Moving Day

by Joyce Arthur

copyright October, 1994

The only thing Donald hated more than moving was noisy neighbours. It was the neighbours that had driven him to this last resort. He had pondered getting a gun and shooting them all, especially that stupid, yappy dog, but he realized there would be inconvenient consequences. It would be easier to move.

He picked up the rented moving van and went back to the apartment to find his wife Helen kneeling on the kitchen floor with her head in the oven. With a strangled cry, he leapt towards her and grabbed the back of her shirt. She screamed and jumped. There was a loud smack as her head contacted the roof of the oven.

“Helen! My God! What are you doing in there?” said Donald.

She emerged and glared at him. “What does it look like!” She stood and grabbed the can of Easy Off from the counter and waved it in front of his face. Donald looked both embarrassed and relieved at the same time.

“Well,” he said, “It didn’t look pretty. I had a bad moment there when I thought I’d have to do the moving by myself.”

Helen snorted in mock annoyance. “Just for that, you can finish the oven.”

Her remark was punctuated by the sudden pounding bass from their next door neighbour’s stereo. Donald cursed. “Not again! He’s probably doing it just to bug me!”

“Well, after that last nasty note you slipped under his door, it wouldn’t be surprising,” said Helen. “People don’t like to be insulted, you know.”

The stereo was joined by the sound of their other neighbour’s edge trimmer across the lane. For a moment, both sounds were drowned out as a diesel dump truck chugged slowly down the alley. There was a construction site next door.

“You can’t even hear yourself think around here!” Donald yanked on his hair as he crossed the living room and stepped onto the balcony. Helen joined him and they stared at their industrious neighbour’s back yard. “First, he paints his fence with that disgusting paint sprayer,” Donald said morosely. “It sounded like a pig in a slaughterhouse! Then he builds new steps for his porch. It was like he hammered the nails right into my head.”

“Don’t forget that little shed he built to keep his tools in,” Helen added. “Remember the guy who helped him? That would-be opera singer?”

“Don’t remind me!” Donald looked pained. “I’m so glad we’re getting out of here.”

“Me too,” said Helen, putting her arm around his shoulder. “I just want you to be happy.” He turned and kissed her, happily distracted for the moment. They both jumped a little when the dog started to bark from the pavement below them.

It was a little black terrier, so hyper that its movements often seemed a blur. It barked at anything and everything and had given them many a sleepless night. “Shut up, you moronic mutt!” Donald leaned over the balcony and tried to spit on the dog, but missed. The attention it was getting seemed only to encourage it. Yapping furiously, its tail rotating like a propeller, the dog leapt up and down wildly as if it were trying to join them on the third floor.

“Gee, I think he likes you, honey,” giggled Helen. “You’ve finally won him over.”

“I’m gonna kill that dog, once and for all. Where’s something I can throw?” He looked quickly around the balcony and bent down to pick up a large potted plant.

“Oh come on, Donald! Don’t!” Helen grabbed at the pot. “We’ll just get in trouble. Besides, you’ll probably miss.”

Donald sighed and put the pot down. “I was only kidding. I don’t have the guts to do it, anyway. But I’m sick and tired of other people destroying my peace and quiet—forcing me to move. I hope they all rot in hell.” He leaned over the balcony at the still yapping dog. “And there’s a special hell waiting for you, my little friend.” He laughed fiendishly.

Helen chuckled and started back inside. “I’m gonna stretch out for a minute on the couch. I feel like I should say good-bye to it before the moving guys get here.”

“Ah yes, the couch,” said Donald wearily. Old and worn out, it would be dropped off at the dump after the move was over. But in the meantime, it had to be removed from the apartment. No easy feat. It was huge. A seven and a half foot monster that weighed at least a ton (or so Donald swore). A very large man could stretch out on it and be perfectly enclosed, with no toes, arms, or belly dangling over the edges.

“I still can’t believe that someone would even make a couch that can’t fit through doors or around corners,” Donald said in fresh amazement. “It’s ridiculous!”

“I know. Hauling it over the balcony is such a pain,” Helen said. Straightening the voluminous cover that concealed the couch’s ripped and worn upholstery and the stains where the previous owner’s male cat had marked his territory, she flopped face down on it. “I already feel exhausted and the day’s hardly started yet,” she mumbled unhappily.

The intercom buzzed. “Oh no,” Helen groaned.

“Let’s just get this over with.” Donald moved to the intercom to let the movers in.

Reluctantly, Helen slid off the couch and began to fold up the cover. She placed it carefully on top of one of the many boxes littering the room. “Who are these guys anyway?” she asked Donald as he hung up the intercom phone.

“I don’t know. Tom found them for us. I think they’re from his church.”

“So they’re probably fundamentalist Christians!” exclaimed Helen in dismay.

“Well, don’t worry,” Donald reassured her. “All your books on atheism and abortion rights are packed away. They’ll never suspect what an evil person you really are.”

“Ha ha,” snorted Helen.

The movers were young, well-groomed, big, and burly. One was blond with a surfer’s face and the other had a dark ponytail and large, sad eyes. Donald explained the couch to them and they inspected the balcony carefully. “How did you move the couch in here?” asked the Surfer.

“With ropes and four strong guys,” explained Helen.

“Well,” said Surfer, “Maybe we could just let the couch drop. It doesn’t matter if it breaks, right?”

Donald looked momentarily surprised and glanced at Helen. “That’s a great idea,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

“Okay,” agreed Donald. “Let’s start by taking the balcony door off. The couch won’t fit through it.”

Several minutes later, the couch was resting against the balcony wall, waiting for its death plunge. “Wait a minute,” said Donald. “I better go downstairs and guide you guys from below, so there’s no unpleasant accidents.”

