Out of Sight, Out of Mind
2:00 a.m. Saturday 14th
A man lay somewhat submerged in a gravel heap in a Staten Island landfill. Around him, garbage rose in mounds, mixed with slurry and rocks from a recent foundation dig for a big new building in the city. Behind him, the city looked beautiful; twinkling lights, a bright moon, scattered clouds, silvered and ephemeral. He could have been asleep, he could have been dead. As it was, he was somewhere between the two, unconscious and undreaming. Blood trickled from a rising wound on his forehead and another lump hid in his hair and seeped. He was well dressed; good winter coat, fairly new leather boots, a charcoal striped suit, expensive blue shirt, and a dark grey silk tie. He'd be about six foot tall, when he was standing and not lying unconscious in the garbage and was handsome for a man in his late thirties, early forties.
His chest rose and fell, lifting the young rat that sat on his shoulder and cleaned its whiskers. The rat tiptoed down an outstretched arm, stopping to sniff at the watch on his left wrist. Moonlight glinted off the face of the watch and the eyes of the rat as it ran down to the neatly manicured hand. Nestled snugly in the cupped palm, the young rat licked at the pale fingertips and salivated, anticipating a nice fresh meal. A high pitched squeak brought the little rat's head up sharply and he skittered off to join his mother and siblings at a feast of rotting steak she had unearthed for her brood. The image of the hand faded quickly from the little rat brain.
In another hour, a load was scheduled to be dropped next to this one and perhaps the unconscious man would have been discovered, saved, or buried by a decent amount of garbage. But there was a strike. Garbage collectors, barge captains, and landfill workers throughout New York decided the weather was just right to stand in solidarity and argue for the reinstatement of a barge captain who had been sacked for selling tourist trips around the landfill to Japanese visitors.
4:43 a.m. Saturday 14th
Several hours after being dumped, the man finally stirred. He blinked, groaned, and brushed dirt from his face. He coughed and raised his head. His struggles to sit shifted the ground under his hands, and he fell flat on his back again as the hill gave way. His stomach turned as he began sliding backward. Loose sand gathered him up, dragged him downward and sprinkled his face, making him cough and splutter.
Desperately he sought to stop his decent from God knows where to a place even HE wasn't aware of, but there was nothing solid within reach. The man's struggles only worsened his situation and his body picked up speed, the sharp shards of rock sliced his hands and stung his face. In a final gesture of protection, he drew his hands up over his face, pulled he knees to his abdomen and, streamlined now, his body tumbled, gaining momentum in its slide down the hill.
Bang! He slammed into the unforgiving retainer. The main force of the collision rammed directly in line with the swelling already on the back of his head. The additional trauma sent stars flying through his head, he slammed his eyes shut against the searing pain, and pressed his hands to his face. The collision strained the weak connection of consciousness, and blew the breath from his lungs. He began to slip away. But, even if he couldn't think to breath, the body has its own survival mechanisms, and his lungs jerked in a load of dust laden air like a weightlifter doing a snatch and jerk. The oxygen rushed to his brain, bringing him back from the inky unconscious and pressing the man into the here and now.
He huddled in the rain of falling gravel, finding that every breath he drew was a shudderingly painful experience and tried to gather his wits. But the competition of sledge hammers and fireworks in his head left no room for logical processes.
The weight of his body kept the man's head and arms pinned against the barrier. The coat that wound around his legs swaddled him effectively. During the fall, it had saved him broken limbs. Now the tight restrictions held him upside down, contorted, as the weight of his body pressed him into the dirt.
He groaned. It was all he could do to roll over so that his head was higher than his feet. For the moment, his limbs remained tangled. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the pains in his head to abate. Finally, the fireworks conceded defeat, and the sledge hammers ruled supreme. The man moved slowly, afraid to bring on more hurt, shook his leg to uncoil the coat and tumbled over onto his side. Finally he sat up to look around him. It was pitch black, silent, cold.
He leaned his head back against the wall, felt gingerly over the swelling on his forehead. Where was he that it was so dark? From the gravel, the air flow, he had assumed he was in the open air, but perhaps he was inside something? What room or container would be filled with gravel, sand, and rocks? Thinking increased the pain in his head. It was too hard, he needed help. Slowly he stood. With one hand on the wall to steady himself, he fought the wave of dizziness that rose, planted his feet firmly and called out, "Hello... hello?"
