MOVING HANS by Kevin Sterne

October 13, 2017

Hans had the U-haul parked in the middle of the back alley, with a line of cars honking to get by. He just waved at them, “Go around.”

“It’s moving day,” he yelled in his thick Swiss accent “what do you want from me?”

Hans returned to Todd, who at the ass end of the truck trying to dismantle the big cat jungle gym, this sort of 10-foot tall, carpet-covered tree house. Basically, the whole thing screwed together, like LaZBoy furniture, so the two-foot scratching post had a foot-long screw notched into the side of the cat house hideaway. Smart.

“The idiots that built this are morons,” Todd said to Hans over the honking.

“They make cat toys,” Hans said, “these people are not exactly elite of their profession.”

Todd was dripping sweat around his t-shirt collar and pits. This had to be one of the goddamn hottest nights all summer. The bugs could reach out and cling to the wet air. Beads of moisture trickled from the garbage bins.

He lit a cigarette and walked into Hans’s backyard, as spit of grass amongst a pile of dirt, butted by the landlord’s garage.

He’d blown off a date with Lauren to help Hans. He’d blown her off before, but this time for money. Hans had knocked on Todd’s back door and invited himself into Todd’s kitchen on evening:

“You a good guy. I like you. I pay you 15 dollars to help me move.”

“50?”

“15”

“It sounds like you’re saying 50.”

“Yes, you got it.”

Todd took a drag from his cigarette and watched his exhale mix with the air. A fly landed and bit him on the arm. A summer storm was coming fast. He thought about calling Lauren, seeing about making it up to her, letting her know what an awful time he was having. Or that a storm was coming. She didn’t like the thunder. He pulled out his phone, it was dead. He put out his cigarette and walked back into the alley.

Hans had the cat tree house leaned against the U-haul at a long angle, one end on the ground, the other resting on the edge of the truck. Its middle sagging about a foot or two off the ground.

From inside the truck bed Hans jumped up, out, and onto the cat tree house. His ankle rolled on one of the scratch posts and he tumbled to ground, yelling into the alley in pain.

“My life,” he yelled into the sky while clutching his ankle, “it’s broken.”

“Your ankles not broken,” Todd said.

Hans rolled up his lederhosen to reveal what definitely looked like a soccer ball growing out of his leg.

Technically, Todd wasn’t allowed to drive a vehicle for another 6 weeks, so he tried deflecting. “How much stuff do you have left? Maybe we check your leg when we’re all packed up.”

“Sell it all to save my leg.”

Todd was hesitant. “I’m not supposed to drive.”

“If you leave me here, I will come back as ghost and haunt you for all remaining days.”

So Todd moved Hans into the truck cab. The drive was long—the hospital was two towns over—and along the way something in Hans’s brain was misfiring. He started recounting random parts of his life.

“When I was your age,” Hans said, “I could get all the girls.”

“Yeah?”

“I see your girl. She’s nice, but I when I your age, I get her and ten others.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Someone must write down my life story. For when I’m gone.”

“Okay. I’ll write it for you. But you have to pay me in advance.”

“My wife Mary Pat, most beautiful woman you ever saw. We were married thirty years.”

“13?”

“30. Three zero.”

Did Hans and his wife last so long because they weren’t from America? Something about a foreign romance, old world love? He and Lauren had talked about marriage. She was drunk on wine. He had to keep sober. And he told her he wasn’t getting married because most people he knew were divorced. His parents, her parents, is aunts/uncles, neighbors. You could find failure anywhere if you looked hard enough.

Todd was good at it; he had a knack for fucking up. For not staying sober enough to keep a job, for not keeping a promise or finding the positive in a situation. The light in the dark.

Hans kept going on about his dead wife.

“She was strong as ox,” Hans said, “she lift me up with one arm.”

Apparently Mary Pat was a professional—no, Olympic—body builder. She was also buried with all her trophies. And the memory of her in the house was too strong for Hans, and this was why he was moving.

At some point in the drive the sky opened up and poured like an omen.

“Fucking fantastic,” Todd said.

The water mixed with the oil on the asphalt. The truck tires glided like little boat hulls. A deer jumped out from the mist and into the beam of the headlights.

Todd threw his feet on the brakes and jerked the wheel. Jesus take the wheel. The moving van fishtailed and skirted the deer by inches, but slid down the side of the road and into a ravine of trees and marsh.

Todd woke with his face cheek planted on the windshield, his body splayed over the steering wheel. Something loud was ringing in his ears—Hans.

“You killed us both.” Hans was still strapped into the passenger seat, secured by his seatbelt.

“You’re not dead,” Todd peeled his face from the glass and fixed himself back in his seat. Then Todd saw the massive tree branch that had knifed through the passenger window, deep into Hans’s chest.

“Death is so painful,” Hans said.

Todd didn’t know what to say, what to do, how to act. He said the only words that came to him: “How can I help?”

Todd helped Hans out of the truck. Held him in his arms like a very large baby.

“Just leave me.”

“I’m not going to leave you.”

“I want to be with my wife.”

“Okay.”

Hans took Todd’s hand in his own, it trembled. Todd could feel the blood leaving Hans’s grip. They kind of locked eyes and fell into a mutual understanding about the situation, about life and the universe. Then Hans pulled Todd’s hand to his mouth and gave it a gentle kiss.

Eventually Todd climbed his way back up to the road. It was dark, the air was still, but the rain was gone. Up the road, far in the distance he could make out a faint beam of light.

**********************************************************

Kevin Sterne was left for dead on this planet by flying saucers. He keeps a low profile as a writer and journalist in Chicago. He has a feature with Substream Magazine that pairs craft beer and vinyl records. Drunk Monkeys, Praxis Magazine, Word Eater and other places have attached their good names to Kevin’s fiction. Kevin is the creator of a really terrible magazine called LeFawn.

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