I’m a garbage beautifier. It’s not near as glamorous as it sounds. I wander around the garbage strewn streets of our dirty city with the TF-3000. The Trash Flowerifier. It’s a ray gun that zaps trash into flowers. With as much garbage as my fellows and I zap, you’d think there would be much less garbage and much more flowers in the city. Not so. I’ve never been able to figure out why, but the flowers just seem to vanish and there’s always another empty case of Coors Light and Taco Bell bags and wrappers. Originally, I thought the effects of the TF-3000 were temporary, but I did some private testing.
The flower garden in my backyard is doing just fine, so unless people are making secret gardens, the flowers just can’t survive in all the garbage of the city. Maybe the flowers just can’t take root. Or the piles of garbage bags overflowing with condoms, sticky porno magazines, beer cans, broken radios, leftover salmon, and whatever else people throw out suffocate the flowers. All the trash is stifling. I’ve even worked overtime to try and make more of an impact. My wife hates it when I work overtime. She says I never make a difference, and I don’t get paid overtime, so why bother? If I got paid for overtime, I’m sure she’d never let me come home. I feel like I have to at least try, though. I can never understand how this city can make so much garbage. On my computer at home, I have thousands of pictures of what the world used to look like. It was so green, and light. Now, there’s garbage and haze. The sun hardly peeks through the polluted sky. So, I work long hours, make minimum wage, and the garbage still overwhelms the population of the city. Nothing ever looks any different. Something my wife makes sure to tell me every single chance she can. Her favorite time to rub that in, is when we’re eating a wonderful dinner she paid for.
My wife, Clarissa, is an exotic dancer. Makes a hell of a lot more money that I do. She can make more than me in one night, than I can in a week, a month. Whatever. It’s just something else she rubs in whenever she can.
Tonight, we were having a lovely spaghetti dinner. And by that, I mean I was trying to finish as fast as possible while Clarissa commented on me.
“You’re just lucky you married such a beautiful girl,” Clarissa said. She flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder, exposing the gown barely containing her breasts. Glitter covered her. She hadn’t changed from her work attire yet.
I managed a grunt I had grown to hope she would take as an affirmative. I stuffed more spaghetti into my mouth to avoid actually talking as much as possible.
“Really, if you had married an ugly girl, I don’t know where you’d be.” Clarissa said. “But, you have me, and I’m willing to sell my amazing body so you can stuff your face after a long day of playing with flowers.”
“I’m serious, John,” Clarissa said. She still had barely touched her food.
I swallowed a large mouthful of garlic bread. We were at the stage in the conversation where I actually had to talk. “I thought the tests were a joke in school. So, I answered randomly.”
“Uh huh,” Clarissa said. “If you’re really so smart, just retake the test.”
Oh, how my wife loved tormenting me. “You know I can’t. It costs too much.” Of course she knew that. She also couldn’t leave me. Divorce was far too expensive.
“If you really wanted to change your life, you could,” Clarissa said.
I hated the way she said really. Like, you like being a garbage beautifier. She understood what I had said perfectly well—I couldn’t retake the tests. The tests ruled almost every aspect of our life. What career we had, who we married, how many kids we could have. When I was kid in high school, I thought the government merely required things. I’ve learned differently now. The government demands. I had thought I was painter when I was in school. The tests said I lacked motivation because I expressed individualistic qualities. Now, there was nothing I could do to change that. Clarissa knew that. She had taken the tests as well. She just pretended like we could change our lives. I stuffed more spaghetti into my mouth and grunted.
“You just never try,” Clarissa said. “If you had cared about your life, and mine, you would have tried harder on those tests. You would have abandoned your stupid painting.” She flipped her hair, some stray locks settling into her cleavage. “You could have been a cop.”
If I cared about her life? We didn’t test for spouses until we had a job lined up. I dished up more spaghetti to avoid responding. Every night, we got to this part of the conversation. She treated me like nothing. Like she was better, selling herself. I stopped listening, occasionally grunting while I ate. She wasn’t an exotic dancer by choice. No more than she had married me by choice. The damn tests ruled everything. And, because I thought I was a unique individual, I would be zapping trash into flower with the only gun I could every carry. The TF-3000.
