by Jason Rowe

Dinners had barely touched the table top when the sound of the sirens had us two boys kneeling over the back of the sofa and gawping out of the lounge window. There was mum tutting and huffing over the empty table, a pot of her Everything Stew still in her oven gloved hands, but no way were we gonna give up our stake-out that easily. Her protests were met by the screech of the meat wagon as it rounded the corner of our road, pulling up outside old man Lemare’s place – the crappy old dump that was directly opposite the road to ours.

Mum gave up then and huffed back to the kitchen, leaving us watching the two men who climbed out of the back of the wagon. “They’ll get the stretcher out now”, said my brother, who fancied himself as a bit of an expert when it came to such matters. True, he’d seen it all before once – he was there when Mrs Stitch had gotten her heart attack outside the shopping centre, downtown, barely a week ago now. It had taken six of them to get her in that wagon, he’d told me. I could believe it, too…Mrs Stitch had been a big lady.

“See – what’d I tell ya!” cried my brother. Sure enough, the men in grey dragged the stretcher from out of the back of the wagon, letting the undercarriage swing down and catch it before it hit the ground. A shame, that, ‘cos we could’ve done with a bit of a clatter. Anyhow, a man in a long black coat then climbed out of the front and, after going back in the cab for his long black bag, he followed the stretcher up the garden path and towards old man Lemare’s front door.

“Well blow me right off!” cried my brother. “It’s the Angel ‘O Death himself!”

That just about did it in; our dad was off his chair, paper thrown in the air, and was at my side on the sofa before the house dust had a chance to resettle.

He puffed on his pipe and gawped along with us at the man in the long black coat.

“Bastard…” he muttered.

“Why do they call him the Angel ‘O Death?” I said.

“‘Cos he’s a bastard”, said our dad. “‘Cos he don’t care about the lives of you and me. He only cares about the numbers. You two were too young to remember when your Aunty Anne died, but it was him who was on duty at the time. He had her all bagged up and in the back of the van before the paperwork had time to dry. He wasn’t bothered about how your poor mum felt. The bastard”.

“But Angels are good things, aren’t they dad?” said my brother.

“I’m not saying he doesn’t do a valuable service. I’m not saying that at all. We can’t do without him, not nowadays. It’s just the way he goes about it, like he was picking up leftover chicken. When your Aunt went we didn’t even get a letter of condolence from the Council. Would’ve been a nice touch, that…a letter”.

“What’s left over chicken?” I asked.

There was a loud rapping sound coming from old man Lemare’s place as one of the Recyclers started banging on the front door with the butt of his truncheon. I wasn’t reckoning on there being too much trouble from the old man – him being practically dead himself. And why should he give trouble? He knew the Recyclers would turn up sooner or later. His missus had been ill for months…it was only a matter of time before her Ticker went off.

The Angel checked his watch, then ordered the Recycler to bang again. “See”, said our dad. “It’s always a bloody schedule with him!” It was a while before old man Lemare answered him.

“Sod off!” he said, shouting through the door.

“Now now, Mr Lemare”, said the Recycler through the letterbox. “That isn’t going to help anyone, now is it?”

“You ain’t coming in!” shouted the old man. “You ain’t ‘aving my Liz!”

“Come on, Mr Lemare. You know the law. She’s no use to you now, is she”.

“Why don’t he just let them take her?” I asked our dad.

“Some people are like that, son. They like the olden ways better. Before you two were born we used to bury the dead in the ground. We had special places for them – Cemeteries, they were called, and in these places the vicars were in charge. They used to do a lot more than just weddings back then. And the vicars used to put the bodies in wooden boxes and bury them in deep holes in the ground. It wasn’t a good way of doing it – so much waste. Nowadays it’s much better”.

There was another rap on the door across the road.

“Mr Lemare, we won’t tell you again. The Ticker reports that your wife has been gone for about an hour now… you understand that we have to get her on ice as quickly as possible… ”

An upstairs window opened and a bucket of water was dropped onto the heads of the Recyclers below. The Angel got a fair dollop of it too.

“Get the hell away from my door!” shouted old man Lemare. “You ain’t ‘aving her, and that’s that!”

“He’s in for it now”, said our dad.

“Can’t they just let him bury her?” said my brother. “He can put her in the back garden, with the daisies”.

“They won’t have that, son. She’s gotta go to the proper authorities. They have to deal with her in the proper way. Old man Lemare could be held responsible and charged if he purposefully delays them in any way. I believe the law states that if under eighty percent of a bod is un-recyclable due to such a delay, imprisonment could be enforced”.

“Mr Lemare”, shouted the Recycler, “If you continue to delay us we will have no choice but to contact the proper authorities”.

“You don’t scare me, you uncaring scum! You want her… you come in and get her!”

“You see boys, it’s reckoned that around ninety percent of the bod is recyclable, and that’s a fair old whack in an age when everything has to be re-used. We couldn’t live without recycling nowadays – everything we own was reprocessed. The furniture, our clothes…why, even my baccy started out in someone else’s pipe! Right down to the food we eat. Hell, your mum’s Everything Stew isn’t called that for nothing!”

“Old woman Lemare ain’t going in any stew, is she?” I asked.

“Couldn’t tell you for sure, son”. Dad puffed on his pipe. “But it wouldn’t surprise me”.

Now things were really starting to hot up. The Recycler was busy on the blower, calling in the proper authorities. The Angel was wiping the water off his glasses, and a crowd of nosy neighbours had gathered around the wagon. The Recycler put the phone down and stuck his gob back through the letterbox.

“Mr Lemare, the proper authorities will be here in a few moments. This is your last chance to surrender your wife”.

“You just think about what can be recycled from a bod”, said our dad. “Look at all the fat that’s in it! And the water, and not to mention all those other things – metals and all. Vital organs are put on ice and submitted to the Organ Donation Department. Eyes and ears are snapped up by those folk who’re willing to pay through the nose to get ’em. Can you imagine all that going to waste in some stinking hole in the ground? Hell, there’s a buyer’s market for the best bits of old Liz over there; she’ll be proud she’s still an active member of our society, in some form or other”.

And so the proper authorities arrived. The dark green wagon drew up next to the red meat wagon and coughed up six troopers onto the pavement. Two were used to disperse the crowd, the others stormed up the path and charged the front door of old man Lemare’s place.

“Well, there’s really no need for that”, said dad. “No need at all”.

A few gunshots later and it was all over. The Angel re-checked his watch and nodded as the four soldiers marched back out of the house carrying two blanket covered stretchers between them. The refaced Recyclers were left to pick up any furniture that could be thrown into the back of either wagon.

“Well, that’s that then”, said dad as he dug a fingernail into the embers in his pipe bowl. “Let that be a lesson to you two boys. You can never beat the system. We all win out in the end if we just abide by the law. And now they have two bods for the Recycling Plant”.

Two moments later it was as if nobody had been there at all. I tucked my arse back into my dinner chair and tucked into our mum’s re-heated Everything Stew. Mum called to dad from the washing up bowl in the kitchen.

“Love, did you return that lawnmower to poor old Mr Lemare?”

“Not a chance”, said our dad.

And from my dinner place I watched through the window as some beggar went and siphoned the gas right out of the dead man’s car!

The End.

Published by
Independent publisher of science fiction stories.