by Sam Johnston
My hands descend into the abyss of shredded bags and rotting food, digging around for the toy. I haven’t even combed a quarter of the dump, but I know I’ll find it. I’ll find him. The burning remains of black garbage bags stick to my fingertips as I wipe the sweat from my brow. The stench of mouldy lemons tickles my nostrils as I try not to throw up. The sun eats at my neck as I reach deeper. My knee shifts, and the container it rested on cracks under the pressure.
And I fall.
I fall into the putrid hole to be submerged in a mountain of trash. All for a toy.
Yesterday, I broke out in a cold sweat and dropped to my knees when my parents uttered the words ‘spring cleaning’. They had thrown out ‘old junk’ from around the house while I wasn’t home. I busted down the door to my room to find it spotless. My sticky notes for school were gone, my books had been moved; it was as if I had never lived in the room. I threw open each drawer, ticking off every important item on my mental checklist: books, work, electronics—they were all there. I swooped over to my wardrobe. Half full. Old jackets and my favourite shirts, gone. They were only a year old by most people’s standards, but they weren’t ‘new’ according to my parents.
Wait, if those are gone, is…
I slammed onto my bed, tearing the covers off.
He’s gone. Morrison is gone.
My stomach dropped. I clutched my mouth.
No. No. No. He can’t be gone.
They wouldn’t have dared. And, as if on command, I felt them behind me. My parents’ shadows loomed over me. Their picturesque smiles forcing rays of sunshine into the room they were so proud of.
‘Where is he?’ My voice cracked. Their smiles stopped radiating light and their heads tilted in sync.
‘Who?’ my mother asked.
‘Morrison.’ I slammed my hand on the desk. They jolted back an inch.
‘The bear?’ She stepped forward. ‘That old thing was filthy, sweetie. You don’t need something like that choking the aesthetic of your room.’ She patted me on the back, her smile returned. Her eyes, almost vicious, demanded that I accept her reason.
I swatted her hand away.
‘Why would you do that?’ I said. My breathing was heavy. My eyes darted between the two of them as she returned to my father’s side.
‘You’re too old to be carrying around a bloody teddy bear, mate,’ my father said with a chuckle. ‘That’s some kiddy shit. You’re fifteen now. Ain’t no age to be playing with toys.’
I felt their veneer cracking. Cracking to reveal the internalised disdain they had for my toys.
‘We’re just trying to reinvigorate your room. Make it something the girls would want to come and hang in,’ my mother said.
I paid no attention to that comment. I shoved past them, not giving them the courtesy of acknowledging their quiet hostility.
‘Gran wouldn’t have done that,’ I muttered to myself.
‘Well, she’s not here anymore, Caleb.’ Mother shrugged.
My hands shook as I kept missing the knot in my laces. Their eyes pierced the back of my head. I grabbed the door handle as my mother grabbed my shoulder.
‘Where are you off to, sweetie?’ she said with a hint of loving hostility.
I slammed the door in her face and ran downstairs to the bin.
Come on, he has to still be there.
I looked up to see our bin flung open over the garbage truck as it ate the copious spring-cleaning bags. I ran to the nature strip, but it didn’t stop—it dropped the bin and moved on. Its speed increased and its indicator flickered as sweat poured down my face. I squinted to see the license plate.
It was gone. I tumbled to the ground, as my legs crumbled beneath me, and closed my eyes.
I remembered their screams as they fought. The ones they thought I didn’t hear. The walls were thin. But my wardrobe was my bastion; just me and Morrison hiding behind its doors as they yelled louder, and the destruction spread to other rooms. I held him close. The soft bristles of his sweater brushed my face as his little arms held me tight. I couldn’t tell if it was me crying or if it came from the other room. I tried to calm myself. Breathe in for three. Hold. Out for four. Morrison helped a lot. His little round eyes looked into mine. They always knew what to say to me. He was good at giving advice. He was the only one that cared about me.
