The chairman of the Emergency Committee straightened his outlandishly fat polka-dot tie and nodded at me. He stood in the middle of a circle composed of concerned townspeople like myself. Most of us sat in old fold up chairs that we found scattered on our front lawns, ones we otherwise might have thrown out.

After an introductory greeting and some exchange of pleasantries, I had raised the most pressing issue concerning what we could do about the dumping of garbage on our front lawns from nearby towns. Our town was small and farther from the city than any other. No one ever passed through our town to stop and visit.

A bald headed man with small spectacles raised his hand and pointed out that these nearby towns themselves were being used as garbage dumps from the city. With an annoying stammer, he said that the city's private companies were sneaking garbage to unload in the middle of night. None of us asked him how he knew this or if he had secret connections.

"Whatever," said a young divorcee, with bulbous nose and overly stretched skin from a botched cosmetic surgery," it's getting to be too much."

She then described how her front lawn was filled with rusted bicycle parts, parts of engines, worn gaskets and gears, rig-sized tires, crumpled cereal boxes, syringes, egg shells, Russian dolls smeared with blood, plastic hands with fingers ripped off, notebooks and diaries with pages torn.

"Why I can't even see past my lawn anymore."

The bald headed man agreed. He said if this continues we won't be able to see the sky.

The Fire Chief of our town stood up and in a gravelly voice proposed that taxes be raised to invest in a giant incinerator. He then discussed the cost and kind of materials and what hazards this might entail. A couple of us smiled at each other. He was notorious for getting high and going to meetings with glassy eyes.

The town's comptroller spoke out. "No," he said, "this would introduce another source of pollution to our skies and expose us to the possibility of toxic gases. Not to mention the cost. Why should we pay for the negligence of others."

There was some banter going in the back of the room. It was turning hot and I found myself looking at the clock on the wall, very much like the one in P.S. 98 that I watched as a youth when summer days approached. I wondered if it too was once a piece of discarded junk that someone had rescued.

The chairman paced back and forth in the middle of the circle, hands in his pocket, head down, giving courteous consideration to all suggestions.

A husky but brain-injured war veteran threw out the notion of everyone digging tunnels, building a nexus of them, until they reached the underground centers of nearby towns. Perhaps even the city. We would fill these tunnels with the debris and refuse found on our front lawns.

This suggestion was unanimously vetoed for many reasons, not the least of which was the thought of these tunnels becoming backed up, of living over islands, passageways festering with garbage and rats. How could we sleep at night with the thought of those plastic limbs or discarded metal teeth pressing against our floors, a zombie-like presence beneath our beds.

Finally, a retired English professor who worked part-time as a librarian, a woman whom we all loved but whose ideas we never took seriously, spoke in her usual shaky voice. She had recently published a memoir in which she claimed she was once part of a traveling circus before becoming a poet. She had written in agonizing detail about two clowns she fell in love with as a young and utterly charmed girl. Both clowns, I assumed, by now must have been long dead.

"Mr. Chairman. Please do not laugh at me. I propose we build a gigantic canvas over our town. We will work at this day and night, on scaffolds, stepladders. We will hang bright lights so we will never know darkness. When completed, it will foster a stronger sense of our community, of what we can achieve by teamwork. And if those garbage trucks come in the night, if they burst through our simple but beloved circus, I will take a match and set fire to our enormous tent, the way I once did to those jesters who tricked me into loving them. We will turn into the sky‘s most beautiful refuse, drifting over the city like ghosts, causing our smug bedfellows below a sense of eternal guilt."

The room fell silent. Not even a pin drop.

The chairman of the committee cleared his throat and thanked all of us for coming. He instructed us to jot down any ideas we might have to alleviate the problem. We filed out. No one stopped to chat, or for that matter, even looked at each other.

I woke up somewhere in the middle of the night. I wandered outside my apartment and walked down the main street that always ran east to west. I had this vague urge to explore, to walk past our town‘s boundaries, which I heard, resembled a triangle.

I found the old librarian standing in the middle of the street, a queer smile spread across her face, looking up at the stars, holding a single matchstick in one hand. It was a large match, the kind used in starting camp fires. The garbage trucks never did arrive that night. But in the distance, I could smell something burning.

Copyright: © 2009 Kyle Hemmings
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey, where he sometimes skateboards, attempts backflips, and misses.

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