There was no answering call.
He stepped forward, up the hill of rubble and drew breath to call again, but the pain in his head danced with the dizziness and his stomach heaved. He fell to his knees and retched, bringing up the hot, sour contents of his gut. The rubble began to crumble under his knees. Slowly he backed away until he touched the wall again. He sat against it. It would, at least, hold him still.
The tide of dizziness and nausea ebbed. He felt the back of his head with light fingers; blood, a lump the size of a burger. The ache was both the fuzzy blur of dehydration and the sharp pain of a blow. Holding his head in his hands for a moment, he sighed, it just wasn't fair. How long have I been here, he wondered, and where the hell am I?
His memory was hazy, worse than hazy. He struggled to recall anything prior to waking here on the rocky heap. What day was it? What time? Slowly he realized that not only had he no idea where he was but also couldn't remember how he had gotten there. He held his watch up, turning it this way and that, trying to catch some glimmer off the reflective surface. He stood, one hand on the wall he had hit and turned 360 degrees, hoping for a chink of light cutting through a doorway or corner, but there was nothing. Where was he? Perhaps inside a sealed shipping container. Perhaps in a large open bin. He listened for some clue as to his whereabouts, but the effort was enormous, and he sank back to the ground as his eyes closed.
4:50 a.m. Saturday 14th
A dog rose where it had landed on a pile of boxes, shook itself, and looked around. It sniffed the air and the garbage under its paws. It headed off, searching.
5:06 a.m. Saturday 14th
Gulls called as they wheeled and dove from the sky, searching New York City's waste for morsels of food. A gull can see a meal the size of a cigarette from forty feet in the air, swoop down at 40 miles an hour, swallow it, and swoop off to its next target in under a minute.
"Caw caw." The bird call, inches from his face, brought the man awake with a snap. "Caw!" He scrambled back, hit the wall, and limped away. The sound of wings, many of them, assailed him. From the confusion, shock floated up, he remembered waking and was surprised he had fallen asleep. Perhaps he was concussed. He stood, knowing that if he did have concussion, sleep was the last thing he needed, that in fact, it was dangerous. He looked around him again but this time, with his head a little clearer, he realized that the darkness was too complete. With birds flying, it had to be daytime. Even if they were some kind of night bird, or even a bat, it meant he was outside. And once his eyes had adjusted, he should be able to see something, anything - the glint in the bird's eye, a glow on a horizon at the very least.
His breath grew short as panic tried to seize him. He could feel his heart thumping in his chest and he turned wildly, looking up, down, around… nothing. He wanted to run, but where, where was he? What was happening to him? He closed his eyes and took a breath to try and calm himself. His head, he had hurt his head.
His stomach clenched, his jaw closed tightly against the pain as he explored the injuries to his head. Yes, there was a sizable lump on his forehead and one at the back of his head, he'd been hurt enough to temporarily affect his vision. He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, hoping to alleviate the headache that stood in the way of his thinking clearly. His throat felt raw and dry, he rubbed the back of his hand across his lips before he licked them. "Think, God damn you, think," he berated himself. "What do you know?"
He remembered waking previously, here, confused, in pain. Now his head felt heavy, but he wasn't as confused. Good, whatever injury he had sustained was already healing. He leaned his head back and to the side, it gave a satisfying crunch and he sighed. His hand explored his left knee, no new injury, merely the stiffness that always came after sitting or lying still for several hours. So, he'd been here several hours. He blinked repeatedly and looked around. It was time to find out where he was.
"I'm outside, on gravel. There are birds. It fucking stinks." He stopped, sniffed… It was strange, he hadn't realized before just how bad the place smelled, like a dump. He stood very still and listened. The birds, not so close now, they were sea gulls. He reached out to the obstacle that had stopped his roll down the hill - metal, dirty, cold. It was a wall, standing about five feet high and about six inches thick. He hefted himself up and leaned over the barrier, put his hands to his mouth, and called, "Hello!" He waited. No one answered, it sounded empty out there. He called again, then he tilted his head, water, he heard water lapping, and maybe even waves. Sea gulls, water, garbage… shit I'm in a landfill dump. Well, he thought to himself, I guess it's better than being trapped in a closed container on his way to God knows where, which had been his best guess when he woke before.
