A Short Story
The shopping trolley lay overturned on a patch of dirt, surrounded by junk. Discarded banana peels, crumbled soft-drink cans, bloody bandages, used condoms and needles, among other trash, were what the two boys gazed down upon.
“Oh boy,” said Sam, the smaller one of the pair. He lived two stories higher than the other, and had a father who had left him.
“Oh boy,” mused Tom in agreement. He lived on the ground floor of the housing estate; his mother had been the one to ditch him and his father.
It was an overcast day, though to the friends, Spotlight Court was always shrouded in the grey and the uninspiring. The estate was built with sad, brown bricks; grubby concrete filled the pathways like veins running away from the heart of the property. Even when night fell and the white fluorescent lights sprung from their protective encasements, the artificiality was mind-numbing — it was akin to a hospital ward full of the sick and dying.
The two boys would have preferred to have been inside, playing video games, but Sam’s mother, who had purchased her son the cheap, first-generation Xbox at a garage sale, worked nights. She wouldn’t be awake for another couple of hours, and had warned her son that if she stirred before seven that evening because either he or Tom were mashing their controllers or yelling in excitement, they’d both be in for a slap.
Tom had an older television, which wouldn’t connect to the Xbox. His father had promised to buy him one, if the warehouse he worked at gave him a promotion. That promise was already months old and the two friends didn’t hold up hope that Tom’s new television would ever find its way into his living room.
So, deprived that afternoon of any digital interaction inside, the boys were driven outside.
Spotlight Court, among the other cheap buildings owned and insufficiently maintained by the Department of Housing, bordered a multi-purpose sporting field. The season was bordering on winter; the field had recently had goal posts inserted at both ends in anticipation for the first round of football. The artificial turf used as a cricket pitch still lay untouched in the middle of the ground. It would be covered with dirt in the following weeks, in an effort to protect both the quality of the turf and player’s ankles.
The boys had run around for an hour that afternoon, kicking the ball between them. They had slowly gravitated to goal kicking, taking it in turns as both kicker and reclaimer. Tom, with the extra height and therefore longer legs, could kick further, while Sam proved to be more composed in the pockets, on the tougher angles.
The only other souls that were present while the friends punted the ball were an older woman striding around the perimeter, and her dog. She had wide, dark sunglasses on; she hadn’t acknowledged the boys as they kicked, and ignored a wayward kick when the ball had landed near her. The dog had been scared of the resounding thump the ball made on impact with the ground. It was a small pet; the jacket it had been equipped with did nothing to detract from its timid, submissive nature.
As the kicking levelled off into a shorter, lazier affair, the two friends had slowly walked back to the path leading to Spotlight Court.
They had proceeded up the small hill that connected both the path’s end with the field’s beginning, despite knowing Sam’s mother had yet to wake, when they came across the discarded trolley in its shallow grave.
It gleamed stainless steel. The wheels were stuck, frozen in the air. It wasn’t hard for the boys to see why the trolley collectors from the nearby supermarket, who sometimes did rounds of the estates to collect the discarded, forgotten trollies like these, had left this one behind. A minimum wage was not worth the more delicate, risky extraction from the discarded needles and soiled bandaids that lay around it like a defensive array. The stench that crawled into their nostrils now also indicated that the nappy that lay next to the handlebar was not empty.
Keeping his gaze on the trolley, Sam told Tom, “I’ve got an idea.” He said this with a conviction that caused Tom to glance left at his friend. He saw Sam had begun to chew his bottom lip in a practised, considered way.
“Does it have to do with the trolley?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Well, good luck with that.”
“I’ll need your shoes.”
“Oh.” Tom nodded in agreement. Sam had worn a pair of thongs down to the ground; he’d taken them off to play barefoot. He said this gave him a closer connection to the ball, allowing him to control it easier than with boots. The evidence was bruised into the top of his feet, that were not turning red from connecting so often with the hard leather of the football.
But now, faced with the prospect of being pierced by a needle or, even worse, getting human poo on his feet, Sam needed decidedly more enclosure.
Tom planted himself on the edge of the path and unlaced his boots. Taking only a second to rid himself of his own shoes, Sam took Tom’s when offered and tucked the laces inside. They were cheap boots — but the studs and the hardened plastic shell that coated the underside would provide ample protection.
Standing, Sam ventured forward, looking a little ridiculous in Tom’s larger boots.
He stepped over a few rotten fruit husks and a small tub of yoghurt that had been thrown clear of the main pile, before the mess became unavoidable and he had no choice but to start stepping on it.
One step, and he crushed a cereal box.
One step, and the studs pierced a defenceless aluminium can.
One step, and a needle snapped under the weight of the boot.
One more, narrowly missing the nappy, and Sam was standing above the trolley.
“You OK?” called Tom.
“Yep!” Sam called back.
