Moving day runs smoothly. The packers arrive early. Although a supervisor came two weeks ago to give an estimate, the driver walks around the house to decide how to load the van. Two men are moving boxes to the staging area outside. “We’ll be ready to roll in about three hours,” he tells Dad.
I pack the boxes with the model railroad into the trunks of our cars. I lock the seat belt around a carton of breakable items: Mom’s balloon lady, five Hummel figures, and an Art Deco vase. I call Rachel at the apartment to tell her to expect us around twelve. She’s lining the kitchen shelves before we arrive. The apartment manager painted the walls which she inspected one night after work. She also drew up a list of repairs that need to be addressed.
When the movers are ready to leave, my parents drive off in their car to arrive before they unload. As they drive away, I’m amazed that neither of them looks back at the house where they raised a family and lived for over half a century. I shake my head, awed by their nonchalance. I dread the next five minutes.
The movers close the van with a rolling crash. The three men crowd into the cab and leave.
I enter the house for the last time. The living room is a stage unrecognizable without curtains, pictures, mirrors, and the Oriental rug. I expected the living room to seem larger without the furniture, but instead it looks smaller with all the life sucked out of it.
The floor shines where the rug has been for decades. The mantle over the fireplace is empty. The balloon lady, a longtime resident, will soon be on her way to the new apartment. The day Mom brought her home, she warned Leslie and me, “If one of you breaks this, your name will be mud.” I never wanted to look at it, afraid a glance might cause a tremor and knock it off the shelf.
I climb the stairs and enter my bedroom for the first time in years. What a strange shape it is: long and narrow with a tiny closet at the far end. I had to squeeze between the bed and the wall to make my bed before school. I imagine my desk against the wall and my bureau opposite between two front windows.
Memories of this room flash by, with no pattern to connect one memory to another. Sadness wells up in my throat as if I’m seeing these images for the last time, realizing they don’t offer a grand meaning for my life. I simply exist, a collection of random moments I’ve experienced and events I’ve caused to happen. There will be no final illumination. And one day I will no longer be here.
I hear a key in the front door. The sound of voices, the banging of pails, the thump of a heavy object helps me shake off my morbid thoughts.
“Hello?” someone calls out, “Anyone here?” The cleaners have arrived.
From my bedroom window, I see the real estate agent get out of her car and greet the workers. I’m relieved that life has entered the house again. The home I remember has set me free. I descend the stairs, startling the cleaners. I smile and nod to them as I leave.
By the time I arrive at the apartment, the movers have unloaded the heaviest furniture. Dad created a schematic of the apartment to scale, specifying the exact location for every stick of furniture. While studying the schematic, the foreman waves me over. “What did your father do for work?”
“Oh, that explains everything.”
The oriental rug is already in the living room and one worker is assembling the beds. The other two movers wrestle in the heavy sleep sofa. How will they squeeze it through the doorway and then maneuver it from the hall into the living room?
I look at my father to see if he’s concerned it won’t fit, but he’s preoccupied with measuring the living room wall to double-check the position of the sofa.
I look back in time to see the movers flip the couch onto its end as if it weighs nothing and angle it through the front door. Once inside, they make a ninety-degree turn, hump it partway down the hall, and then lower the couch back to its horizontal position. They jockey it back and forth into the living room.
The driver arches his back, brushing his hands on his pants. “Now be honest. You didn’t think we’d get it in, did you?”
“I thought you had a fifty-fifty chance.”
“This is nothing. Last week we moved a piano into a Boston condo. On the third floor and there was no elevator.”
Mom gets up from her perch on a kitchen chair and walks to her usual place at the end of the couch. She falls back against the cushions. “I’m moved in,” she announces.
After an hour, the movers finish moving everything into the apartment. They cut the tape on each box and hang up all the clothes they’d packed in tall wardrobe boxes. Dad signs the contract and gives them each twenty-five dollars.
“Enjoy your new home.” The foreman salutes my father and closes the door.
Later that afternoon, Dorothy drops in. A large woman, she cleaned our house for as long as I lived at home. I’d describe her as ‘brassy’ with red hair, a booming voice, and a smoker’s cough.
When she arrived to clean each week, Mom reheated the coffee from breakfast and the two of them gossiped at the kitchen table for half an hour. Mom prepared lunch for her at twelve, and in late afternoon, they had a glass of sherry before Dorothy went home. Rachel always wondered how much cleaning she did.
Over the years she became less a cleaning lady and more a close friend, acting as a sounding board for Mom. Married three times, Dorothy was unfazed by any marital complaint a client chose to share with her. She’d seen and heard it all. In retirement, she frequently visited Mom for an afternoon.
“I would have been here sooner, but the beauty parlor was behind schedule. By the way, how do you like my new glasses? I especially wanted red frames.”
“They’re big,” Mom says.
Dorothy helps Dad unpack the dishes in the kitchen. I set up the TV. Later she and I make the beds. When we’re finished, she pulls me aside. “Your mother can’t be left alone in the apartment.”
“Dad will be here.”
“But what about when he goes shopping or to the doctor? She can’t be alone. I’ll speak to George. He’ll arrange for someone to come in when he’s away.” She leaves the bedroom to unpack the box with the bathroom supplies.
What’s the difference? I wonder. In the past, Mom never had anyone with her when Dad was away. I can’t worry about that now. Moving them into the apartment is a big step in the right direction. Leslie and Dad will work out something for the times when he must be away. No sooner is one problem solved, then one or two more take its place. Leslie as the daughter of the family assumes the heavier burden. Thank God, she has more patience than I have.
Leslie arrives with dinner and Dad invites Dorothy to stay. She takes charge in the kitchen, telling Dad he’s done enough for one day. “Go in the living room, George, and relax with your bride. The rest of the unpacking can wait ‘til tomorrow.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish