On the first night it snows, she finally discovers who’s leaving the trash bags outside her apartment. Luna follows the bag’s track to an unassuming rowhome one block south of hers. The air smells of car exhaust and a yellow glow shines above the porch in the upstairs window. From the front door, a thin hand appears, gripping another black bag’s top knot like a marionette. Then the vestibule light flicks off. A porch light blinks on.
“Can I help you?” the woman calls.
“No!” says Luna, standing in an empty parking space. “You weren’t going to bring that trash to the house on the corner down on Rodman, were you?”
“No,” the woman says. She heaves the misshapen bag down the eight steps and onto the sidewalk it thumps. Snow culls in its ridges. Then, from the bag, an entire doghouse, with a shingled, rust-red roof, tumbles off the curb and flips into the street. Its inner walls are painted glittering green. Luna says, “Last week it was…plates. All made up like dimes…and…the week before that, laundry bags with dollar signs on them? I’m not angry,” Luna says. “Are you a set designer?”
“A what?” says the woman.
“A set designer. Do you make props for a stage, a movie set? A movie about money? About Wall Street?”
The woman gives a little shout – Luna is ascending her steps. “You owe me a confession,” she says.
“Listen. There’s someone I’m taking care of right now. This is all him.” Then the woman pouts. “My name’s Amara. I can tell you more about him – more about Mr. O’Hanlon, if you want to come inside. There’s coffee. That’s your house on the corner there, right?”
Luna nods. “A coffee.” She cozies up with the thought of a drink with a new person who is not a man. “That would be,” Luna feels the need to pause during a passing car’s rumble, “nice. Do you mean now? Who’s Mr. O’Hanlon?”
“Mastermind behind all this. I guess he’d like that,” says Amara, rolling her eyes. “I usually don’t. Look, maybe we can stay on the porch?”
“No, it’s freezing out! And I…want an explanation.”
The door opens a crack and a line of light stripes the floor.
A week ago, a bag full of dark dinner plates greeted her. On the plate’s surface someone had etched perfect profiles, in silver marker, of Roosevelt. And the week before that, she’d pulled a bag open, the bag lightening around its edges, to reveal deflated basketballs. Each ball featured the same jumble of black lines. She pulled one out and it flopped onto the curb. The lines formed a familiar face in profile: Lincoln. They were admirable renditions, with varied dates.
Luna follows Amara into the living room. Gardening tools, two dull junk flamingos, a grungy beach umbrella and green skis clutter one of the enclosed porch’s corners.
“You want a glass of wine, or water? He has some Jameson left, probably, if you want something stronger.”
Luna cowers in the moss-smelling living room. The wood panels dim the room. “Oh, wine would be great, thanks.” She pulls the bottom of her jacket over her hips. She wants to stay frozen but she’s made it this far. She creeps to an end table next to a boxy beige couch. There’s a stack of photographs on top of six shoeboxes ranging in colour from grey to brown point, and a picture of an attractive white man with a moustache and a bomber jacket stares at Luna – he’s holding a giant prize check in the foreground; in the background, a woman cheers from a doorway. Amara strides into the room with a bottle tucked under her arm and two glasses of red wine quivering.
“Thank you,” says Luna. The wine tastes like cloves and sickly-sweet cherry.
Luna lowers herself in front of a coffee table. “I do home care,” says Amara. “My, Mr. O’Han-Paddy. If I left that trash here, he’d take it, rip up the bags, bring all his crap back inside.”
“Oh,” says Luna. “The one in the pictures?”
“That’s him,” says Amara, pointing to the man with the prize check. “He used to work for a sweepstakes company. Brought those big ass checks to people’s houses. So now, I know it’s crazy but he keeps trying to make that happen again. Make stuff he thinks he’s gonna give someone. And it’ll change their lives.”
“I – there’s nowhere else to put these bags besides my house? It’s rude.”
“He gets out here and tries to find where I’ve put them on the block. Tears up other bags. He recognizes the white CVS ones with the red. I had to change out the bags. Hasn’t found where I’ve been putting them on your sidewalk yet.”
“What does he do when he finds them?”
“Stops people on the street. Tries to push frisbees, treadmill belts he says are dollarbills on them. I caught him with a stack of pancakes in February. Or brings everything back and pushes everything around. Throws it over the lamps. On the stairs. Says I’m censoring him. Says I’m getting in the way of changing lives, people winning.”
A creak echoes from where Luna assumes is the kitchen and then a heavy step resounds. Amara’s cheek flashes in profile. “Sir!” she says. “Mr. O’Hanlon?” An empty can hits the floor and rings. Then something slides toward Luna. Amara snatches it off the floor and stands, holding a small, stuffed, turquoise sack. It resembles the kind of sleeping bag Luna once took to with her ex to the Poconos.
“Let’s…see what’s inside,” says Luna.
“You don’t want that,” says Amara.
Luna takes it from her anyway. She opens the bag. Wrapping paper? The insides of a frog costume? She plucks out a tissue hodgepodge. It feels crisp and dry. The tissue is all green-marked – the same green as the doghouse.
“Well, he made you a wallet,” Amara mocks. Black dollar signs mark each leaf of paper. “Full of money. You’re rich now. You won the shit lottery.”
Luna laughs; the curtains waver in her vision.
