Rainy retrieved his metal lunch box from his supervisor shed and walked to the south end of the dump, the fine, white dust whirling around his feet and settling on his boots. Mid summer sweat rolled down his sides as the pungent odor of garbage filled his nose, but he didn't mind: the dump was home to him.
He reached the shade of a large old willow tree and sat down on a car seat, the car long gone to an auto wrecker. His crew was already busily eating their lunches. On Rainy's right was Waldo, a tall blond kid who planned to return to college in the fall. Next to him was Tony Gravis, a twenty four year old who lived his life for cars and racing. On Rainy's left was Big Sam, a giant at twenty, who didn't know what he wanted from life. Rainy was thirty eight and almost old enough to be the father of the three men on his crew.
"Hey, Rainy, did you see that movie on TV last night?" asked Tony. "The one about the guy who comes to protect this apartment building from street kids."
"The Guardian," interjected Waldo.
"Yeah, that's it: The Guardian. Did ya see it?"
Rainy swallowed to clear his mouth. "No, I didn't watch TV last night."
"Well," continued Tony, "it was a great movie. These punks were doing a number on this apartment building and the people who lived there needed help so they hired this tall black dude. He really came down on the punks, and this one guy who lived there didn't like it.
"Martin Sheen," added Waldo.
"Yeah, that's right: Martin Sheen. Did you see it, Waldo?"
The tall blond leaned back on a cushion and examined his second sandwich. "Yeah, I saw it: kind of dumb!"
"I didn't understand the ending," said Tony.
Big Sam pointed to Waldo's sandwich. "If you don't want it, I'll eat it!"
Waldo frowned. "You're always scrounging for more food. Why don't you pack enough to start with, then you wouldn't always be bothering us!"
Rainy took an orange from his lunch box and threw it toward Big Sam. "The boy's still growing, ain't ya, Sam? How am I going to get any work out of him this afternoon if he's hungry?"
For some reason, the orange made Rainy think back over the years to that day, a day much like today, when he had been in the kitchen peeling oranges: he stood over the sink, cutting the oranges and then peeling back the skin. Suddenly Jenny rushed into the kitchen. "God!" she exclaimed. "I can't believe it! My mother, my mother!"
Rainy felt the air sucked from his chest. Jenny was having another spell. "What's wrong, love?" he asked, mustering a cheery voice.
She rushed to him and grabbed his arm. "You know goddamn well what's wrong! You and her are in cahoots. God, didn't you think I'd see? You think I'm stupid?"
He had stopped peeling the oranges and now gently turned and removed her iron like hand from his arm. "Now you're upset. Have you taken your medicine? If you get upset, you'll get Baby Robert upset. You don't want that, do you?"
She yelled at him so loud the spittle hit him on the nose. "YOU SON OF A BITCH! You and my mother are whores! She helped them kill my father and you did nothing!"
It was a familiar delusion. "But, Jenny, your father died in the plane crash."
She pounded on his chest with her hands. "But I told you, they killed him. They killed him because he knew and now you're going to kill me."
"Now, Jenny, you'll wake up Baby Robert if you carry on like this." It was all he could think of to calm her down.
"THAT BABY ISN'T MINE! They killed my baby and put that 'thing' in his place. You know that, I told you that."
Before he realized what was happening, she dashed from him and out the door. He ran after her, but she was to their car and inside before he could stop her. Yelling at her to come back, he watched in frustration as she backed the car into the street and drove away. She was out of control again. He would have to go after her.
Their laughter brought him back from the memory. Waldo had told a joke and they were all laughing. Tony stretched out on the mattress and stuffed a Hostess Cupcake into his mouth. "Ya know what?" he said, spitting crumbs over his shirt. "I found another dog this morning. I can't believe what people throw away. A dog! Why don't they bury their pets. I couldn't stuff a dog of mine in no garbage can. What sickos!"
Rainy, his stomach slowly turning over, glanced at Waldo and knew what the man was about to say; they had had this conversation before. Waldo grinned before beginning. "Wait until you find your first baby?"
"Oh, Christ!" said Tony. "Don't bring that up again."
"A baby?" asked Big Sam. "You mean a human baby?"
"Of course a human baby: right there in the garbage, black and blue and all twisted up like some awful rag doll. I found it last fall."
"Jesus!" exclaimed Sam. "What did you do?"
"I called the cops, what do you think?" answered Waldo. "God, I can't believe it!" said Sam, his eyes wide in horror. "How could someone do it: just throw a baby away?"
"Happens all the time," said Waldo. "Probably hundreds go into the dump every year. We just don't see them or recognize them."