He closed is eyes and focused on listening. A rumble carried over the water, and he got an image of a large ship in his mind. It sounded far away. There was no way his voice would carry that far. He didn't even try to call.
Landfill… landfill… where would it be? Another image, a barge, a ferry, the Statue of Liberty. New York, he was in New York, a map of the rivers appeared in his mind's eye. Several rivers had landfill dumps. He listened again. How on earth was he going to figure out which one he was on?
His shoulders shook with the strain of holding him atop the wall. Carefully he lowered himself back to the ground. He leaned his head on his arms, against the wall. What did it matter? He was in a dump, injured and blinded, and he hurt all over.
"You're in a dump. Why?" Slowly the man realized there was another question he should be asking himself, who, who was in this dump?
Behind him, a dog barked franticly. Images of vicious junk yard dogs attacked, bringing a jolt of fear that set his heart racing and the man turned toward the sound. The questions of his identity fled his mind. His hands clutched at the metal wall behind him and he wondered if he should scramble over. But he had no idea how deep the water would be, perhaps he could perch on the edge? Five feet, that'd be hard for a dog to climb, as long as the beast wasn't too big. The bark was deep, the man brushed his hands over his eyes, blinked, and shook his head but it was no use, he still couldn't see a thing. Rubble began to hit his legs and he heard panting. He placed his hands on the top of the wall and strained to drag himself up. The dog rushed him, barking and whining. The man's feet lifted off the ground and he scrambled, trying to get a leg up and onto the wall without falling over it. He got one foot onto the thin ledge, the other still dangled below, but the dog grabbed his coat rather than his foot and the man hung on, kicking at the dog. "Get away! Get away!" he shouted as loudly, as aggressively as he could and was rewarded when the dog released the coat. But the sudden redistribution of forces meant he swayed, tipping forward toward the water below him. Things tumbled from the pockets of his coat and hit the water with splashes. The sound of them hitting the water sent him backward and he fell in a heap onto the garbage. He hugged his hands to his head, expecting attack.
But there were no sounds of aggression from the dog, just a quiet whine, enquiring almost, and soft footfall as the dog trotted up. It stuck its muzzle in under the man's arms and licked at his face. He pushed off backward, away from the dog, disgusted by the hot wet tongue. "No!" The dog stopped and whined again. Okay, okay, it wasn't vicious. Good. "Stay away! Stay!" Maybe it had an owner here, somewhere. The man stood again, listening carefully in case the dog came close again, cursing whatever had brought him here, taken his vision, and left him so vulnerable. "Hello? Is someone there? I've been hurt. I need help. Hello?"
But there was no answer, and no indication of a dog owner nearby. The man stood, alone in the middle of the garbage, angry and exposed. He had to get out of there. He searched his pockets for a cell phone but came up empty. "Hello!" he shouted repeatedly, turning and calling in all directions.
Only the gulls answered, and the dog sat and waited, panting. The man put his left hand to the wall; it was his best chance of finding the entrance to the landfill. He listened but the soundscape gave him no clues. He stepped off to the left. He could only hope that he was heading for a dumping station and not away from one close by. Only the cry of the gulls broke the silence, but he was confident that eventually he'd hear the arrival of trucks or barges, the voices of truck drivers, perhaps administrators; help.
He moved off at a swift pace, walking with one hand against the wall, the other held in front of him. Soon the rocks and gravel turned to real garbage. Half of him was pleased he had been right, that he was at a garbage dump, the other half of him wondered if he should have turned the other way. The real garbage meant uneven ground. The man stumbled and fell several times before conceding that he had to revise his pace. Falling badly, adding another injury – he couldn't afford that. Images of syringes, rusty cans, and sharp edges kept him slow and enforced patience. Still the going was difficult and he couldn't maintain his feet all the time. He was tempted to try the other direction when he landed on all fours, his left hand breaking through a bag that smelled like it was full of dirty diapers, but he wasn't the type to give up for such a reason and he continued. The wall turned a corner, perhaps 40 degrees, not much. He hitched himself up over the wall again and called. He listened. The water lapped endlessly. He walked on; the faster he moved the sooner he'd find help.