Click here for nice stories main menu

main menu   |   youngsters categories   |   authors   |   new stories   |   search   |   links   |   settings   |   author tools

The Throw Away (standard:other, 4840 words)
Author: K.J.Added: Jan 29 2001Views/Reads: 4860/2886Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A girl skips church to go dump-picking with her alcoholic father.

Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story

Dad leaned out the passenger window. "Why don't you mind your own
business, you nosy sonofabitch!" 

"Well good morning to you, Mr. Kolozkowski! Good to see you're up and
about this morning!" 

"Aw, go to hell!" 

I opened the door and hopped into the truck. The donuts dropped from my
hand onto the ground. I slammed the door and sank into my seat out of 
sight. Dad spun us out of the driveway and onto the road. I hugged my 
knees and doubted ever returning to church as we maneuvered the 
familiar lefts and rights that led us to the county dumping grounds. 

I knew where we were at all times by the bumps and turns, by the shudder
and shifting of the truck. The first stretch of road, Cathro Road, was 
paved and hilly. My insides lifted and rolled as we passed over the 
hillcrests. If I had looked out the window, I would have seen cows 
grazing, standing, laying. All of them at the bottom of a steep grade, 
near a pool of brown water. People lost their cows down there, Dad had 
told me once, because cows liked to wander. Into the woods, past the 
pool, they'd mosey along looking for something to chew, and suddenly 
they'd find their wide, heavy bodies being sucked into the mud. A 
thick, black muck that reeked like the smell of rotting potatoes. A  
smell I knew well from an encounter I'd once had while playing dress-up 
the dumps. 

Shirts, dresses, pants, and shoes were piled everywhere. Besides an
overturned refrigerator that served as a bench, there was a cracked 
mirror propped up against a gutted-out sofa. The entire setup served 
well as a small changing area, and some days I tried on whatever looked 
new or clean then marched back and forth in front of the mirror. I'd 
watch my body change shape and size as it passed over the cracks, and 
I'd try to imagine what I'd look like one day. From seeing so many 
different versions of myself and taking into account the features of 
Mom and Dad, I knew that in all probability I'd be of average height 
and average weight, and I'd have to rely on the colors that surrounded 
me to look good. 

I was sitting on the side of the refrigerator, trying on a pair of
sandals when I noticed the smell. Thinking that it could be the 
sandals, I removed them and took a whiff, but they smelled like good 
sandals should, like leather, so I stood and sifted the dumping ground 
scents until I ended up following my nose back to the refrigerator I'd 
been sitting on. I paused a minute before opening it and thought of the 
nightly news reports. Children locking themselves in discarded 
refrigerators during games of hide and seek. Parents sobbing on t.v., 
warning the world to get rid of any old appliances that might be 
lurking in the yard, or basement, or garage. Through fits of tears, 
choking on his words, a father telling other fathers to at least chain 
and padlock the doors of these silent killers. 

I imagined opening the refrigerator to a dead little girl, like me. Her
face swollen, blue. Her mouth fixed into a howl for help. Tears stained 
into her cheeks. Her hands black and blue from pounding on the door. 

When I opened it, I was bowled over by the smell. I fell back against
the sofa and knocked over the mirror. The broken glass fell out of the 
plastic frame, and I could hear Dad yelling my name. I yelled back at 
him that I was okay, then covered my nose and mouth with my hand and 
looked inside the refrigerator. I was disappointed. It was white and 
clean and empty. No dead girl, nothing blue or swollen. No mouthed 
scream. I bent forward and put my head inside. The smell crept around 
my fingers, through my hand, and burned my nostrils. When I noticed the 
small vegetable drawer at the bottom I remembered hearing about babies 
stuffed in garbage cans and boxes. I thought of how terrible and 
complex it would be. Reporters, cops, nosy types. All of them stomping 
through the dumps in hip boots and gas masks, wondering what it was 
that me and Dad were doing at the dumps. But when I yanked open the 
drawer, the mess was simple. A black pool of liquid around an open bag 
of potatoes. It was a revolting, sour smell, and as Dad veered us of 
Cathro road and wheeled us into the dumps' parking lot, I felt bad for 
the cows we had passed, knowing that their last breaths could be 
something so bad. 

