Moving Day by Lewis Turco
Cob hated the thought of having to move, but they were going to pull his house down and there was nothing he could do about it. They weren’t going to touch his folks’ house next door, though, so he and his wife Lillian would have someplace to stay until something permanent could be arranged.
He understood the reasons for what was happening to him, but he was still too angry to think straight about it. The house had been condemned because of the shape it was in, and the city was widening the road. He looked around him and saw the sagging ceilings, the walls bowing in or out, depending on which wall you were looking at. The windows were dusty and fly-specked, some of them were broken and boarded up or covered with transparent plastic. Cob was sitting on a dilapidated chair in the living room at the moment, and he could hear the clatter of dishes in the kitchen where Lillian was putting their housewares into boxes.
Cob leaned back and looked at the fixture that dangled from the ceiling. It was amazing, he thought, that the damn thing could still throw a dim light on the threadbare carpet. He was depressed. This was the house where he had grown up. He hated to be leaving it again — the whole family had left it once, two decades gone, and moved next door into the new house they had built. The old place had stood abandoned until Cob and Lillian got married and moved in. Lillian hadn’t complained at all then. Maybe she thought that Cob would fix the place up, but he wasn’t the handy type, and his job hadn’t paid enough for him to save anything.
“It’s all my fault,” he said. “Shit.” He got up and walked into the kitchen. Lillian was taking dishes out of the flaking cabinets. She looked up. Cob raised his hand suddenly and she flinched.
“Daddy!” Josie, their seven-year-old daughter said from the table where she was eating some cornflakes and milk. He glanced at her. She gave him a tentative smile but when he didn’t smile back her lips straightened into a line and she went back to spooning her food.
“Are you almost done packing?” He asked.
Lillian’s glance was resentful, cautiously so. “You could help, you know.”
He snorted. “You want me to pack dishes? You wouldn’t have any dishes left.” He ran a hand through his longish graying hair and then across his stubble beard. “I’m going next door to Mom’s,” he said.
“Sure, you do that,” Lillian replied and turned back to the decaying cabinets.
Cob looked her over. She was getting on, not old yet, but the bloom was off the rose. She had her once strawberry-blonde hair tied back into a ponytail with an old ribbon, and she had on jeans that had long-since seen better days. Cob supposed he had loved her once, but now she was more a habit than anything else.
“What are you looking at?” she said.
“Nothing. I’ll be back in a while.” He walked over to the kitchen door and went out.
At his mother’s house he opened the back door and walked into her kitchen. She was at the sink rinsing some cups. “Oh, hello, Cob,” she said. “Are you nearly done packing?”
“Yes,” he said and walked over to stand beside her. He looked out the window and saw Lillian lifting a box; he saw his daughter Josie finishing her breakfast and getting up with her bowl and spoon to take to the sink. And that was the last time Cob saw them alive.
As he and his mother watched, they heard a big diesel engine cough into action on the other side of the old house; they heard it shift into gear, and then the building collapsed on top of the woman and child.
Neither Cob nor his mother could move. Their muscles had turned to concrete, their eyes dilated, and Cob’s turned into a camera. It seemed like a long time before he could scream, and he was already out the door before the sound ballooned out of his throat and into the morning. There was nothing left standing for him to grab and go inside, so he ran around the house. He saw the bulldozer and its driver backing off, ready to make another move forward.
Cob jumped up on the moving vehicle, grabbed the driver and tried to drag him off his seat. “What the…?” he said and pushed at Cob who held on.
“My wife! She’s inside, you asshole!” He began to shake the man. “My kid, too! Stop!”
“What?” the driver asked, unbelieving. His eyes popped under his helmet. He shifted into neutral and throttled down.
A lot of people were running toward them by now, and some of them grabbed Cob and pulled him off the ‘dozer. “My family!” he said. “They’re inside!”
“Jesus!” somebody said and ran to the house.
“The other side!” Cob yelled. He ran around the house with everybody following. When they got there they began pulling boards and timbers away. The straw boss got on his cell phone, and before long there were sirens in the street, firemen with hoses and axes and chains. It wasn’t long until they found Lillian and Josie.
“You were supposed to be out by today,” the straw boss said. Cob said nothing. His mother stood sobbing beside him. Others came and gathered around.
What happened after that, for a very long time, was confusing for Cob. He had lost his wife and daughter, but the insurance companies of the city and the construction company paid off hugely. Cob was a rich man. Sometimes, when he thought about it, he tried to plan ways to spend some of the money, but he couldn’t seem to think about it. He didn’t move out to his own place now that he could easily afford to. He simply stayed where he was, with his parents in their house. He paid them rent, he bought most of their food for them.
“Cob,” his mother said to him one day as he was looking out of the kitchen window at the spot where the old house had been. It was neat there now, the road had been improved, and traffic flowed smoothly past the scene of the accident. “Cob, you have to start living again.”
But Cob was watching Josie and Lillian in the house next door. When he had first begun seeing them, he’d stood stunned for a minute, and then run out the kitchen door to go to them. He had pulled the knob, flung the door wide, and stopped dead when he realized that there was no house to be seen. Nothing. Just grass, a sidewalk, the widened road, and traffic. Then he’d gone back in and looked out the kitchen window, and there they were again, packing.
“Don’t you see them, Mom?”
She sighed. “No, dear.” She sighed again. “Please,” she said. “Stop.”
But he was watching himself over there, too. He saw himself raise his hand and bring it down. He saw Lillian fall. He saw Josie running at him, pummeling his leg with her little fists. He saw himself brush her aside, saw her hit the kitchen table and begin to cry.
He didn’t reach down to pick her up, or Lillian, either, but she got up by herself and put her hand to the welt where he had struck her.
“But I didn’t do that!” he said.
“Do what?” his mother asked.
He didn’t reply, just shook his head. “But I wanted to. I almost did.”
It was the last thing he remembered, about the only good thing he could recall in his marriage. He hadn’t done it. And that’s why he stared out the window at the phantom home he once had owned, at his wife and daughter packing to move here, next door, where he might have continued to do what he had not done that day.
© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas