Angelo Rossi discovers a possible solution to his unhappiness, but is the cost too high?
|Angelo Rossi stepped outside into the crisp evening air. He pulled the back door of his Pizza Ristorante closed behind him, giving the knob a quick twist to make sure it was locked. An early October breeze stirred, sent a scattering of leaves swirling over the restaurateur's shoes, around his ankles. He watched them dance across the parking lot as he walked toward his car.
He reached for his keys, remembering only then the bag of garbage he carried. He frowned. There was no reason he should be on garbage-duty, not while business was so slow. He’d have a word with his crew, Angelo decided--Tony and Raul especially.
It was a short walk back to the dumpster. Angelo regarded the metal container with mild curiosity. For one thing, it was blue, and not the standard-issue green. Also, it was incredibly clean looking--far too clean looking for a garbage can. With a mental shrug and a flip of his wrist, the owner of Rossi’s Italian Ristorante tossed the bag up and over the side of the container. That done, he turned, started for his car...and stopped.
He looked back over his shoulder. Something seemed...not right. For a moment he stood, tried to puzzle out what it was. A horn honked in the distance and Angelo had his answer. The sound had been wrong. There should have been a full day’s worth of garbage in that dumpster, at least; he should never have been able to hear the hollow, metallic gong of the bag he’d thrown hitting the bottom.
Could it be possible that nobody had thrown out any garbage all day? Angelo felt his neck getting warm, his face. His wife never tired of reminding him that people took advantage of his good nature. Another breeze gathered, this one bearing more than a hint of coming cold. Angelo walked downwind of the dumpster. He smelled nothing but fresh air.
She was right, his wife. He was too good to them, to people in general. Can I have this Friday off? Well, I’d appreciate a bit more notice, but I’ll see what I can do. I’m going on vacation...I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you. Well, it’s okay, please don’t do it again. I have to go--I’m going into labor, I think. Angelo shook his head as he stood beside the blue dumpster. That last one had actually happened. The young lady had been right, too--she had been in labor. She’d told not a soul, not even her parents, he learned later, that she’d been pregnant.
Should it really be so surprising then, that the Saturday night crew had skedaddled without taking care of the garbage? No, Angelo conceded to himself. Being careful not to slip, he stepped up onto the large trash-receptacle and peered over the side. His eyes widened; he gasped at what he saw, took an involuntary step backward.
For the smallest part of a second Angelo was weightless. Then he felt his chin strike the lip of the metal container and blinding pain flooded his consciousness. Dimly, he became aware that he was falling again. He tasted the metallic tang of blood. The pain in his face precluded him from even the most feeble of attempts at breaking this new fall. When the back of his head made contact with the pavement Angelo heard it, as well as felt it. It sounded like an egg cracking, he had time to think, and then darkness took him.
“He’s never paying attention to what he’s doing. I always tell him that he needs to pay more attention to what he’s doing…”
The sound of his wife’s voice in the distance dragged Angelo toward consciousness the way only it--or perhaps a very shrill smoke-alarm--could. His eyes flew open, they took in the strange, sterile surroundings.
A hospital, I’m in a hospital…
Angelo felt his stomach sink. She was going to be upset.
The back of his head ached terribly. He examined the back of his skull with one hand, was only mildly surprised to find a bandage. The pain, which had been significant though blunt, intensified. It sent an electric cry throughout Angelo’s nervous system.
The dumpster. That’s right, I climbed up on the side of the dumpster...I must have slipped.
Before Angelo could remember the reason he’d been climbing up on dumpsters, the sound of his wife’s voice brought him back to the here and now.
“What am I always telling you?” Mariangela Rossi’s broad frame filled the doorway. “Well?”
Angelo sighed. He did his best to disguise it as a deep breath. “I fell.”
His wife’s shoulders slumped. “Well of course you fell. How did it happen?”
Don’t worry, sweetheart. It looks pretty bad, I’m sure, but I’m okay.
“What does it matter how it happened?”
“What does it matter?” Angelo’s wife stepped to his bedside. “Because we can’t have you hurting yourself. Where would that leave me?”
“You’re right, sweetheart.” Angelo dodged the question. “You’re right, of course.”
She watched him--studied him, it felt like to Angelo. “Are you okay? The doctor says you’re lucky you didn’t fracture your skull.”
“Yes, my head hurts, but I’ll be fine.”
