Waste Not, Want Not

This novel is about a “reclamation center” worker and her fellow employees sorting through the wealth of a careless nation. “I’ll tell you something sad. The scenario—someone died. Maybe a parent. You had a good relationship, a bad one, whatever, and now the person is gone and their stuff means nothing. Maybe you’re close to the person who died, and then, you get rid of their stuff, to turn over a new leaf and get on with your life. What happens is that you do it too quickly, and a couple of years later, it hits you what you’ve thrown away. And you’re sorry. But, it’s just things. Seriously. It’s just things. It’s not the things themselves, it’s what they mean and everything.” (From an interview with a “dump” employee.)

We throw out anything in America, including people. But even here, just as in Mexico City, Mumbai, Bangkok, a band of outcasts sifts through the dumps of our great cities looking for discards, for a living, for treasure, for food. They are the original recyclers, people who know the value of a roll of copper wire or a torn jacket or a bag of day-old bread.

Waste Not, Want Not She shook her head slightly to clear out the roseate distractions and forced herself to stop staring at the linoleum. Existence, effulgent existence. God in the floor tiles.

“We loading them tiles or we worshiping them?” Ben asked.

“Sometimes worship is necessary, Ben,” she said.

The cardboard boxes holding the tiles were disintegrating into globs of moldy powder that made her sneeze, “Hah-schoo, schoo, schoo.”

“Bless you,” Ben said, automatically.

“Uh, don’t worry. My soul’s still stuck inside somewhere.”

“Good to know.”

Ben leaned into the truck to push back a wooden kitchen chair so he could load up the two boxes he’d just brought over. Embeth started to lift the tiles from their mushy boxes and pile them along one side of the truck bed. Something disturbing occurred to her.

“Do you suppose they’re asbestos?” she said.

“Dunno,” Ben said.

She turned the tile over and over. Aqua blue, custard yellow, pale orange, baby pink, and a truly pukey pus-green speckled the upper surface…On the underside, it was tarry black. They used to make tiles with asbestos before they realized how dangerous it was. One single filament of asbestos can pierce the integrity of lungs and begin the bulgy growth of cancerous tissue. People who ripped up tiled floors were at risk. People everywhere were at risk.

“Holy Jeez, Embeth, you really slowing us down this morning.”

“Sorry.”