Lucy Nelson is a writer based in Sydney, Australia. She is a regular contributor to The Big Issue Australia and has also written for the Sydney Morning Herald, among others. Last year she wrote her most confessional and vulnerable work: a personal essay about her fear of water. She is the artistic director of Noted Writers Festval. http://www.lucyjadenelson.com/
Getting it Out
Her husband Jim has left the front door open so the man won’t have to knock when he arrives. Earlier she’d stood at the sink listening to Jim’s half of the phone call with the man who was coming to collect the bed base for fifty dollars.
“That’s right,” he’d said. “That’s right,” he’d said again. “It’s just like the picture yes, although I warn you it’s heavier than it looks. Will you have any help?” A pause. And then there’d been the same laugh he gave when something was unfunny, like when the Christmas tree almost didn’t fit in the car, but then did, or when their neighbour Howard said he thought it would rain.
An hour or so after this she hears the man’s car on the gravel outside and walks into the hallway, where the rectangle of white winter light left by the open door darkens with the size of him. He is cartoon fat. Calves like ham hocks. She checks the start of surprise in her throat and says a cheery hello. It’s the same way she says hello to anyone.
When she’d heard Jim on the phone, asking the man if he had a pen, she’d waved her arms and mouthed the word: name. When he squinted and shrugged at her she’d whispered: “shouldn’t we know his name?” But Jim swatted at her with his free hand and walked to the backyard to finish the conversation out of her earshot.
And here is a stranger on their doorstep and now inside, filling the width of the passageway.
“Hello,” she says again. “How are you?”
He only nods and looks past her to where Jim is now resting one hand on a hat hook. Come in, Jim says. “It’s through here.”
As she follows her husband through the hall, and as the man follows her in turn, she knows the moment to ask his name has gone, that her pleasantries have been decorative and removable. An inedible bride and groom.
In the lounge room the bed base is their only mutual friend at a too-quiet party and she wonders how the man finds it. The three of them consider the very fact of it for something to do.
“So it’s a queen you said?”
“Yes,” she and Jim both say at the same time. And while she thinks of what to say next Jim is already more usefully saying that it doesn’t come apart at all but it has wheels.
That’s been the thing to say: the man is nodding. “It’s solid,” he says.
Jim gives the Christmas tree laugh again and says: “It’s nothing if not solid.” And without saying he’ll take it or he won’t, the man’s talking about the best way to get it through the narrow hallway.
Uselessly she tells him the downstairs bedroom has double doors and getting it into the lounge was no trouble at all, but getting it down that hallway, he’s right, will be a different story altogether. She looks to Jim and waits for the Christmas tree laugh but he is looking at the bed base with intention, the knuckle of his index finger pressing his top lip to his nostrils.
In a moment it seems decided that one man should get on each end and her own body becomes redundant in a wedge of empty corner space.
Once the work of moving begins the man is immediately out of breath and they must rest. The progress from lounge to lawn will be incremental. He breathes through his mouth, his bottom lip full and downward like a small child after finishing a whole cup of juice in one go. She could cry.
When it is difficult to turn the base into the narrow hall, the man becomes quickly frustrated and drives the round pad of flesh beneath his thumb into the firm upholstery. His cheeks shake.
Jim, no more out of breath than a man stuck in traffic, frowns and readies himself for another go at it. He bends his knees, braces his arms against the edge of the bed base and shunts it out toward the hall, inch by inch. He is making some progress on his own this way.
The man holds a hand up. “No,” he says. “Wait. Just wait there I said.” The instruction is thunderous. It changes everything.
Moving through the house all morning, she had admired the way the small high window had yawned a square of yellow light onto the carpet. But just now, some unseen movement in the clouds has inhaled the yellow pallid. They wait for him to speak again.
“That’s not going to work. I need you to get on that corner over there, get all your weight underneath that corner there and lift it towards the ceiling, get the thing on its side. Only way we’ll fit it through the hallway here. “
She looks at Jim who is nodding. “Okay,” he says. And even though there is no defiance in his voice, the man says: “trust me.”
“Trust me,” he says again. “I move things like this all the time.” The blue cotton of his T-shirt is billowing and deflating as he catches his breath.
She imagines the off-white shark tooth of his breastbone, likely the same size as her own.
As Jim stands back from the bed to await instructions, his body is a boy’s body: sparse hair on his calves, a ring of space between his ankles and joggers.
She offers to get a towel to stop the wheels from sliding and neither the man nor her husband says anything.
The man begins to bark instructions, and to suck at his teeth when they’re misunderstood. “I need you to push,” he’ll say. And then: “with your knees.” He grows louder and more out of breath with each new disappointment.
“I am pushing,” Jim says, leaning into the side of the upturned base, his knuckles white, the toe of his jogger driving into the floor, calf clenched and heel shaking.
