Mom holds the handle of the mop far away from her body. It is the only way she can clean the floor without hitting her belly. Ania, Mom’s best friend, leans against the small counter in the kitchen. She flicks her cigarette over the sink and smirks.
“Will you stop,” she says. “It’s not your problem anymore.”
Mom sticks out her tongue and dips the mop into the bucket of soapy water. She rings it out and slaps it onto the floor.
“Suit yourself.”Ania blows smoke through her nostrils and picks up a sponge from out of the sink. “Just think: when this is done, you’ll have a whole house to clean.” She goes to work, scrubbing the fridge door.
I watch the exchange from what was once the living room. That morning boxes filled the apartment, hills and mountains of boxes with words scrawled onto the sides in thick magic-marker text: kitchen, living room, pictures, clothes, toys. Now they are gone, Dad and Uncle Tommy and Uncle Kevin carried them away, along with the couch and the old chair that belonged to Dad’s dad, a man who died a long time before I was born. They moved everything that was ours down the stairs and into the car waiting at the curb. All that is left is the TV and the stand it rests on. Sean sits in front of it eating Cheerios from a bowl on the floor. He is in nothing but his diaper. He’s watching Bugs Bunny.
I am panting, sweat rolls down my forehead, the curve of my back. It’s hot and it isn’t even noon yet. I catch a slap on the back of the head, five points of sting. I whirl around, my hand reaching into space, a slapback. Nate, Ania’s son, my best friend, jumps out of the way. “Too slow,” he wipes feathery blonde hair out of his eyes, and is off. I chase after him. This is why the heavy breathing, the perspiration. As Mom and Ania dust and mop, sweep and scrub, Nate and I hunt each other through the empty rooms. It is the only game in which we are, or ever will be, equals. He can already throw, kick and catch all variety of balls better. He is able to jump higher, he can lift more. But I am just as fast as he is. Eventually, I will become faster, and faster, I will attain escape velocity.
I tag him back near the bathroom, a dull thud on the shoulder, and I am fleeing retribution, hauling ass past the kitchen when an arm loops around my chest. For a second I am lifted off my feet. Still airborne, Ania’s lips brush against my ear.
“That’s enough now, moje zabko.”
I laugh. The Polish words of endearment, the way her lips touch the skin of my ear just barely, tickles. The side of my head meets my shoulder to protect against a repeat attack, though I hope one is coming. She gives a dry kiss on the cheek, a sharp pinch on the same spot.
I notice what is different. The mop rests against the counter, where Ania stood. The bucket is in the sink. On the kitchen floor a trash bag sits with its top tied. Sean is standing, letting Mom wiggle a pair of short over his diaper. She picks up the bowl and shuts off the TV by turning a knob on the front of it. Sean says, “Bugs!” He points at the dark screen and starts to cry.
“You can watch Bugs at the new house,” Mom tells him, only a little impatiently. She puts the bowl in a small box and folds the flaps over themselves to close it. “I think that’s it.”
Nate is now standing in front of Ania, her hands on his shoulders. He too is breathing heavy. His t-shirt is stained around the collar with sweat.
“Let get out of here.” She squeezes the tops of Nate’s arms. “Give the Rowans a chance to say goodbye.”
When the Wapenskis reach the door, it dawns on me. “Are you and Nate moving too?”
Holding the door open with her foot, Ania smiles at me. “No, sweetie,” she says, “we aren’t going anywhere.”
The door slams shut behind them.
“Come here, Jimmy.” Mom is in the middle of what was the living room. She holds out her hand to me. Sean is holding the other one. When I take it, Mom turns her head from side to side, taking in the empty apartment. Sean and I do the same. “Take a good look,” she says, “so you will remember.” Her grip becomes a little tighter as she begins to shuffle her feet and spin in a circle, taking us with her. After the third revolution she stops. Mom bends down and tells Sean, “Say: ‘Bye, apartment.’”
Sean does a little jump and says, “Bye partment!”
Mom tries to stand, but the belly makes this hard. She lets go of my hand and puts hers on my shoulder. “Can I use you, Jimmy?”
I nod. I almost fall from the weight she needs to rest on me to stand.
On her feet, Mom sighs and wipes a few loose strands of hair out of her face. She kisses the tips of her fingers and touches them to my forehead. “Thanks, bud.” She lifts Sean and rests him on her hip. “Ready?”
Out the door we go, down the three flights of stairs. At the bottom I am about to push open the heavy front door of the building when Mom says, “Wait.” She has stopped in front of the mailboxes. She puts Sean down next to her. He wraps an arm around her bare calf. Above each of the inset mailboxes is a piece of tape with a last name written on it. This is building 6, so the last names are Lyons, Kelly, White, Ahern, Fitzgerald, Barry, and ours, Rowan. Mom stares at our name for a long second before she attacks one of the corners of the tape with her fingernail. The sound of her nail scratching against the metal makes my teeth hurt. The tape is stubborn. Mom scratches harder. Her eyes narrow, her mouth turns down. Finally there is enough for her to pinch between her thumb and forefinger. She rips the tape from the metal and says, “Fuck you,” under the tearing sound. Mom balls up the tape and drops it to the cement floor. “OK.” She flicks her chin at the door. “Out.”