How much would you pay? (EDITOR'S PICK 3/17/10 SHORT STORY NL)
|The old rust-splotched truck rattled down the lane toward a wrought-iron gate. Clew pressed hard on the brakes as they squealed in stubborn obedience. Beyond was a beautiful sand colored stone house. Multiple decorative windows lined each floor. The grandest, most intricate one situated above the front door, towered above the circle drive that led directly into a wide set of steps ascending to a pair of large cherry doors. Elegant landscaping of various colored tulip flower beds terraced down the sides of the drive. The bright morning sun shone on the plush lawn, and gave a dazzling, colorful contrast to the asphalt. Large poplars swayed in the wind, and stood like sentinels on either end of the home.
Big Clew swung down from the truck and probed his pocket for the keys to unlock the gate. He dropped them on the pavement and retrieved them with his over-large hand, only to drop them again. "Confounded things!" He bent down again and slung the key up and into the lock. Twisting it, a loud click reverberated over the clamor of the engine. He opened the heavy gates wide, as they groaned on their hinges, then attempted to latch each side. Frustrated, he took a deep breath and looked up admiring the beauty before him. He turned his attention back to the gate latches.
“Zane!” Clew bellowed, “Hop on over into the driver’s seat and drive the truck on up to the front steps. I’m having trouble latching these damn gates.”
Zane shifted to the driver’s seat and pulled the truck into gear. The engine roared and a puff of black smoke shot into the air. Zane revved the engine hard to get a run up the hill. It clanked and squeaked all the way up the blacktopped drive.
At last Clew figured out the latches, and he sauntered up the modestly steep lane. He smiled as he passed the flower beds on either side. A big, burly man dressed in a blue T-shirt, even he could appreciate the good life. Reminds me of dat big house back in 2005 in Jersey.
“Zane? Where are you? Looks like this one’s gonna be a long day’s work.”
“Here, Clew.” Zane appeared from behind the large white truck.
“Let’s get after it,” Clew motioned as he dug in his pocket for the front door key. “Where the hell did I put that other key? Boss said the silver one was to the gates and the gold one was the front doors.”
“You put it on the chain around your neck.”
“Oh, yeah,” Clew shot Zane an I-knew-that look, “Thanks.” Clew plodded up the stairs and counted them as he went. “Eighteen with a landing in the middle. Gonna be a bit dangerous carrying the bigger furniture out. We got to watch that landing.”
“Yep. Sure is a nice day to do this. Not too hot yet.”
Clew unlocked the front doors and swung each of them all the way open. He flipped down the rubber foot stops to keep them in place.
Clew and Zane stepped inside to view a two story foyer. To their left, a staircase went up to the second floor, while a dining room was off to their right, complete with three grand windows eloquently rounded at each of their tops. A large walnut dining table with precise place settings and two large centerpiece candelabras adorned its top. A fine china cabinet rested in the far corner. Directly in front of them lay a large sunken living room, and Clew spied part of a liquor bar with stools against the far wall.
Clew stared in awe. He shot a glance at Zane who stood agape. The crystalline light fixture above them centered in the window above the front doors. Clew imagined it would light up the steps and circle drive at night.
“Well, Zaney. We’d best get started. We’ve got to move all this stuff to the auction house. Might be a two day job though. We’ll work on the living room first and get the first floor cleared, then we’ll start on the upper story. Dang. Been a long time since we’ve cleaned out a place like ‘dis. I’ll do the usual, mark the boxes with blue tape that are personal stuff. We’ll deliver dat to an address in up-state late tomorrow.”
“These people live like kings,” Zane piped up.
“Yeah. ‘Dis is the good life for sure. Wonder how they made all this money?”
“I don’t know. But I’d sure like to have some of it.”
“You will. It’s called your paycheck. Now get on out to the truck and start making up some boxes. We’re gonna need a lot of 'em.”
Clew and Zane went right to work. Zane started making up boxes while Clew scouted out the rooms and tried to figure how much they could get on each load down to the auction house. Clew began packing up the living room belongings including theater stereo surround sound systems, wet bar, stools, and other high-end peripherals.
“This stuff will fetch a fortune at the auction house,” Zane blurted out as he made the last of ten boxes in the foyer. “I’ve already loaded up twenty boxes. Should we work in a piece or two, Clew?”