“Well, clean the dishes before you go to bed. I need to get ready for the day tomorrow,” Clarissa said.
Sighing, I grabbed all the plates off the table and dumped everything into the garbage can. Everyone used paper plates. Saved water usage, or some bullshit like that. All it did was add the ever increasing garbage population. I pulled the TF-3000 off my hip, and fired it into the garbage can. An eerie green light filled the kitchen as the ray did its job. Flowers filled the garbage can.
I holstered the TF-3000 and stared into the garbage can. The flowers were really pretty. They were always different, ranging from roses, to daisies, to orchids, birds of paradise. Anything really. This time, they were wildflowers. Brilliant hues of blues and reds and yellows spilled out the garbage can like a starburst. I loved wildflowers. I’ve never actually seen wildflowers in the wild, but that was a part of why I liked them. It was amazing to think that something so pretty could exist so naturally in the world. I longed to live back in that time, to actually see natural flowers. The closest I came was when my father took me to a museum. They had some pressed flowers that had been meticulously preserved.
“John! Bed!” Clarissa yelled.
I glanced back at the wildflowers in the garbage can as I trudged up the stairs to my room; she would throw them out. Clarissa had her own room, on the ground floor. I closed the door, thankful for the few hours I truly had to myself. I flipped on the computer monitor as I stripped out of my clothes. I hit a button on the keyboard, and a field full of wildflowers projected itself into my room. I laid down in my bed, under the illusion that I was laying down in field alive with color and I fell asleep.
Garbage beautifiers worked alone, so I wandered the streets alone, pulling the trigger repeatedly, watching flowers appear from old sofas, a car missing all four tires, a door or two, and its windows, and the usual beer, fast food, and outdated electronics. I had my trash route that never changed. Roses, irises, orchids, tulips, and carnations followed me as I followed the green glow from my gun. I never looked back anymore. The flowers were always gone when I came back. I sometimes wondered if the flowers were just buried under more garbage, but I never looked. Maybe they just never took root. I was almost finished with my route when something unusual happened. Someone talked to me. People usually just avoided garbage beautifiers.
“Excuse me, sir?” The voice belonged to a young girl.
I finished zapping some trash, chrysanthemums blooming in place of the old running shoes, and turned around. “Uh, yes?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I was hoping you could help me with something.” Her blue eyes almost seemed to glow in the approaching night. She was holding something tightly in her arms. She looked sad.
“I’m not sure I can be of much help.”
She smiled weakly. “I’ve watched you work. I wander around a lot, so I just watch beautifiers. You seem different than the others. Your flowers have a unique personality.” She held out what she was holding, and I saw it was a small, dead kitten. “My parents want me to just throw him out.” Tears had found their way out of her blue eyes, but her voice was firm. “I was hoping you could turn him into flowers, so I can keep him still.”
I kneeled down in front of her. “I’m not sure it will work.”
Her eyes burrowed into mine, the dead kitten cradled in her arms, as if it was merely curled up and napping. “Please try.”
Even if it didn’t work, I couldn’t resist that young girl. Those blue eyes. Several years ago, Clarissa and I had been approved to have a baby. I really wanted a kid. Clarissa, on the other hand, refused. It would interfere with work. No one wanted to watch a fat girl dance, she would say. I tried to persuade her. Pregnant, not fat, but she never saw it that way. I had considered myself lucky at first, getting such a beautiful wife. God, how I wished I had taken those tests more seriously. The little girl was standing in front of me, eyes sad. Without a word, I stood and carefully aimed the TF-3000 at the kitten. Pulled the trigger, an eerie green glow, and she was holding tiger lilies. I reached into a pile of trash nearby, that I hadn’t beautified yet, and found a pot that still had some soil in it. Together, we planted the lilies. The tears blurring her blue eyes and the faint smile thanked me as she turned and walked slowly away, singing softly to her flowers.
Clarissa had made another expensive dinner, which meant she had had a great night at her dance club. This time it was pork chops—I hated pork chops. But, Clarissa didn’t care. She never cared. Well, that’s not true. She just didn’t care about me. I ate slowly, for once, thinking about the little girl and her kitten.
