The child sits cross-legged on the floor, listening to a story. The child hears the wail of a distant siren. As the siren’s screams approach, the child cowers. Suddenly, the siren stops; the room is quiet. The child shudders, enveloped in the silence.
The school bell rings. The child descends a long flight of stairs into the cold air. Goose bumps cover the child’s arms. The child climbs onto the back seat of the waiting car, legs outstretched. The child listens to the hum of the motor.
The child arrives home. The house is darkened and filled with the sounds of sobbing. “The baby’s been in an accident; the baby’s dead” wail the child’s parents. The child listens, wide-eyed. Admist the muffled voices, the unhearing child is whisked away from the house.
While the family weeps at the graveside, the child is sent outdoors . The child clambers over the backyard gym set, squirming onto a swing seat. The child’s bending knees set the swing in motion, pedaling slowly. The child listens, hearing only the creaking of the swing as it sways back and forth.
Afternoon shadows darken the yard. The child hurries into the house, running to the baby’s room. Yanking open the door, the child flees at finding the room stripped bare, picked clean as a bone. The room is empty, cold and silent. Nothing remains.
A generation later, the school stands, scarred and weathered. A short flight of stairs leads to the school entrance. The door creaks opens. Ghosts are everywhere. The knowing child stands apart, listening.
An old man stands in his front doorway, squinting at the bright summer light. He wears scuffed loafers, sweat pants, and a long-sleeved business shirt tucked into the draw-string waist band. A middle-aged Asian woman in a white uniform stands at his side. “Take my arm, Mr. L,” she says firmly as he steps over the threshold. “Get away from me,” he yells. She frowns, steps back a few paces and follows him as he limps across the lawn, rubbing his hip.
Mr. L walks towards two young Hispanic men waiting at the curb. One of the men wears a a tank top, baggy pants and is tying a red bandana around his head, a tattooed dragon covers his left bicep. The other man, in cut-off jeans and a t-shirt with the name of a rock group, wears earphones and bobs his head to the silent beat of the music.
Mr. L looks at the two younger men: “Ugh, ugh, hi there. I’m Mr. L. You, you, you’ll be moving everything from my house and garage into those things,” pointing to two curbside storage containers. “Before you start, there’s a couple of things I want to tell you. Don’t , don’t leave anything behind, including the stuff in the garage. Do you hear me clearly?”. The man with the earphones says, “Relax, senor, we do this all the time, don’t worry.” “You, you, you be sure you don’t forget any thing, and I mean anything, or you’ll be sorry you ever met me.”
He turns his back on the men and shuffles over to the pair of storage containers: walks around them, taps the exterior wood slabs and peers fearfully into the empty darkness as if the orifices were the gaping jaws of hungry beasts. He covers his mouth and clears his throat, like a man stifling a cry.
Mr. L watches the men fill the containers with household furnishings. He strokes the arm of an overstuffed chair as the men wrestle it into a container. “Move, senor, or you’ll get hurt, ” shouts the man with the earphones.
Mr. L whispers the name of each piece of furniture. He grabs the man with the bandana by the arm. ” Listen, listen, you’ve got the boxes of photographs. I, I don’t want anything to happen to those old pictures so be very careful with them. Stack them away from the other things.” The man shoves the box into a corner of the container.
Mr. L scowls and looks towards the street, a rivulet of heat rises from the asphalt, sweat rolls down his seamed face. He removes a monogrammed handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wipes his face and neck. The sound of a barking dog pierces the hot stillness. A car drives by, its windows sealed against the heat. A pedestrian hurries by and glances at the movingmen. Mr. L stands by the containers like a sentry.
The woman watches Mr. L wiping his brow. “I’ll be right back,” she says, heading into the house, and emerges a few minutes later carrying four bottles of water and a folding chair. She taps Mr. L on the shoulder, pointing to the chair, “We’re not packing this thing , are we?” He eases himself onto the chair. “No, we’re not.” Her hand is on the back of the chair. Mr. L sips the bottled water. “This stuff is lousy. I want a cold beer,” “Now, Mr. L, you know you can’t have beer. Drink some more water.” She turned away from the old man and handed each of the Latinos a bottle of water.
“We’re almost done moving everything out,” says the man with the earphones. “These boxes of rocks?” “I use the rocks for hydroponics gardening,” says Mr. L. ” Have you ever heard of that? Of course, you haven’t. You don’t know a damm thing. Believe me, I could tell you a thing or two but you wouldn’t listen.” The young man’s jaw tightens, he looks down and thrusts his hands into his pockets. As he trudges back to the garage, he pulls one hand out of his pocket and cuffs his fingers. He massages his jaw with his knuckles, casting a sidelong glance at Mr. L.
“We’re leaving now, ” the man with the bandana announces. “Wait a minute, you can’t leave yet,” shouts Mr. L, scuffling towards the house, followed by the woman. A few minutes later, the pair emerge from the darkened house. The old man slouches, clutching a packet of unopened mail. “Okay, okay, now you can go. Get the hell out of here!” He closes the front door, listening to its hollow sound
He watches the men shut the the double doors, winces at the resounding snap of the crowbars fastening each container. He turns towards the men as they roll them over a ramp and into a van. The man in the bandana climbs into the cab, removes his head cover and starts the engine. The other man snaps on his earphones, sways to the music. “Here, senor,” he plops the set of padlock keys into Mr. L’s open palm. The old man stares at the keys and drops them into his shirt pocket.
He watches the van drive off until it fades from view. He blinks and wipes his eyes. His shoulders slump, he stumbles towards a car. The woman links her arm in his and guides him to the passenger seat. He sighs, leans back against the headrest and covers his eyes with his hand.
As the car turns the corner onto a tree-lined street, he looks out between his fingers at the shadows. “We’re almost there, Mr L.”
” I know, I know,” he whispers.