The morning the movers were due, Gladys walked through the house with respectful steps, as though otherwise she might disturb its contents. Small chance of that. They were all in the front rooms, packed in boxes labeled with both their origin and destination, sheeted in heavy-grade plastic or under canvas tagged with the contents. Her footsteps clattered on naked floors. Gladys was tall, played tennis twice a week, indoors and out, depending on the weather, golfing almost daily in the summer, and had even run the half marathon a few years earlier before it became too much for her knees. But today she was dragging, impeded by remembrance. The bare walls showed outlines of where the pictures had hung. The Appel, Miro, and Picasso prints were packed away, but their departure was marked by the brighter tone where they had shaded the painted walls from the sunlight that shone through the western windows. Gladys studied her surroundings. The memories remained.
She paused in the dining room. Even with the furniture gone, she saw the table where their children had coughed-up their formula as infants, spit-out the vegetables as toddlers, and shoveled-down full meals in less time than it took Harry and Gladys to eat their salad when their teenaged sons were in a hurry to go wherever teenagers go to get on with growing up. The table where Harry and Gladys had dined alone the last two years. The furniture would reappear in the condo, but in the new surroundings she would live in a diorama of what she once had.
"They should be here in half an hour."
That was Harry, her husband of 40 years, but maintaining the tone of a teen disappointed by reality. If it had been up to Harry, they would have kept the house, saved a carpet that needed vacuuming every other day, held onto three flights of stairs, heaving shopping carts, packages and all the other paraphernalia up the bumpy steps. She wouldn't miss the bumps. Harry had all his hair, a pension, and a lifetime of working at a desk in his office downtown instead of cleaning, cooking, shopping, carpooling, arranging play dates, hosting birthday and holiday parties, entertaining Harry's clients as well as their friends, clubbing, and all the other pleasures of wifedom and motherhood. No wonder Harry had resisted.
Gladys heard its arrival and looked out the window. The moving van was adjusting its position at the curb. On the outside, it looked like any other moving van. Inside, it would soon hold what was left of their furniture, the art, all their clothing, the Lalique and other bric-a-brac, and boxes filled with mementos. Gladys glared at Harry as he shrank in his easy chair, like a kid afraid of a visit to the dentist, instead of a middle-aged man with two kids out of college, plus another still attending, but who had announced he had no intention of ever living with them again. Harry was acting as though this were goodbye, whereas to her it looked, smelled, and felt like good riddance.
When they reached the apartment building and the doorman held the front door open, Harry still looked forlorn. "Cheer up," Gladys said.
He shook his head, rejecting the suggestion. "I still don't see why we had to do this," he said. "The house was fine. With the kids gone, it would have been easy."
He was never good at diagnosis, she thought. "That's just it," she said. "With the kids gone." In Harry's case, absence not only made the heart grow fonder, it made it forgetful of all the effort – mostly, hers.
The lobby looked its age. Like her. Not old but getting there. There was a small area rug surrounded by a cluster of chairs and a threadbare sofa just beyond the reception desk. The furniture shared a covering that suited the chairs, but embarrassed the sofa – floral-printed slipcovers on the chairs that distracted the viewer from their mid-century design, but whose larger version made the sofa look like an overgrown jungle covered in rotting plants and trees. In general, not a look that would cheer Gladys or anyone else she knew, but the thought of what awaited upstairs cheered her. It would cheer Harry, too, if he had taken part in the planning, shopping, and preparing of their new life, instead of just writing reluctant checks.
When they emerged from the elevator on the seventh floor, Gladys almost had to drag Harry down the hall. She unlocked the door to the apartment and held it open, inviting him into what she hoped would be both a new life and the preservation of a lifetime of memories.
The apartment did not look like the lobby. There were new parquet floors. Harry had refused to participate with Gladys in any of the restoration, as though that would postpone the inevitable. Their refurbished two-bedroom condo was now all wood and glass, except for the kitchen, which had a new porcelain floor and was outfitted with granite counters and appliances Gladys had bought on her own, hoping that the glare of stainless steel might enlighten Harry to their new reality. The apartment smelled of fresh paint and a refreshed future. Harry looked around, moving from room to room without comment. Then he left, leaving the front door open, and Gladys stood alone in their new dwelling that echoed like a tomb with Harry gone.
Ten minutes later, Gladys heard the freight elevator open at the far end of the hall and the grunts of the movers and their carts as they approached the apartment. The two movers entered the apartment without Harry – just them, the packed boxes, and the sheeted furniture. "Where do you want this?" asked the mover whose forearms were shaped like baseball bat handles and whose upper arms looked like their barrels, asking about their dining room table. The other mover, the short one with the strength to lift boxes and furniture twice his size, began placing their living room furniture wherever he liked, in the correct presumption that Gladys would change her mind at least half a dozen times before she was satisfied.
During the next two hours, they continued their trips down to the truck, then back up to the apartment, positioning the furniture in the master bedroom, and in the second bedroom that Gladys thought of as the den but would tell Harry was his office. The apartment was filling up.
When the movers hung the blinds, as well as the drapes that she had purchased without Harry last month in preparation for the move, when he surrendered to her wishes but refused to participate in implementing the decision, the apartment had an entirely different look. Gladys struggled for the right word to describe it. If Harry were there, like any good lawyer he might have helped her do that, just as he could have assisted in directing the movers and opening some of the boxes that held their clothing that had to be hung in the closets and placed in the dressers. But Harry had been missing in action throughout. No wonder, really. Probably afraid of acknowledging the triumph of the decoration, and the reconstruction of the kitchen she had done without him. He ought to be ashamed of resisting the move, making her do all the work.
"We got it all up here now, ma'am," the bigger mover said. "Your deposit will cover the bill. Probably won't be a refund, though." He suppressed a smile at the very idea. "Hope you like your new place." Then they left.
After they were gone, Gladys sat on their old couch in front of the new window, looking at her surroundings, getting used to them. That was when she heard the front door open, and Harry entered, lugging a huge potted palm through the door. They had never had large plants in their home.
"Found this in the alley," Harry said, with an anxious look. The tips of the leaves were brown, and some of them were wilted. One side of the pot was chipped, but it could be turned to face a wall.
"We'll find a place for it," she said.