The Packing House

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Chapter 8 | Confrontation

“I see you’ve come to get your things,” Samuel says to my mother where she stands several doors down, pulling the door of our townhouse shut. When she and Mr. Davis head around the front end of his truck to get away from Samuel, he steps out into the parking lot to intercept them, stopping just in front of her. Jonathan and I stay on the sidewalk, unsure what to do. Samuel’s eyes are flames licking down every inch of her; his serpentine head bobs side to side. I can’t stop myself from shuddering. Something so familiar…

He steps closer, his focus on my mother.

Now she is going to lose it. I can’t help it. I find myself inching forward with Jonathan, our instinct to protect our mother outweighing the need for self-preservation.

“Listen, Sam. I have a restraining order. Leave, or I call the police. You’ll go in for at least six months.” She pulls out her TracFone to underscore the warning, but her hand trembles despite the firmness of her words.

No one moves.

“You think you can just get rid of me? Dismiss me and threaten me like that? I will not let you go that easy.” He sounds pretty serious. Moving forward, he toys with a strand of her hair. I’m reminded of the furniture knocked over, the broken dishes, and the bedrail piercing the bathroom door.

I try to slink back, out of his reach. Mr. Davis steps forward right into the silence, realization blooming across his face. Samuel stands unyielding. He grips her hair, yanking it forward while glaring at our neighbor. My mother stumbles forward, crying out and reaching up to break his grip.

“Let go of me, Samuel. What kind of monster are you? Where is all this—”

Monster

“Not a word,” he snarls, cutting her off.

“…Not a word…”

Each word is punctuated by another vicious yank. “Not another damn word outta you!” My mother shrieks, her hands scratching against his to pry herself free. Since Mr. Davis seems stuck on his next move, eyes darting back and forth between them, I step forward with the plan to kick Samuel’s shins when I realize it could be him.

“…Not a word…”

Shit. The voice. It’s him… Is it him? Is he the voice from my nightmares? I try to swallow the fear back down before he sees it all over my face, the recognition. The knowing. The thing that will make him do something about it, like hunt me down and devour me in front of everyone.

I’m ready to make a break for it if Samuel comes at me. “What’s all this?” Mr. Davis demands, stepping toward our mother. Samuel shifts his attention toward Mr. Davis.

“So, is he why you’re ending it with me?” Samuel asks, balling his hands into fists. My mother breaks away, eyes locked on Samuel.

“Mr. Davis is helping us move our furniture. We’re friends.”

“I see,” Samuel says. “You’re friends.”

“Don’t read too much into it, Samuel. Leave now, or I hit send,” my mother says, typing 9-1-1 and hovering her thumb over the button.

“…Make a sound and you’re dead…”

I bite the inside of my mouth until I taste blood. Panic thrums in my ears.

“Oh, is this the guy?” Mr. Davis asks my mother. “You’d better leave.” He moves between our mother and Samuel.

“…Make a sound and you’re dead…”

“It’s not over,” Samuel declares. He glances away, and then takes a sudden swing at Mr. Davis, who somehow anticipates his fist, grips his wrist, and ratchets Samuel’s arm way up, behind his back, the momentum from his punch turned against him. Our mother starts to cry. Her face is all red and blotchy. Tears tip over the edge of her eyelids and splash down her front.

“You’re lucky there’re kids present,” Mr. Davis growls, as he releases Samuel with a shove. Samuel stumbles, takes a few steps, and grips his arm.

“…Make a sound and you’re dead…”

Mr. Davis moves closer to my mother, opening his left arm to console her. Samuel starts across the parking lot. Either he was waiting for us when we arrived, or he came after we did.

“Hell if I don’t come see you again, Carrie,” Samuel says, turning back to face us. “I won’t just let this go.” He turns, shakes his head, and crosses over to his car. As he peels away, tires squeal, somewhat muffled by the playground crew.

I hear the phrase repeating over and over in my head: “…Make a sound and you’re dead…”

I dare not make a sound.

No one speaks. Instead, we turn back and load mattresses in Mr. Davis’s truck. We finish with the couch and climb in. The day is long, but it’s not even 11 a.m.

The drive out is quiet. Jonathan rides with mom, and I ride shotgun with Mr. Davis. I dive back into my book, relieved to be lost in the pages, happier to ignore the thoughts buzzing in my brain.

Is Samuel serious? Will he come after my mother? Will we have to move over and over so he doesn’t find us? That restraining order seems like a waste of paper, an empty threat. I wish I could ignore our other problems.

Most often, it’s money. We never seem to have enough to pay our bills and keep from getting evicted. Other times, it’s any number of men. I don’t think my mother knows how to free herself from their hold. Maybe she likes the attention. Before it all went south, she sure seemed to like it. Too often, Jonathan and I get the fallout.

