Rubbish on the Sidewalk
Marvin was jolted from his sleep after hearing unpleasant noises coming from outside, beyond the quiet confines of his snug bedroom. Any interruption to the tranquility of the quaint neighborhood was cause for concern— especially for Marvin, who had spent the better part of the previous evening loading boxed-up household furniture into delivery trucks as part of his job at the warehouse. Overcome with adrenaline, Marvin bolstered himself up and looked through the window behind his bed. Outside, Doris was unloading piles of used clothing, books, furniture, and other household items onto the sidewalk across the street.
Marvin opened the window a crack and positioned himself to speak through the closed screen. “Would you mind doing that some other time?” Marvin asked in the most unkind tone that he could fabricate through his exhaustion. The distain in his tone made his throat ache, but that was nothing compared to the pain that emerged in his right knee. It was almost two months after the surgery, yet the joint still throbbed with every subtle movement that he made.
Doris briefly looked up at the window before resuming her task. She was hauling what appeared to be a violin case into the ever growing pile of junk.
What in the world? Marvin thought. He made a grunting sound and lifted himself out of bed, his feet meeting the plush rug that sat atop of a spotless hardwood floor.
Marvin opened his primly kept closet and drew out a tan robe. He draped it over his pajamas and tied the garment tightly with a thick string. Marvin barely paid attention to the thumping sound that his footsteps created against the stairs as he made his way down to the foyer of his home.
On a wooden side table lay Marvin’s favorite analog watch with a brown leather strap, a gift from his late father. He put it on his wrist and checked the time. Two in the afternoon. Marvin reached for the doorknob and turned it, the daylight blinding his vision. Slamming the door shut on his way outside, he trotted towards Doris, ready for a confrontation with his peculiar neighbor.
“Doris!” Marvin called when he made it onto the sidewalk outside of his house. Doris didn’t look up. “Doris, are you listening?”
Doris was unloading items from inside a gardening wagon onto the sidewalk. Marvin got a glimpse of some of the contents: a table lamp, a small decorative statue of a man holding a trident, and a pile of used notebooks, the kind that children use in elementary school.
“Doris? Doris?” Marvin asked.
“What do you want?” Doris finally responded. She looked up, her nose practically touching Marvin’s. He hadn’t realized how close in proximity he had gotten to Doris, and he wondered if she found comfort in the distance, or if she felt he was invading her personal space. Doris’ eyes moved down Marvin’s arm, stopping on the watch on his wrist. He quickly recoiled, pulling his hand so far back he thought he might have dislocated his shoulder.
“You knew that I would be trying to sleep at this hour. Why are you making such a ruckus?” Marvin took a step back, nearly falling over an old radio at the base of the massive pile of junk. Marvin recognized the radio as the same one that he had in his house over ten years ago. He contemplated saying something to Doris, but decided against it. No good would come out of picking a fight after all these years.
Doris took a seat on the curbside next to her wagon. She rested her chin in her palms and raised her eyes up to meet Marvin’s. “You’re still here?” she asked.
“I’m not going anywhere until you agree to clean up this mess and stop making so much noise.”
“If you want the noise to stop so badly you’ll help me unload this wagon.”
After rolling his eyes at Doris and convincing himself that there was no other option, Marvin picked up a stack of notebooks from the wagon. “Over here?” He asked, motioning to a spot next to a dusty electric heater. Doris nodded.
Marvin placed the notebooks in the ever growing pile and reached for the table lamp in the wagon, but stopped himself. His curiosity got the best of him and he went back to the pile and opened the notebook on top of the stack. The first page revealed a list with two columns: the first a list of antique items, and the second containing monetary amounts.
“What’s this?” Marvin, who was now holding the notebook in front of his face, asked Doris, whose back was turned towards the wagon.
“Give me that,” Doris said, as she briskly snatched the notebook out of Marvin’s hand. Marvin had an inkling of an idea why Doris wouldn’t want him to see the inside of the notebook, but he decided not to push the subject.
Marvin continued unloading the items in the gardening wagon with Doris and putting them on the sidewalk. Although he didn’t have a clue what Doris’ intentions were, he found himself trusting her motives.
“Time to get the next wagon-full,” Doris said once the wagon was empty.
“There’s more? What are you doing with all of this stuff?”Marvin asked, suddenly aware of his exhaustion and desire to get back to sleep.
