South Desert Storage has been here for ten years, and I for two. The name doesn’t mean much because I don’t even know what desert this is. It’s just empty; north, south, it doesn’t matter. But I suppose some people feel comfortable putting a name on everything, so here I am – southern nothing. It’s better than some jobs, at least. I mean, I live here and get paid to do so, so that’s something. It’s just me, which is also kind of nice sometimes. When I signed up they asked me what I wanted most out of this job. I don’t know, I told them, I guess I just want to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life, you know? Some alone time might help that? They told me I’d be less alone than I’d think. I don’t know what that means, even still. It’s only a couple times a week I’ll have to let someone in the gate so they can get to their things. More often than that, I’m just cleaning up old spaces people have quit paying on and abandoned, which happens enough to still surprise me.
Today I’m cleaning 1A because I finished cleaning the cycle last month and now I start over. It’s an abandoned lot. The rules for those say that there aren’t many rules, and I can take what I want. There’s rarely anything I want.
It’s morning and I lift the garage door to 1A to begin. The smell is what hits me first. It’s like if a hundred-acre farm, with all of its farm smells, were wrapped up into one medium size garage of unpleasant musk. I found a lot of things in that unit that made sense – a baseball and baseball bat, some board games, Jack Daniels, old ashtrays, a twenty-something year old Honda Nighthawk, rugs with dust on them, an antique rifle, an antique handgun, more Jack Daniels, Paul Mall Reds, a machete, a dog collar, and a pair of black cowboy boots. There was also something which didn’t make sense to me – an antique china teapot and set, displayed pristinely in the middle of the room. I didn’t remember a unit like this. The record says they quit paying a few years ago, but I know I’ve cleaned this unit out already. More than once.
What am I supposed to do, what are any of us supposed to do, when something so strange but so mundane happens? Complain that we may or may not have missed something in our previous work, and risk sounding ridiculous? Don’t do the work and be fired? No, no, I’ll just do the work.
I clean and dust. I organize on my terms; everything except the motorcycle on one side, and just the motorcycle on the other (it runs). I take this person’s life and how they organized it at one point, methodically and meticulously, and I ruin it to make my cleaning easier.
South Desert Storage is assembled a bit like a castle. It’s a giant, two-story square lined with tens, maybe hundreds of units. In the middle there are also more units. I spend the rest of the day riding the motorcycle around the complex.
Towards the end of most days, I like to go to the top of the complex and watch the sun set.
I start the bike to get back down to my apartment on the first floor and it won’t go. I check the gas tank and see that it’s out. As I begin coasting the bike down the ramp to the first floor I see something. The headlight won’t work, but it looks like a person? There’s no way into the complex unless I open the gate. Unless my boss opened the gate?
“Joe? I thought you were getting the grocery order next week,” I yell.
I hit the brakes and begin just inching foreword. It’s a person, it’s definitely a person.
“Joe! Say something!”
Everything gets quiet. No wind, no birds.