We reach the trailer before I look up from my book, not that I can remember what I read. More like going through the motions. It’s still there. The trailer hasn’t managed to collapse or burn to the ground while we were gone. I guess that means we sleep here tonight.

Now that I’m all cheered up, I get out and wait for directions. My mother and Mr. Davis discuss how they want to move the furniture in. The queasy feeling returns, along with the kerosene smell. I tie the door open to the railing.

Perhaps the trailer park residents are done with the current batch of meth and await fresh supplies. That would explain why everyone stares. I’m surprised when no one pulls up lawn chairs. We’re the entertainment. They should have signs that welcome us to the Mothership. I wonder when we’ll get our brain implants.

We haul the furniture in. It doesn’t take long to get it inside. All right people, show’s over. I close the door with relief.

My mother thanks Mr. Davis, and we say our goodbyes. Then we slink to separate rooms.

I can’t stay cooped up in this tin coffin all night, so I tell my mother I’m going for a walk. I invite Jonathan. He doesn’t have anything better to do. I kick gravel as we walk.

The road bends to the right, and we follow it. An old guy works on his Camaro, someone sponges a motorcycle clean, and a girl with lavender hair and piercings takes her dog for a walk. Each row has a half dozen or so trailers before a turn boxes us in completely. It’s like a maze that spirals inward. Eventually, you’re stuck in the middle and can’t find your way out.

We head downward. The ground continues to slope. I can’t see the river, but I hear water, so I know it’s there. I take a deep breath and exhale.

Green leaves, brown bark, dancing shadows, forest stillness.

As I lean into the silence, forest sounds rise up. A branch falls with a thud in the underbrush. Something moves, scuttling across the green and dead-leaf ground. A bird chirps sharply, up and to the right. I can’t see it, but I hear its incessant call.

I head into the woods. With a glance at Jonathan, I duck in. He follows. At first, we’re all wobbly, like the first time we went fishing. It takes a few minutes to find our forest legs. Then we’re up and over fallen branches, downed tree trunks; we easily steer around divots and dips in the uneven ground.

We’re stopped in our tracks by a young deer. It drinks water from a rivulet coming off the stream below. It lifts its head, sniffs the air for our scent, and pivots its ears back and forth, trying to catch the noise it just heard. We stay frozen, waiting to see if it will run off anyway, just in case. Instead, it dips its head back down to take another pull from the water at its hooves.

I focus on its tail; a muscle at its rump twitches. Must be a bug or something. Jonathan shifts his weight, breaks a branch, and it’s off like a shot, legs following its body, as it bounds effortlessly back into the safety of the woods.

“That was friggin’ awesome!”

“Yeah,” I mutter, unsure what else to say. The edge of fear is much closer to fierce than I realized. I saw it in the deer’s eyes. Fear and fierce colliding.

The magic from our stolen moment has gone, returning me to the sounds of people going in and out of trailers. Children laugh as they play in the gravel street. A car drives by and parks. We are down the slope, but man-made sounds bounce off the trunks and tumble over to where we stand.

“C’mon,” I say to Jonathan. “Let’s get back.” And we head up. Our mother is unpacking when we return. The door claps shut like a screen door. The walls are so thin, they might as well be made of glass. It doesn’t lessen the fishbowl syndrome rising, like we’re living in an aquarium. This has us all out of whack, as if we’re on some kind of bizarre reality show.

“Need any help?” I ask as we tromp through the front door into the living room. The trailer is lined in fake, dark, wood paneling, making the already small spaces that much tinier and cramped. My headache thuds back to the forefront, right on cue. I sure didn’t miss the smell.

“I’m just about finished,” our mother replies, looking up. She puts the pantry stuff away in the upper cabinets.

After dinner, Jonathan and our mother try to get the television to work. Fat chance in a metal box. They try tinfoil and wave the antenna like they’re landing an airplane.

I retreat to my shoebox of a room and read. At least that gets me somewhere. I hear laughter in the background, but soon, all I hear are the characters.

When I read the part where Ponyboy and Cherry discuss the differences between Greasers and Socs, it reminds me of me and Amber. We always understood each other, even though we weren’t in the same circles at school. I think that’s why she liked hanging out. It meant she didn’t have to wear a dress. Her mother kept her to a brutal schedule. I can imagine Amber saying what Cherry said to Ponyboy:

“. . .’Things are rough all over.’. . .”

Amber once confided the pressure she felt from her mother, who insisted she take ballet and violin lessons. “There’s no pleasing her. If she could, she’d cram her toes in my shoes and string my bow herself.” Our mother never made us do anything close to what hers did. Amber’s father and my father were friends from work, back when we still lived near each other. Come to think of it, when Amber and I used to be together, it was always her father who was over, never her mother.

I had forgotten how hard she was on Amber and what she thought of me.

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