Wild and Unclean

You inhale the shoe’s sweaty-sour scent. It’s disgusting. Dirty. Dingy. Dusty.

Wild and Unclean
Photo by Khachik Simonian / Unsplash

by Abigail Kemske

The sneaker is battered and full of holes. The sole separated, laces torn. Some would say it’s trash. 

But not you. 

“You spark joy,” you say, squeezing the shoe to your chest with your green, fuzzy paws. A gift from your mother on the day you were born. Slimey, the worm, sleeps curled up in the toe.

Joy is not a word many would associate with a grouch like you.

You inhale the shoe’s sweaty-sour scent. It’s disgusting. Dirty. Dingy. Dusty.

“Stop that!” You tell yourself.

There is no letter of the day. It’s your day off, after all. When you live and work in the same trash can, sometimes it’s hard to separate work from home.

The morning sunlight blinds you as the lid is briefly lifted, an apple core bonks your head then falls into the shoe.

“Hey!” You shout to the clatter of the lid. 

A big booming voice drowns out your own. 

You shove out the core, catching sight of yellow feathers and red fur walking away. Falsetto giggles echo down the street. 

Most don’t understand what a grouch has to go through. You love trash, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care for it. You live in a trash can, but that doesn’t mean you like your home to be treated like one. It’s called yucky chic

Sighing, you fold a squishy, brown banana peel. First in half, then in half again, but your muppet paws are clumsy and no good at this. You try again and again, determined to show that grouches are more than grouchiness, that your slimy, moldy, spoiled treasure can be, dare you say, beautiful. 

You struggle all morning and through the afternoon with it. And finally, when the sliver of sunlight shining through the cracked lid warms to gold you achieve the tripod shape so coveted by Ms. Kondo. You set it next to the fish bones and shoe. All of it gross. Grimy. Gobby. Grungy.

“Gah!” You groan. Again with the letters. 

More voices chatter outside. You peer out of the lid and see muppets gathering at the fruit stand. You know you should join, at least make an appearance. They’ll chalk up your absence to your grouchiness. But they don’t understand how hard it is to tidy a trash can. How tiring. No one bothers to stop by anyway. 

Settling into the swampy, sloppy, slushy bottom of your can, you admire your tidied trash as it gleams in the soft light. 

“All of it is mine,” You say.

Again the lid is lifted, this time gently by a reddish-brown trunk. A tissue drifts down.

“Hey, I’m living in here!” You grouch.

“Oh!” Long eyelashes blink into view. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were there.” 

“Yeah, well, who does?”

“Wow! What did you do to your trash can?”

“Oh this?” You look down at your tidy treasures. You’d blush if you could.

“Yes. It’s beautiful.”

“Did you — did you just call it beautiful?” 

Maybe you are more than a grouch. Maybe others will see that too.

You pick the tissue off the banana peel, then stand to hand it back, but there’s movement at your furry muppet feet. A tickle across your toes as the banana peel flops over, unfurls its slimy self. 

Your brow furrows. 

All the hours of work. The entire day folding and folding and folding again. Of being alone. Of making your trash can perfectly trashy, ready to show others you're more than just a grouch. One moment of excitement, of rotten joy, has ruined it all.

“Yes, bea-u-ti-ful.” The giant muppet sways.

You begin to shake, rattling the can, tipping over the fishbones and shoe, muppet paws form fists.

“Beautiful?” You clench your mouth. “Oh, yuck.”

You slam the trash lid shut.

Abigail Kemske is a Pushcart nominated writer living in Minneapolis, MN. Her fiction is published in Across the Margin, Vast Chasm Magazine, Apocalypse Confidential and more. Follow her on social media @abigailkemske and her website abigailkemske.com