'Bottled Out' by Oscar Windsor-Smith

Nigel, lathe-thin, bespectacled, leans against a safety rail above the recycling crusher. From a bag – hands protected by yellow Marigold gloves – he selects stuff appropriate to this container. He feeds the items one-by-one into its gaping maw. Metallic shrieks and dark hydraulic hisses announce the crusher closing to digest.

Waiting on the iron steps, Nigel surveys the depot. Evening shadows extend from nearby bottle banks across the car park, which is empty except for his bicycle and trailer. He hears a raucous snarl and turns to watch the car – souped-up and too familiar – entering the site. It slews across two bays and screeches to a stop. Doors fly open, set free thumping bass conspiring with a techno beat.

Nigel's next-door neighbours exit amid the usual tirade of filth from the crop-haired male and choked-back sobbing from his partner, Louise. She's dragging heavy bags without help from the tattoo-decked gorilla. Petite, pretty but for fresh bruises, Louise totters, seems on the point of collapse. She says something to her partner that Nigel can't hear. The bully lifts his fist, but sees they're not alone and stops. Snatching a bag from Louise he heads toward the bottle bank.

Nigel hurts. It troubles him, like every other time he's heard the beatings sweet Louise has suffered, but he's no hero. This Clark Kent has no beefcake alter ego. But what comes next is more than he can stand.

'No,' he shouts.

The gorilla glances up. 'What?'

'You can't put brown glass in the "clear glass" bank.'

'I'll give you brown glass, you little shit,' his neighbour yells. Boots are clanking up the steps. 'You'll get clear glass up your arse.'

The crusher has consumed first offerings. Its mouth reopens as the raving neighbour makes a grab for Nigel, misses, trips and sails over the rail. His screams are lost in more metallic shrieks and further hisses. 

With a long stick Nigel pokes-back an untidy tattooed arm the crusher missed. He's troubled once again. It's in the wrong container – "plastics" – when it really should be left in "mixed".

Nigel glances at Louise. 'I'm sorry,' he says. 'Should I press the red button now?'

'Yes,' she says. 'You should. But come and help me sort these bottles first.'

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