The Trolley Collector by Rebecca Field

The trolley collector does not just collect trolleys. He pockets items left inside them: baby socks, stuffed animals, umbrellas, checked handkerchiefs. He scrap-books shopping lists scrawled on the backs of envelopes, or pages torn from school exercise books, studies the hand-writing and imagines who might have been shopping for ‘blue milk, decaf coffee, fish fingers.’

The trolley collector takes his collection role seriously. He hates to see trolleys abused: abandoned in underpasses or rolled down embankments, wheels tilted skywards like overturned insects. He once asked his manager if they could install traps, to keep the trolleys close, but the exits are too numerous. On his days off he goes searching, drags them out of brambled verges, cleans them up, rehabilitates those not too far gone. It pains him to see potential squandered.

The trolley collector’s lifestyle keeps him trim. Nine hours a day on his feet and his calf muscles are bean-tin hard, his neck sinews trolley-strap tight. He snake-slides the trolleys up and down the car park, biceps flexing beneath his hi-vis jacket. The shifts fly by like the express trains that pass the car park, heading out of town only to head back in again the next day.

The trolley collector dislikes confrontation. He attends mandatory conflict resolution training, role-plays methods of de-escalation and the use of neutral body language. He represents the values of his company by keeping his head down. A former colleague was head-butted over a parking dispute. Another was accused of stealing a customer’s handbag. The public only see him when he gets in their way.

The trolley collector knows his days are numbered. The pain in his knees arrives each year, right about the time the pumpkins pile high in store. It leaves when the Easter eggs appear, or sometimes not even then. There have been comments about keeping up with the Saturday morning rush, about scratched paintwork on a Mercedes. Rumours of takeovers and restructuring swirl. The new owners might bring in lads fresh from school, brimming with attitude and energy drinks. He could be moved to another department, or let go, like an out of season dress-up-costume. It’s better to jump than to wait to be pushed.

The trolley collector doesn’t want an inside job: a button-pressing, barcode-swiping, box-flattening, shelf-stacking, basket-gathering job. He has nothing against those roles or the people that fulfil them, but they wouldn’t allow him to breathe the morning air, to watch the trains whistle by, to nod a hello to the shoppers as he passes them the trolley type he has anticipated they were looking for, to match a list-writer to their list. Simple, familiar pleasures are everything.

The trolley collector recognises repeat offenders: those that appear on the Saturday night shift just before closing, low-slung jeans and a low-slung car, music beat-boxing from boot speakers. They load up with crates of cheap lager, chug a few cans in the carpark, tossing empties into the low-maintenance shrubbery. They ride trolleys like charioteers, crashing them into the covered shelters where the other trolleys cower, whooping and screeching before spinning them into corners, axels dented, casters bruised. On this, his final shift, the trolley collector does not de-escalate, he does not call for security. He zips up his jacket, winds his trolley strap round his left hand, clenches his fists and steps into the fray.

Biography: Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire, UK. She has work in several print anthologies and has also been published online by Reflex Press, The Daily Drunk, Flash Flood, The Phare, Ghost Parachute, Fictive Dream, Gone Lawn, and Tiny Molecules among others. Tweets at @RebeccaFwrites