Well, Hell

(copyright Sanford Emerson, all rights reserved)


One: Deathtrap


I knew that I'd fallen and couldn't move. Oddly, that struck me as a little bit funny. It also struck me that I had to be wicked stove up inside to boot, which wasn't funny at all. I was pretty oblivious to anything else. I'd forgotten who or where I was and how I'd gotten there. The only two things I did know were that I had a splitting headache and I was looking--at very close range--into the eyes of someone who had obviously been dead for a very long time.    
     Mister man, I'm not ashamed to say that at that point I fainted dead away.

     Well, hell . . .

ly Fleance, our dump guy up here in Skedaddle Gore, Maine, has always struck me as looking--and smelling--like somebody beat him to death a month or so ago and buried the body in a shallow grave, then had a change of heart after a couple of weeks and dug him up, pumped him full of old used motor oil, rubbed him all over with bearing grease to hold the loose bits together and permanently propped him up against his rusty old '53 Dodge Power Wagon next to the entrance to what is now called our "Transfer Station."
     Back in the day most Maine towns had a dump, which was usually just a handy hillside where the townspeople could dispose of their trash. It was best if it was situated downwind of town and not too close in so that the smell wasn't too bad in the summer, but not so far out that folks couldn't get to it easy enough. Most Maine country boys--and a fair number of their sisters--learned to shoot at their local dump to help control the rats, which I personally think resulted in a bumper crop of wicked nasty sharpshooters, an handy asset over the course of American military history. Sometimes towns used to spread a little dirt on the trash pile if the smell got too bad, and once in a while the whole place would catch fire and burn off--sometimes even accidentally--but that usually stunk up the neighborhood pretty bad, so the practice was generally frowned upon.
     I'm told that up here in Skedaddle Gore, a nice little town of about three hundred souls in the highlands of western Maine, the Board of Assessors had a dilemma some thirty years ago--well before my time--when the State of Maine was forced by the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., to do away with all the little town dumps and, as they were known in the moneyed southern part of the state, the "sanitary landfills"--a jeezley stupid hoity-toity name for something if ever I heard one. Despite some consternation the state was ordered to make everybody start sending all their trash and garbage to a couple of big boggy fields somewhere way north of Augusta, which were inconvenient and expensive to access but some friggin' profitable for those former rumrunners who'd bought up all the wild northern woodlands after the repeal of the Volstead Act and then greased a few palms to get their relatives and cronies elected to high enough office so they could tell us ordinary folks dumb ways to do what used to be simple stuff.
     For years the Gore's residents who didn't just burn their trash in a barrel in the back yard took it over to the Fleance place out on the Midden Road. The story goes that when the growing population of farmers, woodsmen and Civil War draft dodgers decided to become semi-organized, Fly's great-great-grandparents, who were frugal Yankee types, started taking in their neighbor's trash. They reused what they could and sold what they could of what was left. Everything else they dumped in a ravine in their backyard. Over the years that ravine got filled up and became a fair-sized hill.
     After much comment and debate over the stupidity of the government order--which is still pretty normal here to this day--the Board of Assessors signed an agreement with Fly's mother to buy her land for an official town dump, which is what it was anyway. As part of the deal, they gave her son Fly, who was always a willing fellow, if quiet and a bit slow, a job for life watching over it. That way they solved two problems at once, which appealed to everyone's sense of practicality. The Gore wouldn't have to foreclose on a pile of trash for unpaid back taxes and the Fleances would keep their home, which also kept them out in the back country where they could stink up the place without offending the sensibilities of all the "sports" from away who came up for the hunting, fishing and "rusticating." As a bonus, Fly could always have his pick of the best junk, which is a surprisingly lucrative profession, as it turns out. But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .