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The Dumpster Incident - a Short Story

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DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.


I’ll never know why Billy threw Jimmy’s glove in the dumpster. Billy’s slamming the hatch shut on Jimmy’s thumb when Jim went in after it, well, that was probably an accident. The scream Jimmy made when the hatch cut off the end of his thumb will haunt me forever.

“What the hell did you do!?!” Mark screamed at Billy.

Sounding both afraid and offended, Billy yelled back, “Hey! I was just kidding around.”

Billy was always “just kidding around.” Usually, only someone’s feelings got hurt.

Inside the dumpster, Jimmy kept screaming.

“We’ve got to get him out of there!” I yelled at Mark and Billy as I jumped off my spider bike.

“I’m outta here,” Billy said, and he took off running.

“Dammit, Billy, you get back here! This is your fault.” Mark threw hells and dammits around like nothing when his blood was up.

I thought Mark was going to take off after Billy. Instead, he turned to me.

“We’ve got to get him out of that thing, Dane. God, I wonder how bad he’s hurt?”

I gave the dumpster a stricken look. Inside the big steel box, Jimmy sounded like he was dying. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the handle and pulled open the hatch.

Jimmy was lying on his back amidst the trash bags. The smell inside the dumpster was stifling - a gagging mix of rotting food and pencil shavings. Jimmy was holding his left hand with his right and wailing like a banshee.

“Ooohhh, it hurts! It hurts bad!”


Mark pushed past me and jumped into the dumpster.

“Let me see Jimmy. Show me where it hurts.”

Jimmy pulled his hand back and showed Mark his thumb. It wasn’t bleeding much and didn’t look that bad from where I stood.

“You’re gonna be all right, Jimmy. C’mon, let’s get outta this dumpster. Man, it stinks in here.”

From the way his nose wrinkled, Jimmy noticed the stench for the first time when Mark mentioned it.

“Ooo, man, you are so right. This place stinks.”

Mark boosted Jimmy up to the hatchway, and I grabbed him under the arms as he came over the lip. Then, I turned and helped Mark out. Once the three of us were on the ground, Jimmy slapped his good hand against his leg.

“Dammit, my glove’s in there. Stupid Billy, I’m gonna get him for this.” Jimmy didn’t swear like Mark, but I couldn’t blame him for that one.

“I’ll get it, Jim,” I volunteered, even though I dreaded climbing into that smelly box.

I scrambled in and found Jimmy’s glove, tossing it out the hatch. Then I grabbed the edge of the hatchway and pulled myself up and over.

In the fading sunlight, I looked at my friends. Mark was checking out Jimmy’s thumb. Jimmy was acting tough like that hadn’t been him screaming in the dumpster. They were both covered with dumpster crud. Looking down, I realized I was, too.

“Our moms are going to kill us.”

My friends looked at me and nodded.

Jimmy picked up his glove.

“Thanks, Dane. I owe you.”

“Hey, what about me? I clumb in and got you.”

Jimmy looked at Mark.

“Thanks for climbing in and getting me out.”

Jimmy’s smile became a grimace as he glanced at his thumb.

“It’s starting to throb. You think it might be broke?”

Mark’s eyebrows arched.

“It’s sure tore up at the end there. I hope it ain’t broke.”

Jimmy was our best pitcher and only lefty. If his thumb was broken, we’d be in a mess. Our coach would be ticked when he found out.

But not as mad as Jimmy’s mom when we walked Jimmy up to his front door. It’d just gotten dark. He was twenty minutes late.

Jimmy’s mom was standing on the front porch, hands-on-hips, and a fierce expression on her face.

“Where have you been, young man?”

Then she saw how Jimmy was holding his hand.

“What happened to you?”

“Mom, it was an accident. Billy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

Jimmy was amazing. He’d defended Billy and told on him at the same time.

“Didn’t mean to? Exactly what didn’t he mean to do?”

Jimmy’s mom, who was kind of pretty, looked pretty scary just then.

“Mrs. Stapleton, Billy was horsing around and…”

Jimmy’s mom silenced Mark with a glare. He swallowed hard. Mark wasn’t scared of much, but the look on Mrs. Stapleton’s face scared him silent.

She turned her eyes on me, daring me to say something. I bit my lip.

“What exactly, James Monroe Stapleton, didn’t Billy mean to do?”

Jimmy’s mom was mad, all right.

“He was just messing around. You know Billy. He didn’t mean to smash the hatch on my thumb.”


A sob slipped out while he explained. I wondered if it was from the pain in his thumb or fear of his mother.

“The hatch - to what?”

Mark and I took a step back to distance ourselves from Mrs. Stapleton’s anger.

“Don’t you move.”

Jimmy’s mom froze us in place and never took her eyes off Jimmy.

Jimmy, sobbing openly now, told her.

“The hatch to the dumpster.”

His mother’s lips curled over her teeth, and she closed her eyes. After taking a deep breath, she opened them again. In an icy calm voice, she asked, “And why was your hand near the hatch to the dumpster?”

Wiping his nose with his good hand, Jimmy sniffled.

“I was climbing in to get my glove.”

A vein began throbbing on Mrs. Stapleton’s forehead.

“Why…was your glove…in the dumpster?”