“That’s good,” Mariangela Rossi lowered her considerable hindquarters into the seat beside the bed. “We can’t afford to close, even for one day. Not the way business has been.”
I hate my wife.
It was more than a thought; it was a bitter, painful realization. Oh my God, I hate my wife…
She was focused on her cell-phone. She looked up. “Well, are you going to get dressed? I don’t want to be here all night.”
Angelo lay awake; his wife snored by his side. It was an obnoxious noise that seemed to fill the room, alternatingly wet-sounding and abrasive. With each repetition--watery inhale, sandpaper exhale--Angelo imagined his last nerve twisting in upon itself, unable to bear any more.
I hate my wife.
The thought had gravity; it pulled all others to itself. I hate my wife. The realization was at once exhilarating and deflating. Exhilarating because now, for the first time in years, he had something to look forward to. Deflating because first he had to get past his wife.
Angelo looked to the slumbering mountain of blankets beside him, sighed.
How in the world, he wondered, was he going to accomplish that?
Half an hour later Angelo sat at the kitchen table, a tumbler of scotch in his hand. His head throbbed. She would be inordinately pissed off should she come down the stairs, he knew. He found he no longer cared. He could imagine the entire conversation, he realized, in his mind. Or rather, a far-more concise version of it--one that wouldn’t have to drag out until the early hours of the morning.
How long, he wondered, had it been like this? How long, since he’d entertained the thought of bringing a friend home for dinner? Who in their right mind, he reflected, would subject himself or his guest to such embarrassment? For that matter, he thought, when was the last time he’d been allowed to have a friend--or the moment to himself it would take to make one. He downed the liquor in two swallows, put a hand to his mouth to keep from coughing.
Was he really thinking about doing this?
What have you got to lose?
What indeed, Angelo reflected. If he remembered correctly--if that ridiculously clean blue dumpster had indeed gobbled up any trace of the garbage he’d tossed into it--then didn’t it stand to reason that it would do the same to his wife? And, if it didn’t...well, he’d get a laugh out of it, at any rate.
He could feel the effects of the scotch. His face felt flush.
You can’t do this. You can’t kill her.
But that was just the thing, Angelo thought. He wouldn’t be killing her. He had no way to know, after all, what lay beyond the bottom of that strange dumpster. For all he knew, it could be a Sandals Resort. No, what he was doing was more akin to putting a baby in a basket and sending it downstream--like Moses, in the Bible.
A particularly loud snore came from upstairs. Angelo looked at his watch, then at the clock on the kitchen wall. If he was going to do this, it had to be soon. And he had to do this, he realized. If he didn’t do it now, he may never get the chance again.
So we’re really doing this?
Angelo nodded in the empty room. Yes, he thought. Yes, we are.
“You’re sure it was a money-clip?”
“With money in it?”
Angelo turned. “Of course, with money it.”
“You’re sure?” She asked again. “Keep your eyes on the road.”
Dutifully, Angelo redirected his attention. “Yes, Pinole, I’m positive.”
In the passenger seat, Mariangela Rossi smiled. She had a beautiful smile, she always had. It was one of the reasons Angelo had fallen in love with her. He tried to remember the last time he’d seen her smile, was saddened to realize he couldn’t.
“Did it look thick? Like a lot of money?”
“I don’t know,” Angelo said. “It was dark. I just know it’s a money clip, and that it’s got money in it.”
Satisfied for the moment, she turned her eyes back to the road ahead. Then: “What bill was on the top?”
“The top bill in the money clip--what was it?”
An alarm went off inside Angelo’s brain. If he said he didn’t know, she’d ask how he could be sure it was money. He would say because it was green, and then she’d challenge him. If you could see it was green, she would say, how could you not see the number on the bill? No, better to wriggle the hook a bit, he decided. “I couldn’t be sure,” He said, “It was either a twenty...or a fifty.”
Angelo watched his wife’s eyes widen, hated her a little more.
“Fifties? Are you sure?”
“No.” Risking another rebuke of his driving, Angelo turned to the woman he’d married. “I told you I wasn’t sure.”
“But it might have been?”
Angelo fought the urge to rub his temples. The effects of the scotch were wearing off. “What, a fifty? Yes, it might be.”
“Can you go any faster.”
I loved this woman once.
He reduced speed, turned right onto Decker Street. “I don’t have to,” he said. “We’re here.”
