walter-osborne-study-of-a-child
Gone
by Anita Haas

“Why don’t you throw all that junk away!” They’d demand
as they watched Eve braid grocery bags
into mats, or stack empty yogurt containers
to be used one day as, as, … dessert bowls for picnics?

“Splurge a little! Enjoy life!” They would comment
critically on her limited water-use. No
luxurious baths, no long, hot showers. Dishes
rinsed, soaped and rinsed again. Lights
off after exiting a room. Clothes and
furniture second-hand, or was it third? Worn socks
mended, broken objects upcycled for
other uses.

“Away?” she puzzled, knowing they would never comprehend
it was a not a question of money.
“Yes. Away. Gone.”
Ah, but away does not mean gone, Eve knew. It means, not here, not
my problem anymore. Even throwing out was more
honest. It suggested “not in my home.”

#
It had been stressful before recycling; piles
of used paper rising in corners after filling
every white space. She devised
uses for them; cut
them into squares, glued
them on one side to make notepads, blank side up.

Empty bottles
fraternized above the kitchen cabinets;
her second cousin’s neighbor’s colleague made
elderberry wine and could
use them. The grocer’s son
collected stamps, so Eve soaked
the tiny squares off envelopes and saved them
for the boy.

#
“Now, you just go and throw all that silly stuff
away.” They would cajole, clearly suspecting
a budding case of Diogenes.

“Away?” Eve asked, “You mean …
buried?” She had grown up next to what they called a
landfill site. Enjoyed time off school because of the
methane gas scare. It was a place where you
put things you didn’t want and you
covered them up with Earth and then they were
gone. Like burying your tooth
under the skin of your knee. Festering infections.

“Away?” she repeated, “Or do you mean …
tossed in the ocean?” Drowned? Earth swallowing
what had been mined
from her own guts.
“Or burned?” Forest lungs choking on black soot
from their own fires.
Nothing is ever gone, Eve knew. It comes back.
And haunts us.

#
But now, recycling containers reside
on every street, each one hungry
for its unique diet. She fills
their breakfast bag, fitting
jars and cans inside each other, tucking
rolled newsprint around them, sliding
folded milk cartons along the sides. Everything
spotless and dry.

The tinkle of white glass shattering
reaches her as she approaches
the containers. Green glass breaks at a lower
pitch, like an adolescent boy’s cry, cracking
in places. Brown glass snaps
and pops, if it breaks at all.

Although she knows she’s not doing
nearly enough, Eve thinks she hears
a hoarse whisper. She leans toward the container
and listens,

“Thank you.”

PAINTING: Study of a Child Carrying Bottles in a Landscape by Walter Osborne (1859-1903).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have always tried to look for the usefulness in things, no matter how out-of-fashion, obsolete, worn, or broken. That’s why I adore thrift shops and applaud recycling.

haas

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anita Haas is a differently-abled Canadian writer and teacher based in Madrid, Spain. She has published books on film and flamenco (with her husband, Carlos Aguilar), two novelettes, a short story collection, as well as articles, poems, and fiction in both English and Spanish. Her most recent work is the bilingual picture book, Chato, the Puppy-Cat/Chato, el Perri-Gato, which she has written, translated, and illustrated, with sales donated to local animal shelters.