Oh god, Morrison. You can’t be gone. This can’t be how you die.
I dragged myself off the cracked asphalt road and onto the footpath. My parents stood behind the gate to our house, peering out. Not wanting to cause a scene, they gestured at me to return but I ignored them. They weren’t the parents I knew. A new house, a couple of counselling sessions later, and now they acted like the ‘perfect’ couple in the ‘perfect’ home where nothing was wrong.
My heart finally calmed down. I could breathe again. I pulled my phone out, typed the license plate number in, and searched for every dump in the area. I hoped that the truck had gone to one of them. I trudged to my bike and peddled as hard as I could to the nearest dump.
I glided down the hill towards the dump, almost toppling over when I hit the brake too hard. The gate was locked with no guard in sight. I didn’t expect them to let me in, but I wasn’t going to break-and-enter a dump either. Morrison wouldn’t want that. Gran wouldn’t want that. I guess I had to wait until tomorrow, which meant I had to go back home after all that. Great.
Morrison first showed up on our doorstep hand-in-hand with Gran. She had brought him just for me. She said something about how ‘lonely he was at the store’ and that ‘I would be a great friend to him’. He was so full of life. I ran up to him and buried my face in the soft fur of his chest. When he started losing his fur, Gran made him a little sweater that made him modest and comfortable in his old age. She looked after Morrison as much as I did.
The sun seeped through the blinds. The light was perfectly placed on my eyes, telling me it was time to find him. I rushed to the front door, dodging all questions about where I was going. I was on my bike before my parents could demand that I stay.
I glided back down the hill to the dump. Slammed on the breaks and flew over the handlebars. I smashed my face into the gravel. A guard yelled out to me, asking if I was alright. I wasn’t. I limped over to him.
‘Hey, you seen this garbage truck come in here yesterday?’ I showed him the license number. He looked back at me with an eyebrow raised.
‘I can’t just answer, you know that, right?’ he said. He was right, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I explained to him what had happened, trying to sell my story so he would let me in.
‘I’m sorry kid. I can’t let you in.’
‘Oh, come on! Do you even know what it’s like to lose something like that?’
He didn’t budge.
‘My own parents threw away the only thing I have left of my grandmother and all you can say is sorry kid?’ I kicked the side of the guard box, hitting my shin on the uneven sheet of metal, and fell to the ground. I wailed in pain. I just wanted Morrison back, was that too much to ask for? My fingers traversed the gravel to find my wallet that had slipped out of my jacket. I reached inside and found the key to my salvation. The hundred dollar note glistened in the sun as I held it out in triumph.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Please, I have to find him.’ Tears tried to force their way out. The guard looked around, shaming me with a shake of his head.
‘Get up, kid. Go on,’ he said, opening the gate. ‘You have until six. You better make sure you find him.’ He pointed towards the left side of the dump. ‘That’s where they dumped the junk from yesterday. Best to start there.’
I sit at the bottom of the abyss. The light of the sun shines through a hole to the surface. Morrison is nowhere to be found. I can hear them shouting again from the abyss. My heart pounds as they get louder: my mother throwing glasses across the house, my father swearing that he will leave us all. No. Stop. They are past that. I am past that. I claw at the opening of the hole, each desperate pull brings me closer to the sun. I burst free from the mountain of rubbish and tumble down to the gravel.
The sun hangs low. My time is up, but I rise to my feet and go to the next pile and dig I have to keep going. Morrison is not going to die in a place like this.
The odour of garbage clings to my hair. It isn’t going to wash out easily. I grab the last bag in the pile and see something; behind the lining of the blue bag, I can make out the shape of someone. I tear the bag open and hear his gasps for air.
Morrison is alive.
I hold him tight. I won’t let go. I won’t let them do that to him again. The guard taps my shoulder and, seeing that the mission was a success, he leads us out of the dump and waves goodbye. I sigh with relief.
‘It’s time to go home, Morrison.’