Other People’s Problems – Obligation

When Pam arrived nothing had been done. A stack of empty liquor store boxes filled the living room, but other than that, the apartment looked the way it always did. “Today is your moving day, right?” she asked.

“Oh, golly yes. My boyfriend is bringing the rental truck at 2:00. He and his buddy will have one of those wheelie carts to move the boxes and the landlord will put the elevator on service.” Ashley grinned. “Just wait ‘til you see my new place. It… is… fabulous!”

“But… you’re not even packed.” Pam noticed dishes in the sink. “I thought I was coming to help carry boxes.”

“You silly. The boxes have to be filled first.” Ashley giggled. “Why don’t you start in the living room and I’ll do the kitchen?”

Pam grabbed a moderate sized box as she crossed to the bookcase. Luckily, Ashley was not much of a reader, but there were plenty of knick-knacks and a couple dozen CDs.”

“I’m making myself a sandwich. Do you want anything to eat?” Ashley shouted from the kitchen.

“No thanks.” Pam was lifting a handful of Justin Timberlake CDs off the shelf, which it appeared had not been dusted in quite some time. She had hoped that this commitment would only take two hours, but now she suspected the entire day was going to be lost. Pam paused to wonder if she should be using paper towels to wrap the unicorn figurines, but decided to write fragile on the box and take a chance.

From the kitchen Pam heard a cartoonish voice say, “Like, um, like I think you’re getting a call. Cha!” She gave her head a shake as she heard Ashley answer the phone.

“Hi sweetie. What’s up?… Really?… When did that happen?… Did you tell anyone about it?… Yes. I know… That’s okay…”

Pam took a deep, cleansing breath and focused on the task at hand. She treated the boxes like puzzles and challenged herself to fit the maximum amount in each. She tucked the flaps closed, and labeled them “living room.” She had filled eight by the time Ashley got off the phone. Still, she could not hear much movement in the kitchen, so Pam called out, “How’s it going in there, kiddo?”

Ashley answered with food in her mouth. “Just finishing my sandwich. Sure you don’t want something?”

“No, thanks. I’m making great progress in here. Look, the shelves are empty.”

“You’re amazing Pammy. That’s why I love you so much. How about you tackle the bathroom while I finish up in here?”

Pam took two boxes with her to the bathroom. As she expected, the counter was littered with toiletries and the medicine cabinet and drawers were full. She started dumping items into the boxes, barely pausing to check whether the lids were closed. “It would serve Ash right if something spilled,” she mumbled to herself. She’d met Ashley at college, but wouldn’t say they had been friends exactly. The only reason Pam felt obligated to help with the move was because Ashley had told Pam about the job at Tedesco. They’ve been cubicle neighbours for three months. Giving up a day of her life to help was meant to repay that debt.

When Pam returned to the living room to get a larger box for towels, she found Ashley sitting on the couch eating her sandwich and talking on the phone again.

“Ah uh. I know what you mean… It could happen to anybody, sweetie… Don’t beat yourself up over it… Yes, I know…”

Pam lifted the empty box toward Ashley in a mock salute and received a twinkling finger wave in return. The towels and bathmat fit easily into the box. Pam also packed the Little Mermaid shower curtain, feeling confident that it had not come with the apartment.

“My gosh, you’re doing a great job Pammy.” Ashley leaned on the bathroom doorframe. The sandwich was gone but the cellphone was still in her hand.

“What’s next?”

“Ah, the bedroom I guess. I thought that I’d put the clothes from the closet into suitcases, which are under the bed. The stuff in the drawers can just stay there. We can take the drawers out if the dresser is too heavy, but, it’s like they’re already packed. You know what I mean?”

“Sure.” Pam wiped her sweaty brow with the back of her hand. “Why don’t I make a start in the bedroom while you finish the kitchen?” As she entered the bedroom Pam heard, “Like, um, like I think you’re getting a call. Cha!” She resisted the urge to scream.

It took an hour and a half to pack up the clothes. Pam ran out of boxes so Ashley’s extensive shoe collection was gathered into hefty garbage bags, as were the hangers, pillows and duvet. Three suitcases sat by the door, the bed sheets were folded into boxes with the breakable items from Ashley’s make-up table tucked among them. Pam refused to dismantle the bed. That could wait until the men arrived.

Pam had to admit that she felt a sense of accomplishment as she returned to the living room. The bedroom and bathroom were packed, pictures had been removed from the walls and were carefully stacked in the laundry basket, even the hallway closet, with its assortment of Christmas items and memorabilia had been readied for removal. That’s why Pam found it all them more horrifying when she saw that nothing, not a single dish, had been packed in the kitchen.

Ashley was on the phone. “Okay… Yes… Anything you want…No… It’s no trouble at all…Really… I don’t mind at all… Of course not…” Ashley turned and saw Pam. “Listen sweetie, I really have to go now…No… I have someone here helping me move… Yes I told you I was moving… No it is not far away… Of course I’ll still visit… You bet, on Wednesday… Why don’t you head off for lunch now? It’s 12:15 and you’re supposed to be down for 12:30… Okay… Talk to you later.” Ashley put the phone down on the counter.

“Gosh Pammy, you’ve been a real lifesaver. I don’t know what I would do without you. I’m sorry. I meant to be more organized, it’s just that…” Ashley gestured towards her phone. “It’s my mom. She has Alzheimer’s. She gets confused and agitated. She needs a lot of reassurance. I’m duty-bound to take her phone calls.”

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Marion Reidel, Upper Canadian Author with a wicked sense of humour. Buy her book, visit her on tour, and also get the tattoo.