“For heaven’s sake, be careful!”
Angelo stood, for the second time in as many calendar days, on the side of a blue trash receptacle, peering over the edge. He leaned in as far as he dared, for effect. “I see it,” he said, feigning excitement. “There it is.”
“Can you reach it? Is it a fifty?”
The excitement in his wife’s voice elicited a twinge of something like regret. When, Angelo tried to recall, was the last time she’d seemed so...alive?
And all over a few dollars--a few imaginary dollars.
“It is a fifty on top,” Angelo groaned, again for effect. “But I can’t quite reach it.”
He heard her give an exasperated sigh. “Well, climb inside!”
Angelo straightened. Still standing on the side of the dumpster, he looked at her. “Climb inside? Are you serious?”
“You wanna make another trip to the hospital tonight?”
“Well, how else are you going to get it?”
Angelo sighed. He let his shoulders slump. “And how would I get out?”
Another impatient noise from his wife.
It won’t be long now, Angelo thought. Again he leaned forward into the dumpster, groaning as he stretched his arms out to their limit. “I don’t think…” He trailed off, on purpose.
“Don’t think what?”
Bent nearly upside down, the blood thundering in his mildly-hungover ears, Angelo counted to himself. One...two…
“You don’t think what?” His wife’s voice had risen by half an octave, at least. “Angelo? You don’t think what?”
He took a moment to savor her near-hysteria. Then: “I don’t...I don’t think I can…”
“What? What? You can’t reach it?” She was shrill now.
Groaning, Angelo hoisted himself back into standing position. “I’m sorry,” he said. “My arms are too short.”
Angelo’s wife regarded her husband--an impatient teacher and her idiot pupil. “You can do it. Try again.”
“Pinole, I’m dizzy and my head hurts. Let’s go home.”
“Home?” Mariangela Rossi’s voice approached high C. “You want to go home?”
Alarmed at the volume of his wife’s reproach, Angelo put a finger to his mouth. He looked around the large parking area from his perch on the side of the dumpster. “Shhh,” He said.
“Don’t you shhh me, Angelo Rossi,” Her voice quieter, but still all treble. “You have to get it!”
When he was a boy, Angelo’s grandfather would tell him stories of the Ancient Roman Republic. One of his favorites had been the story of Julius Caesar, and how he’d crossed the river Rubicon into Rome without disarming--an act from which there was no turning back.
Angelo stepped off of the dumpster, aware that he was crossing his own Rubicon.
“What are you doing? Are you crazy?”
“I can’t, I’m sorry. It isn’t worth hurting myself again for what might only be fifty-five dollars.”
Disbelief widened his wife’s eyes to the point of comical and beyond. “But it could be much more than that. You have to try again.”
His heart pounding in his chest, in his ears and temples, Angelo stood his ground. “No. I won’t.”
For a fraction of a second, Angelo wondered if his wife might attack him physically. The next fraction was spent wondering if he’d be able to fend her off, should she try. No, he decided, likely not.
She came at him then, and Angelo took an involuntary step back and out of the way.
“Oh for God’s sake, let me do it!”
His original idea had been to fight her a little on this--no, he’d have said, let me try one more time, don’t risk hurting yourself. Instead, he said, “Okay. If you think you can.”
“Well, of course, I can.” With all the grace of a rhinoceros tumbling down a spiral staircase, Mariangela Rossi hoisted her ample frame up onto the lip of the dumpster. From there she favored her husband with another withering glare.
The sight of his wife standing astride the huge garbage can in her coat, housedress and those ridiculous speedo slippers she wore tickled Angelo; he bit the inside of his lip to keep from cracking a smile. “Be careful, Pinole,” He managed.
And then the time had come; there she was, all but bent in half, her head and torso obscured by the garbage bin. Angelo eyed the enormous expanse of his wife’s rear, draped as it was in drab off-white linen. For a moment he paused, paralyzed by the weight of it all. A single thought drove him on: It has to be now, or not at all.
Fear pushed him forward. With both hands, he grabbed his wife’s backside and pushed for all he was worth. For a horrifying second or two, Angelo was afraid it hadn’t been enough. Her stomach a fulcrum on the narrow lip of the dumpster, his wife teetered forward, then seemed to steady. Just as it looked as though she would regain her balance, she slipped forward, disappearing completely into the large metal container. She let out a pained yelp as her considerable carriage hit bottom.
