Litchfield to Ashtabula by Richard Osgood
Kale thanked the woman in the white CVS Pharmacy smock as she handed him change for a ten and a pack of Marlboro Lights. Common courtesy, he thought, to acknowledge an act of complicity with his addiction. He wanted to buy a roll of Mentos but knew the cashier would look at him over cat-eye glasses and without a word point out that if he didn’t smoke, he wouldn’t need Mentos. They could do that, CVS cashiers, tell you stuff without moving their lips. He would disagree with her of course. He had to either smoke or suck Mentos. Otherwise bad chemicals in his brain would throw him off a bridge. She glanced down at the Dr. Seuss illustration on his t-shirt. “One Fish, Two Fish,” he said. She studied his compact face for the slightest hint of instability and, finding nothing to cause immediate alarm, told him to have a nice day. He hadn’t thought about having a nice day until she mentioned it, so he thanked her for the reminder and decided he would do just that.
Outside, he ran into Victor who managed to drive a two-story Colonial into the CVS parking lot. Victor assured the woman blocked by the house that he’d be out in two shakes. “Where you off to with that one?” said Kale. “Ashtabula,” said Victor. “Mind if I tag along?” Kale had always wanted to ride in the cab of a truck with a house behind it. On trips to Ft. Wayne with his second wife, he’d marveled at the sight of a house cruising Interstate 80 at sixty miles per hour. He once wrote a song about a man who moved the entire town of Toothbay Harbor to a place called Salvation. Kale gave a title to the song: “What’s Wrong With Salvation?” He promised Victor to sing it for him on the way to Ashtabula. Victor shrugged and waved to the blocked woman. “Be out in two shakes,” he said.
On the interstate, Kale asked Victor if he’d delivered many houses since the Victorian he hauled from Poughkeepsie to Macon. Victor said he moved a downscaled Greek Revival from Stamford to Decatur and a barn from Bellows Falls to Brattleboro, but that was about it. “Plus,” he said, “most folks forget their old place as soon as they get all their stuff in a new place.” Kale agreed. He’d moved eleven times with his three wives and couldn’t remember one place from another. Plus, each of his wives got his stuff when they divorced. After the third wife, he bought new stuff and decided not to remarry.
Kale asked Victor how soon before they’d stop for fuel, said he’d like to buy a roll of Mentos. Victor said they had enough fuel to go another three hundred miles. Kale lit a cigarette and watched the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation fence weave in and out of the forest’s edge. They passed a sign that marked the highest point on Interstate 80 east of the Mississippi. This is what it read: ‘Highest Point on Interstate 80 East of the Mississippi. Elevation 2250 Ft.’ Victor said a small country in the Middle East had plans to build the tallest structure in the world. “Doesn’t seem right,” he said, “a small country like that with the tallest building in the world.” Kale agreed, but to himself he applauded the small country for such ambition. From that point, it was all downhill to the Ohio border.
Victor maneuvered the Colonial into a Flying J Travel Plaza in Hubbard, Ohio. Heads turned as the house inched along a triple-wide aisle in the oversized truck section. Kale told Victor they were the king and queen of the Flying J Travel Plaza. He said the rows of tractor-trailers were commoners blessed by their presence. Victor said England’s king and queen had no power. He said they were nothing but figureheads. Kale agreed. “But they got a lot of great stuff,” he said, “and the commoners can’t touch it.”
They arrived in Ashtabula the same time as the moving van. The side of the van read this: Mayflower Movers. It was named for the vessel that carried pilgrims across the Atlantic to a rock at the tip of Cape Cod. The ship Mayflower missed the intended destination by three hundred miles. Most people didn’t know this. Kale figured this bit of information would not be good for the business Mayflower Movers. Victor placed a call to the North Shore Rigging Company. Onlookers gathered, amazed that a house from Litchfield could be transported to the shore of Lake Erie. The crew moved the house onto a poured concrete foundation by a series of timbers and pulleys. “House has a new home,” said Victor.
Kale and Victor stacked the timbers and coiled ropes onto the empty flatbed. They followed Route 11 south to Youngstown and to eastbound Interstate 80. They would be one among hundreds of similar trucks hauling cars or computers or livestock or any such thing that gets thrown out after use or when something new comes along. Kale lit a cigarette and told Victor he liked moving houses. “It won’t be the same driving back,” he said.
Richard Osgood lives in a city on a river where the north meets the south. He administers a flash fiction workshop called The Flash Factory on American Zoetrope. Publication credits include Tin House, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Hobart, Dogzplot, Night Train, Mudluscious, Los Angeles Review, among others, to include two Pushcart Prize nominations. He continues to mourn the deaths of Steve Marriott and Syd Barrett.