Sunday, August 14, 2011

Moving Day


I spotted a silver die, half-buried in the trash, glistening for me, while I waited to cross the intersection. I wanted to point this out, ask someone if the tenants on these blocks regularly threw out brand-new diebut nobody seemed to want to talk to me. A woman plugged into pink headphones stared blankly ahead. A businessman in a charcoal suit thumbed away at an email. A very young man sneered. I pinched out the die between a grocery bag and a slightly soiled napkin, and then returned for the napkin to clean it off. I cupped my fingers and the die tumbled in the crevasses of my fingers, then threw it onto the street, just before the last onslaught of cars rushed by. When I looked, the woman and the young man were staring at me out of the corner of their eyes. Their faces showed slight concern, but more for themselves, it seems, than me. I smiled at them, as an explanationthen the walk sign came on, everyone stepped out, and I bent over to pick up the die. 6.

I was headed to Flatbush, to do some cleaning for a man. He lived in a two-story gray house, with a Japanese zen garden encompassing his front yard. The doorbell was a chime that played a song by Pachabel I couldn't place. When he opened the front door, he introduced himself as Donny and looked me up and down. He was a dark-skinned Asian man, likely in his early sixties.

"You Filipino?"

"Hmong," I said, baring my chest and taking my hands out of my pockets.

"Humph," Donny said, scowling. "It's over here."

When I had just started pulling his old comforters through the living room, Donny yelled for me from his garage. I stood in the doorway, but he gave me a look as if what I needed to look at was small, and by his feet.

"What do you think this is?" he asked.

"A keg," I said.


I waited. I looked over the frail man's head and at the garage walls, lined with dusty framed pictures of his dog, his wife, and a landscape in a snowy wilderness where there were wild moose.

"Forget about the sheets. Move this instead." He eyed me warily, but also forced a smile on his face. It turned his crease lines grotesque.

When I had the keg in my hands, Donny gave me the address. He wrote on the back of a receipt. His writing slanted to the left, and was nearly illegible. "It's on the F line. Don't take the J, it won't go there," he said.

I looked at my reflection in the stainless steel. It warped my face, turned my eyebrows into thick marker lines, my nose into a pinpoint. My colors were dry, almost worthless; the silver had leeched the hues from the world. I turned it to see the man's reflection on the side of the canister. His bald head grew, devoured the surface.

"Well? Am I paying you by the hour, or what?" he said.

"Actually, you're not," I said. "It's a $100 flat rate."

"Then you'd better get going before I forget to write you a check." He walked past me towards the living room. "Door's on the right."

I walked outside, into the broiling sun. It was going to make the keg burn in a few minutes, if I didn't find shade. And my fingertips weren't calloused enough to handle it. I started walking, then stopped, took out my silver die, opened the peg hole, and dropped it in. It clanked for seconds, each slightly more diminutive than the next. I was ready.


"Oh my God," Lucy cried, but she shouldn't have been surprised at what happened. Jimmy had been on parole for six months, had missed his last meeting with the officer, had turned up at the door last week at 3:30 a.m., a frizzy brunette hanging on his left shoulder, her eyes barely open. His alcoholism had always been uncontrollable, unavoidable; even in middle school, he had found the liquor shelf above the refrigerator, higher than he could reach, and taken the bottle of whiskey, and the paper cups, sipping slowly, steadily, until he fell asleep.

"Oh my God," Lucy whispered, the visitation badge she was holding now dangling precariously in her fingers, lowered to her waist. I kept silent. She needed someone to touch her on the shoulder, reassure her with delicate words, lead her to the car, drive her home. I listened to her low breathing; looked at her quiet fingers; watched the jittering of her ankles, as they turned and unturned. I dug deep and tried to remember what I loved about her, why I had married her, our honeymoon in California and the lovemaking that led to our first, and eventually, aborted, baby. I'd drifted away, made her drift, made her forget about Jimmy, left, and came back. If there was ever a time to rekindle my sympathy, it would have been now. I dug and I dug, but all I came up with was trash.

"Goddammit!" Lucy yelled. She threw the badge across the room, where it skittered to a stop at a broken desk. "You don't care at all, do you?" She grabbed her purse and strode across the landing. A grown woman, mad as she was, and with that blue periwinkle cardigan with the missing button, and her crinkled hairshe was hardly discernible from the wide-eyed beauty I'd met twenty years earlier. I could hear the black wingtips of the security officer walking to the cells; hear the clanging of double doors in the foyer; and the faxing, of coursethe incessant, never-ceasing hum and tone of the machines processing useless paperwork. We looked insignificant. She looked insignificant, her appearance moving fluidly out of the scene. I focused, as hard as I could, on detaching my antipathy towards her from what we had just heard.

"Wait," I said, reaching for her as she moved out of view. "I'm coming with you." I picked up the badge from the floor and made sure to place it on the nearest desk, the lanyard neatly wrapped up. We were dissolving to pieces, but would remain civilized.

"Keys," she demanded.

I reached into the lining of my sweater and pulled out three keys hanging from a warped bottle opener. How proud she had been finding the keychain, its ersatz flamenco figurine and hippie colors, all that bombast. I had thumbed it often, my fingers sliding on its contours, waiting in line or walking to work; but it was clunky and misshapen, dug into my thighs, bulged inappropriately, and I wondered whether she gave it to me as a gift, or a burden.

"Next time, don't even come," she said. She hesitated, and looked as if she was going to say something else. Then she opened the car and slammed the door. How kind of her to use a euphamismthere was no next time.

"We need to fill up the gas tank."

There was such sun on our windshield, such sun reflecting off the water-stains, and the car visor was broken. I was glad for the sun; saw ladies with umbrellas outside shielding their white faces, sunglasses hiding their wrinkled faces. Nobody looked in the sky, dared being attacked so harshly. But I looked through our magnifying glass windshield, and looked at the edges of the sunso white, so white, that when I turned and looked at Lucy, all I could see was white.

I felt like unwelcome in our little apartment. She walked in before me, and threw her purse into my favorite chair.

"What are we going to do? His stuff? Where is it?" Lucy asked. "We don't even know where it is."

She looked at her phone, as if she had the numbers of his friends, his lovers. I looked around. Our potted plant was now not dying; it was dead.

"The number for the funeral home? Which one did Sonia use for her grandfather?" she asked. "No, I can't think about this right now." I tried to focus on the conversation, draw a rough sketch of the next few weeks. But the potted plant. It needed to be thrown out. That required immediate attention. I moved towards the kitchen, to see if there were any plastic bags.

"I need a drink. Get me a drink," Lucy uttered. She got up and made a drink herself. Whisky and coke. But not CokeSprite. We had run out a week ago. The drink fizzed, stayed pale. I grabbed the bag, turned the pot over, hit the bottom to release the dirt ball. It collapsed and I heard a satisfying crinkle. I walked past the kitchen, walked towards my shoes at the front door, when I felt something wet on my back. It took a few moments to realize she had thrown the drink at me, emptied it with a controlled, underhanded sweep, watched the liquid travel through the air and land, in a sloppy line directed by gravity, all over my back. I thought I should be shell-shocked, and tried to look the part, even though, for some reason, I didn't feel anything. Lucy looked well. She looked normal, almost happy.

"It's O.K.," I said.

She kept looking at me, and then she laughed. Laughed, and couldn't stop laughing.


"This early in the day, bro?" a black male in ripped jean shorts said, walking in the other direction. I turned my head to respond, but he had already disengaged, no chance for potential conversation. I had three more blocks before the subway stop.


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