I hold my breath and open the green bin lid. The plastic handle is cold and sticky and this is the last thing I feel like doing after work. The inside smells rotten, even though it’s empty. Well, not entirely empty. Stray maggots linger along the rim and wriggle down the inner walls: hundreds of them, off-white and juvenile, somehow squirming without moving. Their presence doesn’t make much sense. Maggots only eat meat and I haven’t had any meat in the house in weeks – I guess they are shit at being vegetarians too.
I walk up the driveway, around the back and into the shed. I fetch the hose, which is wound up in one of those plastic reels with a rotating handle, and carry it to the tap in the front yard. I attach the orange hose-end to the tap nozzle with a click and pull the hose down the driveway.
I find maggots gross. There’s something dirty and evil about them, even though they aren’t much different to worms or snails. Snails are cute, maggots are infesting. I’d rather a thousand beetles than a thousand cockroaches. Someone once told me that in New Zealand possums are a pest.
As I near the bin, the angle of the hose pulls strangely and it tips the reel over. I try pulling the hose further and the reel slides against the concrete for about a metre and then jams. I walk back up the driveway, turn the reel upright and then down towards the bin, but as soon as I pull the hose the plastic reel awkwardly spins around and falls over, breaching like a stubborn foetus.
On the third attempt, I start questioning why the fuck I am cleaning out my bin. It’s one of those acts of civility that are so redundant they are almost insane. An image of a ’60s Valium Mum with a cloth, scrubbing her way through her marble bench-top, with short, shallow circles, to the centre of the earth, comes to mind. Repetitive, worthless, cleanliness.
The bin will just fill up with rubbish and become dirty again. But I can’t let it go; those maggots are so gross, so full of symbolism. If the bin were full of frogs, I’d probably never put rubbish in it again. I’d drag that bin up the two flights of stairs into my tiny apartment, lift it onto the kitchen table, cut a rectangle in its side (which I’d wrap in cling film with holes stabbed in for air) and watch those little frogs ribbit around for hours.
But they are not frogs; they are maggots, and it is a big smelly bin. It is dirty and needs to be cleaned so that it can be dirty again. Like making a bed. Except beds are much more vital. You sleep in beds. Therefore, their condition is endlessly important.
You know, I recently started making my bed. Years ago, I would have told you that making beds was for psychopaths, OCD freaks or those stuck beneath the parental thumb, unable to wriggle out even in adulthood. It made no sense to me, the work of straightening sheets, rearranging pillows, shaking the doonah out – especially because it is in a place that no one has access to or judgement over, bar yourself – hardly worth the fleeting comfort each night. I mean it isn’t even any cleaner. Purely superficial.
That’s what I used to think anyways. I make my bed every morning now. Goon sacks and random hook ups have been replaced by a full-time job and grocery shopping, and the relish of climbing into a freshly made bed at 9PM. Usually with a fantasy novel, because my mind can no longer handle the intensity of Marquez’s shit talking, or the Gulag Archipelago, and so the Assassin’s Apprentice provides the bleak form of sedation I need.
It’s gotten to a point where, in the morning, no matter how rushed I am to shower, shave, shit, put on my pants and button up my shirt, fuck it’s not even ironed, and my only pair of underwear smell like balls – turn ‘em inside out – much better, apart from packing my zucchini slice I made on Sunday night, cut into five equal portions for the week, or my morning glass of Berrocca which I skull down before the tablet has had a chance to fully dissolve because I am late again, every day this week, fucking alarm. I choke, swallow it down, put shoes on, grab a banana, lock the door, even then, in the heightened anxiety of the morning rush, making my bed ignites a certain satisfaction, a completion, like wiping dew from a windscreen. And as I glance at the comfortable silence of my neatly made bed, even for a second, the end of the day offers glimpses of comfort for when I return home, motivating me to finish – like sneaking a look at the final page of a novel before I’ve read it. Rapture.
But bin cleaning is a whole different type of unnecessary cleanliness to bed making. It is where trash goes, dirt, mess, gunk. Plastic wrappers and food scraps. I wonder if my neighbours go to the same trouble of cleaning their bins. It’s not like if we abandoned the weekly task that the smell would ever reach our bedrooms from down here on the street.
I wedge the plastic winding reel against the fence so that it remains straight and upright and pull the hose, which now draws out smoothly towards the bin. I turn the nozzle, but no water comes out, so I drag the hose back up the driveway and twist the tap on. The hose swells as the water pushes through and ruptures out the orange end. I turn it to adjust the pressure, but it’s too late and my only half-clean pants get soaked. I walk back down the driveway and kick the bin over, readjust the hose pressure to high, and just blast the fuck out of those maggots.
It feels like I am wielding some futuristic weapon, frying these defenceless life forms as they rattle around the inside of the bin, pop out and fly past me. If aliens ever reach Earth, it can be assumed that they will have weapons like this. They will either enslave us, forcing us to clean the gunk and pus from their bins, or just blast us away with their huge laser guns, shooting us off the earth like maggots, as we wriggle out into space.
The maggots are out now, squirming in the grass, or pulverised into microscopic chunks, and the smell is mostly gone – but the bin still has these stains on the inside. Big brown slime marks, almost like claws dragging down from the rim. I consider going inside the apartment, grabbing a bottle of detergent from under the kitchen sink, and a scourer, and attempting to scrub off the stains. But I end up letting them slide: It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, it’s just a bin. And by the time I turn the bin upside down on the front lawn to let it dry out, wind up the hose, which takes three tries to keep the reel upright so it slides in straight, put it back in shed, turn off the tap, walk upstairs, change pants, grab a beer and a bag of carrots and a tub of hommus, turn on the TV, switch channels, switch channels again, switch channels again, and nestle down for a show about a group of unlikely adults with superpowers changing the world, I have almost forgotten about those claw-shaped stains on the inside of the bin and have started to think about work the next day.