Angelo stood before the dumpster, shaken. His wife was screaming; the otherwise empty dumpster proved a formidable amplifier.
What have I done?
In a panic, Angelo looked around--and froze. Not thirty yards across the parking lot was an official vehicle of some sort, a sedan with a light-rack on its roof.
The police, maybe-- private security more likely. Whoever it was, it was extremely unlikely that they hadn’t heard his wife screaming. It was a quiet night, his wife was not a quiet woman.
The vehicle’s lights came on. From this distance, Angelo couldn’t hear whether the patrol car’s engine was running.
His mind worked furiously. What would he say? What explanation could he possibly give for having pushed his wife into a dumpster?
He itched to look back at the steel sarcophagus that held his wife. His gut told him he’d better not. Standing in the twin spotlights cast by the security vehicle’s headlights, Angelo found himself paralyzed by indecision, a deer about to be run down.
The sound of an engine starting, then. Angelo’s stomach fell. It would only be a matter of seconds before the rent-a-cop was asking questions of the sort that would lead him directly to jail. If he was going to do something, it was going to have to be now. The problem was, he couldn’t think of a thing worth doing. Of course, it was hard to think anything with his wife’s screams still reverberating through the otherwise peaceful night.
The seconds stretched into a minute, a minute-and-a-half. Still, the car sat idling, its headlights trained on Angelo.
Walk away. Just turn and walk away. You can come back for the car tomorrow.
Yes, that made sense. He might have done it, too, had he been able to move. His feet proved unwilling to cooperate.
Finally, the car started in Angelo’s direction. Anxiety flooded his system, set his heart racing. And then relief, sweet and unexpected.
It’s only a security car...a rent-a-cop.
Only that, he realized, wasn’t the source of his relief--not all of it at any rate. His wife was no longer screaming, he realized. Angelo listened intently, wondering if perhaps his subconscious had tuned out the shrill noise. He tried, in vain, to tune it back in. He couldn’t. It wasn’t there.
She’s gone. It worked...
Angelo felt suddenly giddy; it was all he could do not to laugh out loud. The security car was almost on him. He bit the inside of his cheek for insurance.
The driver pulled alongside Angelo. He opened the window. “Everything okay here, sir?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you.”
The young security officer frowned, turned his gaze toward the dumpster.
“Is everything okay, young man?” Again, Angelo fought the near-irresistible urge to giggle.
The kid in the security car looked at Angelo as though he’d just appeared out of nowhere. “What? Oh, yes...yes. Did you…?”
He hadn’t seen, Angelo realized. He’d heard the screaming, that was all. “Did I...what?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. You have a good night, sir.”
Angelo smiled. “Thank you. You too.”
He watched the small patrol car--up close it could never have been mistaken for a police cruiser--drive away to resume its rounds. After speaking with Angelo, the security kid had driven the few yards to the dumpster. There, he’d gotten out, ostensibly to throw out a Wendy’s bag full of trash. Angelo’s stomach grew cold as he watched the officer peer over the side to get a look.
It was only a few steps to his own car. Angelo reached for his keys...and froze.
You gave her the keys...
Angelo stood, his mouth slightly open. Could he really have forgotten to get them back before...well, before it was too late? His right hand went, of its own volition, to his temple--a slow-motion slap on the forehead.
I did. My God, I really did.
Panic, electric and insistent shook Angelo from his stupor. With both hands, he frisked the front pockets of his slacks, the back pockets. He checked his windbreaker again. When he ran out of places to check, he looked in his slacks again.
You know where they are, if they’re anywhere, that is…
Angelo’s mind worked. He tried to recall if he’d seen his wife place the keys down before she’d scaled the metal container, but couldn’t. If she hadn’t, he was out of luck.
In a day or two, Angelo knew, he was going to have to report his wife missing. When he did, he would immediately become suspect number one--the husband always is. Angelo had seen enough TV to know that the authorities would scrutinize his every movement for the past few weeks, maybe even months. His interaction with the security officer had been too much exposure already. The last thing he needed was another potential witness for the prosecution.
He scanned the parking lot. The small rent-a-cruiser was nowhere to be seen, though it could be back at any time. His eyes found the dumpster, mere yards away.
