Monday, April 30, 2018

"Moving House"

Summer break was less than two months away when Mackenzie announced she was moving. The child was one of Mr. Merkus’s kindergarten favourites, for she was helpful and fair, and reliably kind towards even the oddest of playfellows. In the way of children, her declaration was made with the same carefree tone that she might use to report the colour of her jacket or the name of a doll; she simply said it and moved on, appearing utterly unconcerned about her impending departure. Mr. Merkus squatted down beside the table where Mackenzie was working with playdough. “Kenzie,” he commented, “our class will miss you very much, you know. When does your family move?” Mackenzie mashed together a lump of red and yellow playdough while she answered. “We’re moving house tomorrow, but don’t be sad. We’re not going far. Just across the street, this time.” “Oh,” said Mr. Merkus, a little perplexed. “It seems an awful lot of trouble, just to move across the street.” Mackenzie smiled. “Not much trouble, if everybody pulls their own weight.” Mr. Merkus thought it was a clever thing that the little girl would know how to use that expression. He gave her a thumbs-up and sauntered over to another set of pupils. At lunchtime, Mr. Merkus went into the staff room to use the microwave. There he fell into conversation with the other kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gregory. “Have you heard that Mackenzie’s family is moving tomorrow?” he asked. “Yes! They live right around the corner from me. I’ve been looking forward to their move for quite some time. You’re planning to help, I hope?” Mr. Merkus furrowed his eyebrows. “Do you think it would be entirely appropriate?” “Appropriate!” Ms. Gregory said with a laugh. “If it was inappropriate, do you think the Mayor would be coming? The whole neighbourhood will be there! Many hands make light work, as they say. You really must come and join in, Chris. Don’t miss all the fun!” Mr. Merkus nodded his head slowly, considering this new information. The microwave beeped. He took his lunch back to his classroom without another word. Mr. Merkus didn’t live in the neighbourhood where he worked, though he did call the city his home. When the weather was warm enough, he would commute by bicycle, weaving through the residential streets and admiring the wide variety of houses present on each. Such was the case on the day that Mackenzie’s family was set to move. As he neared the school, he noticed a man using a big roll of yellow caution tape to close off a cul-de-sac. Mr. Merkus paused briefly at the sight. On the sidewalk, coiled up like an immense python snake, was the largest cut of rope that Mr. Merkus had ever seen. It was as thick as your arm, and the colour of dry summer grass. The man with the tape smiled and nodded, as though Mr. Merkus was already in on the secret. Mr. Merkus nodded back, both puzzled and intrigued by the man, his tape, and his rope. But the bell was about to ring, so he had no choice but to pedal on with his questions. The rest of the day appeared normal enough, and by mid-afternoon, Mr. Merkus had nearly forgotten his early morning encounter with the caution tape man -- until two o’clock, when there was a knock at his classroom door. He was greeted by the very same gentleman he’d seen on the street, arms overburdened by a wobbly heap of construction gloves. Several pairs fell from the pile as the man made his way into the room. “Afternoon, Mr. Merkus! I’m Kenzie’s dad, here to deliver the gloves for moving day! Every willing student and teacher gets a pair. You’ll be joining us, I hope?” Mackenzie stood beside her father and started sorting out the sets that were labeled extra-small. “I . . . will, yes,” said Mr. Merkus. He helped Mackenzie sift through the pile, and made sure that every child was properly fit with protective gear before finding himself a rather larger pair, and opening the classroom door for Mackenzie’s father once again. “Thank you,” the man said from behind his leathery load. “I’d shake your hand, but I haven’t a spare. See you soon!” Mr. Merkus closed the door behind him. At the end of the day, it was customary for parents and guardians to gather about the school in quiet groups, awaiting the release of their children. For Mr. Merkus, moving day was proving exceptional even in this regard. When he led his line of students onto the playground, he was met by a veritable horde of people crowding in around his kids. Each child was quickly claimed by their proper adult and then hoisted up onto shoulders so that they would be able to see over the growing mass, as a witness to whatever it was they were assembling to do. Mr. Merkus was swept up in the moment and, along with everyone else, he moved down the street and around the corner, coming to a halt in front of the yellow caution tape. It was a physically feeble barrier, but the community respected its symbolic request for cooperation. Mr. Merkus looked around. At first blush, there didn’t seem to be anything special or unusual about the houses on this street. Two rows of two-storey homes faced each other; each had a driveway, many with a car parked out front. About halfway down the road, Mr. Merkus noticed that the monstrous, serpentine rope he’d seen coiled up that morning had been fastened by hooks the size of battleship anchors to the underside of the house. Where the building’s foundation should have been, a layer of bricks had been removed to reveal a hulking set of wheels. The house was perched on four gigantic castors, of the style that is commonly found on office chairs, or mobile bed frames. Mackenzie was perched on her front porch, which was now suspended a good three feet from the ground. The bottom steps had been lifted away, set off to the side, on a neighbouring lawn. Just when Mr. Merkus was wondering what they would happen next, Ms. Gregory appeared at his side. “Got your gloves?” she asked, inspecting his hands. “Those ropes have been known to splinter in the past. They’ve been used for generations of house moving, so a little wear and weathering is to be expected. Almost time to pull your weight!” She gestured to the house, the rope and then over to the empty lot across the road. He hadn’t noticed it before. Suddenly the whole situation became shockingly clear. “We’re going to DRAG it?!” he gasped. “Of course,” said Ms. Gregory. “What were you expecting?” A well-dressed woman with an absurdly large pair of scissors came over to the crowd and ceremonially cut through the caution tape. The crowd formed itself into a line along both sides of the rope, bent in unison, and picked it up. “On my count,” cried Mackenzie’s dad from his driveway. “One, two, THREE!” Everyone heaved their hardest, and the house rolled a few feet forward. After a pause, Mackenzie’s father called out again, and then again, measuring their progress as he paced beside his home with each pull. It took them an hour to shuffle the house into the street, get it turned around, and then coax it up the driveway and into its new space. A team of people brought the bricks over and began burying the big wheels behind them. Another team of people handed out hot dogs and popsicles to everyone who had helped haul the house across the street. Mr. Merkus joined a group of people transplanting the garden beds, and he was up to his elbows in the dirt when Mackenzie’s father finally tracked him down for that handshake. “Thanks for helping us move. It’s a real blessing to live in such a supportive community. Sure couldn’t do this alone!” “Happy to help,” Mr. Merkus replied, surveying the scene. The whole street was full of laughter and friendship, a welcome reminder that human kindness was still alive and kicking, at least in little neighbourhood cul-de-sacs. He walked back to the school to retrieve his bike with a heart full of hope for the world. And he smiled as he pedaled, all the way home.

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