Dad hopped out and picked up a cracked flower pot. 

"That goddamned Touchstone. Why in the hell is he so nosy? What's it to
him if your Mom don't make it to church? He's not God. If God were 
alive I bet he'd be right here with me pickin' trash. Even God would 
like dump pickin'." 

Dad tossed the flower pot to the ground and kicked through a pile of
moldy, black magazines. At the bottom of the pile he found a book. I 
walked over to him. He opened the book and fanned through the pages. 
They were white and clean. 

"Jesus Christ! Looky here! A copy of Where The Red Fern Grows! You ever
read this?" 

"I've never heard of it," I said. 

"See, if you spent more time with your old man, you'd probably already
have read this book." 

He closed the book and handed it to me. 

"There, this is for you. I think you'll like it. If we find a pen that
works, I'll sign it and write a little note in it for you." 

"A note? For what?" 

"Cause that's what you're supposed to do when you give someone a book.
You're supposed to write a little note in it and sign your name. Like 
when you memorized all those prayers and verses and Touchstone gave you 
that bible." 

Dad was looking all around on the ground for a pen. 

"You can sign it when we get home, Dad." 

"Yeah, I guess it can wait...what the hell did he write in the old good
book, anyway?" 

"He wrote, `May you read this with God in your heart.'" I answered. 

"Yeah! That was it! `God in your heart!' Like you need a book, or some
holy-roller to tell you you got God." 

Dad moved along ahead of me, scouring the ground with eyes, hands and
feet. I tucked the book under my arm and followed him. 

We weren't the only ones at the grounds. There were others there too. An
old man carrying a green bucket was following his even older looking 
wife. Occasionally, the old woman would stop, bend to her knees and 
examine something more closely. The old man stood behind her, looking 
around, watching in particular a woman of about twenty or so. She was 
wearing a tight, tie-dyed shirt, blue jean shorts, and yellow hip 
boots. She was carrying a large, red mesh onion sack over her shoulder 
and wearing a sun hat. She moved over the ground slowly, stopping every 
other step or so to lift something out of the garbage with her yellow, 
rubber-gloved hands. She was a regular. I'd seen her before. One Sunday 
she had approached us and asked how much we wanted for a lampshade I 
was carrying. She was wearing the same boots and the same gloves, but 
instead of a tie-dyed shirt, she was wearing a tight, yellow 

"What do you want it for?" Dad asked as he looked her over, his gaze
pausing at her tan midriff. 

"I need a lampshade," she said. 

"Five bucks." 

"But you just found it, mister. If I'd been here earlier I'd had found
it too." 

"Exactly. But you weren't here and now you have to pay the finder's

"I'll give you two dollars for it." 

"Nope. Five bucks or it's not for sale. Maybe instead of poking around
in the household furnishings you ought to have your ass over in the 
clothing section. Half your damned shirt is missing." 

She looked at me and smiled then shook her head and walked away. And
that was it. She didn't look angry, or disappointed, or anything. Maybe 
she didn't even want the lampshade. Sometimes when you're at the dumps 
picking through garbage, you just want someone to talk to. 

Since Dad was already busy searching, I walked over to the old man. He
was still staring at the young woman, watching her long, careful 

"Finding anything good today?" I asked. 

He broke his gaze from her and shook his head as if I'd startled him
from a dream. He tilted the bucket toward me. It was filled with a 
matching, light blue set of cups and saucers. 

"We found these just over there beyond the appliances. There are more of
them if you want some. We only needed a set of four." 

"Joshua!" His wife piped up. "You're not supposed to give everything
away. People are supposed to find it on their own." 

The old man rolled his eyes at her then smiled at me. He reached into
his pocket, fished around for a moment, then held out a fist. He asked 
me to close my eyes and open my hand. 

"No peeking," he said. "And if you can guess what it is, I'll let you
have it." I felt its surface. It was smooth and warm and oval shaped. 

"Abby! Get your ass over here!" Dad yelled from behind me. 

I opened my eyes and looked over at Dad. He was holding up an iron. 

