City Dump ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a repost from November 2015 and has been published in 1947 Journal.)
When I was in the eighth grade, the Dutchman decided our old house needed a new roof. Instead of consulting the Yellow Pages to find a reputable roofer, he decided to save a few greenbacks by—no, not by doing the job himself—but by having a “friend” do it at a cut-rate price.
The price at which the friend agreed to replace the roof didn’t, oddly enough, include any clean-up. That means that pieces of the old roof dating from the time the house was built—boards, shingles, chunks of asbestos, nails, what-have-you—were scattered in the yard on all four sides of the house, looking like the scene of an unspeakable natural disaster. How many houses, I ask you, have a new roof while the old roof adorns the yard in the ugliest way imaginable?
The Dutchman’s solution to the clean-up was simple. He had a thirteen-year-old son: me. I weighed ninety-two pounds but was more than capable of picking chunks of debris out of the shrubs and off the lawn and placing them in a washtub. How many washtubs full does it take to hold the thousands of splintered pieces of an old roof? More than you can imagine.
He didn’t own a pickup truck so he borrowed one from another “friend.” (Where do all these friends come from?) It was an old dark blue truck that had seen better days. It was only a one-day loan, so that meant we only had one day to get rid of all the crap that surrounded the house. I was wishing I would lose consciousness and not regain it until well into the next week. I would rather have thirty hours of gym class than a day of enforced yard clean-up with the Dutchman.
After I got the washtub loaded up with stuff, it was too heavy to lift on my own. “Candy ass,” the Dutchman said. “You’re not worth the powder to blow you to hell.”
“I know,” I said. And I did know, as this phrase had been repeated to me in some form or another almost every day of my life.
The Dutchman saw that I could manage the loaded washtub only if he took the other handle. It occurred to him then for the first time that I didn’t have the strength of a grown man. Who knew?
With about eight tubs full of stuff, we had enough in the back of the truck to make a full load. I had to take a rake and distribute the stuff so we could get more in. Then, when the Dutchman was convinced the truck would hold no more, we headed for the city dump, about two miles outside of town. It felt good to sit down, even if the inside of the truck smelled like an old woman who never takes a bath.
At the city dump, the Dutchman carefully backed the truck as close to the edge of the embankment as he could get without going over the side, and we got out and started unloading. I stood up in the bed of the truck and tossed the stuff over the side but, of course, I wasn’t doing it fast enough to suit the Dutchman.
“Do you want to still be working at this at midnight?” he asked.
“I’m starting to feel sick,” I said.
By the time we got back to the house to begin work on the second load, it had started to rain the kind of rain you get in November: slow, cold and steady. The Dutchman made me put on a hat—not to protect my health but because he was thinking about how much money it might cost him if I got sick and had to see a doctor.
The second truckload to the city dump didn’t go any faster than the first one and, after two loads, we had made very little progress. This was taking a lot longer than the Dutchman thought it would. There weren’t going to be enough hours in the day. I was happy, maybe for the first time in my life, at the prospect of going to school the next day.
It was when we were working on the third load that an old man from the neighborhood stepped into the yard and motioned to us. The Dutchman stopped what he was doing and went over to him. I was near enough that I could hear.
“I know somebody that will take all that stuff away for you for a good price,” the old man said.
The Dutchman thought about it for a minute and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I can do it myself.”
“Looks like that boy there’s about worn out,” the old man said. He meant me, of course.
The Dutchman looked at me as though noticing me for the first time. “He’s stronger than he looks,” he said with a little laugh.
My mother came out of the house then in her plastic rain bonnet. “You know somebody that’ll do this hard work?” she asked.
“My nephew and his friend,” the old man said. “They’ve got themselves an old truck and will do little jobs here and there to earn enough money to fill it up with gas.”
“Does your nephew have a phone number?” she asked.
The old man gave the number and my mother said she would remember it without writing it down. She thanked the old man and he left.
“You come into the house,” she said to me, “and get cleaned up before supper.”
“He’s not going in,” the Dutchman said, “until the work is finished.”
“Says you,” she said.
She put her hand on my shoulder and drew me along with her into the house. It was one of the few times I ever saw her stand up to the Dutchman.
I took a bath as hot as I could stand it to get the roof grit off and put on my pajamas. I had the sniffles afterwards and there were some bleeding cuts on my hands, but I was happy and was sure I would be all right.
The next day when I came home from school, all the roof junk in the yard had been taken away. Mother told me she paid for it out of her own money and that it had been a real bargain. I was beaming with satisfaction at the dinner table that evening while the Dutchman looked unhappy and defeated, too dispirited even to complain that the mashed potatoes weren’t the way he liked them.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp