I saw Jacqueline right away. Under her lime green sunhat, my daughter was easy to spot. Standing at the far end of the play yard, her tiny clenched fists were pressed tight against her ears in a futile attempt to drown out the terrifying sound.
Garbage Day. My heart dropped to my stomach soon as I’d rounded Fuller Avenue, where the stalled traffic on the narrow block told me the garbage truck was up ahead, readying it’s groaning, grinding, gnashing maw while my unsuspecting progeny waited her turn for one of the push cars until I picked her up from noon dismissal.
Jacqueline was mostly easy-going. Barking dogs, stinging bees, dark closets and creaky night-time noises — my daughter shrugged them all off. But the sound of an approaching garbage truck drove my daughter to distraction, especially the voracious leviathan as it fed on the endless offerings provided by the nursery school and the apartments lining the rest of the block — the jarring clang as the forked claws grasped the enormous iron dumpster, hoisting it aloft with a fearsome screeching and straining then pouring the rattling, clattering contents down inside the beast’s belly for mashing and grinding while those mighty arms slammed the emptied bin back to the pavement. The play yard bordered the street, so for my daughter there was no escaping the din when the garbage truck came lumbering up Fuller during pickup.
I pulled into the school parking lot and didn’t bother locking my doors before I took off sprinting toward play yard where the behemoth’s growl reverberated over the cinder block enclosure. The cacophony was joined by the school’s clanking dumpster as the driver pushed it toward the idling beast. My daughter’s panic now my own, I knew any moment those steel-plated arms would lock on the dumpster. If only my own arms could hold Jacqueline she’d feel safe and protected when the hydraulic lift started in with its deafening whine. Could I make it in time? Yes, I could do it! I’d reach my girl!
My perception narrowed until there was only me, my daughter and the oblivious moving obstacles between us. Like a linebacker, I charged forward, right forearm extended and left elbow pressing my pendulous leather satchel tight against my ribs. I zigged around two boys who’d emerged from nowhere, bumbling toward the purple dinosaur rocker. I weaved around the pee-wee jungle gym, choosing the alleyway it formed along the side of the building. My path was wide open. I was going to make it!
I’d plowed past the end of the structure when without warning a nanny stopped directly in front of me and kneeled to tie her charge’s shoe. I hurdled over her but stumbled on her tote bag as I landed. “Sorry!” I called over my shoulder before weaving around a plastic push car where a heated argument had broken out between the vehicle’s occupant and three knee-high bystanders.
I’d narrowed the distance between me and Jacqueline to just a few yards, but a thicket of mothers had cropped up between us. I caught a few strands of their conversation — something about the park and a play date — before the sound of steel hitting iron drowned out their voices. “Jacqueline!” I shouted, but the brim of her hat blocked her view.
It was Lupé, the teacher’s aide my daughter spotted, and it was Lupé who scooped my daughter onto her hip. I felt Jacqueline’s relief along with an unwelcome pang of envy when Jacqueline buried her face in a shoulder that wasn’t mine. Over the sound of Jacqueline’s muffled tears and the packer blade smashing down the truck’s new load, I heard Lupé’s words of comfort to my daughter. “It’s okay, mija,” she said. “Everything’s okay.”
By the time Jacqueline was buckled into her carseat, her tears had dried, and the garbage truck had driven away. But my feelings of disappointment and inadequacy still rattled inside me.
“What’s the garbage truck saying when it makes that sound?” I found myself asking.
Jacqueline was unequivocal. “The truck’s crying for its mommy!”
Her answer surprised me. “Is that what you thought the truck is saying?” I said, sensing opportunity. “Oh no, that’s not what the truck’s saying! The truck’s saying, ‘Help! So heavy!’” I moaned the words for dramatic effect.
Jacqueline’s eyes softened, and I didn’t miss the smile that spread across her face.
It was Garbage Day, and I was redeemed.
Mara A. Cohen Marks’ essays have appeared in Alimentum, The Hairpin, Pentimento, Jewrotica and Medium. She has also authored numerous articles and op-eds that have appeared in outlets such as The Los Angeles Daily News, La Opinion, New American Media, Los Angeles Business Journal, and numerous peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Her daughter has conquered her fear of garbage trucks. Visit her at www.maracohenmarks.com, like her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mara.cohen.marks, and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/MaraCohenMarks.