by DS Levy
She sits in a wooden shack. She sits in the shadows. Cars creep in over a pea gravel road.
Sometimes she has to answer their questions. This container is for general refuse, this one for corrugated cardboard. Put your glass in this one. Your plastic, tin, newspapers and magazines go in those bins. Behind that yellow police tape? That’s for composting. She’s on duty 9-5, three days in summer, two in winter. A mite of a woman, she has long gray hair, gray eyes to match. She’s missing her eye teeth, but you only notice if she smiles, and when she does wrinkles feather her temples like faint brushstrokes. Her eyebrows are two penciled lines. In winter she wears a knit hat and shabby woolen coat, and she keeps her hands in her pockets even though she wears heavy gloves. In summer it’s baggy jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt to keep off mosquitoes and ticks. Her face has almost etched itself into the wooden shack. If people look her way, she waves thanking them for taking the time to dump their garbage properly, to recycle their wastes efficiently. No one looks her way. They don’t know her name, or where she lives, or whose hands have caressed her body, whose lips have whispered her name. They don’t care what thoughts torment her, what passions gnaw inside.
One day you pull over, roll down your window, say a few casual words. She seems surprised someone would stop and talk. At first she cups her ear, tells you she’s sorry she couldn’t hear because of the radio — and why should you assume she’s listening to country or bluegrass? Maybe she’s listening to the public radio station, maybe to opera for all you know. You engage in small talk, and driving off you feel good about yourself for stopping and paying attention. Maybe next time you’ll get her name. At least you didn’t talk to her about trash. People are not what they do. You turn onto the paved road and drive off.
She returns to the shack, to her radio. Listening, she stares at the surrounding woods, noticing hemlocks and beech trees, the pine, the birch. Maria Callas, for all her beauty and talent, had a hard life and even rich Onassis walked out on her. Another car drives in, another drives out. Her name is Mary. Not Maria, but Mary. When he touched her, this place didn’t exist. His skin and hair smelled like the docks — oil and gasoline. His hands were strong and tender. Time goes by quickly, yet sometimes it seems slow. No one knows what she thinks in this wooden shack, in these cloistered shadows.
DS Levy’s work has been published in Little Fiction (nominated for a Pushcart), The Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, South Dakota Review, Brevity, The Pinch, and others. Her collection of flash fiction, A Binary Heart, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line Press.