The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

NINE

 

     As Lon hustles back to the moving van, I remember him running across the high school's ball field.  A fresh-faced, confident kid.  He's got that look again.  Before he met Chachi he was starting to look middle-aged, beaten down.  And bewildered.  He looked bewildered for years, ever since that summer he played in the minor-leagues and suddenly lost his skill for hitting and catching baseballs.  What the hell happened to me? that look said from his mirror.  I was going along fine, had my life planned.  Then everything fell apart.  Why?  Forty years ago I saw that same look--or at least its cousin--in my own mirror.  Chachi has given Lon back his youth.  And, in a way, his stardom.

     I think of Rose, start to think of that Sunday afternoon in the woods, but I stop myself.  I'll think about that later.  Maybe.

     I say to Jake, "You going to lift all the heavy things today?"

     "Yeah."

     Lon gets in.  "We're running late, but the house isn't far from here," he says.

     We're a good half hour late, but the girl we're moving is still in bed when we knock on the door.  Lon and I stand here in the cold, Lon knocking for ten minutes before she opens up and stands there in a robe open and revealing her teddy.  Eyeing us through the screen door, she says, "Can I help you?" 

     "Ma'am," Lon says, "we're here to move you.  Lon's Moving Service.  I'm Lon.  You and me talked on the phone.  Miss White?"

     She takes a pack of Camels out of a pocket in her robe along with a book of matches and lights one up.  The smoke makes her squint.  "What's today?" she says.

     "Saturday."

     "No."  She shakes her head, blows a stream of smoke up through the screen door.  "The date."

     "November--." 

     "Shit," she says.  And she looks off past us at her front yard or the street, something. 

     "Local move?" Lon says.  He looks at his clipboard.  "To Buena Vista Apartments?"

     "That son of a bitch," she says.

     "Ma'am?"

     "Nothing.  Come on in."

     Lon turns and signals to Jake to stay in the moving van.  As we step into the house, Lon says, "This is Fowood, my assistant.  And my stepson's going to help out, too, to speed things up.  We should be done before . . . ."  His voice trails off as we step inside.  The house is small and run down.  Lots of cracked plaster, worn-out carpet, kids' crayon marks on the walls.  There's one cardboard box in the middle of the living room, the top flaps open, kitchen utensils sticking out.  Otherwise, I don't see any signs of preparation for a move.  Plastic toys and kids' clothes are scattered around.  Half-eaten chocolate chip cookies.

     I scan the big stuff.  It's mostly light-weight, inexpensive furniture, easy to carry, but there's a big hutch with glass doors.  On the shelves of the hutch are porcelain teddy bears of all shapes and sizes, all smiling and hugging themselves or each other.  And there's an oak bookcase with six shelves of romance novels.  The top shelf has hardbacks all by the same writer.  The Bridges of Rome.  The Bridges of Paris.  The Bridges of Madrid.  The Bridges of Bangkok.  The Bridges of San Francisco. 

     The girl--the woman, she's in her twenties, I'd say--she gives the box with the kitchen things sticking out a little kick and says, "A real disaster, huh?"

     Lon says, "Can we see the rest of the house?"

     "Come on."

     We peek into the kitchen.  "The appliances stay?" I ask.

     "They stay.  Just the table and chairs go.  The son of a bitch that was living with me promised he'd get me new ones, but he was lyin'.  He lied about everything."

     She takes us down a short hall and opens a door.  Inside the room are two mattresses on the floor and four little kids sleeping.  Two boys, both with crew cuts and dirty feet sticking out from their blankets, and two girls, both with tangled hair

and red-painted little fingernails, their hands clutched around dingy-looking stuffed bears.  The room smells like sour milk.

     "Stinks in here."

     "Ah, the kids are cute," Lon says.

     "You want 'em?" the woman says.  She closes the door.

     "There just one other bedroom?" Lon says, nodding at a closed door at the end of the hall.

     "Yeah."  Then she looks off over my shoulder in a daze.

     Lon says, "Can we take a look?"

     "No.  You can't go in there."  She looks at Lon, then at me.  She takes the cigarette out of her mouth for the first time.  She's prettier without it.

     "Pardon?" Lon says.

     "Not yet."

     "Oh.  Okay."

     Then she looks off in a daze again and mutters, "That bastard."  

     Lon looks at me and rolls his eyes.  He says, "Ma'am, you got some boxes to pack stuff up in?  I got a few in the truck if you need some.  I got plenty of heavy-duty garbage bags.  If you've got a lot of clothes--"

     "He just pulled out on me."

     "Ma'am?"

     "Left me high and dry."  She looks at me.  There's something bright in her eyes, and I look away.  "Stole all my money.  He says, ‘Put my name on your checking account, babe, and I can do all the grocery shopping for you.’  He was supposed to fix this place up.  Never lifted a finger.  I'm bustin' my butt cleaning rooms at the motel out on the highway, cleaning up after people that act like pigs, and here I come to find out he's out chasing tail.  He didn't even watch my kids.  Wally stepped on a nail, and Beaver burned his hand trying to heat up soup."  Lon and I don't say a word, but she acts like we do.  She looks at each of us fiercely.  "Yeah, that's right.  That's right.  I got boys named Wally and Beaver.  I like those names.  So what."

     "We'll get started, ma'am," Lon says.

     "Okay."  Then she reaches out and grabs his upper arm, grabs his biceps.  "No.  I mean, can you hold off?"

     "What?"

     "Just hold on."

     She runs down the hall and disappears into the bedroom she won't let us see.

     I'm shaking my head, and Lon says, "I think you ought to ask her out on a date, Fo."

     "What?"

     "You see that thing she's got on under the robe.  Chachi has a black one, but I got to admit I kind of like that creme-colored job.  I tell you, Fo, you get yourself a woman like that, and you'll be living the good life."       

  

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