by Nick Ostdick

Brady fishes a spaceman outfit from a curbside can this morning. When I come behind the truck to see what’s taking so long and spot him holding it in the fog-filled air, I instantly become irritated as if someone throws a switch in my chest. The spaceman outfit is smudged and lousy with stains, a toddler-sized number, eggshell white, with a black chest plate of buttons and dials and a sewn NASA patch over the heart and a hood dangling off the back that acts as a space helmet. The way Brady is holding it, his face as if he’s been poked in the eye, he looks like an astronaut trying to figure how his suit shrunk. When I remind him we don’t treat this job like some kind of garage sale, he just shrugs and tells me to relax. I hate it when people tell me to relax.
…..Brady and I are trash men. I drive. He rides, hopping out to empty cans and operate the compactor. That’s the job us older folks make the rookies do because they’re young and their joints can handle the impact of getting out and getting in. When you’re a newb, you’re dumbfounded at what people call garbage, at how things that appear to have utility are discarded. But sometimes even though a crib or picture frame or a bag of clothes seem perfectly fine, it’s the busted meaning behind these objects that makes them trash. It’s the memories this stuff holds that turns them to waste. These things we come across, books and coffee cups and half-burnt candles and address books and shoes and spaceman outfits, these things are broken one away or another.
…..And even though I tell Brady this again, there’s a memory floating in my head I can’t shake: the image of my ruffled-blond boy in his spaceman outfit during his last birthday, my ex-wife Rita, this lovely curly-haired woman, singing the happy birthday song so beautifully it’d make you ache, holding the cake near him so our boy could make his wish, long before the affair, before Rita took my boy and moved in with her sister to upstate New York because she couldn’t forgive me. Most times I can’t even understand how many miles lie between here and there.
…..As Brady stretches the neckline of the spaceman outfit, as if he’s sizing it up for himself, I wonder if years from now my boy will remember wearing it. If he will remember me hoisting him onto my shoulders and flying him in an orbit around his bed, then splashing down in a pile of blankets on the floor. If years from now he’ll remember this fondly as a moment when he felt safe perched upon me, even if he can’t remember why, even if he chalks this larger-than-life feeling up to something other than my presence. But enough is enough and a mist is falling slowly to the street, cars kicking it up as they whiz by, so I snatch the spaceman outfit from Brady and order him into the truck, and when he’s out of sight I press the spaceman outfit close to me, right in my chest, squeezing it so hard my boy would turn to goo if he were inside. I expect the scent of Rita’s detergent, anticipate the smell of my boy’s shampoo, but get rotting vegetables instead. It doesn’t matter though, because just before I whip the piece of junk in with the rest and fire up the compactor, maybe we’re together again, just for a few seconds, the three of us.

Nick Ostdick is a husband, runner, teacher, and writer in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University. He’s the editor of the forthcoming anthology Hair Lit, Vol. 1 (Orange Alert Press, 2012), and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Annalemma, Big Lucks, Emerson Review, Sheepshead Review, Prairie Margins, and elsewhere. He’s the winner of the Viola Wendt Award for fiction and is currently working on his first collection of short stories.