Here is a vast field of hills, piles, humps, peaks, and troughs, gnats buzzing in haloes, swirls, getting in Cleve Borris’ mouth, and this hill is leaves and that one is red mulch and this one sand and that one salt and he’s running out at the fence far beyond the parking lot over by the back of the dump where there is nothing but fence and long grass while his father picks through the scrap metal. Years later, he’ll come back here to the city dump to drop off recycling and he’ll feel once again the give of the leaves, the mulch, the spray of dust rising as he crests one small dune after another, the fence on his fingers as he runs, his father far away, on another continent, back at the Ford, pulling an iron kettle from the pile, inspecting it, rubbing it as though he might conjure a genie, as though it might all be illusion, and the feel of the sand filling his sneakers, and the thrill of not knowing what might come next. The dump will be different, the town reshaped into something different, the piles and dunes replaced with containers, dumpsters, a new recreation center rising above the trees in the south, and he’ll be different too, grown, educated, nervous, often depressed and in the midst of an existential crisis that he knows should have been settled when he was a teen. He’ll tell his own son to stay near the car, don’t get lost, stay out of the piles, keep your shoes clean, words his own father never said, but when he turns to drop the recyclables into the bin and his son is gone, vanished, poof, cloud of smoke, dot in the distance, a few birds beyond the fences circling in lazy circles, the air dead, no wind, first no clouds and then all clouds, all dark, all light, a few engines rumbling somewhere over near the gravel pit, a truck hauling sand, a flatbed coming to haul away one of the dumpsters, and he thinks his son might have gone there, past the guardrails where men stand and throw away wood, old cabinets, rotten plywood, and other men throw metal into different dumpsters so he moves away from the car and heads that direction, walking around the puddles, the puddles slicked over with oil, green, brown, old water, leaves, cigarette butts, a fluttering candy wrapper rising up, falling, a radio playing Just a Small Town Girl Living in a Lonely World.
They used to be piles, the man standing in the bed of a truck says. Cleve Borris is there now, looking over the edge down into the dumpster with wood, old chairs, old clapboards, old window frames, two-by-fours with nails bent over. He looks down into one side and then walks over to the other and looks down again. Piles as far as you could see, the man says. He’s got a broom in his hand and is sweeping out the bed, stirring up a cloud of dust. I’m looking for my son, Cleve says, I don’t know where he got off to. The man sweeps shavings and sawdust and scraps. The cloud rises, no wind to take it anywhere, hovers in the light, the dark, the birds off in the distance, the light, the dark, the birds off in the distance. Cleve Borris runs his hands over his hair. Toward the fences there is a runner running along the flat road that loops around from the recreation center. Where the recreation center is now there used to be little pond, the man says. Cleve looks at the man, the man is in a dark jacket, the man is dark, the man is a crow, the man opens his beak. Caw, the man says. My son? Cleve says. Sorry, the man says, I haven’t seen him. He couldn’t have got far, though. Cleve looks again to the runner, a woman, he thinks, the edge of a ponytail rising and falling, the top of her head there, and there, her heart beating, the head of the runner up and down, up and down. Dust hangs in the air. Sammy, Cleve shouts, his voice caught up in the cloud, hanging, not moving.
Over by the metal bins two men are talking. One is fat, thick from head to foot, two men stuffed into one skin, and the other man is tall, two men stacked on top of each other. Both wear caps with the names of some equipment across the front. Moo, the fat man says. Bzzzz, the tall man says. They nod to Cleve as Cleve looks down into the metal, old grills, pipes, lawnmowers, springs, bed frames, teapots, genie lamps, a swirling mist down in the metal, rust and gnats and spools of electrical wire, whorls of barbed wire, a galaxy, all of this happening there, here, there, here, there here therehere, a horn off in the distance, an alarm, a bell, wake up Cleve, time to begin, a bird calling to another bird, the sound coming closer and then farther. Sammy, Cleve shouts. You lose something, the fat man says. He is holding a metal box. Something taps from inside. Tap, help, tap, help. Sammy? Cleve says. The fat man sets the metal box down at his feet. Cleve says, My son, I think. You think? the tall man says. He tilts his head, antennae beneath his cap. He folds his fingers, makes a clicking noise. I’m looking for him, Cleve says. He seems to have run off. Not so bad, the fat man says, two men squeezed tight, moo moo moo, No, the tall man says, click, zzzz, chk, chk, stretching both skeletons, It used to be piles, they say, piles all over. You could wander around for days. The old days. Nothing like the old days. Everything better, stronger, faster, smarter, harder, worth more, better made, more flavorful, built to last, you knew that if you bought it, you’d have it for a while. Now? You might as well use it once and throw it away. Look at all this stuff. You can’t find anything made of metal any more. Used to be my car was metal. My car is plastic. My daddy’s car, that was a car. The two men not even bothering to look at Cleve now. Where the rec center is, the men say, there used to be an ocean, a pier all the way out, so nice on a hot evening, just. Cleve looking down into the dumpster, that genie, that rusting genie, that shifting sand, when he was Sammy’s age, all the piles, the divisions, his father holding up that bottle, brushing off the dust, the whole trunk filled with sand, gold, bottles, a metal box, spark plugs, flare, poncho, water bottle, pee bottle, You ever need to pee, his father said, you pee in that bottle and not on the side of the road, you won’t get arrested for peeing in a bottle, a tire, an iron, a jack, a box of dirty magazines, a pair of golf shoes, running around the fence, through the piles, it didn’t matter at all how long he was gone, his father always standing at the car, always with that bottle, the genie rising up, the lamp, the ghost, the filter of insects, and he’d come all the way back, filthy, panting, his father looking up, holding the bottle, the lamp, the genie, smiling. Found one Cleve, he’d say, come look.
