The boyfriend of the hour was John, and John would help her move. She’d been packing up the bits and pieces of her life for some days now, and her lease was just about expired. Squatting on the side of her mattress, she appraised the belongings still strewn about the apartment, wiggling her toes on the hardwood. The now displaced dust hung heavy all around and when John buzzed she threw the window open before letting him in.
John had skipped out of work early to assist Sherry. He was still wearing his brown suit pants but had taken off the tie. His face was shiny—likely from the pre-rush-hour drive over to the West Side and the four flights of stairs in her walk-up.
“Hey, Sher,” he said, shutting the door and unbuttoning his white shirt. He kissed her on the cheek lightly and heaved himself onto a box. Sherry stopped herself from chiding him although the box said “FRAGILE.” She had labeled all of her boxes that way, though none were all that delicate. Her glassware was wrapped carefully in tea towels and scarves in a suitcase. She couldn’t really remember what all of the boxes held.
“Oh, John, thanks again. You really didn’t have to rush.” She ran the kitchen faucet until it was cold and filled him a paper cup. He drank the water all at once and Sherry admired his bobbing Adam’s apple. She took the empty, slightly dilapidated cup back and ran the faucet again.
“I guess I didn’t,” said John. “Guess we’ve got some more packing to do.”
Sherry kept her back to him but imagined he must have been frowning at the dresses still hanging in the closet, the stacks of books and canvasses and pairs of shoes.
“You rest and I’ll finish up,” Sherry said when she handed him the cup. “I thought we could take what’s ready, and the mattress, too, and then the rest.” She gestured blankly, remembering the shower curtain and extra linens. “The rest I can take tonight. While you have that dinner at Fred’s place, I’ll do it.”
Sherry went into the bathroom and started opening the rings on the curtain rod. She couldn’t recall whether the new place had a glass casing around the shower, or if there was a bathtub. She figured she might as well dump the curtain on the street with the wire broom she’d found in the closet.
“You’re not going? Since when?” John’s voice came closer. “Sherry, they’re expecting us. You know that. I know you know that.”
She did know, and she knew that John would bring up the other dinners she’d missed were she to protest. She felt his body behind hers in the bathroom. There was no time to argue and even less time to pack.
John, of course, insisted on carrying all of the heavy items downstairs. Sherry dutifully directed him around corners and opened up doors. She was mostly quiet otherwise. The mattress was the most difficult to maneuver and cram inside of John’s car, which wasn’t much bigger than a sedan. She tightened her jaw when the mattress dragged on the sidewalk and John swore when she failed to mention an uneven piece of pavement in his path.
Upstairs they agreed that she would take the train to Brooklyn and John would drive across the bridge. He watched Sherry pack more into a past-full suitcase. Both of them now sat on the floor.
“These,” John leaned from his spot against the wall to grab something. “Do you really need these?”
Only once or twice had she been desperate enough, absent-minded enough, to actually put on the pink-padded Patterson-brand slippers. But that was plenty, she thought, to justify keeping them.
“Yes,” she said. It had happened before; in the moving into and out of apartments, an ex-boyfriend or two had commented on the slippers. She’d made up stories that suited her, tailored to each partner. Not that she owed these boys anything.
She didn’t remember, of course, how she’d gotten hold of them in the first place. But it could easily enough have been from a family member. Something tragic, a hand-me-down pair from a cousin killed in a car accident—The bastard was drunk! she’d cry, and John would jump to hold her like something precious—There, there.
Sherry thought far ahead to John the husband, attempting to ingratiate himself at a holiday dinner. She’d be holding their cooing baby and he’d bring up the slipper story, searching her mother’s clueless eyes for confirmation. No, it would have to be something that could be almost true—that they were a gift from someone demented enough not to disagree. Great Aunt Jean gave me these when I graduated. Can you believe it? I thought she’d drop dead right then and there, the way her mind sputtered to a stop. There was no one at all demented in her family. Her genes, she realized, were suspiciously clean.
And really, there was no need to anticipate Thanksgiving for a boyfriend from July.
She suspected that John’d chalk it up to the female attachment called sentimentality. What he didn’t know, what none of the boys knew, was that Sherry considered herself unsentimental to a fault. That she regarded their I love yous as boring and typical. I love you fell flat onto willfully deaf ears.
“Actually,” said Sherry. “I was planning on wearing them tonight. To Fred’s.” She tied them to her red suitcase with a stray shoelace.
She did not have much trouble transporting the two suitcases, though the men she passed thought otherwise. As soon as John pulled away, after she’d quit waving but before she’d lifted her bags from the sidewalk, someone touched her arm.
“Let me,” the man said. Sherry first noticed his gold wristwatch and then his silver ring. She looked up.
“No, really I’m fine,” she said. The man was older, maybe fifty, maybe even her father’s age. But his eyes were kind; he had all of the right wrinkles.
“Are you sure?” He looked hurt, almost, slacking his arm back to his side. Sherry immediately felt bad. Perhaps he’d only touched her paternally, wanting to help out a daughter that wasn’t his own. She smiled.
“Thank you,” she said. “I’m actually trying to work on my strength. Since the old softball days . . .” she flexed a petite bicep and rolled her eyes easily.
The man laughed. He pinched her arm and mocked surprise. “Looks like you’re plenty able to handle those on your own. Happy trails, kid.” He left in the opposite direction and she could finally pick up her bags. She walked towards Eighth Avenue. There were plenty of dogs out and they sniffed at her ankles.
The wet air glued a pink petal to her forehead and she let it stay, considering herself quite the kid as the Patterson slippers bounced against the suitcase.
Of course someone accosted her when she reached the stairwell. She couldn’t refuse him; this man was new. He had grease stains on his knuckles and gray thumbprints on his jeans. His face was handsome and she pictured the two of them in the eyes of the strangers walking streetward. His brown eyes complementing her blue ones. He towering almost a foot above her, each of them holding on to a women’s suitcase. She imagined that she looked fragile, he protective.
The train was minutes away. Sherry set down the suitcases and undid the tie that bound the slippers. She slipped off a brown leather sandal and pressed her foot into the cool cement. She looked at the shoes lined up in front of her and decided then that she didn’t like the slippers, that they were too matted and the pink was too faded. Sherry put her sandal back on and wanted to throw the Patterson slippers onto the tracks. If she did, if she walked up to her new stoop holding the bags with the loose shoelace wrapped around her pinkie she would be quite a pitiable sight. John would find her precious again, even letting her skip the night’s outing.
She listened for the roar of the next train and wondered what would happen if she dropped a suitcase over the ledge.