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The Garbage Collector
Fredrick Newham crouched over a spilled trashcan, the bin rolling at his feet. Clawing past most of the items he found, Fredrick stopped at what could have been a woman’s favorite pearl earring. Taking that in his hand, he rolled it over and over between his fingers, seemingly examining every side of it and reveling in its creamy smoothness with a childlike pleasure. Not bothering to look for the earring’s pair, he pocketed the single earring and moved on to rummage in the next trashcan.
The saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” was quite true in Fredrick’s case, and to say that he lived by it would be an understatement. Every day was the same, Fredrick would wake up at eleven and almost immediately start looking through other people’s trash to find items he thought were special enough for him to bring home.
Finishing with his last trashcan of the day, Fredrick started the walk home in the nightly orange glow of the street lamps. They guided him home, as breadcrumbs did for two children in a fairytale. However those children and this man had something more in common. It wasn’t their age, since Fredrick was middle aged and far older in body than they– instead it was the fact that the source of his pleasures came from the same youth-filled spring as theirs. Fredrick had the gift of looking about him and his world in the same manner as a child, with the same curious eyes.
On the other side of the same street, a woman and her little boy were walking home hand in hand. With only a quick glance at Fredrick, the boy could tell at once that he wasn’t like most adults, and with the interest of a child, stated so to his mother. His mother hushed him at once and told him to keep his voice down so ‘the kind sir’ wouldn’t hear him.
“But he isn’t like Daddy,” the child was insisting.
“That kind man is autistic,” the mother replied in a low voice, painstakingly enunciating the last word. “That means that he doesn’t talk or play like you do, or act like Daddy.” The mother started explaining autism a bit more, but the boy had turned away, already bored.
Fredrick had seen the mother and her boy from across the street, but did nothing to acknowledge their existence. He had vaguely heard their voices carried over by the night’s cool, crisp air; nothing but a little over a murmur, and he didn’t choose to listen. Fredrick’s mind was a great distance away from the scene that played before him, and children turning to stare and gawk was nothing new.
Fredrick entered his house, which was little more than an abandoned shack, a little ways off from the rest of the neighborhood. His fingers fumbled for the light switch to the right of the door, flicking it on, though he had no electricity. It was just a routine that had no motive except for the fact that to Fredrick it made the room feel the slightest bit brighter.
Standing with his back against the door, Fredrick was surrounded by all sorts of items imaginable: items of different colors, items of different shapes, items of different textures. It was safe to say that the only thing the items had in common with each other was the fact that Fredrick had taken an interest in them and had taken them home.
Fredrick reached into the pocket of his dark green coat, and pulled out several objects, one of them being the pearl earring. Setting them aside with great care, he began to dig in his other pocket.
Out came a piece of fried chicken, a couple French fries, and a half of a BLT sandwich that he had found thrown away. He had begun methodically eating when he heard a loud knock. Fredrick didn’t look up, and continued eating his dinner. Sharp, insistent voices could be heard through the door, yet they didn’t pierce through Fredrick’s stonewall, and were ignored.
Sounds of shouting and loud banging went unnoticed by Fredrick. The door was kicked open, crashing into the piles of items that he had collected. A snow globe came tumbling down from the top of an old broken microwave and burst on the floor. Two policemen walked in– yet that too, seemingly went unnoticed. Fredrick continued to eat, gazing straight into the air before him. Murmurings were passed between the officers, words like “hoarding” and “invading private property” were used, as they took in the sight of the room and all the many items piled around them.
When Fredrick finally noticed, he was confused. He didn’t comprehend what was going on around him and didn’t try to. Words were thrown back and forth between the loud officers as Fredrick stared down at the two miniature dancers, seemingly frozen in an eternal waltz, who used to belong in the center of the now shattered snow globe. Words were yelled at him. Finally he sighed.
“Fredrick Newham.” Fredrick said as if was reading someone else’s name on a business card. His voice was flat and monotone as he gazed past the policemen. More mutterings were exchanged between the officers, as they forcefully led Fredrick into their car. They were mildly surprised when Fredrick didn’t fight them at all. He just walked on.
Emerging from the police car, Fredrick found himself in a place he had never seen. He was thrown into a room of mass chaos.
The room was as wide as it was long. It was filled with many people wearing dark blue, rushing back and forth, to and from wooden desks stacked high with paper. Fredrick was then ushered into a next room. The whole room was white and so startlingly bright that he had to look away. But everywhere he turned the whiteness followed until he was reduced to staring down at his dirt smeared shoes, two sizes too big.
A grey haired man in a white coat was waiting for them in the room. He talked to the navy clothed men behind him who brought him, until they finally left. Once they left, the man turned towards Fredrick, slowly talking. Fredrick didn’t want to be there. He wanted to go home. The white room scared him. However, every time Fredrick turned his head to look away, the man moved into his sight again. There was no escape, so he told him the thing that everyone always wanted to hear from him.
“I am Fredrick Newham,” he said with a bit of difficulty. He had trouble pronouncing his cks and his ms. The man in the white coat continued to mutter to himself. If someone else was in the room, they would have heard words such as “autistic,” “correctable,” and “therapy,” but of course Fredrick heard nothing. And so started his days in jail and speech therapy.
Jail could have been the best thing that happened to Fredrick.
Six weeks and forty-two therapy sessions later, Fredrick Newham found himself back in the center of his room where he had stood all those many days ago. He was still taking therapy sessions with Dr. Bradbury, but his speech was improving at a fast rate. Fredrick was now working on finally parting with all the items, which he had collected over the many years, and he knew exactly what to do with them.
Fredrick took a step back to examine his work placed all around him, and then looked back into the bag that held the last of his found items. It was all empty, except for a single, pearl earring, lying almost forgotten in the chasm which was the bag. Fredrick picked it up, remembering the day he had found the pearl earring.
This was the only thing he could not part with, for the memories it held were too important… too strong. It signified a part of his life he still wanted to remember. He put it in his pocket.
Neighborhoods away, a woman picked up her daily newspaper at the breakfast table. Her boy was playing with a toy truck at her feet. As she flipped through it, the woman stopped at a picture of a proud looking man standing in front of multiple pieces of art, all made from recycled materials; things someone would find in an average household’s trash can. The man looked familiar, but it was his wide, brilliant smile that made her stop. She couldn’t help but grin.