"Does Mom need a new iron?" 

The old woman was on her knees, scraping away at something. She was
giggling. I couldn't tell if it was at me, at Dad, or at what she had 

"Just take it." The old man said and he placed a dirty, pink, ceramic
egg in my hand. 

"Wash it up good and it'll be as pretty as you." He said as he turned to
watch the tie-dyed woman again. But she was far away, nearly out of his 
sight, walking up the far side of the dumps to the parking lot. I 
thanked the old man, put the egg in my pocket, and walked back to Dad. 

"Pretty nice iron, hey?" He said, as he handed it to me. 

It was a nice iron. A little tarnished, in need of some polishing, but
the cord was in tact and there weren't any buttons missing. He knew 
finding things for Mom, things she could use, was a way to soften her. 
Church program or not, Mom would eventually discover that I had missed 
services again and this, coupled with Dad's drinking, was forgivable 
only by presenting her with gifts, or with stories about what a good 
time we'd had. And eventually, most of the time Dad and I spent 
together at the dumps was good. It was hard to explain to people that 
the shoes I was wearing were found under an old couch. Or that the 
necklace everyone liked so much had been found next to a pile of baby 
diapers. Even though Mom stitched my initials into nearly everything I 
owned, it bothered me knowing the truth - that some of what I was 
wearing had belonged to people I knew. 

Dad held up the iron and said that he'd found it near the entrance - a
sure sign that it had been an early drop off. He took it from my hands 
and shook it. 

"See!" he said. "There's still water in it!" 

He gave it back to me and I held it as he knelt down to rummage through
old newspapers. I thought of Mom, at the store. Stocking shelves, 
making window displays, helping people find things for their Sunday 
chores. She worked part-time and only every other Sunday, but she was 
always surprised, and a bit frustrated, at how people spent their 
Sundays. Women bought odds and ends, men bought motor oil or animal 
feed. Everyone appeared on Sundays for whatever they needed to get 
their work done. It made her sad she said, to know that people didn't 
take God's day of rest seriously, and at night she said she prayed for 

Mom was always disappointed. In me for missing church, in Dad for
drinking, in both of us for dump picking. But Mom would blame herself 
in the end. She would say that instead of working on Sundays, she 
should stay home and use the day for what it was intended, for rest and 

The sun was climbing and the smell of the dumps was  was rising and I
wondered if Mom ever smelled the dumps in my clothes, like she smelled 
alcohol on Dad's breath. I tried to imagine if the smells meant 
anything to her. Did these smells remind her of betrayal, of sin, of 
God and broken trust? She would wash our clothes by hand Sunday nights. 
I would hear her sometimes, in my sleep. My dreams invaded by the sound 
of her scrubbing and wringing. In the morning I'd wake to find my dress 
and Dad's clothes dried and hanging over the radiator ready to be worn 

I looked at Dad. He was on his knees sorting newspapers by date. In my
mind, I could see Mom sighing as  once again she took to scrubbing away 
the smell and the dirt. I bet she wasted prayers on us then, washing 
and wishing that sooner or later we'd stop going to the dumps. 

I knew Dad would be busy with the papers a while, absorbed in past
events, so I set Where the Red Fern Grows down next to him, and put the 
iron on top of it. I walked toward the place where people came at night 
to watch the bears and I thought about the time Mom came with us to the 
dumps. She was truly happy that day. Happy because all of us had made 
it to church, and because Dad had waited until the afternoon to start 
drinking. The smile never faded from her face that day, not even as the 
sun set and Dad drove us to the dumps so that we could watch the bears 

The sun was setting when we got there and a half-dozen cars were parked
around the site. People sat and waited. They watched the red-orange sun 
fall down and die. Then they watched the stars fade in. Dim at first, 
but then burning to an illustrious glow. Finally, the automobile 
headlights flooded on, one set after another, and wandering about in 
the artificial light were the bears. Shiny-eyed and black, pawing 
through garbage. All of them huddled near the part of the sinkhole 
where Dad always told me not to go. We watched the bears for as long as 
we could and all of us seemed happy. Dad was relatively sober, Mom was 
at peace with all, and I was excited to be there with both of them, 
sharing the sight of the bears. 

