Hot August Trashman


It was late August. There were no clouds, only a white-hot sun in a colorless sky. Elder Rowan and his companion walked out of the sun into the shade of a maple tree. The leaves on the tree were curled in from the heat and wilted. It was hot in the shade. He ran his hand along his moist neck. They were close to the coast, and the air was humid. The heat seemed to press down on him. He opened a black folder and read:

He looked at the numbers on the house, 247 Lincoln Street.

“This is it.”

Elder Anderson nodded. “It’s your door.”

He rang the bell and waited. Elder Anderson straightened his tie. A tall, dark haired woman answered and Elder Rowan smiled.

“Good afternoon.”

The woman smiled politely. “Yes?”

“I’m Elder Rowan and this is Elder Anderson,” he said. “We talked to you about a week ago.”

“Oh yes. I remember. You loaned me a book.”

She turned and disappeared into the room and returned carrying a Book of Mormon.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t have time to read in it.”

She handed the book to Elder Rowan.

Elder Rowan felt his throat tighten and cleared it. He ran his thumb along the edge of the book. How many times had this happened in the last six months? How can I get her, get any of the people in this town, to understand? he thought.

“This book tells of a visit the Savior made to the people of ancient America,” he said.

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I wouldn’t read it. I’m just not interested. I have my own religion.” She smiled and closed the door.

At least she’s honest about it, he thought. Many people take the book without ever intending to read it and either throw it away or leave it untouched in some bookcase.

“Well, that’s the last referral.” He looked at Elder Anderson and then at his watch. “Let’s go back to the apartment.”

Elder Anderson looked down at his watch. “We can still get in an hour of door contacting.”

“It’s too hot now,” Elder Rowan answered. “Maybe when it cools off.”

Elder Anderson was silent for a long moment. “Okay,” he said.

The apartment was hot, cooler than being outside but still hot. Elder Rowan sank back into a chair. Elder Anderson took a pitcher of cold water from the refrigerator and stirred in some frozen lemonade. He poured the lemonade into two glasses and handed Elder Rowan one.

“We’ve got to keep trying,” he said.

Elder Rowan nodded. “Maybe, when it gets cooler.”

It seemed hopeless. For the last six months they had knocked on nearly every door in the town with no success, nothing, not even a good discussion. Elder Rowan loosened his tie. He felt empty. He had always dreamed of going on a mission, and now he was on it and nothing was happening.

Elder Anderson set his glass down. “I’ll go check the mail,” he said.

He disappeared into the hall and returned holding a white envelope. “It’s for you.”

Elder Rowan looked at it. It had the mission home letterhead stamped on it. He opened it. It was a transfer notice effective the next day.

“It’s a transfer notice,” he said and smiled.

“Where to?” Elder Anderson asked.

“North Lubeck.”

“That’s a good area. They do a lot of baptizing down there.”

Elder Rowan smiled again. “Yeah, I know.”

“You’ll want to say some good-byes tonight, I guess?”

Elder Rowan nodded.

“I’ll fix some sandwiches, and we can get started.”

Elder Anderson cracked eggs into a frying pan and spread mayonnaise on slices of bread. Elder Rowan sank back in the chair, putting his feet up, watching. The transfer was what he had wanted, but he still felt empty. The past six months, half a year of his life and one quarter of his mission, seemed to have been wasted. It wasn’t that he hadn’t worked hard, because he had. It was just that they had had no success.

“It’s ready,” Elder Anderson said, dropping a pickle on a plate with an egg sandwich.

The combination of the scrambled egg sandwich and sweet pickle and sour lemonade tasted good. Elder Rowan hadn’t realized how hungry he had been. He was eating the second half of his sandwich when someone knocked on the door. Elder Anderson opened it. A short, sun-browned man stood in the doorway holding a hat in both hands. His hands were large and bent and cracked with deep black lines. They were strong hands. The man smiled broadly, revealing an uneven row of teeth. His eyes sparkled.

“Do Elder Thompson and Elder Rowan live here?” he asked.

Elder Rowan stood.

“I’m Elder Rowan, and this is Elder Anderson,” he said. “Elder Thompson left several months ago. What can we do for you?”

The man smiled. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn book and held it up.

“I’m in charge of the city dump,” he said. “I found this here book on the edge of one of the piles. I don’t know why, but I started reading it.” The man hesitated and rubbed his mouth with his hand. “There’s something about it I can’t explain. I just got to find out more about it and about this Joseph Smith. I was wondering if maybe you could come and tell me and my family about it sometime or if maybe we could come down to your church or something?”

“When would you like us to come?” Elder Anderson asked.

“How about tomorrow night?”

Elder Anderson smiled. “That would be great.”

The man reached out and shook both of their hands.

“I’ve got to get home now,” he said. “I live at 290 Washington Street. What time will you come?”

“Is eight o’clock okay?”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Elder Rowan and Elder Anderson stood staring at the door.

“Can you believe that?” Elder Anderson turned and looked at Elder Rowan.

“I kind of hate to leave,” Elder Rowan said. “But I think I understand now. When the pioneers crossed the plains they planted wheat along the trail that would be harvested the following year by other pioneers. Some of what we’ve planted here won’t be harvested for months or even years. I guess the important thing is just to do the work.”

He reached down and picked up a Book of Mormon.

“Let’s go,” he said. “I think we have time to knock on a few doors before it gets dark.”