wore a taxi cap. She nodded at him.
“I’m here to pick up your trash, Mr. Lombardi.”
“Um… It’s back there,” he said, nodding at the trash bins.
The woman laughed from her belly, the echo reminding him of the flapping of a bird’s wings.
“Not that trash. YOUR trash.”
“I don’t understand,” Earl said, uneasily, stepping back.
“All that clutter in your head. Your wife asked me to stop by and pick it up.”
Earl couldn’t speak. He was full of tears and rage.
“My wife… Is dead.”
“I know. Cancer. Breast cancer. I died of that, too.”
The woman blinked at him, then smiled. Earl opened his mouth, but words did not form.
The woman reached out and touched his hand.
“Sheila says let go.”
Earl pulled his hand away and slammed the door. He held in a scream that sent a shiver throughout his body. Then he flung the door open to yell at the garbage woman.
But she was gone. So was the truck and the trash in the bins.
Something caught his eye on the door stoop. He bent down and picked it up. A purple scarf. His wife’s favorite one. The one he had buried her in.
That morning, Earl called in sick. He made his kids pancakes and bacon, then sent them to school.
He came home and took the family picture out of the closet. He hung it up and draped the scarf over the top right corner.
Then he went outside, took a deep breath, and walked forward into the brightness of day.