Cracker by Damian Christie

It's that Summer of the Evening

It's Inorganic collection time in Sando-upon-Ham. Or at least I hope it is, because like the sheep we are at number 15, we've piled together a smorgasbord of suburban flotsam and jetsam on the kerb. From assorted bric-a-brac to old Kambrook; all, sundry and then some has been unceremoniously strewn on the grass outside, and left for nature to take its course.

'Nature' in this case is human nature. For an accumulation of plastic, rubber and metal, what has happened to our street's collection over the past few weeks must be one of the most organic decompositions I have ever witnessed. Viewed in stop-motion over the last fortnight, it would be difficult to pick the vast difference in forces acting upon the dead mouse the cat had left at the back porch (currently the subject of a flat stand-off), and the old reclining chair we'd left at the front.

On the first morning after the old chair was dragged to the kerb, there is little visible difference. The rain overnight has left the pilled orange fabric – waterproofed through longevity and stain saturation than any silicon-based miracle product – covered in a fine mist that refuses to soak in. A few hours later, I look out from my study, and the seat cushion has gone, whisked away by passersby unknown.

It takes a week before someone comes along with a Stanley knife and surgically removes the brown vinyl from the back and sides of the lounger. The 'leatherette' was always in fairly good nick, sure, but you've got to ask what twisted use it is being put to elsewhere in the 'ham.

Just yesterday, when I thought all the meat had been picked from those particular bones, an elderly woman pushing a trolley load o' wonders barely stopped as she reached out, and ripped the back cushion from its staple fastening.

Like an Inorganic tease, I hold back some of our treasures. In much the same way as trying to ensure the little ducks get some of the bread, I feed it out gradually, so that everyone gets a fair shot. Knowing that the chances of any of our refuse actually reaching its ostensible destination – the dump – means that you can't help but feel you're doing your bit for the less fortunate. I waited until morning to throw out a perfectly working Mac, monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem et al, so it wouldn't get ruined by the moisture overnight. I'd meant to give it away through the T&E, but the Inorganic seemed ideal for my lazy-arse purposes (although it still took me a week or more to haul it from the front door to the front gate).

The story in my head had this aging computer making all the difference in the life of one, or possibly a family of youngsters, inspiring them in their learning, starting them on the path to university and eventually a prestigious – yet altruistic – medical career. Beneath all this was the lingering concern that I mightn't have wiped all the porn from the hard disk…

I needn't have worried. Within fifteen minutes of it hitting the footpath, as though sensing a change in the Inorganic Matrix, a man came along armed with a spanner, and ripped the entire machine apart, my philanthropic dream shattering as easily as a motherboard on concrete. It was too late, but I had to ask. "What are you doing?!" I called out the window. "Getting the wire – you can sell it," came the reply. I was left hoping against hope that he might spend the proceeds on some books for his children.

Presumably the Inorganic truck is on its way, although the council's website is sufficiently vague as to leave a lot of doubt. It's an offence to have your refuse out for more than two weeks prior to collection, although the longer it stays out, the less there is, so you'd think this would work in the council's favour. Also barred is taking something from someone else's rubbish, even if just to make your own pile bigger than your neighbours' (it's apparently a sign of prestige in Sando if your refuse is so prolific that it spills onto the street).

But rules and regulations don't seem to have much to do with the Inorganic though: like an instinctive mass migration of old TVs and faulty microwaves, it takes but one house to start the Great Purge, and the others follow within hours. For two or three weeks every couple of years, the suburbs are alive with scurrying and scavenging. Then, one overcast July morning, as quickly as it began, the parasitic trash orgy comes to an end.