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by Paul Thompson

Fifty-seven missed calls, all from his daughter.

He places the phone back in the box and unplugs the cables. The screen blinks in protest with the scheduled reminders she has configured. The most recent message is short and aggressive.

BINS OUT TODAY, it reads. As if he needed a reminder.

***

His food supply often runs low at the weekend. Lunch is sometimes a salt sandwich, or a garlic bread left over from midweek. He attempts to change the food order, thumbing at the screen with hungry fingers, refusing to read her instruction.

He would rather starve than give her the victory.

***

On Saturday, the gulls return in greater numbers, almost prehistoric in size. They come for the overflowing bins, a filthy buffet that spills out onto the street. This conflict is weekly, perpetual. Ever since the apartment downstairs became a holiday rental. He watches as families struggle to vacate by ten, cramming a week’s worth of waste into the bins.

The gulls also watch this from afar, eyes glistening like the wet sands below.

***

He pins a note in the downstairs foyer, next to leaflets of the local area. It is a reminder of the midweek bin collection. He addresses it dear holiday makers, and underlines the final paragraph.

On bin day, he drags his rubbish out, clattering in the stairwell, making enough noise to bring out the dead.

***

His instruction is always ignored. On change-over day, outgoing tenants pile the bins high, leaving their mess for the new arrivals. Litter on the pavement churns with blossom. Meat dissolves in the heat of summer. Bin juice stagnates on the entrance steps.

A fatal combination.

***

George from downstairs was a retired architect, and a formidable opponent at chess.

Until one day last winter, when he slipped on bin juice, cracking his head on the oily steps.

His apartment sold within seven days, art deco features and views of the sea.

***

Summer season is peak for the gulls. Five hours to feast before new tenants arrive.

He uses his possessions as ammo, hurling objects from the window. Cutlery. Empty photo frames. Chess pieces. Buckets and spades stolen from the foyer downstairs.

A direct hit causes the gulls to scatter and regroup, taking what they can before their next attack. Only when new tenants arrive do the gulls pull back, anxious of the human reinforcement. Only then does he rest, the corners of his mouth stinging from salt and frustration.

***

BINS OUT TODAY, it reads.

The phone continues to rattle, the notifications a petulant child.

There is no movement from downstairs. No sign they will follow his instruction. He listens through now exposed floorboards, urging them on.

Bins out today, he whispers through the cracks.

He cannot find the strength to open his door, to go downstairs and remind them in person. Instead, he prepares for the weekend, and for the gulls that will keep him company.


Paul lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, The Cabinet of Heed, and recently featured in The Drabble‘s Best of 2017 list. Find out more at @hombre_hompson.

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