Sunday Stories: “Trash Night”


Trash Night
by Elizabeth Ellen

It was Monday, trash night. I wheeled the garbage bins to the curb. It was the second night I didn’t have to turn on the heat.

I carried the mail into the garage. The next day was my birthday. My husband was stopping by to take me to Flint. I wanted to eat lunch at the mall food court with Tanja, play miniature golf in an ice cream shop parking lot, hold puppies at the mall pet store with Tanja.

There were two cards in the stack of mail, a purple envelope and a white envelope. My name was written in my mother’s handwriting on each.

On my seventh birthday my mother had given me a similar envelope with my name on it. Inside that envelope had been a poem written to me by my mother. That envelope was somewhere in a box in the basement.

I didn’t notice at first the lack of address and stamp on the outside of the envelopes. My mother lived in Ohio now. Or in Florida. To be honest, I wasn’t sure which.

There was a red Netflix envelope on the counter in the kitchen I had forgotten to put in the mailbox. I walked it out even though now it was raining. I hadn’t noticed the flowers on the ground beneath the mailbox earlier. They were wrapped in cellophane like a roadside memorial marking a deadly accident. A small grocery store bouquet.

In the 70s my mother had justified driving drunk by saying, “it’s my right to risk my life if I want to.”

There were less cars on the road at night then. Or we lived out in the country. Or something. She later said.

I began to carry the flowers to the trashcan. I was bothered by the fact my mother had been this close to my house.

I was still angry about the 70s.

I was the one in control now.

Something stopped me short of the trashcan. I guess I wasn’t as cruel as I thought.

“Why did you wait until now,” my mother had asked in a recent letter. “To do this.”

She meant wait until her husband had died to stop talking. Her fourth husband, but still.

It was my instinct to turn the question around; to ask her, “Why did you wait until now to do this?”

I meant wait twenty years until her husband had died to want to be my friend.

In the morning it would be my birthday; Tanja and I would pay four dollars to rent motorized scooters dressed up like animals – an elephant and a lion – ride them through the hallways of the Flint mall.

Tanja would make me cupcakes and drop a puppy on the pet store floor. Tanja’s mother had been a teen mom, too.


Elizabeth Ellen is the author of a new novel Person/a (SF/LD) and the story collection Fast Machine (SF/LD). She lives with her husband in Ann Arbor. 

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