"What are they doing here on a Sunday morning?"
The roar of the dustcart's engine was ruining an otherwise lovely day.
Sarah peered through the net curtains into the sunny street. The dustcart was yellow instead of green, but things were always changing in the Council services. First they privatised everything. Then they wanted you to put different kinds of rubbish into different coloured bags.
The sunshine was wasted on Sarah's husband, sleeping off a massive drinking session, open-mouthed on the double bed. She could smell the sourness of his breath as she walked past him to go downstairs.
Someone else in no mood to appreciate this beautiful morning was her son Josh. "Breakfast will be ready in a minute," she said brightly, but the boy just grunted. The sound of aliens being destroyed mingled with the din of the dustcart. Sarah was beginning to get a headache.
She went downstairs.
She poured herself a cup of excellent coffee and buttered a slice of toast. Sarah was a good cook, and would have loved to make a healthy version of the traditional English breakfast she'd read about in Woman and Home: low fat sausages, turkey bacon, eggs fried in sunflower oil and toasted organic bread. But her husband would want nothing when he eventually woke up except a hair of the dog, and Josh would come down in a couple of hours, drink a mouthful of milk out of the bottle and make himself a pot noodle.
It was no fun cooking for yourself.
The doorbell interrupted her train of thought. "Good morning, Madam!" It was a cheery man of about forty-five, dressed in sunny yellow overalls that matched the dustcart chugging and whining outside. "Is there anything you want to get rid of?"
"The bin men came last Friday."
"For household refuse, yes. We collect everything else. Just say the word."
"Well, it's hard to think of something offhand."
"No hurry. We'll be around on the second Sunday of every month from now on."
"Well, there is a broken garden mower my husband keeps meaning to take to the skip. If you wouldn't mind."
"It's quite heavy. Perhaps my son will help. Josh!" she called out. But all she got in reply was a burst of laser cannon fire from the computer her job at the bakery was helping to pay for.
"I'll manage," said the bin man, following her to the garage. And he managed very well, lifting the heavy lawnmower with one hand and hurrying down the drive to the dustcart.
Sarah could see the sun blazing down on identical yellow overalls across the road: another bin man was talking to Mrs Freeman.
"Now, what else can I get rid of for you?" asked the man, slipping past her and heading up the stairs. She caught up with him at the door of the bedroom where her son sat slumped in front of the screen, his hand on a joystick. Josh seemed to think destroying aliens and blowing up robots would lead automatically to a highly-paid career in computing.
Sarah blushed and said, "Kids!" but she knew not all young people were like that. And though she told herself he'd grow out of it, Josh would be leaving school next year with no qualifications, and no skills.
"Best let me deal with him," said the bin man, picking the boy up chair and all.
Josh's face showed no reaction as he was carried downstairs, though his right hand twitched a little, as if it was still working a joystick.
Sarah's jaw dropped as if the muscles of her face ha w~ %00%00%00 w a knife, and u mouth was still open when the bin man came bounding up the stairs again. "Now," he said, "what else have you got that's useless?"
"Don't wake him!" she called out, following the yellow figure into the main bedroom.
"Couldn't if I tried," replied the bin man with a twinkle in his eye. "Got a bit of a temper, has he?" Sarah's hand went guiltily to the side of her face, to a brown mark left by an old bruise.
"He doesn't mean to do it," she said quickly. "It's just when he's been drinking."
"Soon see to that," said the bin man, effortlessly shouldering the unconscious drunk. His feet thundered down the stairs, the dustcart's engine roared and he was back again.
"Now. Is there anything else I can get rid of for you?"
Sarah looked at this cheery man, and suddenly felt scared. What else did he want? A pound of flesh? Her immortal soul?
"Broken equipment," he prompted. "Old furniture. Outmoded concepts."
"Concepts?" What on earth was he talking about?
"Anything worthless," explained the bin man. "DotCom shares. Gary Barlow. David Mellor. Ford Sierras. Avocado bathroom suites. Betamax. Dynasty. We're the reason you never see shoulder pads any more."