Clew mopped his brow with a dirty hankie as he stepped out of the living room and into the foyer. “Whew. I dunno. We might be able to fit in a couple smaller bookcases. I’m gonna open some of these fancy windows in the dining room to get some air in here. You hot too?”
“Yeah, but it’s not too bad. The black driveway makes it a bit hotter, but it’s nice in here.” Zane followed Clew into the dining room and slid open the far window while Clew pushed up the other two. The breeze rushed playfully through the white curtains. Clew raised his arms high as the wind rippled over his sweaty frame. Zane mimicked Clew and they both fell silent, enjoying the feeling. Clew lowered his arms, and backed away from the window.
“Take some more of those boxes I taped up out, and put ‘em by that bench just below these windows. We’ll get one of the bigger pieces now, and we’ll grab that stuff for the last load. I haven’t got a few of them all the way taped, but it isn’t gonna rain today. S‘pose to be sunny all day.”
“Ok,” Zane agreed. Zane, a strong, wiry young man, carried out the open boxes and set them neatly against the bench outside. Clew watched from the window and saw Zane peer into one of the open boxes. Clew remembered that box – full of framed family photographs. The top one he remembered showed a man and his son fishing off a charter boat. Some others he recalled were of a pretty red-headed woman who smiled and pointed, while her other hand covered her mouth. Her son was in the background running with a black puppy that was tackling him from behind. One of the sentinel poplar trees stood nearby. Another shot had the same boy in a cowboy outfit at a Halloween party. Still another picture showed him smiling, with his dad, as they rowed a canoe down a bustling stream.
Zane picked up a few pictures, and perused through them.
“Zaney, what ya doing out there!” came Clew’s booming voice. “Come on! We ain’t got all day ya know,” Clew pushed his bull head through the open middle window. “That stuff ain’t gonna fetch nuttin'. Just pictures and junk. Besides, thems blue boxes." Clew looked around and then at the truck. He pondered the time, and patted his big round stomach. "Hey, I’m getting hungry. Why don’t you go up ‘ta the cab and grab our lunches. Da wife made salami sandwiches with lots of mayo, homemade even. We’ll eat in here – in style!”
Zane placed the framed family portrait he was holding back into the box. He dutifully headed for the truck’s cab and retrieved their plastic lunch bags. Clew heard him climb the stairs into the marbled foyer, and turn toward the dining room.
Kathy was confronted by the big moving truck parked in the drive. As she coasted up from behind it, she could see that it was already loaded with many boxes. They didn’t waste any time in coming. She shook her head somberly. Where did it all go? Did we make the right decision?
Her hybrid car barely made a sound as she parked about a hundred feet behind the moving truck. She wanted to make sure there was plenty of space for the moving men to do their jobs. After all, it was just their jobs. She couldn’t blame them for her and her husband’s decisions. A blast of heat met her as she opened her door, in contrast to the air conditioning within.
She strolled up the familiar walk, and paused by the bench. A box of her family’s old photos rested there. She picked up the top one. “Six year old birthday fishing off the coast of Miami”, she whispered as the wind twisted her long red hair. She sat down on the bench. Weary, she took the next photo out. Halloween party at Bennie’s house. Devin thought he was so cool in that cowboy outfit. He wore it for days afterward, picking off imaginary Indians from the top of the stairs. She smiled, and gently placed the picture back in the box. Her house was gone. Her world was gone. Then she buried her head in her hands, as tears crawled down her cheeks. The breeze made them cold against her skin.
“Ya know. My wife makes the best homemade mayo in all da city,” Clew said as Kathy heard him rustling around in a plastic bag.
Kathy, beneath the window, heard the gruff voice mixed with the rustling of his plastic lunch bag. The moving men must be having lunch. I don’t want them to see me crying. It’s embarrassing enough, they’re rummaging through all our things.
“What do you think happened? You know, to these people? Obviously, they were living it up. Some nice digs you gotta admit,” Zane said as the last few words were muffled from talking with his mouth full.