“So, you make a difference today? Of course not.” Clarissa adjusted the strap on her bikini top. If it could even be considered a bikini top, with how small and stretched out it was.
I grunted, even though my mouth wasn’t very full. I liked it when she answered her own questions. I didn’t have to talk as much.
“If my nights keep up like this, I might be able to afford a divorce,” Clarissa said.
I finished chewing slowly, and swallowed. She had talked about this in the past, when she was having a particularly successful time of dancing around like a slut. I simply didn’t care anymore. I wouldn’t mind a divorce, but I didn’t know how I’d survive on my meager salary alone.
“What the hell are you starting at? I’m talking to you,” Clarissa said.
I suddenly realized she had been talking while I was off in my own little world. Even my food was being ignored. I quickly stuffed some mashed potatoes into my mouth, hoping that would be enough.
“I swear to god, John. I work my ass off, and what do you do? You wander streets like a homeless beggar, rifling through trash and smelling flowers. You don’t help anyone,” Clarissa said. “I help men relax after a long day of work.” She adjusted her breasts. “A soldier came in today, and he was very appreciative of me. Poor man, such a rough job.”
I set my fork down. “I helped a little girl today.” My voice was barely audible over the hum of the refrigerator.
“Oh, I’m sure. John, the ever-helpful man. He’ll shoot your problems into flowers and make them pretty,” Clarissa said.
I stared at my plate. The pork chops looked like piles of shit.
“That’s my husband! Garbage man, flower man, nothing man! John, you don’t do anything, you don’t accomplish anything. You just sit and rot like the garbage you hide.”
I was numb. My eyes never moved from the plate in front of me.
“You’re just trash,” Clarissa said.
She kept talking, but I wasn’t listening. I stood up, and walked up the stairs to my room, ignoring the yelling slut in the kitchen. Trash? I’ll show her. I carefully shut the door to my room, and turned on the computer monitor. Wildflowers filled the room, and I sat down in the center of my bed, cradling the TF-3000 in my lap.
“…Turn him into flowers, so I can keep him still.”
Maybe the little girl was on to something. I heard Clarissa slamming doors and yelling. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. She was always saying something. Clarissa said this, Clarissa said that. Trash.
I tenderly picked up the TF-3000 and gazed at the ray gun. It was fairly unassuming, but it held such power. Such protection. Such beauty. I placed the barrel at my temple, a smile growing across my lips. Trash. I sat with the barrel resting on my temple. Maybe I could find a cheaper place. I certainly didn’t need extravagant meals. Quietly, I rose to my feet and walked down the stairs.
The food was still on the table. Clarissa wouldn’t have cleaned it off; it was my job. I pointed the TF-3000 at the table. Green light bathed the kitchen as flowers sprouted from the table, covering it in wildflowers and daisies. I smiled sadly at the flowers. There had been a time, shortly after we had taken the test and gotten married, that Clarissa was sweet. It was brief, only a month or so. Tears stung my eyes. I remembered laying in bed with my lovely naked wife, having just had sex. I told her I loved her. She smiled sweetly and kissed me. I told her about wanting to be a painter.
I turned, the TF-3000 still in my hand. Clarissa was standing in door to her room. She was wearing a sheer nightgown, and her naked body seemed to glow. God, she was beautiful.
“What the hell are you doing back down here? You just storm away and come back, making a huge ruckus?”
I heard Clarissa yelling, but I didn’t hear what she was saying. I slowly raised my gun as she continued on. She didn’t seem to notice.
“I swear to god, John, I’m going to divorce you. You’re nothing more than a piece of shit.”
Her beauty had melted away, and I saw the wretched bile that filled her.
“I loved you, once,” I said, pulling the trigger. The green beam shot across the room and struck Clarissa in the heart. I holstered the TF-3000 and walked over to a cabinet, pulling out a planting pot with some soil in it. I had been saving it for the wildflowers in my garden, so I could bring some up into my room. Instead, stooping down, I picked up the bouquet of orchids and gingerly planted them in the pot, tears slowly filling my eyes.