Articles of Faith
I’m in the living room, arms clench-folded, staring out the front window one last time. It’s a beautiful old Brookline Victorian, built in 1882; tall, proud of itself; a balloon frame filled with southern pine and gumwood fastened in place by black rectangular nails; a swooshing main stair, a stern-narrow servants’ back stair; deep, dark-dusty walk-in closets; age-stained brass faucets on an oh-so-comfy-deep, lion’s claw bathtub. Through the living room’s age-marred glass, Sunday morning sunlight fidgets with memories – good and bad.
I’m waiting for Dominic from Leominister. He’s already called me three times from the road, asking politely, but bluntly; “please Joe, please do not waste my gas money.”
Outside on the sidewalk sits the saddest wheelchair in the Western Hemisphere: It couldn’t even make the cut – with one footrest missing – to get itself into a shipping container heading to earthquake stricken Haiti. Instead, it provided hours of deliriously-near-dangerous fun, wearing out grey-wheel-rubber and parents’ nerves as it got kid-propelled at high speeds off the curb.
Behind me, spread across the kitchen, living and dining rooms, are the articles of life too physically or emotionally cumbersome to be carted out of a divorce: The Art-Nouveau-maybe-antique dining room table – bought as a first anniversary wedding gift to ourselves; several bed frames and mattresses; a too-large-for-this-kitchen kitchen table that lived in the basement below me for seven years; three dressers – of KIDS-vs.-IKEA questionable life expectancy; a few where-the-fuck-did-these-come-from yard sale chairs; a ratty ottoman; and a sofa so big, I couldn’t get it in the door of my new apartment. Sweaty-defeated, humping that sofa back to my soon-to-be-old-home was one of the more dispiriting moments in a time littered with dispiriting moments.
But now Dominic is blazing in – at a speed of a phone call every fifteen minutes – from the so-far-out-can-you-call-them-burbs to get the oversized sofa for his cousin; “who’s been crashing in my living room, since he lost that job down Walmart – five years back.”
I hear a car pull up, and out the front window I see two men emerging from a battered, blue Ford Ranger. The passenger, in life-faded jeans and a white undershirt with yellow-grey stains under the arms, immediately stuffs his hands into his pockets, and hunched-over stares at the wheelchair. The driver, a short, slim man in jeans, black tee shirt and a black-and-yellow CAT trucker’s hat, rounds the back of the pickup in an arms-swinging-purposefully, fast walk.
“Joe, is that my man Joe?” the short-purposeful man says in the window, smiling broadly as he bounds up the front steps.
The screen door slams, and then he’s in the front hall.
“Dominic,” he says, holding out a grease-stained hand.
“Oh!” I answer, feigning surprise.
“Tell me you still got it, tell me I didn’t drive no forty miles worth of gas money for nothing?”
I point to the oversized-sofa.
“A thing of beauty,” he paces, hands rubbing together, in front of the sofa like it’s a prize racehorse.
“All right, how we going get this out?” Dominic asks. “Now you said you could help, right Joe, ‘cause,” he stops, spins around, “where’d he go now?”
“He never came in,” I answer.
“Ok, ‘cause he aint gonna be able to help. I mean he could, but he can’t neither,” he points a finger loosely toward his head. “If you get where I’m coming from – and I don’t mean Leominster. So I’ll need your help Joe.”
“Absolutely,” I nod, ruefully. “I have some experience moving this particular article.”
“Ok. Now let’s see.”
He rubs both hands together fast.
“Have you got,” he enunciates the words slowly, like I’ll have a hard time understanding them, “a measuring tape that I could borrow.”
I go get one.
“Now Joe, let’s go measure the truck.”
Dutifully, I follow him out.
“Now, tell me the story of this wheelchair,” he says, shushing his cousin out of the way. “An old relative’s?”
“No, I grabbed it from work for the kids to play with. It was a donation for Haiti, but the people getting the stuff ready said it was in too bad a shape.”
“And is it?”
“I don’t know. I went to Haiti once, and I imagine they could put it to use. It’s hard times down there.”
“Hard times everywhere Joe – hard times everywhere.”
He flips down the tailgate. There’s a greasy driveshaft laying in the back, and miscellaneous freshly-oiled engine parts, all looking like a car somewhere needs them – badly.
He goes to work with the tape.
“Now Joe, we have a measurement problem. The sofa and old Ranger here don’t fit together too good. But don’t panic Joe,” he holds up his hands, “we’ll still take it. It’s simply a matter of your having some rope.”
“Rope I have,” I answer, turning to look at the cousin, who, shoulders-tight-to-ears, hands-fisted-in-pockets, is slow-wandering around what will soon not-be my street.