But Amara says, “No! This is what I deal with. This right here is why I hide his trash.”
“He made it for me. It’s kind of sweet.”
“Maybe it used to be. Years ago. I tried to get used to it. Tried to appreciate his-”
“Well, there’s something special here.”
Amara shakes her head. “No. I talk to him about it. At least twice a month. For two years I’ve dealt with this.” Amara finishes her wine. “I tried to channel this mess into something regular. Something useful. Took him to the library Tuesdays. See if he wants to volunteer at that church on Rittenhouse. At the soup kitchen. Fool kept talking about how he – how he wanted to contribute. OK, I said, let’s contribute. We go to the soup kitchen for three days and then he yells at a man about – personal responsibility. They made us leave! But Paddy loved showing up at people’s doors with those big checks.
“When I can’t find him now, I know I’ll catch him at the dollar store. Stack of bodyboards under his arm.” Amara laughs a little. “He’ll carve into them with a bread knife. Write one out like one of those prize checks.” And she feigns carving, shutting an eye and sticking out her tongue. “And then I find three or four of them shoved under his bed. He’d address them to people. Neighbours. You never got one?”
“Well, I guess he’s moved on. You got that now.”
“It’s…charming. He made it for me.”
“Nuh-uh.” Amarah thrusts her hand out and curls-in her fingers. “Give it.”
“I can’t keep encouraging him. He stops people on the street. Tells them they’ve won some vacation to Brazil!”
“It’s mine,” says Luna.
“Don’t make me get angry,” says Amara.
A deep voice behind them booms: “It belongs to her!”
Amara rolls her eyes. “Stop. Giving. Her your crap, Paddy.” She tugs the bag from Luna’s hands.
In the light, his pale skin and white hair shines. A crumpled yellow oxford appears draped over a round body; he looks like an egg in a carton. Wrinkles crisscross his cheeks and lips. His pants have, dotting down each leg, bunches of mouse-sized holes. He glares at Amara. His scent is peppery, leathery. In a rough voice he says, “I know she’ll take them away. And so I must make more.”
“What?” says Luna.
Amara says, “Listen to him.”
Paddy nods. He puts his finger to his lips and disappears down a hallway. Shakily, Luna pours more wine into her glass. Then a scuffing makes her turn. Paddy is scraping a blue and orange bodyboard down the hallway. The bottom of it rubs against the wall; he has to carry it sideways.
He displays it to her, grinning with very white teeth. The print is a fine, professional font featuring decorative flourishes outlined in blue. Luna Vesna, 5501 Rodman Street, Philadelphia PA 19143. The cheque is for $500,000,000.
“Lord,” she says. “You know where I live.”
He drops the cheque and it thumps against the couch. Amara clutches green tissue paper. “He wants to make me happy. You’re keeping him from that.”
“Oh, you want him to make you happy?” She drops the tissue on the parquet floor.
“I don’t know why you’re being so rude,” says Luna. “Aren’t you supposed to help people?”
“You try keeping up with him.” Amara presses her finger to her lips. “Paddy,” she says, but he turns to the hallway. Then to Luna she says, “Tell Mr. O’Hanlon why you’re here.”
“What?” Luna tips her wine glass.
“Tell him what you came here tonight to say.”
“I’m…here because you invited me for a glass of wine out of the blue.”
“Nah-uh. At the very least, tell him, tell me to stop bringing his trash to your house. Go ahead.”
Luna bites her lip. “I can’t.”
Amara says, “Can’t or don’t wanna?”
Luna shoots the rest of the wine into her mouth – it burns. ”Yes, it’s – at least it was true. Before I knew what you were trying to give me.” She looks at the cheque. “It’s very nice.”
Paddy’s lips soften and seem to melt to a frown. He whimpers. Amara says, “Oh, you’re not happy? Tell her what’s keeping you from paradise. Because I bet it’s not me having to confiscate your bags of newspapers. Treadmill parts. Beach towels, plates.” She turns to Luna. “It’s when his fantasy steps all over people. That’s when it irks me. It really irks me. I mean, lest we forget, the reason you marched over here was to tell me about it!”
Luna says, “Stop! You’re what’s keeping him from happiness! You’re slapping the ball from his hand every chance you get.”
“I want you to stop. Stop getting in his way.”
“Leaving his crap everywhere? It disturbs people, you know. I’m not doing that.”
Luna turns to Paddy. “I’m sorry.” She bends for his cheque against the couch. Paddy’s stare bores into her. The cheque is bristly against her fingers. Amara says, “Get out of here before he tries to kiss you.” Paddy stares at his boots.
Back home, Luna turns on a Netflix movie she saved years ago. But she eats the rest of a box of Cheez-Its and passes out.
When she moves into her next apartment she brings the cheque.
The next man she dates is a bass player in Roxborough, David. The first night David will sleep over, he spies the cheque under her futon. He asks what the hell it is. “An art project?”
“From an interlude in my life,” she says.
The next trash night she leans it against a stop sign.
Perry Genovesi works as a librarian in Philadelphia, USA. He serves his fellow workers in AFSCME District Council 47 and plays in the empty arena rock band, Canid. You can read his published fiction in the Santa Monica Review, Maudlin House, Heavy Feature Review, and collected here. He’s come to the realization that most ‘conversations’ between two people are just subtle battles to see who has to send the first email.