Jimmy couldn’t look her in the eye. He said to his feet, “Because Billy threw it in there.”

Mrs. Stapleton reached out and grabbed Jimmy’s wrist, bringing his hand into the glow from the porch light. A gasp slipped past her clenched lips.

“My God, Jimmy, why didn’t you tell me it was this bad? Why didn’t one of you tell me it was this bad?”

Our being frozen in fear didn’t occur to Jimmy’s mom. Mark and I shrugged and started to shake. Mrs. Stapleton turned and shouted into the house.

“Jonathon, start the car. We’re taking Jimmy to the hospital. He’s cut off the end of his thumb.”

She dragged Jimmy into the house, never giving me and Mark a backward glance. When the front door slammed, we lit out.

“I’m really in for it,” Mark said as we got to the corner, and he turned toward his house.

“I’ll most likely get grounded,” I said. I knew Mark wouldn’t get grounded. He’d get the belt. If his father was in one of his moods, explaining how we’d been helping Jimmy wouldn’t spare him a whooping.

Mark snorted. I knew he was thinking that once I told my folks why I was late, they’d probably be all proud of me.

He was right; they wouldn’t ground me. My mom would lay a guilt trip on me for making her worry. My dad wouldn’t say a word, even if he were home. He’d just sit in front of the TV with a beer in his hand, ignoring the rest of the family.

“See you at school tomorrow,” Mark called out over his shoulder as he disappeared down his street.

I pushed harder on my pedals and hurried home. When I walked in, my mom and sister were already eating dinner.

“You’re late,” my sister said. Lana, my big sister, loved finding fault with anything I did. Me being late for dinner was a bonus for her.

“I’m sure Dane has a good reason,” my mother said. “Don’t you, Dane?”

Her words could have been those of an understanding mother. But they weren’t. Her words dripped with accusation, like guilt loaded darts. My mother was an expert in making me feel guilty.

Before I answered, I looked at my dad’s empty chair.

“Your father is working late again tonight.”

Lana tried not to snort. My mother gave her a sharp look. ‘Your father’s working late,’ was code for, ‘Your father’s out drinking again.’

My dad drank. I didn’t understand that he was an alcoholic. He had a good job. He made decent money, or so I thought. I never knew it was my mom’s part-time job that kept the roof over our heads and food on the table.


I thought my dad was cool. He took me fishing and hunting. Sometimes he came to ball practice and coached the pitchers. My dad pitched semi-pro when he was a teenager. That’s what he told me. Five bucks a game was more semi than pro, but I bragged about him to my friends because I didn’t know any better.

Looking from his empty seat to my mother’s phony smile, I realized she was waiting for an answer.

“Jimmy got hurt after practice. Mark and I walked him home.”

My mother frowned.

“I see. The Stapleton’s phone wasn’t working?”

“I don’t know.”

Lana smirked, knowing what was coming next.

“Did you ask to use the phone?”

“It didn’t seem like a good idea. Mrs. Stapleton was ticked about what happened to Jimmy.”

Lana’s curiosity got the better of her. Knowing our mom wouldn’t be interested in what happened to Jimmy, my sister asked, “What happened to Jimmy? How’d he get hurt?”

My mother gave her a sour look. Lips pursed like she’d just tasted lemon, she took up Lana’s line of questions.

“Yes, Dane, how did Jimmy get hurt?”

She made it sound like it was my fault.

“Billy shut his thumb in the dumpster.”

My mom bit her upper lip and looked up at the ceiling.

“Why were you boys playing around a dumpster?”

I knew it wouldn’t do me any good, but I told the truth.

“I wasn’t there when it first happened. Billy threw Jimmy’s glove in the dumpster as a joke. When Jimmy climbed in after it, Billy shut the hatch and caught Jimmy’s thumb. I rode up just as Jimmy started hollering.”

My mother nodded but didn’t look like she was buying my story.

“So, instead of coming home like you were supposed to, you decided to get in on the fun?”


How she could turn stopping to see what was wrong with Jimmy into getting in on the fun was too much. I lost my temper.

“I wasn’t trying to ‘get in on the fun.’ I stopped to see what happened to Jimmy. Geez, it sounded like he was really hurt.”

I knew I was in for it when my mother rose from her chair.

“Don’t you dare take that tone with me, young man. I don’t know who you think you are, talking to me that way. I’m your mother and don’t you forget it. Just wait until your father gets home. We’ll see what he has to say about this.”

That’s when I said the words I’ll never be able to take back.

“He’ll be too damn drunk to care. And he wouldn’t go out drinking all the time if it weren’t for you. I WISH I WASN’T PART OF THIS FAMILY.”

My mother stood there in shock. Then her knees gave out, and she sat down hard, tears filling her eyes. I was glad. I was glad she was crying instead of me for a change.

Lana’s jaw dropped. I don’t think she believed I’d said what I said. But I said it, and I meant every word.

“Dane…” she began.

I didn’t let her finish.

“Just shut up. You’re always on her side. No wonder dad never wants to come home. The two of you make him want to stay away. It’s your fault. I hate you.”

Before they could get over the shock, I was out the door. With no idea where I was going, I got on my bike and rode. I could barely see through my tears. It was dark. My bike didn’t have a light. I rode right through the Stop sign.


© 2020 DW Davis