It was with these words that Ellen Langley plopped herself on one of the bar stools at her new kitchen island, skootched the stool forward with a drawn-out grinding noise that Mike hoped wouldn’t leave a mark on the floor, reached for the newspaper he’d left for her just seconds before, and began to read. Her eyes scanned the articles, no doubt searching for those clever catchwords like scandal or extremists and, of course, her personal favorite, cyber security.
“You know,” she said, “There wouldn’t be as many problems in the world today if people would simply learn to be content. Millions of dollars stolen by hackers? Well. They say the internet makes things easier, but if you ask me, everything seems so overcomplicated these days.” She folded the newspaper, glancing over at Mike on the other side of the island. “I said, ‘dump it in the bin,’ didn’t I?”
Mike stood frozen, eyes darting between his mother, the bin, and the immaculately labeled cardboard boxes in his arms. “It’s just,” he started, as if the right words were failing him.
“These should really go in the recycling.”
Ellen leaned back on her stool, sighing. “I’ve told you. We don’t have recycling.”
“Yeah,” Mike said, “Yeah, you do. I saw them on the way in. They’re large and green with the words ‘Recycling’ on the side, Mom.”
“Just toss them in the bin,” she said, “Nobody even knows what those other bins are for.”
“Recycling. They’re for recycling.”
“No. I mean, are they for paper? Plastic? Metal? Compost? According to Maggie, all we’ve ever had was the community trash bin, until one day a few months ago, without warning, Poof! They appear out of nowhere, and nobody seems to know where they came from, or what they’re for.” She smiled, white teeth gleaming. “We’ve even formed a little group on Wednesday nights to take bets.”
“I don’t really think it matters.”
“Well! If it doesn’t matter so much, then just dump them in with the rubbish.”
But Mike still stood there, the boxes swaying precariously in his arms. This was so stupid. This was so incredibly stupid. But for once, just this one time, he didn’t want to let it go. “The environment!”
“Recycling matters to the environment, mom. You know? Reduce, reuse, recycle, and all that? We can’t waste everything we don’t need anymore.”
“Why, Mike!” Ellen tossed her head back in a laugh, curls bouncing, those blonde curls that Mike knew were hiding a growing patch of gray. “I didn’t know you were so fond of it.”
“Shouldn’t we all be?” he pressed, “We live here, we use the Earth’s resources, abuse them, and we’re killing it!” Ellen’s laugh lines and raised brows fell flat, her mouth settling into a firm line. “The world was still around when I was young. And besides…everything dies.”
“See, that,” she continued with fervor, pressing the newspaper in his face, pointing, “That’s what they should be talking about. That it’s normal to die, it’s a side effect of life. Something like that.”
And then Mike understood. He nodded, rearranging the boxes in his arms and walked out the door and down the stairs, using his eyes to wave at the other elderly folks and nurses that greeted him. Coming to the corner of the parking lot where a large, blue dumpster rested next to the recycling bin he’d seen on his arrival, he made his choice. On Wednesday night, Maggie couldn’t help but wonder what caused the tears in her new poker buddy’s eyes when she off-handedly mentioned that at last, someone had figured out that the mysterious recycling bin had always been meant for paper.