Authors: Mary Kay McComas
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Contemporary, #Romance
Table of Contents
Talk of the Town
Mary Kay McComas
This trashy romance is dedicated to my pals Nora and Pat
because you're both so full of it!
Romance, that is.
Copyright © 1995 by Mary Kay McComas.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from Denise Marcil Literary Agency, Inc.; the agency can be reached at [email protected]
Her mother had always wanted her to go to college. Her father had never cared where she went. Grampa Earl simply mentioned that she was only going to get one shot at life, and she'd better make it a good one.
She was trying.
Her one good shot was streaking by—and it was wide of the target. Yet each morning she awoke with the realization that her life wasn't over. There was time for a gust of good luck to blow her back on track, for her shot to ricochet off a miracle and find a truer course. She was sure that stranger things had happened. To somebody. Somewhere. Trouble was, nothing strange ever happened to her.
It was a plain old Tuesday, her day off from her job at the diner. Trash day. Nothing too strange about that, except that trash day for Rosemary Wickum had nothing to do with setting her cans at the curb. The secret to a successful trash day was to get there early.
She'd never been to a sale at Macy's or Lord & Taylor. In truth, she wasn't much of a shopper. When she had to shop, she was more of an impulse buyer than a be-practical-and-wait-for-it-to-go-on-sale bargain hunter.
Be that as it may, she could identify with the frenzied madness of the customers to get into the store, see everything and buy, buy, buy before all the good merchandise was picked over and taken.
Dressed to browse in metal-toed boots, thick canvas overalls and two sweatshirts to protect her from sharp metal objects, she was quick to make decisions and accustomed to working for what she wanted. Certainly it was always wiser to be overdressed on these occasions, but she was already feeling uncomfortably warm and suspected that she'd be a wilting Rose Wickum before noon—another excellent reason to go early and get done as soon as possible.
The guard at the gate knew her truck on sight. No great feat, as once seen, her old green and gray pickup truck made a lasting impression on almost everyone. It had been patched more often than Raggedy Ann's bloomers and sounded remarkably like a Sherman tank. Still, it got the job done, and there was the added benefit of being waved straight through the gates without having to stop.
She was a bit surprised this time, though, when she waved to the guard in her usual fashion and received his detaining hand in response.
"Mornin', Rosie, how's it goin'?" he asked, stepping out of the glass-enclosed box of a guardhouse and into the shade of a huge sign that read All Bright Garbage-Recycling and Refuse Center.
"Good, Cletus. How about you?"
"I'm lookin' forward to a little excitement out here today."
"You are?" She frowned. "Did San Francisco deliver early?"
"No, no, same schedule. Somethin' new is in the works, and the boss is expectin' some grumblin'. He's hidin' out up here till it blows over."
Unlike the two of them, most people resisted living anywhere near a refuse center of any kind, refuse being what it is. A lot of garbage. Consequently, a really good garbage dump was hard to find. The residue of San Francisco's populace was transported by trailer trucks north along the rugged, lonely coastline to a landfill fifty miles east of Eureka. To a few people, such as Cletus and herself, San Francisco's bulky waste was generally considered to be some of the best within five hundred miles.
"Grumbling? What sort of grumbling?" she asked. "He's not closing this dump down, is he?"
He shook his head at her. "I've told you a million times not to call this a dump. We don't have dumps anymore. You can call it a recycling center or a refuse redistribution center, but not a dump."
"Do garbage trucks come in here and dump garbage?" she asked, teasing him.
"Every day." His smile showed big crooked teeth and was exceedingly good-natured. "But we don't call them garbage trucks anymore. We call them recycling units when they come here and sanitation vehicles if they're heading for the landfill."
"Cletus, you're getting way too sophisticated for me," she said, smiling at him, squinting against the early morning sun. She tried to be as ecologically correct as the next person, sorting aluminum from glass and plastics, and saving what few newspapers came her way. But she was wholly disinterested in the technical mumbo jumbo of waste disposal and the new politically precise terminology that went with it. Garbage was garbage. "All I want is some interesting trash."
"And you're welcome to all you can carry out. I just thought you ought to know there might be some trouble out here today. The boss said people with picket signs, some screaming and yelling." He shrugged. "Nothin' serious, but you might not want to get caught up in it."
"What are they mad about now?"
"The boss announced last night that he's planning to build one of those big incinerators down in one of those little towns between Frisco and the capital, close to a new housing development. It was in the paper this morning. He said there was such a stink about it at the planning commissioner's office that he wanted to bus them all up to the landfill to see how they liked
"Well, I don't have anything to do with any of that. Why would they bother me?"
"I don't know that they would. I'm just warnin' you."
"Thanks. But I'll be fine."
"Okay. Let me know if you need any help."
See you later," she said, taking her foot off the brake and easing the old Ford into first gear.
For the record, combing through other people's discards wasn't exactly Rose's idea of a fun time. Rather, it was a necessary evil she performed with love and diligence in the name of self-expression. And All Bright's wasn't so bad. By definition it was dirty and smelly, but it was better organized than the local K Mart, in her opinion, well thought out and very tidy for a garbage dump. She would have readily admitted to preferring to do her junking there than in the old city dumps she remembered from her childhood—had anyone ever bothered to ask her.