"Goddamn it, Waldo!" yelled Tony, screwing up his face as he glared at the tall blond. "You found one goddamn baby and you think the dump's full of 'em."
Waldo smiled and continued to address Big Sam. "It's true. People have kids and when they die, they just throw them away. Some are even thrown away while they're still alive; just abandoned in garbage cans. It's a fact."
Big Sam looked from Waldo to Rainy. He was the new hire at the dump and it was his first 'dead baby' conversation. "Is it true, Rainy? I mean, do people really throw their babies in the garbage?" He said it as if pleading for the older man to deny such an evil thing.
Watching Big Sam, Rainy took a drink from his thermos. He hadn't anticipated that the conversation would upset him, but it had. He couldn't finish his lunch and he felt a knot of pain forming at the back of his throat. Putting the thermos down, he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "It's true."
"You ever find one?" asked Big Sam.
A shiver went up Rainy's spin. "No."
"Rainy doesn't find 'em because he doesn't want to," said Waldo to Big Sam. "But if you keep your eye out, you'll see them. In the Hong Kong dump they find thousands every year. People over there throw kids away like old chicken bones. If there are thousands in Hong Kong, then there must be hundreds here."
"Christ, Waldo!" complained Tony. "Do we have to talk about this while we're eating?"
Waldo laughed; satisfied he had upset his friends enough. Big Sam looked at his hands. "I would kill them," he said in a low voice. "I'd kill anyone who threw a baby away. I don't care if the kid was dead or not, I'd kill 'em."
"Enough dead babies," said Rainy. "It's just Waldo's idea of a sick joke. Tony, can you keep up with the dumpsters on the north side?"
Tony sat up and brushed the crumbs from his dirty shirt. "Yeah, I can keep ahead. But I'm telling you, there's something wrong with that number two machine. It's making a funny noise."
Rainy shook his head. "Tony, that engine was just rebuilt."
"I don't care, Rainy. A diesel has a certain sound. I think it's going to start giving us trouble."
"Well, watch it and if it acts up, I'll let the shop know."
The small talk continued until the men were ready to go back to work. The early afternoon sun beat down on the dump and a shimmering heat hung over the mountains of fresh garbage. As Rainy headed back to the supervisor's shack, Waldo caught up to him and walked by his side. "Did you get a chance to think about that job?" he asked.
Rainy's eyes pinched closed as he remembered their earlier conversation. "No, Waldo, I've been busy, but I will, I promise."
"Christ, Rainy, you can do much better than here. You've got too much talent to bury yourself at a small time garbage dump. You could make some real money with your knowledge of heavy equipment. My uncle needs people now. I'd do it myself, if I weren't going back to school."
"I promise, Waldo, I'll think on it. I'll let you know tomorrow."
The men of the dump returned to their tasks. The front gate was reopened, and the commercial dump trucks began arriving. As loads of fresh garbage were dumped, one of the large bulldozers pushed and crushed the garbage before covering it with loose earth.
Late that night Rainy returned to the dump. It was too dark to see where he was walking, but he knew his way, often visiting his dump in the starlight. As he took sure footed steps up a small hill of garbage, he heard the rats scurry away. Reaching the top, he sat down and took a deep breath. The odor was sweet. He couldn't understand why people objected to the smell of a garbage dump. Once you got used to it, the odor became a companion.
He and his crew had gone out for beers after work and now that it was time to go home he needed a few minutes at the dump to collect his thoughts. Waldo had asked again about the job and now, sitting in the dark in his dump, Rainy knew the answer. Seventeen years was a long time to work at one place, but how could he leave? Who would take care of the dump? Who could be trusted? Seventeen years ago he had had great plans for himself and Jenny and Baby Robert. Again the memory came, clear and hard.
Standing just inside the bus depot, he looked about until he spotted her beside a row of lockers. He hurried toward her, trying not to be seen, afraid he would frighten her. When he did reach her, he knew something was wrong. Grabbing her from behind he shouted in her ear. "Where's the baby?"
She turned and, recognizing him, laughed. The laughter filled his brain until he thought he'd explode.
He had not seen Jenny for years, there was no point. The last time he'd visited her at the hospital, she'd sat perfectly still and stared straight ahead, her eyes blank. How could he have known that she had put Baby Robert in the car before coming into the kitchen? And he had no idea which route she had taken from their home to the bus depot and so there were hundreds of dumpsters she could have used.
He took in another deep breath of air as the warm tears slipped off his cheeks and fell to his shirt. He knew he wouldn't go; he wouldn't abandoned Baby Robert nor any of the others either.