“You are? Why would you want to do that?”
Doris sighed, the breath coming from deep within her body. “I’m tired of waking up every morning and having the life I once lived staring back at me.”
Marvin felt a pang of regret in his chest. “But won’t you miss—”
“I won’t,” Doris interrupted, crossing her arms against her chest. “Now, you stay here. I’ll be back with the next load.”
As Marvin watched Doris disappear into the backyard with her wagon, he felt himself growing restless. He wondered where Doris was going, but more than that, he wondered who she was going with. Perhaps there a new man in her life— one with more promise. One who would stay.
He walked into the backyard, not really knowing why. When Marvin didn’t see Doris, he walked up to the backdoor and turned the knob. As soon as the door opened a smidge, an odor that could only be compared to rotting fish struck Marvin’s nose. He gagged, turning back to the outdoors for a breath of fresh air, then pinched his nostrils with his thumb and pointer finger.
Stepping into Doris’ house was like walking into a corn maize, but instead of corn there was antique junk. Mounds of everything from costume jewelry to elaborate paintings were piled high, leaving only a small trail to walk from room to room.
Feeling frightened and appalled, Marvin walked through the rubbish, or treasure, the viewpoint dependent on who was looking at at it, trying to locate Doris.
As he made his way into the kitchen, Marvin noticed a round dining room table with a magnifying glass and a single sheet of paper. This struck Marvin as strange, as every other surface in the home was completely covered.
As he approached the table, it became evident that the top of the paper read eviction notice at the top of the sheet in large letters. Marvin picked up the notice and scanned the document for a date. Tomorrow was the day that Doris was expected to leave the property.
“Marvin? Is that you in there?” Doris called as Marvin heard footsteps making their way to the kitchen.
When she entered the room, Marvin held out the notice in front of Doris’ face. “Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.
“You’re getting evicted, Doris. This is serious.” Marvin knew there was no way that Doris would be able to get all of her belongings out of her house in time. “Where are you moving to?”
“I don’t know,” Doris replied.
“What do you suppose is going to happen to the things on the sidewalk?”
“I’m planning on loading them in my truck. I’ll sleep in there too if I have to.”
“Absolutely not,” Marvin said, stomping his foot on the ground. “Don’t be stubborn. Only a fraction of your belongings will fit into that tiny old thing. I will not have you living in a truck. You’ll stay with me.”
And that’s how Doris ended up living with Marvin. It was the second time they lived together.
Around four in the afternoon, after hauling countless items out of Doris’ home, a garbage truck labeled with the name of the town pulled up next to the pile of junk. A neighbor had called the town and complained about the mess on the sidewalk.
Struck by seeing an older woman so visibly distraught over her precious belongings being thrown in the trash, the garbage men gave her and Marvin an hour to salvage as much as they could. Not being able to put anything back in the house due to the forthcoming eviction, Doris and Marvin packed Doris’ truck to the brim with the most precious of her belongings, then watched the garbage truck consume the rest. Years worth of memories were crumbled under the weight of the compactor.
Doris asked Marvin if he would take some of the other items into his house, but Marvin refused saying that he didn’t like messes. He expected Doris to put up more of a fight, but she just slumped her shoulders and nodded her head.
Once inside Marvin’s home, Doris took it upon herself to find a seat at his dining room table. She sat for a moment staring into space quietly, lost in her thoughts. Marvin made Doris a cup of rose hip tea, Doris’ favorite, something he had remembered after all these years.
Everything about Doris seemed slower and more aged than it used to be. Marvin watched as she drank her tea, taking long sips. The way she spoke was more paced, and not because she was being more deliberate. Her hair had grown fine and split at the ends. When she started to get up to use the bathroom, there was a moment where Marvin saw a struggle — was she going to stand up fully, or sit back down?
As she continued to sip her tea, Doris began to hum a familiar tune. It struck Marvin it was one of the tunes that she used to play on the violin, the one that was thrown carelessly into the trash earlier that afternoon. Marvin couldn’t recall if the violin had made it into Doris’ truck or if it had been taken away by the garbage men.
After finishing her tea, Doris walked, back arched, over to the living room where she plopped herself on the sofa. She picked up a photo album off the coffee table and flipped through it carelessly, stopping on a certain photo that Marvin couldn’t see. He sat down on the couch next to Doris to take a better look. When he saw that photo, butterflies emerged in his stomach.