He stops to stare down at a tuft of wilting daffodils.
I turn back to Dominic.
“Enough rope to hang a man,” the words come out of somewhere in my brain.
“Ok Joe,” Dominic says, eyebrows raising, lips turning down. “Ok, ok. We got rope. Let’s get at it.”
I follow him back inside my house.
In the living room, I’m bent-kneed-straight-backed-herniated-disc-anxious ready to lift the sofa, which, even stripped of the huge cushions, is a risk to my back.
“My cousin there, I mean he’s family, so I gotta take care of him, right? Family is family Joe – you gotta do the right thing. And so he’s been on my sofa for, for … it don’t matter, ‘cause he got nowhere else to go.”
We’re standing now, and with no pain shooting down my left leg, I breath out loud.
“You ok Joe, I mean, I could ask Arn… you know, it wouldn’t be worth it. See we got a good sofa, a really nice one, honestly, nicer than this – not that is not good, this is perfect.”
He opens his mouth wide, raises his eyebrows in handless-expressions of gratitude.
“See this guy in Weston is getting divorced, or splitting with her, whatever, and he wants to piss her off by giving away all the good stuff. And they got more money than God, than God and the devil combined, you shoulda seen this place Joe, two swimming pools – indoor and outdoor. So I get this a-m-azing sofa and a … a crocket set, you know that game the super rich play, standing around with these little things that look like wooden hammers, and they’re all in white pants, sipping from tall glasses, jabbering on the phones; buy-buy-buy-sell-sell-sell … I don’t what they drinking Joe, I just know it ain’t Coors Light. Anyways, that … game thing, was all I could fit in the Ranger, what will all the cushions this sofa had – so many cushions, unbelievable Joe. I’d have gone back for more, but I was afraid to, in case she was there, and demanded the great sofa back.”
“Croquet,” I say involuntarily. “They call that game croquet.”
“Yeah, yeah, something like that. I sold it for twelve bucks at a yard sale – easy money, easy money Joe.”
We’re negotiating our way out the porch, down the steps. Dominic in front, his ropy arms all tensed, the veins in his neck blue-popping-visible.
I stoop into the stairs, regretting not taking the lead position.
“Here, here,” Dominic throws out, suddenly dropping the sofa on the stairs. “Let’s take a break. This thing is dead-ass weight. What you got in there Joe? The old-lady?”
I issue him a don’t-you-know-this-is-Brookline glare.
But Dominic’s eyes aren’t there to receive my glare, they’re looking at the cousin, who’s down on the corner of the busier street, head turning on tensed shoulders as traffic passes by.
“He’s got bathroom problems,” he says, with a sigh. “If you know where I’m coming from, and it ain’t Leom ….”
He lifts the CAT hat and wipes his brow. He’s almost bald, the wide tract of scalp is yellowish-never-sees-the-sun-grey.
“You know, he forgets, or he doesn’t know it’s gonna come out. My old lady thinks he’s too lazy, or stupid …, but I don’t know. He ain’t a bad guy, just don’t do too much thinking is all. Me and him was close when we was kids. And my mom,” he blesses himself rapidly, “she’d want me to keep her sister’s little boy safe.”
He stares at the cousin some more: I stare at him staring.
“I’m thinking of putting a tarp on top of this one,” he says, picking the sofa up again just as suddenly. “You know, a blue tarp that’d catch the piss. Maybe that way it’ll last longer. I mean Joe, how many guys gotta get divorced so Arnie’s got a sofa to sleep on – think about it?”
We get it loaded. It turns out Dominic has a frightening quantity of rope and bungees in behind the Ranger’s front seat – “forget the hell where I got all this.”
The cushions end up grease-stained on top of the MIA car parts. Some get stuffed in on top of the cousin, who gets bundled into the front seat, and told to hold as many as he can.
“The window, the window,” he whine-yells. “Open a window so’s I can breath.”
“All right Joe, we took it off your hands. Don’t worry about it no more,” Dominic says, giving me a reassuring handshake. “Now I can drag that piss sponge outta my living room down the backyard.”
He strides purposefully around to the driver’s door, rubbing his hands together.
“You’re a good man Joe, he’s a good man Arnie,” he throws out, flashing a smile, resetting his hat, as he sits into the Ranger.
They start to pull off. Dominic toots the horn two quick so-long-half-blasts.
I push the wheelchair out into the open driveway behind my car, and walk up the driveway to house.
The screen door slams behind me.
I stand in the front hall looking at the remaining articles of my previous life.
The old Victorian is sunny, silent, solitary.