She drove beyond a large building labeled MRF but pronounced "Murf," an abbreviation for
materials recycling facility
—garbage lingo has a way of rubbing off on you, you know. She passed the paper shed, which was hardly a shed but another large structure with tons of newspaper visible through the gaping entrance. Proceeding by a two-acre lot of pathetic looking automobiles waiting to be crushed and hauled away, she parked close to a similar-sized lot of
She wasn't sure why the mountain of scrap metal was called white goods except that it might have had something to do with the number of bathtubs, toilets, and refrigerators in the heap—mostly white, but it didn't really matter. It was an emporium of metal scraps, from fine wire to steel pipes; bread boxes to sled blades; television sets to baby strollers. And she was the first one there.
In an hour there would be twenty, maybe thirty more junkers scrambling over the hills and peaks of debris looking for salvageables. Most of her fellow scavengers would refurbish what they found that day and use it in their homes or sell it at a garage sale or a flea market.
Rose, however, would be putting her discriminate odds and ends to a higher, more aesthetic purpose and handled each one as if it were indeed a treasure.
Armed with a crowbar, wrench, pliers, and a few other small handy tools, she made several trips up and down the mound to place her carefully chosen pieces in the back of her truck—knowing from experience not to put anything down once recovered. Someone else would get it or, more often than not, it would camouflage itself in the pile, disappear, and never be seen again. Garbage was garbage, after all, and eventually it all started to look the same.
Rose was average height—a minor disappointment to someone whose technicolor dreams had always revealed her ideal self as being gracefully tall and slender. Instead of willowy, however, she'd turned out several inches short of tall, slim, and amazingly strong. According to Grampa Earl, at least, her strength was amazing. She had a feeling that her physical strength was as ordinary as the rest of her body and that pumping her up was his way of getting out of helping her drag heavy metal objects home from the All Bright dump, but that was okay too. She liked to think she was, amazingly strong. Amazingly anything, really.
Of course, she was no Atlas. She couldn't lift the world, and all too frequently her heart would claim a lovely piece of rubbish that her muscles couldn't budge.
Normally she would mark these precious parts with red plastic tape, fetch Cletus, another scavenger, or one of the yard workers, and together they would unwedge, uncover, untangle, and lift it free of its hopeless hiding place.
She picked up a training bike and tossed it several feet away, her eyes locked on a black wrought-iron candlestick. It was eighteen or twenty inches long, twisted but not bent. Stuck between the back of a clothes dryer and a lawn mower, it was tangled with something else she couldn't see.
She rammed the dryer several times with her hip, rocking it, but was unable to tip it over to get to the candlestick.
"Hey! Lady. You up there."
She turned her head to look down at a tall man standing near her truck. He looked like a fellow junk hunter in boots, grubby jeans, and a flannel shirt, with a five o'clock shadow before nine A.M. She was delighted to see him, and his muscles, until he fisted his hands at his hips.
"Is all this stuff yours?" he asked, motioning to the huge pile of white goods beneath her.
"Did you make this mess?"
"You're going to have to pick it all up," he said with some authority. "You can't just dump stuff wherever you feel like it"'
Rats. Clearly the man was delusional. Poor fellow. She went back to ramming the dryer.
“You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?" he asked, taking the heap with a single bound, strutting toward her as if he were walking on a smooth, flat surface. "Or is it too early in the morning for junk jokes?"
He was grinning when he stopped before her. Grinning, and allowing his lively hazel gaze to dance across her face and hair and shoulders and lips and upper torso and . . . well, everywhere. He was so open with his admiration that she retreated a step, backed into the dryer, and landed smack on her fanny with a jolt of surprise.
He chuckled and motioned to the dryer. "Need a hand with that?"
She stared at him. There was still the possibility that the man was chemically controlled, but she was beginning to reconsider it. His eyes were too clear, his expression too animated for him to be on anything but a natural high.
"I need to roll it," she said dumbly. As an artist, she automatically noticed shapes and sizes in relationship to space and light. The man had broad thick shoulders that blocked the sun from her eyes.
"Okay. I'll help you."
She stood cautiously, watching him, all systems on standby.
"I've seen you out here before," he said, bending over the bottom of the dryer while she positioned herself at its side. His big strong hands were dirty and stained with grease, she observed. "Two, sometimes three times a month. Always early in the morning."
Truth to tell, he watched for her. And since her visits were as irregular as his, he watched for her every time he was there. The thing was, she had a great gorgeous bush of red hair that would sparkle in the morning sunshine as if it were spun with gold. How could any man
notice something like that? And now that he was close enough to see that her almond-shaped eyes shimmered darkly green and mysterious like emeralds . . . well, she was very likely the prettiest woman he'd seen in twenty years—certainly since Cynthia McKissack in tenth grade.
She realized that she could have stepped away and let the man move the dryer alone, but she didn't. She had an overwhelming urge to appear ladylike, but it was hard to look urbane at a dump. It was her practice to act like an amiable but not too friendly, self-sufficient, overgrown tomboy—which was closer to her true identity anyway, she supposed.