Trash Pick UpSeptember 24, 2015
Frank Ryback woke to the sound of a garbage truck banging and clanging in the alley. Through the open bedroom window, the aroma of freshly turned trash drifted toward the bed. The blonde lying next to him didn’t seem to mind the noise or the stench.
“Why do garbage men have to get up so early?” he asked her, sitting up and wiping sleep away from his face with a pink bed sheet.
She didn’t respond.
His mouth tasted like asphalt and his head felt like a rubber band that was about to snap. Frank looked at his surroundings – the bedroom didn’t seem familiar. They must’ve come back to her place. What was her name? Julie? Jasmine? Judith – yeah, that was it.
“You have a nice place here, Judith,” he told her.
She didn’t respond, she stayed face down on her pillow. In fact, she hadn’t moved since the garbage collectors had yanked Frank out of dreamland.
He’d met her the night before at Puzzles Pub, a hole-in-the-wall bar in the hole-in-the-wall town of Currie Valley, Illinois. The tavern was down by the river and known for its All-You-Can-Eat-Spaghetti Night every Wednesday, it’s slightly lopsided pool table and not much else.
Judith… was that it?… Wait, maybe it was Jasmine… Jasmine had been sitting at the bar alone, nursing a Bud Light. Her hair had an uncombed “I don’t care look” and she seemed to be smiling at things that only she knew about.
Frank sat on the bar stool next to her, bought her another beer and hit her with as much charm as he could muster. The jukebox played REO Speedwagon and Foreigner like it was still 1986. They drank more beer, went out to the gravel parking lot and made out for twenty minutes, then went back inside and drank more beer. The evening started to get a little blurry at that point. They must have left Puzzles and come here, to Jasmine’s apartment.
No… Julie. Not Jasmine. Not Judith. Her name was definitely Julie. They came back to Julie’s apartment.
The garbage truck rumbled and backed up, beep-beep-beeping the entire way. The combination of noises hit Frank’s ears like a sonic weapon.
Julie still didn’t move.
Frank was starting to feel a little uncomfortable, sweat forming on his lower back, apprehension filling his thoughts. He hoped he hadn’t done anything stupid last night. Every now and then he met ladies at bars and went home with them – sometimes he remembered the experience and sometimes alcohol prevented that luxury. As far as he knew he’d never done anything dangerous during one of these pick-ups, but he could be irritable. He got angry about little things every now and then. Once, in seventh grade, he lost his temper and stabbed his best friend with a pair of scissors over a McDonald’s French fry.
What if last night something had upset him to the point of violence and he…
He nudged Julie.
“Julie,” he said. “You awake?”
She didn’t respond.
“Julie?” He nudged her a little harder. “You okay? I didn’t kill you, did I?”
Nothing. Julie didn’t bat an eye.
This wasn’t good. Frank gently rolled Julie onto her back. Her body was limp like a sock monkey. This really wasn’t good. He put his hands on her shoulders, took a deep breath and shook her roughly.
“Wake up!” he yelled into her face. “Wake up! Don’t be dead! Wake up!”
Julie came to life with a scream, terror etched on her face. Her hand shot under her pillow. When it came back out, morning light flashed on cold steel. She stabbed Frank in the stomach with the seven-inch Santoku knife from Paula Deen’s Fourteen-Piece Stainless Steel Kitchen Knife Set.
Frank slumped onto the bed.
“I’m sorry!” she said, confusion on her face, then panic. “I’m sorry! I keep it under my pillow in case of burglars! I sleep so deep! When I wake up, I just… I don’t know… I just… You frightened me! I’m sorry.”
“Julie…” Frank said, blood pouring from the wound. “Call an ambulance…”
As Frank Ryback faded away to nothingness, he heard her ask, “Julie? Who’s Julie?”