Polish Movers (excerpt)

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Wellvang opened the door to his fourth-floor walk-up and found his purpose standing in the hallway: Polish movers. He’d observed Poles before in the wild, certainly: riding the metro in stiff leather jackets, standing without books or newspapers; grousing down the street in packs late at night, trailing near-visible streamers of cologne; leaning behind the counters at delis, daring you to ask for a sandwich; hanging off of the bone structure of tall blonde women in the park, murmuring brusque nothings; but Wellvang had seen Poles but through an ethnic glass darkly. Like broad-faced princes returning from exile, the Polish movers slouched into Wellvang’s apartment and into their true element: the business of moving boxes and furniture.

Wellvang stood with the doorknob in one hand and his cane in the other, momentarily rendered speechless. They were but two men, one scarcely twenty, the other nearly thirty, but the Polish movers radiated the life-force of a host, Wellvang could swear it, their pale skin and fair hair more than reflecting the dim light of the apartment, but indeed augmenting it with their enchanted essence to illumine the dull cardboard faces lining the walls, granting the boxes perhaps even a modicum of hope and cheer.

“You are Mr. Wellvang, yes?” The older of the two movers extended his hand. He was shorter than Wellvang, perhaps five-nine, and tilted his features slightly up—features curiously sharp on the front of his wide skull—to make startling winter-blue eye-contact with his temporary employer. “I am Piotr,” he said and clamped Wellvang’s sleepwalking hand. The mover’s grip was borderline crushing, tempered slightly by a feathery grace that recognized Wellvang’s weakness but refused to condescend from its own regal strength.

“Yes, yes, I’m Wellvang,” he said, willing Piotr’s python of an arm to swallow him whole. Piotr released and motioned at the younger mover, a gawky young man who stood to one side, surveying the boxes and furniture he would soon elevate in every sense, a look of fierce boredom glittering under the simian brow ridge of a barbarian king. “This is Oleg.”

“Hallo,” Oleg said. He didn’t so much as glance at Wellvang.

“Today we move you,” Piotr said.

 *

Piotr surveyed the one-bedroom apartment, counting boxes and pieces of furniture, making cursory marks on a clipboard. He wore a black cloth back brace with aplomb, like a millionaire’s cummerbund.

Oleg managed to slouch somehow into himself, his six-feet and four inches staying perfectly erect while his spirit sneered. Wellvang stayed several steps behind Piotr, keeping both hands on his metal cane to keep from visibly shaking.

“I’m awfully sorry I can’t help out, fellas,” Wellvang said. “I suffered an injury a few years back, you see, and I’m not supposed to lift anything heavier than a cat. I won’t bore you with the story.”

“It’s okay,” Piotr said. The “oh” in “okay” became a sonorous well on Piotr’s lips.

“It’s a very boring story. I’m sure you fellas have stories from the old country that would simply put mine to shame.”

Piotr slashed figures on the clipboard and muttered a few words in Polish at Oleg, who grunted with neither affirmation nor complaint.

The sound of the words poured through Wellvang’s brain like ice water into parched soil. It was like hearing his favorite song, or being paid a true compliment, for the first time.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Wellvang said.

“Nothing. Do not worry,” Piotr said. “We move everything.”

“Of course, of course, it’s just that, I’ve never hired movers before, I’ve always done it myself, with the help of friends, but I simply couldn’t ask friends to help me move when I can do almost none of the work myself.”

“We start,” Oleg said. He laid his massive hands on the nearest box, full of ironware, and hoisted it to his shoulder with shocking ease before barreling out of the apartment. With his mouth hanging open Wellvang looked to Piotr, who shrugged, jammed the clipboard down the back of his high-waisted khaki pants, wrapped his wiry arms around a box nearly as heavy as Oleg’s, and hepped it out of the apartment with a controlled intake of breath. Wellvang tottered toward his easy chair and fell backward into its familiar scoop just as his knees buckled. His head swam like a dolphin in a gargantuan hot tub, and his breath came short, as if he sat not in his fourth-floor walk-up but in an alpine lodge. Or Valhalla. The Polish version of Valhalla. Wellvang’s thoughts lurched pleasantly askew, and he realized that he was either having his first genuinely spiritual experience or he’d finally discovered true love. Like eating at the best restaurant in Krakow after a lifetime of freezer pierogies.

The ascending clop of work boots in the stairwell roused Wellvang from his reverie, and he levered himself upright using his cane. Oleg appeared in the doorway, utterly blank of affect and not at all out of breath.

“Now chair,” Oleg said. His voice was three octaves lower than humanly possible.

“You might require Piotr’s help with this one, it’s a recliner and the mechanism inside is quite heavy.”

Oleg blew past Wellvang, brushing his bare arm against his employer’s shirt sleeve, sending a shiver down Wellvang’s spine that would never entirely subside in the following weeks. Oleg stepped behind the chair and embraced it in a squatting bear hug.

“That one’s a bit tricky to get through the door, as I recall,” Wellvang said, but knew this was akin to informing a bumblebee that it could not fly according to the laws of physics. Oleg stood, clutching the spine of the easy chair to his chest, and rushed forward, shuttling the chair through the doorway with a millimeter of clearance on either side. In the hall Oleg twirled the chair over the banister like a girl’s baton and flew down the steps and out of sight. Before Wellvang could blink twice Piotr reappeared, as if he had simply phased through Oleg and the easy chair. Wellvang prayed for Polish wonders to never cease.

{To read the rest of this piece, please purchase Issue 38.2.}

 

Cody Peace Adams originally hails from Salem, Oregon, and now lives in New York City. He works as a freelance writer, resume preparer, and standardized test coach.

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