Sharp Objects

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Beth didn't stop at the junction to look for oncoming cars, but dipped her head and pedalled harder. There was nobody around anyway.

Beyond the breeze on her ears she could hear a faint tune. She felt she knew it, vaguely, but not in this tinkling, monophonic form. As she rounded a corner she spotted a rubbish truck with the words Clean Tokyo painted on its side. Now the music made sense; it heralded the morning light. Here, garbage trucks behaved like they sold ice-cream, spreading shrill classical melodies into the waking neighbourhood.

Beth used to go to work on rubbish days full of anxiety, then sweat on the train all the way home hoping her attempt had been successful. She had visions of returning home to her bags still on the doorstep, stapled with a lurid purple note from the collectors. Rubbish not separated. Separate properly and try again. This was the height of public shame.

As she passed the green truck, she heard three familiar, repeated notes: it was Keisuke's tune. The music lulled her pedalling into a slower triple metre, and she pulled up beside one of the men who was hauling bags from the ground. She wanted to ask him about the name of the song – it was the one she had been searching for – but all she said was, ‘Waste not want not, eh?’

The collector bowed.

‘It is with great honour that I pick up the rubbish.’

In a way that ice-cream delivery could never be, rubbish collection was painstaking and complicated. Lipstick went into burnables, but lipstick tubes – after all the contents were used up – went into small metals or plastics. Umbrellas less than fifty centimetres long needed to be skinned, with the synthetic material put into one bag and the metal skeleton in another marked ‘sharp object’. One lonely sock was burnable, and a pair qualified as ‘used cloth’, but only if the socks weren’t torn and the right and left sock matched.

She thought about the umbrella skeletons, tangled and prickly like sea urchins; she thought about all the lonely socks, burning together in a pile.