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by Mary Grimm

On one of her bad days, Con took to following the garbage men. She had some practical questions she would have liked to ask them. What kind of soap they used, for instance. From TV commercials of her childhood: closeups of big brawny hands washing each other. Their wives would have to clean the sink daily. But if they lived alone? Very few men would wash a sink every day, she believed.

When Con’s father was alive he had a rule that she couldn’t buy a new pair of shoes until she got rid of an old pair. This was a humorous rule, but he meant it. He used to open her closet door and count her shoes, also humorously.

And didn’t the garbage men worry about germs? They wore gloves, of course. But the gloves themselves got very dirty.

On non-garbage days, she was sedate, productive. She made bread, polished the furniture. She had begun a journal during the lawsuit at her attorney’s recommendation and she kept it up. She communicated with her ex boyfriend through text and email. She would say to people that she liked her boyfriend a lot before she met him, if anyone asked.

The smell, she thought, they would get used to. And what did they talk about as they made their way down the streets?

Sitting and drinking coffee by herself at Starbucks, Con brushed crumbs from the table. She wrote on a napkin: “I’m on a train to nowhere.” She meant to throw this away with the remains of her scone, but it ended up in her purse.

She followed them only in snatches — for fifteen minutes or so, different trucks, one after another. She didn’t want them to feel watched, pressured, stalked. She didn’t want to be characterized as weird.

She wrote her garbage men watching excursions in code, but about other things quite plainly. “Bought new curtains at Target,” Con wrote, “white with a thin stripe of yellow.” And “Had a dream about the old house, that it was burned to the ground.”

The air that summer was sweet and heavy with rain, rushing across the grass.

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection), both by Random House. Currently, she is working on a dystopian novel about oldsters. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.