Daryl pushed his cart down the alley. The cart creaked against the gravel making the dogs bark. His eyes set hungrily on the black garbage can sitting at the end of the block, number 1515. He licked his chapped lips in excitement.
The little black garbage can sat in the same spot it had the week before. Completely full the top hung haphazardly off the bags inside. Daryl pushed it open. The top banged against the wood fence behind it sending echoes over the garage roofs.
Inside the can sat three giant blue bags piled on top of each other. Squished against the blue bags sat a white bag. Daryl’s hand reached for it. A half-eaten sandwich caught his eye as he pulled out the white bag. He set the sandwich and the bag into his cart and headed back down the alley.
The dogs took up their barking as Daryl returned. His cart creaked violently under the added weight sending shivers up his sleeves. He ignored the humidity bleeding into his clothes even as sweat dripped over his eyes and across the smile gracing his lips.
As the sun began to set Daryl sat on his favorite bench by the river. He took out the sandwich and the plastic white bag. While eating the sandwich he ripped open the bag. Hundreds of crumpled pieces of paper sat inside. Randomly he pulled one out and began to read:
A swift change crossed the desert sands. The soldier, armed and ready, stood silently, a sentinel for the cave. Six men sat further in, discussing great things.
Daryl nodded at the words, humming his approval. A few paragraphs of the story were crossed out with black permanent marker, unnecessary edits. But the story eventually picked up on the next page, which Daryl had to rummage through the bag to find. Gently laying the first page in his lap, Daryl continued reading.
At first it seemed David didn’t mind the cold. Or the rain. Or the hot boiling sun off the Sahara. But as Michael came to know him David grew into the biggest complainer Michael had ever known.
Daryl smiled when he read that. Images of his sister Monica floated through his mind. A tall girl with a loud mouth, Monica knew every possible way to get in trouble. She argued with teachers. She spat at her mother. One time, Daryl had even seen her key a cop car.
Shaking his head to remove the next pictures of his past that were threatening to flood his mind, Daryl resumed his reading.
A piece of gum stuck to the next few pages of the manuscript. He pulled it off, considered it as it stuck to his fingers, then walked to the nearest garbage can and threw it away.
The next pages didn’t contain any permanent maker. Pleased, Daryl settled deep into his bench and read until the sun disappeared.
The next day, he went to the library. He brought his cart in with him, a telltale rattle the librarians knew well. Sheila, the security guard, smiled at him as he passed.
“Good day,” He said, “It’s a good day.”
“Yes it is, Daryl,” She nodded.
The second floor of the library housed the reference books. Daryl wandered down the aisle labeled Dictionaries and Encyclopedias 803A-803F. He read each title of each book he passed. The words flooded him and he fell into the binding of the books as though through a portal. His mind reeled with each new noun, the passing of the present tense, the undulations of prepositions -
“That squeaking is quite annoying,” an older lady said as she brushed past him. He jumped, a slight squeak slipped through his throat.
The lady was long gone, but Daryl clutched his chest for several minutes as his tongue searched for words. (Oh lovable words! Why can lips not graze the things they love without relinquishing the texture of reality and ruining dreams.) A deep breath calmed him enough to speak, “oh.”
At noon, Daryl had checked out two books. By two in the afternoon he was sitting on his bench again. Rummaging through his cart as a cool breeze ruffled the waves of the river along with his curly hair. The soothing smell of spring drifted past.
“Good day.” He said. He let his hand smooth out his hair before opening his book.
Words, more words, a thrilling and unconscionable amount scattered and threw themselves at his eyes. Tiny little devils with dots and dashes, curves and lines, all careening into his brain setting his body on fire. A fever gripped him, these words often so soothing brought back to him the rage of his former self.
Vision: An old woman standing in the kitchen with a frying pan, beating it against something. Daryl. His eyes shut. The pounding continues. The screaming has stopped. Was it his or his sisters? His memory blotches the parts he wishes to remember. A slamming bedroom door. A notebook. The little version of Daryl beginning to write, forcing out the blood from behind his eyes.
“Too much!” Daryl shouted.
A policeman standing on the viaduct over the river watched closely. Daryl continued to shout. The river plaza vacated. Daryl sat along screaming at his brain to stop. A lazy breeze attacked Daryl’s book, the pages began to run away.
“Too much! Too much!” Daryl screamed, then grew silent. His hand fell on the book, limp. The police officer took his hand off his belt and walked down the cement stairs. The young man’s curly black hair rustled as the man himself bobbed back and forth still clutching his head with his left hand. The police officer approached slowly.
“Sir?” He asked, reaching out a hand.
Daryl stayed still and silent. His eyes shut so tight so as to block his own mind’s eye.
“Sir?” The officer said again, louder this time and with more authority.
Daryl slowly raised his head. His bloodshot eyes scanned the scenery catching the policeman last. He blinked at the Man in Blue.
“Sir?” The policeman sat next to Daryl.
“Sorry.” Daryl mumbled.
They sat together, the policeman explaining the laws, Daryl nodding because nodding was good. The policeman left, clapping a hand on Daryl’s back and smiling. Daryl returned to his books.
The week went by. Daryl sped through his library books. He forgot to eat. He forgot to sleep. He forgot his appointment with his case manager.
On the allotted Tuesday, when the sun returned to it’s noon position, Daryl set out to 1515 and the wonderful writings. He found the garbage can leaning against the fence as usual, but then a surprise interrupted his perfect view. A small man sporting a comb over and large gut dropped in a fresh new full white bag. He swore and stuffed it in deeper.
“No good,” Daryl said behind him, “no good.”
The man spun around, “what?”
The man and Daryl stared at each other. The man was sweating.
The man cocked his head as though trying to see through Daryl. Daryl moved to the garbage can, pulled out the white bag and moved to stuff it into his cart.
“Hey,” the man said. His arm reached out grabbing Daryl’s elbow, “you can’t.”
“Good,” Daryl said, “good. Good.” He showed the man the white garbage bag as he spoke. The man’s eyes widened.
“You like it?” He asked in awe.
Daryl stuffed the new white bag into his cart and set off without a response. The man watched as Daryl hobbled down the alley, the rattling of the cart erupting the cacophony of dogs. When Daryl turned out of sight the man ran to catch up. Standing behind Daryl he heard him speak, “good.”
The man let Daryl walk away.