Tipping Points


Derry and Kate cruised up the entrance ramp to the waste disposal centre; while he focused on the signs ahead she looked in the rear view mirror to make sure the trailer hooked up to the back of the car was still attached and its load of domestic detritus still inside it. They’d had to drive carefully for fifteen minutes through narrow country lanes: the last thing they wanted was an unnoticed bump in the road sending a rickety chair through the windscreen of an unlucky car and its driver behind them.

Not that their caution was appreciated by those drivers that had to trail at pace-of-snail behind them for minutes at a time when the lane was too narrow for overtaking. Still they were here now, they had made it; in more than one sense. They had come so far in their relationship they had accumulated, and now sought to dispose of, much of their ‘now obsolete entry-level cohab hardware’ as Kate, an IT consultant, noted after they had pressed, patted, and stamped down the pile of old cushions, mattresses, and headboards in the back of the rented trailer.

“Garden waste…fridges…scrap metal…paper…mixed…” Derry mumbled pensively as the car crawled round and into the main disposal lane. It was the couples’ first trek to the facility and both were immediately taken with how vast it appeared. There was a multitude of cars and vans parked a little off the lane, with drivers traipsing back and forth to a variety of skips and dumpsters labelled clearly with designated items of waste. Burly men hurled whole cookers over the lips of scrap metal skips, father and son teams played pass the parcel with bag after bag of cut grass, couples danced around each other as they hurried to empty car boots in loosely coordinated back and forths.

“Household furniture!” announced Kate triumphantly, pointing ahead and to the right.

“Ah good.” Derry answered, and he veered off the lane and parked as close as he could to the skip which was already filling up at the front end with upended sofas, dismantled bed frames, gaping bureaus, and broken bookshelves. Soon they were out and happily emptying the trailer.

After disposing of an armchair cushion with an overhead throw Derry cast a glance at the almost impossibly long runway of the facility and arbitrarily read aloud the first sign he settled on:

“Crockery Broken In Anger During Argument?” before he’d finished speaking his tone had shifted from one of perfunctory repetition to that of disbelief. “Have I read that right?” he asked Kate. She stopped just as she was reaching for a bag of sundry curtains and carpet rolls and carefully followed his gaze.

“Oh yes, you’re right.” She laughed. “That’s got to be a joke hasn’t it?” They looked at each other in amused puzzlement before emptying the rest of the trailer, turning keenly to look at the sign with every to and fro to the skip. With the trailer emptied they returned to the car and merged back into the main lane where other drivers were cruising the dumpster highway in search of the receptacles most appropriate for their own particular — peculiar? — disposal needs.

“And look on this side.” Derry continued, “Look at that one: DVDs Bought By Ex-Fiancés, Now Too Painful To Keep!” They rocked and laughed, and Derry turned left a little so they could look more closely. Sure enough the skip was piled high in one corner with case upon case, and box set upon box set of colourful titles of movies and television series. They could clearly see one with the title ‘Line Dancing For Beginners’ and both agreed that given the immediate evidence the split was surely for the best. Eager to discover more Derry gently accelerated. Kate called out “Oh my god, no way: Swimming trunk/Bikinis That Need Stitching But Which Have Been Now Replaced.” Derry shook his head.

On and on they drove; the lane through the facility looked as though it would never end and the further they went the longer and more specific the signs above the skips became. Kate wondered if they were part of a prank show and shared this thought with Derry, but he didn’t reply right then, he was struggling to take in a particularly long sign before it passed behind him; given the long tailback facing him in the rear view there was no chance of him reversing to finish reading it. Halfway through he spluttered the words:

“Knitwear And/Or Other Clothing Caught On Nail/Doorknob/Latch While Nipping Out To Garage On Christmas Day (Spent With Boyfriend’s Family) To Bring In More Cans/Bottles Of Alcohol For Guests Who Have Arrived Unexpectedly And Who Are Notoriously Incautious With Regard To Driving Under The Influence Of Alcohol, Thus Precipitating Unwelcome Crisis Of Conscience.”

On and on it went until…”At last, the exit.” Derry observed with obvious relief. They headed for the other end of the ramp that would lead them out of the absurd complex, back into more familiar roads with their welcome, simply worded signposts. Just as they dipped they caught sight of a final skip above which a simple, single word hung in lonely looking letters. It simply read: “Other”.

“I would love to see what’s in that one.” Kate said. Derry agreed, but it was impossible to look; the car behind them was urging them on, as was the car behind it, and those behind them ad infinitum. They craned their necks like meerkats hoping to peer into the tantalising depths of the last skip, but like everyone else, they had to keep going.

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