Unconsciously, locked in thoughts of us having been there to watch the
bears, I discovered myself walking to the sinkhole. I looked back at 
Dad as I reached the edge and he looked like any other man reading the 
Sunday paper, except that he wasn't in the livingroom lounging in his 
favorite chair. He was sitting on a blownout tire, reading a paper that 
had turned black in places. 

Going near the sinkhole was like the cows wandering into the mud, he had
said. When people wandered too near the edge they disappeared. Some 
were dragged off by angry bears, but most he suspected, had been sucked 
away into the sinkhole, immobilized and choked to death by everything 
broken and rotting. 

I stepped closer to the edge and the warnings ran through my head. The
edge like quicksand. People falling in. Being buried by garbage, trying 
to scream for help, but taking in mouthfuls of hair, cigarette butts, 
and dirty Band-Aids. Darkness closing in and my head poking out of 
trash just enough so that I could see the bears roaming in. But like 
other childhood warnings, these were the spark of curiosity, and I 
moved closer. 

The air was thick and foul and it was difficult to breathe. I thought
about dead cows and rotting potatoes and I measured my movements 
carefully. When I felt sure-footed enough, I knelt down and looked over 
the edge. It was then that I could see the smell. Beyond the broken 
appliances, stained mattresses, and rusty box springs, I could see all 
of it. Dead deer and opossums mostly, but also cats and dogs. Ribcages 
and skulls. Matted fur and stiff bodies, some of them with their legs 
stretched out, forever frozen in a run. 

I looked to the place where cars parked at night so people could watch
the bears and I thought of something terrible. I imagined mothers and 
fathers finding dead pets, mangled or flattened on the road. No longer 
pets, but fur and blood, and there was no good way to show their 
children and explain. I thought of fathers on their way to work, awake 
long before their children, carrying bags off old Biff, the family 
hound, or Mitzi the family poodle. I thought of mothers double-wrapping 
cats in old towels and garbage bags. Everyone riding out to the dumps 
while the kids were at school or asleep. All of them throwing part of 
their family there, just over the edge of the long, sloping hill. 
Everybody dumping dead pets, hoping that eventually everything would be 
sucked down and away into the sinkhole. I imagined kids asking where 
their pets had gone. And parents answering as they always did, that 
Scruffy or Daisy had gone away, but that it was okay because sooner or 
later they'd turn up somewhere. Animals liked to wander, they'd say. 

I remembered seeing handmade posters for missing cats or dogs, some of
them with an unmistakable resemblance to animals heaped before me. The 
same animals, except now they had empty eye-sockets and their tails 
were flat and dead. The same pets, except that they would never come 
back no matter how many posters had been put up. 

Again, I heard Dad yelling my name. 

"Abby! Where the hell are you?" 

I turned to call to him and at once I began to slide. Down the slope of
the sinkhole on my belly. Things wet and hard, soft and metallic, 
brushed and banged against my body. I felt my dress tearing, and rough 
edges cutting my skin. I held my head up and tried to scream, but the 
smell was filling me. I imagined being sucked down under the dead 
animals, into the greasy soil, and entering a dark hole where things 
touched you, breathed on you, and fed on you. I would be underground 
with cows and lost dump pickers. All of us part of that rotting potato 
smell. Dad would be asking, "Where's God now? Where's this God that 
would pull a girl into a sinkhole?" Mom would hide away, cooking, 
scrubbing,  seeking guidance from the Bible. Touchstone would offer his 
condolences. And in the end my life would be a sad, unfortunate 
tragedy. Everyone would know about me. Abby the girl who skipped church 
to pick through people's throw aways. My life would be a warning to 
children everywhere, like the martyrs of the refrigerator world. 

When I opened my eyes I was looking into the sky. Seagulls were sailing,
their wings outstretched, all of them calling. I sat up and checked 
myself over for anything broken. My body was covered in brownish-black 
muck, and everything was sticking to me. Q-tips, disposable razors, and 
gobs of animal hair. I could feel my skin and flesh stinging under 


I looked up. Dad was on his belly, leaning over the edge. I tried to
stand, but felt my body sinking. My hands, knees and feet pushing 
through the muck. 

