In the winter of ‘95, junk invaded our neighborhood. It moved into our front yards at night and stayed. A gleaming sink appeared on my lawn with ‘free to a good home’ scrawled on the wooden backing. My good home already had two sinks. Didn’t everyone have sinks?
We lived in a dead-end street where neighborhood opinions caused silent arguments. Jungle-like gardens got hacked back for parking. Community spirit moved out. “I’m not going to take it in,” I said, like it was some lame puppy. The sink suffered the winter frost, losing its sheen to dirt and grit. When it rained, birds dive bombed from the sycamore trees to wash.
Next spring, an exhausted printer dumped itself, cables sprawled, toner bleeding out on the grass. Printers were luxury items back then. This was before the junk learned about Craigslist. I cleaned the leaves from the slot and left a fifty dollar Monopoly bill with a note: Federal Mint of Freedom Drive. In less than a week, the note was gone, but the printer festered.
Soon, other household items came to live on our grass, creeping in the dark, still in the light. Electro-shocked toasters, fractured picture frames, misfiring super-soakers, broken-down carts — all free to a good home. For a while, we fought it, then we bargained with it, tried to love it. It didn’t love us back.
An entire white picket fence rained down on my neighbours garden. I suggested donating it. Instead they replaced their fence with the new panels and left the dirty ones in their place. Six weeks was all it took for poison ivy to creep its way over their prize fence.
Next, a truck propped itself on bricks outside number 25. Where would they park now? Incredibly, it had a key and the engine turned over. A tank full of gas and nowhere to go. The guy was furious, marching around, demanding a neighborhood sting operation to catch the phantom dumper. Like it was all one guy. The scrapyard charged to remove trucks, so the guy waited for wheels to turn up in front of someone else’s garage.
And still it continued. Every night, new recruits joined the ranks of redneck treasure. Green verges and tall sycamores battled with jagged shrapnel and rust. When it rained, old sofas soaked it up like sponges. They rotted.
We ran yard sales and negotiated with the city. No use. The residents no longer had sidewalks and gardens, but junkyards bolted onto their homes. Amputee trailers, wounded power tools, withered goodwill parcels, and cracked glass; all the town’s burdens offloaded onto us.
Eventually, City Hall claimed the land and rehoused us on a dead-zone lot where nothing survived. The flowers we nurtured now creep through the debris of Freedom Drive in search of light. Sometimes, we drive back to look at war between nature and the bones of society. We search for survivors. You can find anything there. Free to a good home.
Philip Charter is a British writer who teaches writing to non-native English speakers. His work has been featured in FlashBack Fiction and NFFD Flash Flood among other publications. In 2018, he released his debut short fiction collection, Foreign Voices and in 2021, he won the Loft Books Short Story Competition. Website: philipcharter.com Twitter: @dogbomb3