Boerne is 51yrs old, handsome in a rugged sort of way; olive skin, high cheekbones and black straw-like hair. He’s never been a talker and we sit on the veranda drinking beer instead, our eyes drawn to a 2 x 6 metre recycle bin out front. At the end of the day the sun is uncanny and low, the sky scarlet as summer bushfires rage in the western ranges.
“Good of you to help out,” says Boerne, flicking the top from another beer. “To be honest, you know, I’d rather be somewhere else.” And for the briefest of moments, his dark eyes leave the recycle bin. “Maybe we just got married too young. Who knows? In those days we just needed to get out.” He passes me the beer. “Things were different then.”
This is the second bin we’ve filled today, just there at the front door; clothes, doubled-up wedding and old birthday presents, books, magazines, the old couch Boerne’s been sleeping on for weeks – and then there’s the photo albums that neither Boerne or Ingrid want – all carried through the house and unceremoniously dumped in the bins. I stare at the two parked cars at the end of the house, side by side. I haven’t seen Boerne and Ingrid that close for years. It’s still another hour before the truck arrives, and I walk inside for a leak.
They’ve been married for over 30yrs these two, me having known Ingrid forever, with her mother living just next door to my father’s place. “Is it a boy?” her mother once asked me when Ingrid was late home the previous night. I said I didn’t know. She was never brave enough to ask her own daughter about such things.
To me Ingrid was a normal teenager, mixing mostly with girlfriends after school. All three dressed in black when they went out; a cheeky mailman once glancing across at me before asking them, “Well girls, where’s the funeral?” I remember watering the garden early one Sunday morning, with Ingrid rolling home drunk after quaffing half a bottle of gin. I helped her girlfriends smuggle Ingrid through her mother’s back door.
And Ingrid was always pretty, so as it happened there was a boy. “Sure, you kidding? Of course he’s nice!” she indignantly told me. “My height too.” At 1.8m tall, Ingrid had a thing about that. “He’s dark, and from the other side of town, thank goodness!” I wondered at the significance, and Ingrid screwed up her nose at my ignorance. “Really? Well it can’t be as boring as around here!” I recall making a feeble attempt at looking hurt.
It was another three years before we next met; her already married with a mother needing nursing due to a broken wrist. She asked about my travels, but unlike the feisty teenager I’d once known, seemed less forthcoming about herself. “Mum’s a tough nut. I think she’ll be fine. But, you know…none of us really talked, even when Dad was alive.” I waited for something about her. “Me?” Ingrid laughs. “Work’s just out of control.”
From there on, I’d catch up with Ingrid and Boerne each Christmas at her mother’s place, where we’d chat casually over beer and burned sausages; pearls of weather wisdom, some work, and my tales of travel. Ingrid excelled in the world of insurance. Boerne moved from newspaper journalism to magazines.
To get from the bathroom to the kitchen I go over and around stacks of packed cardboard boxes, catching Ingrid leaning against a kitchen bench of polished granite. Ingrid is 49yrs old – looks 35 – loves the garden and in younger days excelled at most sports. Her hair is up in a bun, and her mascara smudged.
She continues to stare outside the window until I wonder if she knows I’m here. There’s a low sigh as her eyes wander towards me and settle. The traffic noise outside has stopped and Ingrid fumbles with her empty cup.
Finally there’s some light in her hazel eyes and she looks towards the open front door, the overflowing recycle bin outside. “You know, they’re not just leftovers; it’s a part of my life…no, pieces of two lives we just break off and throw away.” She talks in bursts, in fits and starts, as if waiting for me to approve or disapprove. “You know, we come and go, passing each other, between house and recycle bin, but I can’t bare to look at his face or inside the bin. I feel strange; numb; my feet and head floating.” I wonder if she’ll cry. “Have I been treading water all this time?” She looks down at the floor, still holding the cup. Her knuckles are white. I’m suddenly cold.
Her eyes lift. She takes a deep breath. “So…I suppose this is the funeral. Is there an afterlife?” I’m caught in Ingrid’s stare until, thank goodness, she again looks towards the front door. “You know, he still says almost nothing. I wonder if we ever really spoke at all.”
Back on the veranda I wait with Boerne for the truck to arrive. I shield my eyes from a blazing sun as the truck turns into the driveway, pulls to a stop, the driver jumping out and fiddling with the remote to swing the boom. The bin rises and drops onto the tray. The driver nods; no need to say anything.
As the truck moves off, there’s a cough from the engine and a pall of black smoke hangs above the exhaust. One of the rear lights is not working. There’s an eerie red shroud over everything now. The smell of smoke hangs heavy as the last bin cruises down the street.
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