Separation Anxiety

It had really begun in the parking lot of Womper’s, where all one had to do was bring their garbage and get money for it—can you believe it? Although, maybe that’s more where it all ended. Something had ended that night, at least. Clarence had been alone—almost alone, anyway. Nobody saw it, so he just let it ride, mainly because he didn’t know how else to coast.

Now, this morning, he tried to make his sleepiness look casual beneath the kitchen’s lights.  But it was always apparent, or so it felt lately, seeping just below his eyes. The bags rested like two sewer drains propped open from below, always half-something, depending on the girth of last night’s insomnia. The kitchen had begun to swarm with a bright gratitude in the mornings, the same way it always felt too dark, and too soon every evening. This fucking kitchen. Or more so—and he glared at it now—the corner next to the fridge. A swelling volume of Clarence’s history (which had ruminated on a conversation of alcoholic tenants) waiting in silence that felt like malice, all to feel a part of something again: his recycling bin in the garage. But alas, here in the corner of the kitchen, which had grown to lately reek of death, it glowered amongst his life, always reminding him that the time had come. The beer cans were leaking, the spaghetti cans too—even a box of powdered sugar had managed to find in its bones enough marrow to encore the stench. Here they all sneered at Clarence beneath the light, this recent platoon who yearned for the company of peers out in the garage, as they stood on reflections from below. The fucking stupid-ass goddamn recycling.

Clarence wondered why he had to be involved with their cycle at all, much less its redux. Or more so the cycle that looped in the trash bin out of sight. He hadn’t wanted to go to the recycling area that night anyway, and the thought of going back seemed unthinkable after last time. But it was something he was going to have to face. He imagined himself bobbing upon the eventual bins, having sprouted their entirety over months, maybe even years. The floor around them acting like it was trying to smooth a bed’s bottom sheet over what was rotting below.

He took a deep breath and figured any operation begins with its first drop of blood. So he bent over and balanced what he could into his arms.

He shuffled into the garage and reminded himself that the breathing he heard was just the door opening. It did that to him. Especially lately. The morning light itself seemed reluctant to interrupt. Clarence just stood at first, watching the recycling pile in back as he juggled his rubbish in a still-life concentration. (Again, that night. When he had been assaulted. A branch bending with each hollered demand. Until it finally snapped.) But here, he took steps, each conveying the corner pile closer. Closer. Closer. Then he was there. Here. At the pile. Just a pile of forgotten bullshit. Forgotten, right? Right?

He threw everything into the corner and turned to hurry when he heard that voice: “You haven’t separated the aluminum from the glass.” It all flooded back as Clarence turned. The nightmare that had shadowed over him his whole life, having reached a chapter that could never be un-read. But now, there was nobody above the pile. Of course not. Only the loot of carcasses, angled and shining, begging to be revealed. Or recalled. He couldn’t tell.

But he saw it. He always saw it: the one remaining eye. Glaring from the deep and aimed straight at him. Only it blinked this time, again and again. With rhythm. Like it was speaking Morse. Clarence heard a breath. The garage door started closing. He ran for it and it seemed to stretch, always away from him. Farther and farther. He could feel that exhale losing its stutter on the back of his neck while his steps tried to erase the sound. Gagged and screaming. Muffled in terror.

The garage door held the sneer of its decent, and Clarence knew, despite his Indiana Jones memories, that he couldn’t get through. Even if he dive-rolled and lost the hat he wasn’t wearing. There was a sudden bustling metal, upstaged only by the glass. Both behind him, both angry. They darkened their conversation long enough to interrupt his footfalls for a memory that predated its own event.

He slammed against the garage door, feeling a brush against the hairs of his ear. He hoped it would wake him up from the nightmare and it gave him a sparse thought, collected and clutching: himself, in third-person, waking up in his bed, sweat-soaked and stunned, a blanketing relief while the world took shape. He even grasped at a page, maybe his own diary, from which he could step and dust off the ugly words that described him. But it didn’t happen. All he heard was the guttural truth, bubbling and swirling behind him. “You. Didn’t. Separate… Cans. From. Bottles!”

Clarence swept into the garbled sunset, knowing that the meekest separation only belonged between body and mind.

“Fuck this,” he whispered before spinning. And he saw it, the detangled eye that had stared beneath all the garbage, through slits of recovery. It beamed at him to squint and he shook it off. The tangles stuck between what to do and when to do it.

He felt the room grow uncomfortable, slow but stirring, above his head. The wall rotated and allowed a shift in consequence with the floor taking on the role of the garage door. All he knew was he was hitting the deck and a fog was being draped over everything he knew.

Then, it took a slow drift back into focus. What the fuck? Clarence felt a gust of wonderment, contemplating if the floor wanted to gain a voice and sense of control like the garage door. Even floors might not always love being walked on. Maybe. But this faded to dark noise before coasting back within his aim. Looking at the ceiling, he figured it was that of his bedroom taking on the hue of the afternoon. His bedroom? Shit. He noticed that he couldn’t recognize his ceiling anymore, never being one to sleep on his back. It had also been ages since he’d had a woman straddling his agenda to the backdrop of that ceiling.

So it had all been a dream.


Figures. Memory had never been the sharpest knife in his drawer. But then his mind, swimming through murky waters, finally registered the aroma. Garbage? And death. He tried to lift his head but it grew sinkers and was soon resting atop the bottom. Only now it was on its side, staring at the garage door.

He rolled over, careful and unique. Clarence saw the guy. Who had grown more horror than Clarence had imagined. He must have had a final death twitch? The bottles and cans that had once covered him, were strewn about the man’s own rotting mass. “How the fuck?” whispered Clarence.

He felt something in his hand, just as a vocal thunder erupted its response beside him: “Now the fuck!”

The words were on a foundation of that man’s stripped limbs and cracked trunk. Clarence watched the man rise, his den of cans and bottles not even bothering to stir. They were like his army, standing at attention to keep his bidding intact. As their mass remained, the man still somehow rose from beneath them, like the smoke of a stilled ember.

Clarence tried to say something, a thought, but it wisped only through his mind, high on a stilled wind. His hand pulled itself from the sand, finally showing himself what it held, that with tendrils promising a recurrence. It was the eye that had been caressing the back of Clarence’s neck before he hit the deck. The same eye that had been glaring from the depths of his garage for two weeks now. The eye that had remained in the man from the recycling yard. Before the fateful night when Clarence had been stumbling all day to the chorus of demands, slipping, losing control, driven to the brink by everyone in his life, the rules of the land, the startlingly idiotic splashes of story on the news, and then, finally, even the man there, where Clarence had gone to take his recycling. Where he met the man who had issued the demand that had finalized Clarence’s descent to madness. Temporary it may have been, but flashing and electric. The man with the glaring eye that itself had become Clarence’s bulls…eye.

He watched the mass, somehow still lying on the refuse, yet towering over Clarence. Then the words floated to him, the last demand: “You never separated… the… living…” he felt his head being turned to face the floor, farther, farther, as a stretch became an uproarious pop. To a fizzle. “…from the dead,” was the last breath he heard. A familiar voice that stirred the smoke of an unfamiliar and eternal air.

The eye splatted against the floor, staring back at Clarence.