"Don't stand up, honey! Just crawl as close to me as you can!" 

The old man appeared at Dad's side and got on his belly too. I knew that
in all of it I had probably lost his egg. 

"I've got a rope in my truck!" The old man shouted, Hold on!" 

He got up and I could hear him running away. 

"We'll get you out of there! Don't worry! Just hold on!" Dad called. 

I crawled as far as I could then waited. I looked at where I had been,
and the spot where I'd fallen was filling in with debris. Further down 
the slope flies were buzzing all around a hound. It's belly was huge. 
One of it's legs was missing. I tried not to look at it, but I felt it 
was looking at me. 

"Are you hurt?" Dad asked. 

My skin was burning in more places. I imagined the battle my blood was
having, fighting whatever infectious darkness that flowed in the mud. 

"I think I have a few cuts!" 

"Okay! Just hold tight!" Dad got up I listened to him  running away. 

I noticed then that I couldn't smell. That none of what surrounded me
was coming through. I wondered if I had hit my head on the way down, or 
if the stress of it all had cured me from ever smelling anything bad. I 
took a deep breath and leaned back into the garbage. I remembered then 
that I had read Where the Red Fern Grows. I had read it in school for a 
book report. It was about a boy and his hound. Or two dogs...or was it 
something else? And what did that book mean to me? I thought for sure 
that this was something that Touchstone and Dad would have in common. 
That most men, when boys, had read that book and that they had liked 
it. That they had maybe even cried when they read it and they hadn't 
told anyone but God because there was no getting around that whether 
you believed in Him or not. And, I thought, maybe the old man had read 
it too. And did reading it make any difference? Had it maintained some 
softness inside of him during his movements through a hard world? And 
if he hadn't have read it, would he have still given me that egg? I 
felt my pocket for the egg and as I had imagined, it was gone. 

I sat up and felt my body sink again. My bottom was pushing down against
things hard and sharp. I laid back down again and thought of the old 
man running. His old heart hammering away as his feet pounded through 
the garbage. I wondered about his wife and her thoughts at the sight of 
him running. It had been years since she'd seen him running, I thought. 
And what would that do to her? Would it bring back memories or pull in 
fear? Would the old man and his heart even make it to the rope? And why 
were they running? A little girl over the edge, into a hole where the 
bears roam. What did it matter? Children died everyday, I thought. In 
refrigerators at home, or in places like the dumps. 

I thought of Mom at the store feeling guilty and I realized that
stealing church programs wasn't any good. She would always know if I 
had been telling lies. Sooner or later, everyone knows, and it doesn't 
matter how much we try to cover things up because eventually things 
that are rotten stink. I thought too of Touchstone looking out at his 
congregation and not seeing me. I wondered if sometimes he said private 
prayers for certain people, and I hoped that he hadn't wasted one on me 
because there were plenty of people worse off. 

All of it turned and twisted inside of me and I thought of how good it
could be if I could just stay there, where I was. My shoes had been 
sucked away by the muck. My Sunday dress was torn and hanging off me, 
but none of it mattered because these things did not belong to me. I 
heard the commotion above me. The old man, the old woman, and Dad up 
there above calling my name. Grab onto the rope, Abby! they kept 
yelling. Grab on and don't let go! And in my new scentless position at 
the bottom of the pit, everything that should have felt suffocating and 
cold, felt good. I felt like I was sleeping, that all of what I had 
known had been a dream, and that my being there in the sinkhole, 
covered in garbage was real and true, and that it might be a good 
picture for a Sunday program because it would be as believable as a 
butterfly caught in the rain. 

The Throw Away - copyright 2001 by K. Stevens Jr. 


Authors appreciate feedback!
Please write to the authors to tell them what you liked or didn't like about the story!
K.J. has 4 active stories on this site.
Profile for K.J., incl. all stories

stories in "other"   |   all stories by "K.J."  

Nice Stories @, support email: nice at nicestories dot com
Powered by StoryEngine v1.00 © 2000-2020 - Artware Internet Consultancy