The bed base, turned on its side, fills most of their narrow passageway and the man is invisible now, his orders muffled. “It would be better,” says the man, “if I were on that end so we could get some force behind it.” He breathes audibly in and out a few times. “But I can’t get around it now.” Two more breaths. “The thing with these inner city places is, they’re not built for men my size.” The sharpest breath yet. “How much do you pay for this place anyway?”
For the first time since the man came to the house, Jim looks directly at her. He is sweating now, exasperated.
She looks at the square of light on the carpet again, still pale.
Jim sets his face to polite and says: “about twenty-five hundred a month.”
“Jesus Christ,” the man laughs.
“Okay,” Jim says loudly. “Let’s just get this thing out of here. We’re almost there.” He gives it a push and the upholstery catches on the hat hook near the front door. It makes a sound like brand new Velcro, unsticking for the first time.
“Stop!” says the man. And then: “Listen, it’s no good to me if I can’t sell it. It’s a waste of money. Now, I have a better view than you. We have less than an inch either side. We need to shuffle it out slowly. And I mean slowly. Goddit?”
Jim places the palms of his hands gently on the end of the bed base as though trying to heal it.
She can see very small muscles in his jaw clench and shudder as he looks up at the ceiling and exhales through his nose.
“Got it?” Says the man.
Jim puts his nose and mouth into the upholstery and says: “you’re selling it?” But it’s too muffled for the man to hear. “Let’s go,” he says, but stands still, waiting for permission.
“Small push,” says the big man.
Jim ignores the instruction and really heaves and the base slides about two feet.
“Careful!” The voice is thunderous again. “You’ll wedge it in the doorframe. Like I said, I can’t sell damaged goods. I’ll lose money on it. Small push this time.”
Jim looks to her with an expression ill-fitting on his face. She’s not seen it before. It’s somehow aggressive and fearful all at once. He’s unsure where he stands in this two-man pecking order, which, she supposes, puts him squarely at the bottom.
She gets up from the arm of the lounge chair where she’s been tucking and re-tucking hair behind her ears and stands up in the middle of her empty wedge of corner space. “You can have it for free,” she says, her voice sudden and strange. “We don’t want any money.” Momentarily, she feels as though she’s in a movie, being held at gunpoint for her handbag. And so she adds: “just take it.” She chooses not to look at Jim because she knows his mouth will be hanging open. And without looking she knows it is the same expression he has – that all humans have – when they feel that someone who ought to be on their side is not. His own version of this expression is particularly damp with hurt.
“Now wait a minute,” says Jim. “We need to – I mean we should just talk about this for a second.”
She looks at him only for a second but then speaks directly to the bed base. “Okay?” She wouldn’t be so bold to raise her eyebrows if the man could see her but since he can’t, and since she is an actress sacrificing a handbag at gunpoint, she does.
He only grunts, but still she thinks she has appeased him. At least for the moment, and so long as there will be no further damage to this dense rectangle, which he now feels to be his own and which has now come between them all.
The inch-by-inch shuffle takes place just as the big man orders. When the last of it is out, daylight swings back into fill the passageway.
His car is a shiny black four-wheel drive. There is a shape in the passenger seat. A woman with a high ponytail, who hasn’t helped, who has been in the car this whole time. She looks at the huge man who has clamped his mouth shut with the effort of the last leg, who has not looked at her face once since coming to her house.
Out in the open space of the front lawn, the final push is easier and Jim almost seems in good spirits as the base gently butts against the side guard of the trailer.
“Alright then,” the man says. “I’ll take it from here.”
And Jim asks if he needs some help getting it onto the tray.
“No,” says the man. “Please, just go back inside. I need to minimise the damage.”
Jim folds his lips inside his mouth and holds his hands up in the air. “Have a nice day,” he says bitterly and walks toward the house, shaking his head.
She stays on the lawn a second, makes a sun visor from her right hand and finds the eyes of the woman in the passenger seat. They are hazel green in a stripe of sunlight. Freckles on the bridge of the nose.
Inside, the square of light on the carpet is yellowing again. She sits inside it and looks up at her husband. He sits in an armchair, head tipped back, mouth open, silently laughing in disbelief. They are both waiting to hear the sound of the man’s engine. Waiting for him to be off their lawn, away from their home, out of their lives.
“I felt like I was in a movie,” she says.
“What’s that?” He says, without looking at her.
“I felt like I was in a movie and he was stealing my handbag, you know, at gunpoint.”
Now he looks at her, lines in his forehead, “what?”
She considers her husband’s small chin. His sun reddened nose from the short time he’s spent on the lawn just now. She smiles. She makes a gun from her thumb and index finger, presses it to her temple, feigns a terrified expression.
“Just take it,”she says, over-the-top. “Take it all. Whatever you need. Just please don’t hurt me.”
©2017 Lucy Nelson
Noted Writers Festival
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