Briefly, Angelo considered abandoning his car for the night. He had no desire to be anywhere near that dumpster, not ever again. But no, that would be too risky, he decided. First, there was no guarantee he wouldn’t encounter the security car again while waiting for an Uber. Also, should his car be ticketed, would that not lead to loads of unwanted, unanswerable questions, once the investigation started?
No. There was no way around it. He had to try the dumpster.
Having made up his mind, Angelo hurried the fifteen or so paces it took to reach the dumpster. Frantically, his eyes swept the edges of the thick blue metal for his keys. He looked around it, then crouched as best he could to look underneath also. Sickly, cold perspiration wet his hairline, his upper lip. He could feel the rapid pounding of his heart reverberating in his ears, in his jaw and arms. What karmic justice it would be, Angelo considered, should he drop dead of a heart attack right here and now.
Doing his best to ignore the terrible internal noise, Angelo looked up.
There! There they are!
It was almost too good to be true. Angelo looked away, counted five. He looked back. Still, he saw them. His keys, perched precariously on the edge of the dumpster. The light of a nearby streetlamp set his house key sparkling; he could make out the shape of his vehicle’s key fob lying beside it, tethered as they were by a small keyring.
Angelo, who hadn’t realized he stopped breathing, took a breath. Relief countered the terrible anxiety, made it almost bearable.
Alright, quickly now, before the rent-a-cop gets back.
Ignoring the resulting pain in his hip, Angelo placed one foot on the metal ridge of the dumpster. Using both hands, he hoisted himself, once again, into a standing position on its side. He reached for the keys; they were just a few inches too far away.
He heard the sound of a car turning into the lot, then. Angelo froze as its headlights swept over and past him. Cold panic flooded his veins. Had the security vehicle returned?
No, this car made a U-turn and left the way it had come. Angelo breathed a deep sigh. He turned, took a step to his right on the narrow ridge. He reached up for his keys.
A siren wailed in the night; a single authoritative cry, once up and down the octave. Angelo jumped. As he did, he knocked his keys off of the blue metal ledge and into the dumpster. The clang of them hitting the bottom reverberated in Angelo’s ears. A terrible weight formed in his stomach. Holding his breath, he turned...and exhaled. The strobing blue and red lights were coming from Decker Street; a traffic stop, it looked like.
Sweat running down his neck and into his eyes, Angelo peered over the side of the blue ledge and into the dumpster. There was no way he was crawling into the metal container--not for one second. He was going to have to call a cab, despite the later headaches leaving his car for the night would surely cause.
But wait, could it be? Angelo’s heart leaped. His keys, they hadn’t fallen all the way into the dumpster. By some miracle, they’d alighted on a rectangular outcropping about a foot from the container’s floor. He saw his keyfob on the small steel rectangle; the house-key hung precariously over the side.
He knew he could reach them; he’d reached in as far earlier as he ’d feigned retrieving an imaginary money-clip.
Wanting very badly to be far from this place as quickly as possible, Angelo leaned forward. He reached until his shoulder strained in its socket until the tip of his middle finger touched the cold plastic of the key fob.
Angelo strained, willed his arm to be an inch longer. He was so close. He had the fob between his middle and index fingers--another quarter inch and he’d be able to lift it.
He closed his fingers around the elongated oval of plastic. In doing so, he lost his center of balance. Arms flailing, his eyes wide with alarm, Angelo slid forward. He managed to avoid another head-injury by virtue of an involuntary, haphazard summersault. Angelo heard and felt a pop in his left shoulder as he hit bottom.
Part of Angelo wanted to be terrified, to be indignant at this turn of events. It proved difficult. He realized, as he found his feet, that he wasn’t at all surprised. It was as though a part of him had known it would end this way.
He eyed the nearest blue wall. It was five feet high, and possibly a bit taller. There may have been a chance of pulling himself up and out of this metal tomb, had he not dislocated his shoulder--not a good chance, Angelo conceded to himself, but a chance.
With nothing else to do, He sat, his back against the cold metal. He savored the irony. All he’d done, he’d done for freedom--for a moment’s peace before he died.
Again he surveyed the confines of the empty metal container. The blue paint-job seemed brand new, not a spot to be seen. Well, he thought, so much for freedom.
Then again, did his current situation not afford him a moment’s peace? It could, he decided. He closed his eyes, concentrated on his breathing. One thought kept intruding on his meditation:
I hope this thing is a mouth, and not a door...because if Mariangela’s alive on the other side I’m in so much trouble.