A little story written for World Goth Day 2021, inspired by the Type O Negative song “Green Man” and Peter Steele’s former job at the N.Y.C. Parks Department:
PARKS DEPARTMENT, the man’s uniform read.
He towered like a tree, nest of hair tied back hastily, the long limb descending from his right arm sprouting a clamp to cleanse the earth. With mechanical efficiency it picked up a yellow wrapper, a snow-white issue stained with grease, crumpled plastic. Into the black they went, and the world was clean.
Above his head, branches budded.
The man cursed as he overextended himself to capture a crushed Coke can, throwing out his back. “Reprobates,” he muttered at the absent litterers. His broad shoulders hunched, he raised a hand to massage what had been torn.
Not old at all, in the scheme of things, but every season his body felt a little more brittle. Maybe it was a sign. How many years had he been working here? Hundreds, it seemed.
In the canopy, robins chirped and a raven squawked to shut them up. There being no humans around, he leaned on his grabber stick and griped to the birds. The job, the union, the management.
Only the weather, cloudless with sun streaming through the branches, didn’t piss him off today.
When the trees were bare and the last of the leaves had been raked and bagged, he’d be laid off for the winter. He’d pocket his last paycheque and wait for the last of the maintenance crews to leave before slipping under the USE AT YOUR OWN RISK sign and descending back into the park. Then, as he did every year, he’d scrape away a layer of snow (seven feet by four, a large man’s grave), lie down, and sink into the dirt.
And his warmth would be leeched away by the roots of the shrivelled grass and skeleton trees, a reminder for them that the cold wouldn’t last. And he would sleep.
Until spring broke and the roots started tickling his toes and pulling at his hair. “Can’t a man get some rest?” he’d snap, his voice like the dead leaves trapped under the snow.
But he’d let the sprouting foliage push him upward, and the newborn branches reach down to pull him to his feet. And like every year, he’d shave the moss from his face, trim his leafy brows, pull on his green uniform, and clock in for work.
It was a living.
(C) Madison McSweeney