Tom watched as Sam bent down and grasped the handlebar. Groaning, Sam tugged and then lifted the trolley from its side and onto its wheels. The trolley shuddered when it righted; its resurrection crushed some of the other trash that lay aside it as its wheels found the ground again.
“I got it!” yelled Sam.
“Wheel it over here!” Tom yelled back.
Pulling slowly, Sam backed out of the shallow ditch with the trolley. Various bits of rubbish threatened to get caught in the wheels, but quickly relinquished their grasp and fell away.
As Sam lifted it over the lip of the path, the trolley shuddered again, but became instantly more mobile on the hardened concrete.
“Here,” said Sam, slipping over the boots and handing them back to Tom.
“What’s the plan?” ask Tom.
Sam’s eyes glinted mysteriously. “You’ll see,” he said, grinning.
He grabbed back ahold of the handlebar and manoeuvred the steel skeleton back down the path that lead to the field. When they arrived at the abrupt end of the path, Sam stopped and nodded at the hill that unwound before them.
“That’s my plan,” he said.
He had nodded at the grass hill they had just climbed up. The incline was only about ten metres in length, before levelling off and meeting the sideline; it was a little steeper than forty-five degrees.
Tom glanced at Sam and asked, “You don’t think we’ll crash?” Tom was not overly-cautious as a person, but he knew how Sam believed the laws of physics would bend for him if only shown enough raw determination. Thus, he’d volunteered for the role of the long absent (not unlike Sam’s father and his own mother) cautionary voice in Sam’s head.
Sam shook his head. “It hasn’t rained in a week,” he reminded Tom. “It’s not muddy enough for the wheels to get caught.”
He jiggled the trolley with a sharp shove and continued, “Besides, we’ll give it a test run first.”
“Alright,” acquiesced Tom. As Sam backed up the path with the trolley, Tim stepped off the path to avoid being run over.
The light had begun to give up its struggle with the heavy cloud cover. The first fluorescent light attached to Spotlight Court — the one in the entranceway — was just starting to flicker on as Sam paused some way back from the end of the path.
“Go!” shouted Tom.
Sam started to run forward. His thongs began to slap harder against the concrete as he picked up the pace. The trolley shook with increasing intensity, almost as if in fright of its fast-approaching fate.
With one final push, Sam launched the trolley off the end of the path. The two friends watched excitedly as the four wheels quickly found the incline of the hill and cheered as the trolley rattled its way down to the bottom without flipping or crashing.
“Shotgun!” asserted Tom.
“Hey! I was the one that had the idea!” exclaimed Sam. “Me first, then you.”
“What about together?” Tom suggested.
Sam sighed, but then shrugged in agreement.
“Fine,” he said. “But you’re getting the trolley.”
The rest of the fluorescent lights were all now beginning to turn on as Tom ventured down to retrieve the trolley.
Grunting loudly — half in an attempt to make Sam feel bad for letting him get the trolley on his own, and half because the trolley was heavier than he’d expected — Tom dragged it back up the hill where Sam was standing.
The two friends pulled the trolley further up the path than Sam had gone before. When they reached the top of the path, where it curved off to become a footpath parallel to the road, they halted their ascension.
“Jump in,” Tom told Sam.
Sam did as he was told; he positioned himself near the front of the trolley. Tom gripped the handlebars and gazed past the back of his friend’s head at the end of the path.
“Shit,” he said.
“Oh, come on mate. Before Christmas,” implored Sam.
“Oh boy,” muttered Tom, and he put his head down and leapt off the mark.
The trolley, with Sam in front, surged forward with a hunger. The wind began to whistle in Sam’s ears as Tom picked up the pace. He drove his legs harder and harder, and as the trolley found some traction, Tom lifted himself into the back of it. The two friends hurtled down the concrete path. The end approached without compromise. Tom grabbed onto the sides of the trolley, while Sam’s knuckles grew white from the force he was holding the front grill. Tom began to yell, and Sam joined him. Their voices echoed violently around the housing estate.
And in that moment where the trolley lost the path and found air, the dreary and uninspiring was sucked out of Spotlight Court. To Tom and Sam, hurtling through the air, hearts in their mouths, it all fell away to their coursing raw adrenaline.
The trolley bounced when it found the ground; it skittered on the hill and began to fishtail wildly. The boys were hurled clear, bouncing off in different directions as the trolley flipped and slid on its side to shred the part of the sideline it came to rest at.
“Tom!” called Sam, as he came to a stop on the soft grass. “You alright?”
Tom burst out laughing. He was on his back a little further up the hill. Sam joined in on the chorus and it rose like a wave, crashing on the settling night.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” Tom said, when he’d finally stopped laughing. “Reckon we have time for another go?”
“What about a couple?” replied Sam.
“Alright,” said Tom. “It’s your turn to get the trolley.”
“Oh boy,” said Sam. Though, he picked himself up and jogged down the hill all the same.