Discard Pile

by Tara Campbell



Josh and Dan ambled across the deserted campus, rubbing their eyes and intermittently scouring a hand over a night’s worth of stubble.  The bills of their baseball caps shielded their eyes from the early morning sunlight filtering down through the trees.  Dan drowned out the lilt of chirping birds with frequent slurps from his favorite travel mug.

“So, we’re just lookin’ for a TV, okay?” he reminded Josh. 

It was early May, and the social firmament of the university had begun to break up and float away as students finished their finals and started moving out.  Dan and Josh had come from their off-campus apartment to assess the piles of books, clothes, furniture, and other debris that careless underclassmen and their frazzled parents had had neither time, nor will, nor trunk space to carry away.

Technically these items had been left for Goodwill; but twice a year, at the end of each semester, there was enough volume to create an overflow of “resources” that didn’t fit in the collection container.  “Some of this stuff,” Josh had explained to Dan, “costs them more to pick up than it’s worth.  They’ll have to schedule an extra trip, and that means they actually lose money.” 

Because neither of them really believed this, they always tried to get to the cornucopia before the few remaining faculty and worn-out administrators straggled onto campus in the morning.

Their kitchen table and chairs had come from the pile, along with their stereo, a recliner, a good portion of their wardrobes, and most of what passed for their home décor.  But Dan had a specific goal for this day’s expedition: all they needed was a TV.  The last one they’d found had gotten ruined because Josh had ignored the incoming thunderstorm and kept picking through the pile until it was too late to get the thing home.

“Just the TV, okay?” Dan prodded.  “We’re not gonna fuck around and get rained on again.”  No matter that, unlike last time, there was no rain in the forecast – Dan stood on principle.

“Yeah, okay, relax,” Josh assured him.  But as they neared the pile, he could see that Josh was already starting to get a prospector’s gleam in his eye.  Dan would have to keep things moving or they’d be there forever.  No time for that: he wanted to get over to Julie’s – her roommate had just moved out the day before.

Dan picked through the pile with his one free hand, the now-empty coffee mug in the other.  He sifted restlessly through the pile, wondering how they were going to carry a TV with only three free hands.  He wasn’t about to leave his travel mug behind—it was the only one he’d ever found in the pile that didn’t leak. 

Was it too early in the morning to call Julie?  He should have taken her calls the night before, but he’d been busy. 

And to be honest, he hadn’t really felt like talking to her. 

The end of the year always made girls start asking about the summer and next year, and he just wasn’t ready to go there.  Sure, he liked Julie and all, but… well, couldn’t they just enjoy their time without her roommate first?

Dan snapped back to attention when he realized that Josh had started rummaging through smaller and flatter sections of the pile.  That asshole’s looking for DVDs!

“Josh, man, what are you doing?” he barked.  “Focus: TV!” 

“Duh: flat-screen.” 

Dan didn’t buy it, but he let it go.  He could wait a few more minutes.  He had all day— Julie’s roommate gone, finals done, nowhere else to be.  Josh was too busy with the pile to see the stiffening in Dan’s pants as he thought about what his afternoon held. 

He’d been kind of dating Julie for a few months now.  She was just a sophomore, but she was a smart one and took courses with upperclassmen like him.  They’d wound up hanging out after class a few times; then there was the party where they’d finally hooked up.  He hadn’t wanted to be a dick about it, and he actually did like her, so he’d kept on hanging out with her. 

But sometimes the younger ones came into it with certain expectations and stuff, so it could wind up getting messy.  As much as he disliked the guilt trips they laid on “the guy who won’t commit,” he also hated being “the asshole who just breaks it off,” and he felt like he was reaching this crossroads with Julie.  His mind raced ahead to all the hassles and awkwardness to come.  She didn’t seem like the type who would yell, but he’d actually rather deal with that than with the silent sufferer, the delusional stalker, or, worse yet, the fountain of tears.

Dan’s penis had read his mind, and his fledgling hard-on started to soften.  He looked around to see Josh reaching for the corner of a Pearl Jam poster by the edge of the pile.

“Dude, come on!”

“Calm down, man, it’ll just take a sec.”  Josh pulled up the poster – and they both froze.

A fuzzy, red, stuffed heart was sprawled face-down on top of a pile of old shirts and mardi gras beads like a co-ed after rush. They could tell it was face-down because it was the same stuffed heart Josh had given Dan so much shit about when he’d picked it out of the previous semester’s pile.  Dan looked at the anatomically incorrect heart, its absurdly long arms twisting out from each side, the fingers of its Mickey Mouse-gloved hands bent at painful-looking angles, and thought back to when he’d grabbed it for Julie’s conveniently-placed end-of-semester birthday.


“Dude, listen,” Josh had said, “if I’m saying put it back, what does that tell you?”

“But I don’t have time to get her anything else.”

“Yeah, but man, that thing is ridiculous.  You can totally tell it’s from the pile.”

“Ah, she’ll be cool with it.”



Josh let the poster fall back over the discarded heart.  “Okay, so, no TV.”  He cleared his throat and started back toward their apartment. 

Dan clutched his coffee cup and stuffed his free hand into his pocket.  He turned and followed Josh.

For the next few minutes the only sound between them was the scuff of their sneakers on pavement

“Dude,” Josh finally mumbled, “it coulda been anyone’s.”

“Yeah,” Dan lied, “it coulda.”

The sky started to darken with clouds as they shuffled home.  Dan felt a drop of rain spit down onto the back of his neck.  His eyes narrowed to slits as he cocked his head and looked skyward.

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

And, in sympathy, it didn’t.