The fence is falling down now out here, he’s walking the remnants of the piles, nothing much, a hump, a disc, a rise. He steps over each one. Here was the salt, here was the gravel, here was the mulch, here was the masonry, here was the lawn trimmings, here was the branches, here was the metal, here was the wood, here was the rock, here was the mud, here was the glass, here was the shingles, here was the gutters, here was the furniture, here was the plastic, here was the rubber, here was the tires, here was the newspaper, here was the shells, here was the batteries, here was the paint, here was the cans, here was my father’s shoes, here was the trunk, here was the here was the here was. It’s flat and open and scraped clean, the dumpsters now in a long line, one after the other, co-mingled, papers, cans, glass, nails, wood, shoes, shirts, each dumpster filled, brimming, so much thrown away, so much bought and discarded, a cloud of fabric, feathers, cotton batting, reels of line, balls of twine, clips and pylons, stanchions and barricades, spent shell casings, lug nuts and garden hoses. In the distance the recreation center has turned on its lights. Someone there has turned on its lights. A man at a switch. A man at a switch. Sammy, Cleve yells. Sammy in the glow of the lights, on the roof of the recreation center, in the dumpster, a boy in the dumpster, leaping from one to another, rust and wires and nails and fur, broken glass and doorknobs and Old Spice and licorice, the trunk and the box and the radio playing Counting Flowers on the Wall, Cleve Borris running now, bow to stern, a dump, a river, an ocean, the gulls soaring overhead, out onto the long pier, the boards clacking beneath his feet, the clouds now the night sky the stars the clouds the sun the dawn the fence the recreation center the runner the cow the crow the wasp come look it’s a genie a vortex a foot on the edge of the forty yard dumpster a head over the top Sammy Sammy Sammy.
He’s made it all the way from start to stop. The land gave way out near the fence. Sammy? The fence gave way out past the land. He doesn’t know when it started. His father is back at the car, trunk open, the dim bulb inside glowing, the genie lamp, the man sweeping a cloud from the truck. The cloud has followed him. He’s been looking all this time. He’s been born. He’s running. The recreation center used to be in this place. The dump was there, back there, over there, in here, and he was there and back, came went returned vanished. Sammy? The ocean was next, that’s what he sees. The ocean and the land past the ocean. A streetlamp. A runner coming close. Are you okay? Sammy? Sir? The gulls. Soon there is a dumpster. A dumpster drawing itself onto the flatbed, the rumble, the moo and the caw, the bzzz and the squawk, the daddy, the son, the come-look-at-this I found one, one for the collection, the bench seat, the shiny gear shift, the glowing radio, I love coming to the dump, it’s your mom that doesn’t like me coming to the dump, the seat of the car, the rest of it, I want to be buried at the dump, no, no, spread my ashes there, that’s what I mean, you don’t have to tell anyone, especially your mother, I wouldn’t. And then Cleve’s wife says, Take these bottles over to the recycling center, okay? Cleve? Are you listening? Can you run these bottles over? Yes? Take Sammy. Sammy? Your son? Of course. You remember how to get there? The dump? Yes. Yes. Take the bottles. There’s so many of them. And Sammy, too. Yes, but don’t leave Sammy there, just the bottles. What about him? They’ve left him on the secretary in the hall, walked around him for days. Take him later, take him later. Let’s get it all cleaned up and then you can do that other thing he wanted you to do. Later? Yes, but after we’re done with the house, sorting it all. I’ll take him later, like he wanted. So take the bottles now, we’ll start with that. And take Sammy, too. I’ll go now. Don’t get too dirty, okay? It’s been months. It’s been months. The leaves the grass the recreation center the lights the dumpster the barrels the batteries, there used to be piles, then rows, then lines, then dumpsters then dust the dust the dust. Slowing. Slowing now. Turning to look back, his car, the trunk open, a man laying a mattress into a mouth, the compactor hydraulics snarling, the mattress collapsing, the end of the day, men closing their tailgates, grinding cigarette butts beneath their heels, his father holding a bottle, a genie, the light, the stars, the star, the curl of the cloud, the dust over his car, Sammy sitting there, waiting.