“Our wedding day,” Doris said, sliding her thumb up and down the plastic casing. “After all of these years and you still kept our wedding photos.”
It was a photo of Doris and Marvin at the altar after they had made their vows and kissed in front of their families and friends. Most of the guests were faced forward, except for Marvin’s father who was standing sideways, but whose face was tilted towards the camera. He wore a frown, a rare expression for an otherwise upbeat man.
“My father’s in that photo,” Marvin said.
Doris mimicked Marvin’s father’s expression, shutting the album and placing it back on the table. Marvin swooped in front of her and picked up the album, transferring it to a ledge above the fireplace. He looked down at the watch on his wrist.
“I have to get ready for work,” Marvin said. “Maybe you should—”
“I’ll be fine,” Doris said.
“How will I know that you will be?”
“You can take—,” Doris paused, choosing her next words carefully. “Take the valuables with you.”
Marvin rummaged through the back of his closet and pulled out a small safe. He turned the dial repeatedly to the right and left until the door opened revealing a stack of hundred dollar bills.
He looked around the room. Marvin didn’t see anything of value, but what was he expecting— he had stopped keeping valuables in the house long ago. He walked with the safe into the master bathroom and pulled out of his medicine cabinet a bottle of painkillers, the ones he was given to him after his knee surgery. Doris probably wouldn’t find much interest in the pills, but Marvin couldn’t be too sure.
Coming down the stairs, Marvin found Doris asleep with the television turned on. He took a blanket out from the downstairs cupboard and placed it gingerly over Doris’ body. Marvin felt good knowing that Doris would be safe here in his house. More importantly, Marvin himself felt safe— at least safe enough to go to work.
An odd sense of stillness overwhelmed Marvin as he entered his home after work. He frantically searched the downstairs, opening drawers and cabinets to make sure the house was in order. To Marvin’s surprise, everything seemed to be in place, except for a pile of papers in the kitchen that had blown onto the floor due to a strong draft coming from an open window. He wasn’t quite sure if he left the window open. Marvin supposed it would be fine if Doris had opened it to let some fresh air into the house— it was a bit stuffy. Marvin picked up the papers and put them back on the table. The house felt clean once again.
But then, Marvin noticed that Doris wasn’t on the couch. He ran room to room checking for any signs of her, but aside from the open window, he couldn’t find any.
Marvin quickly ran up the stairs to check the bedrooms on the second floor, but on the fifth step he slipped. As he plunged to the floor, Marvin put his right hand out to break the fall. He landed face down on his hands and knees. A shooting pain ran through his bad knee and Marvin cried out. Nobody responded.
Carefully, and with great pain, Marvin lifted himself up off of the floor and crawled, step by step, up to the second level of the home. There, he found Doris asleep on his bed, covered with the blanket Marvin had given her earlier.
“Doris?” he shouted, to no avail. “Doris!”
Marvin climbed onto the bed and shook Doris. She opened her eyes slowly.
“Marvin,” she began in a low voice, tears running down her cheeks. “Everything has been taken from me.”
“Taken from you? How about what’s been taken from me? My money, my valuables, my marriage. And I— I’ve been here all along. Watching you. Right here from this house. I made sure you were okay. Little did I know about the things you’ve been hoarding inside all of these years.”
When Doris didn’t respond, Marvin’s demeanor shifted. He laid down on the bed and cradled Doris in his arms. He stroked her thin wiry hair and rubbed her arms. He put his ear to her mouth every few moments, listening to shallow breaths coming from the hollow of her throat.
“I’ll miss it,” Doris said, passionately, but barely audible.
“Miss what?” Marvin asked.
“My house. I’ll miss it. The scent of you still lingers. It still—,” And then her voice trailed off.
Marvin listened for another breath, but didn’t hear anything. He turned Doris over from her side to take one more proper listen. And that’s when he noticed it— the wedding band. Resting on the same finger he placed it on all those years ago.
It was the last thing that she stole from him.
Sarah Losner is a writer from Long Island New York. Her poetry has appeared in The Monterey Poetry Review, The Beautiful Space, and on the Indolent Books blog. Sarah is also an accountant for a non-profit in New York City.