When he was gone, Ponytail turned a kind eye to Helen. “Have you heard the good news?” he asked.

“No, what?” said Helen, puzzled, hoping their services would be free.

“You can live forever in a wonderful place and all you have to do is believe in Jesus. It’s his gift to anyone willing to accept it. No strings attached.” He beamed at her. “Maybe you’d like to come to our church sometime and hear more about it.”

Helen’s jaw sagged. There was silence for a moment. “Well, maybe not,” she said lamely, clearing her throat. “My husband wouldn’t like it. He’s an atheist, you know.”

A look of shock crossed the movers’ faces. Helen was saved from further explanation or argument by Donald’s voice calling them from below. “Okay, guys, all’s clear down here. Let’s send that couch to hell!”

Helen struggled to control her laughter at the mover’s obvious consternation. She looked down at Donald and grinned. “Hey, sweetie, you just stand out of the way. We don’t want YOU going to hell today.” She winked at him and then turned to the movers who looked somewhat uncomfortable.

“Sorry, guys,” she offered with an apologetic grin. “Let’s just get the couch over while the coast is clear, okay?”

With a mighty heave, the movers lifted the couch up to the balcony railing. Donald urged them on, and with one tiny push, the couch slipped slowly over the side and began a rapid descent.

Helen heard the dog yapping just as the couch began to fall. She peered over and saw Donald shoving the dog away as it nipped at his pant leg. The couch landed with a sickening crash and a high-pitched yelp, followed by complete silence.

“Donald!” cried Helen. “Are you all right?” She and the movers crowded around the balcony railing.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Donald replied in a voice filled with wonderment. He paused. “But the dog doesn’t look so hot.”

“Oh no!” Helen stared down at the carnage in horror. She could see the little dog’s head poking out from beneath the couch’s edge. Blood was slowly seeping from its mouth and forming a puddle on the pavement.

Ponytail looked ashen-faced. “This is terrible! I feel awful.” Surfer’s mouth gaped open but he didn’t say anything.

Helen groaned. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault—it was an accident.” She stared down at Donald suspiciously. He returned her gaze with a helpless shrug. “You’d better go find the neighbour and tell him what happened,” Helen told him. “We’ll be right down.”

The three of them ran downstairs and the movers carefully lifted the couch up. The dog’s body stayed attached to the couch for a moment and then plopped to the ground. It lay there like an old discarded rag.

Surfer looked like he was about to cry. “I should never have suggested throwing the couch over the balcony. A life is gone because of it!” He closed his eyes and began to move his lips in anguished prayer.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Ponytail tried to reassure him. “Remember, it’s only a dog. They don’t have souls.” This last was almost a whisper as he stole an accusing glance at Helen, who was doing her best to ignore the exchange.

Donald returned alone. “I can’t find him. He’s not home.”

“Are you sure? He was there a little while ago.” Helen peered over at the house. No-one was in sight and all was quiet for a change.

Donald stared thoughtfully at the dead terrier as a dump truck, laden with dirt and debris, lumbered towards them down the alley. He leaned down and carefully picked the dog up by its tail.

“What are you doing?” Helen demanded.

As the dump truck passed, Donald tossed the terrier into the path of the truck’s rear tires. The dog’s bones crunched as the tires rolled over it. “Gee, it looks like the neighbour’s dog has been run over by a dump truck,” said Donald regretfully.

“Donald!” Helen cried in horror. She took a step towards him, then turned and looked back at the movers. Their look of shock was becoming familiar.

“It’s done. Let’s forget it and get on with the move.” Donald looked expectantly at the movers, who were shaking their heads in distaste.

“It’s not right,” said Ponytail. “That was a pretty awful thing to do. I don’t feel very comfortable about helping you anymore, and I think it’s best if my friend and I just leave. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else.”

“Wait!” shouted Helen in alarm. “You can’t just leave! We need you! Please!”

“Sorry,” replied Surfer. “I agree with my friend.” He hesitated for a moment and added, “We’ll pray for your souls.” The two turned and walked quickly away, disapproval in their stride.

“Oh great,” groaned Helen. “What on earth were you thinking, Donald? Now what are we going to do?”

“I thought it was the perfect way to cover our tracks. The dog was already dead, so what was the big deal?” Donald seemed genuinely puzzled.

“Well, now we’re stuck. We won’t be able to find any movers on such short notice. We’ll have to do it ourselves.”

They looked at each other glumly.

Hours later, hot and exhausted, they latched the back door of the loaded truck. While Donald double-checked the apartment to make sure everything was gone, Helen dashed off a quick note of explanation and apology and left it taped to the neighbour’s door. She’d mention it to Donald later. Maybe.

On the way to the new house, Donald gloated over the dog. “A most fitting way to end our tenancy, don’t you think, my dear? Revenge! How sweet it is!”

“Donald, you didn’t, did you?”

“What?” asked Donald innocently.

“You know what I’m talking about. Did you push the dog under the couch?”

Donald looked hurt. “It was an accident! he protested. “A lucky one, of course, but an accident.” He grinned at her and a wicked gleam appeared in his eyes.

“You’re terrible,” Helen complained, shaking her head.

“Are you going to pray for my soul, too?” Donald threw back his head and laughed loudly. Helen tried to suppress a giggle, but failed.

They arrived at the new house in good spirits, and Donald jumped from the truck and ran up to the front porch. He stopped suddenly in utter dismay. Heavy metal music. It was so loud, he could feel it vibrating under his feet. The walls of the house next door were shaking.

“I don’t believe it!” exclaimed Helen from behind him. “There’s a live band playing right next door to us!”

Later, when the German Shepherd began to bark, Donald wept.