The building had no elevator. It was five stories and the movers had maneuvered the sofa-bed up four of them. The stairs were narrow and inconsistent from floor to floor, so that as they made their way around each turn, it took figuring and a lot of shoving to make the piece of furniture go. “God help the poor bastards who have to take this out again,” said Brett as they passed the third floor. Later on, his comments towards the sofa-bed were less considerate.
Mark took the nature of his partner in stride. Brett was 52, thirty-one years older than Mark, and a little bit frightening at times. Brett was massive, quick to anger, indifferent to pain – both his own and Mark’s – and often impatient. What he did not have was endless energy, and that was where Mark beat him hands down. But because of it Mark had to do most of the leg work around the Furniture store’s warehouse.
Brett did all the driving. They spent most of their days in the truck, delivering or picking up, but they didn’t talk much. They didn’t listen to the radio much. Mark could start a conversation and Brett didn’t seem to mind, but their talking never seemed to go on very long.
Now they were making the last turn to bring it onto the fifth floor. The stairs made a tight bow around a bit of plastered wall. Brett was below, holding most of the weight on his shoulders, and Mark was squeaking the sofa-bed between the stair’s railing and the wall. Then suddenly Mark heard a grunt, and then a great wheeze, and the sofa-bed fell out of Mark’s hands.
Mark couldn’t see what happened. He could see the end of the sofa and that was all. “Brett?” he asked.
Mark took a couple of steps down and squeezed around the corner of the couch, so he could look underneath it. Brett was upside down on the stairs, the couch pinning his hip, his legs pointed at Mark and his head out of sight.
“Brett, what’s wrong?”
He heard the answer with some trouble. “Come here,” Brett said.
There was all of fourteen inches between Brett’s legs, the sofa-bed and the wall. Mark bent forward, let himself fall into the hole, and caught himself on his arms without touching Brett’s legs. From there it was easy to snake the rest of the way through.
Brett was covered in sweat. His face was brick-red. “I think its ... a heart-attack,” said Brett. “I felt my arm just before ...” He caught his breath. “Call,” he managed.”
Checking around himself for his cell, Mark realized he’d left it in the truck. “I’ll be right back,” the younger kid said, and with that he was gone.
Brett tried to stop him, but he couldn’t shout. Helplessly, he listened to Mark run and jump down the stairs, until finally going out the inside front door, then the outside front door. Brett heard them close, one at a time.
He laid as still as he could, wishing he could get the sofa-bed off him, not daring to do it himself. He didn’t want anyone else, either, not unless they could both pick it up together. A long time passed. Brett chastized himself for getting into this trouble. He was mad at himself for being as old as he was.
Distantly, he heard an apartment buzzer ringing insistently. Mark had realized by now that the truck was locked, and that he couldn’t get back in the building. Brett heard Mark yelling. Then the downstairs door opened, and Mark started running up the stairs.
Brett heard the door open at the top of the stairs.
“Hello?” said someone, probably the client. It was a woman. “Did you need an ambulance?”
Brett did his best to be heard. “Yes,” he answered, biting off the word.
“I’ll call it,” said the woman.
The footsteps told Brett that Mark was nearly up up to the fourth floor. “Brett, I can’t get my phone,” he said.
“Someone else is calling,” said Brett. He felt a wave of nausea. Then he realized he couldn’t feel his legs.
Appearing, Mark moved to kneel on the steps, where he looked down at Brett. “Do you want me to do something?”
“No,” said Brett. “Just stay there and don’t do a ... fucking thing,” He barely breathed out the last words.
Mark swallowed. “Does it hurt?”
“Not as much as you’d think. I can’t feel that much now.”
“Oh,” said Mark, scared. “That’s not good.”
Brett whispered. “It is what it is, kid. Don’t ... don’t get worried about it.”
Neither spoke. A minute passed and the woman came again to the top of the stairs. “They’re on their way,” she said. “How are you?”
“He’s in a bad way,” answered Mark. “Find someone up there who can help me get this sofa off him!”
The woman paused, and said, “Okay.” She went away and the door above the movers closed.
“Kid, if you try to move this fucking thing off me, I’ll kill you.”
“We can’t leave it on you like this.”
Brett grinned. “Stop worryin’, I said. I can’t feel my left arm at all, and my right one’s just about dead. So am I, I think.”
Mark was really scared now. He’d broken into his own sweat. “Brett?”
“Don’t be a kid all your life, kid,” Brett told him. “It ain’t worth it.”
Then, like that, he was gone.
Mark blinked, and began to cry. It was shock, really ... he didn’t sob or break down. He didn’t take his eyes off Brett’s face, either. He’d never seen Brett look the way he did.
The door opened again and the woman’s voice came down. “No one’s home,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” answered Mark. Then he started, remembering it was what Brett had told him. Mark moved back, walking down the steps until he came to stand next to the fourth floor door. And there he waited. He thought about deciding not to go to university the autumn before. He thought about not starting the band with Fred and Roddy. He thought about ending it with Olivia, four months ago.
He’d decided how to stop being a kid before the paramedics arrived.