“Ahh, I’ve seen it about a dozen times before. Been doin' this for 25 years now. Greedy bastards. A CEO that runs his company in ta the ground. Enough is never enough. Look at this place. This table and this room. Been a while since we’ve taken one of dees houses apart, and sold it off. Mmmm… see I tol ya she made the best.”
Don’t listen. They don’t know. They couldn’t possibly know. She couldn’t help but peek up toward the window, where she could see Clew’s back in full view.
“I figured they won the lottery and went bankrupt. You hear about that all the time. I just never figured I’d be involved in one.”
“Nah, trust me kid. This guy has the trophy wife. Did you see the pictures of her? Whew. She’s hot. That didn’t happen without money. She’s gotta be living large. Probably divorce him and marry some more money. Not like my wife. She loves me.” He pointed toward his sandwich.
“Yeah. Guess you’re probably right. He likely had a few honeys on the side too. Am I right?”
“Suuuure he did. Dey all got em in this income scale. He don’ care about her any more than she does him. Matter of fact, he probably made some big investment in some cockamamie scheme and it totally blew up on him. He’s gettin’ what he deserves in my opinion.”
Kathy’s ears were ringing with that last statement. We’re getting what we deserve? Her anger swelled inside her and she wanted to stand up and scream.
“Amazing mayo. I gotta say. You tried the brownie yet?”
“Told ya so. Nope. Haven’t got that far. Gotta save that for last. Didn’t your momma teach you any better? Desserts are last. Gotta eat the good stuff first.”
“It’s good. It’s all good.”
“I’d bet that he plays golf with all his buddies every week, and she sips tea with the other haughty country clubbers. Throw in the bratty kid, and you get da picture. They’d just as likely step on ya as look at ya.” Clew slurped on his thermos.
Kathy felt her face go flush. That’s not how I was raised. I’d never step on anyone. We're not even a member of any country club! It’s true we have money... well had money, but that doesn’t make us bad people. I used to work as a waitress. I know what it's like. We even took in our old neighbor Diana from the shelter, and paid the first three months rent on her apartment.
“Ohhh, yeah,” Zane replied. “They step on us little guys. They don’t care about anyone except themselves. That much I’ll agree with you on. You don’t make this kind of money without taking it from the common guy. That’s why the guys are union. Da man can only get so much from us. No more.”
“Cheers on dat,” Clew raised his thermos. “No more maid and gardener for dem! Heartless rich bastards.”
That was it! Kathy’s anger burned. They can’t talk about us like that. Isn’t it enough they are dismantling our house, without trying to dismantle the rest of our lives! Kathy leaped to her feet and marched toward the steps.
Kathy burst into the room. The men leaped to their feet.
“How dare you!” She pointed toward Clew and then to Zane. Both Clew and Zane’s expressions showed complete surprise - wide eyes, breath sucked in, mouths hanging open.
“Isn’t it enough you are dismantling our home? Isn’t that enough for you? Do you have to rip into our family too? My husband made his business from scratch. He’s not anything like you describe. He doesn’t even own a set of golf clubs. His business employs over 200 people. He works 12 hours five days a week, but spends the weekends with his family. Me… The trophy wife that has been married to him for 21 years, and no he didn’t have any money when we met!”
“Look lady, I can’t help it if your hubby’s business failed,” Clew stuttered out.
“My husband makes good money, but most of it came from two real estate deals and a few stocks we owned. His business didn’t fail. He had to sell it.” Kathy’s red hair flew on the wind, and her words were filled with anger and venom. She’d rarely been this angry. Her heart pounded, her eyes fixed upon Clew, and her hair twisted in the wind.
“You want to know what ‘Investment’ we put all this in?” She snatched a nearby photo, walked over, and shoved it into Clew’s chest. “Here it is. My son had cancer, and he died three months ago. We had to pay all his medical bills.” Clew clasped the photo of Kathy's bald son smiling weakly for the camera. Kathy fought back angry tears as she wiped one away with the back of her hand.
“We bought four more months of his life. How much would you have paid? How much!?” She screamed.
“I… I… lady… I don’t know what to say.” Clew’s mouth hung wide open with a bit of mayo on his chin.
Kathy turned and stormed away.
Zane’s voice trailed after her. “I think we’ve said enough already.”
EDITOR'S PICK 3/17/10 SHORT STORY NEWSLETTER