Two men in French blue overalls knock on the door and mumble something important. Something will happen. We cannot hear them though. I am drinking coffee and I try to open the door, one hand balancing the coffee, the other struggling to close the door enough to release the chain lock. But they’ve walked away now. I say, Excuse me! But it’s to their backs.
The next day we wake to find an large earthmover parked in the drive. A mound of dirt blocks our door from opening.
We don’t panic, but it’s odd to be trapped inside. I climb out the window and walk to the warehouse next door. I see a whirl of activity. I walk in the roll up door and talk to the workers, some anxiously moving, some sitting distractedly in canvas camp chairs. Some in overalls, men and women both, some wear business casual. In my significant voice I ask: What is this? Is it a film? (There is a camera on tracks. A large man with a baseball cap that says “Manchester City” sits on the seat behind the Dolly.) When will it end? What about dirt in our driveway? (These are reasonable questions! I tell them when I am ignored.)
I think the shrugs of indifference are from shlubs who look like workers who build spreadsheets, carry iron boxes of tools, handle a web of cords and wires, and answer phones that do not ring. I see a scrim further back in the warehouse. A woman with long black hair is carefully painting on it. It shows a bright green earthmover parked in front of a large mound of dirt blocking the front of a house. The house looks much grander than ours, but the similarity is unsettling.
I walk to engage the woman. I try my easy, low-pressure voice. I’ve learned to use the tones of vocal fry and upspeak, a lightness. It seems speaking like this makes me stick out less and gets better responses. That’s so pretty, the way you paint. It’s literally what’s happening to our house next door? So, yeah, do you know what this project is, when it will end? She gives me a blank look. She looks back down at her hands, flecked with green and brown paint. She looks up again and now has the Mona Lisa smile. It means she’s nothing to say to me.
I turn to the back of the warehouse. There’s an animated conversation there. I can hear the voices raised in either excitement or anger. I can’t make out what they are saying. I walk back, though as I approach them, the group stops talking, and disperses. Something I guess was resolved, or they are avoiding me. They walk away from each other and from me. I look at one, at the other, then I stop.
Further back a man, taller than the rest, older than the average of this crew, walks out of an office door. The door is half glass, but the glass has a green paper covering it. In cut out letters, like a ransom note, it says “Wrap Party Depends on You.” A woman brings him a tablet she turns for him to inspect, and she points to something on it. He leans forward, carefully considers what is shown there. His left hand touches his chin, rubs it thoughtfully. He looks up at the woman, she turns to look at me, He turns to look at me as well. He turns to her and slowly nods his head.
He’s saying yes? He’s saying he understands? Is it a directive, an approval, an answer to a question asked on the iPad? So… yeah, something has at last acknowledged my presence. This gives me more energy, more urgency. I walk toward him.
Just as he turns to walk back in the office I call out, “Hello, you seem to be the guy in charge, can you help me?” I tried to use the light voice, but I hear the tightness. My voice has braided anger and anxiety.
Just as he begins to close the door I reach the threshold. I push against the ransom note. He looks up at me, surprised. I am from next door where you have blocked our door with dirt. (This last does sound slightly indignant, I cannot help myself. He’s about to disappear behind the door.)
He looks at my hand on his door, preventing him from closing it. With either kindness and disdain, maybe even pity, he shakes his head. Though really it is not shaking yes or no, rather the symmetrical wobble used on the Indian subcontinent. A loud clatter sounds in the front of the warehouse, I flinch and turn around. I can’t see what’s dropped. I turn back and he’s closed the door.
I try the door, but it’s locked, of course. I am aggrieved now. These reasonable questions deserve answers, I think. I just want to know what this project is!, I say to the locked door, and the manager, or Director, or Producer, whatever he is, does not answer.
My phone dings. I pull it out of my pocket. I’ve been venmoed money. The note says, “for the dirt.” It’s more money than I make in a month. Perplexed I start to drift back to the front roll up door, my eyes adjusting to the bright sunlight outside.
Now the mound of dirt has been in front of our house for months. (The earthmover disappeared overnight weeks ago.) And the warehouse is completely empty now. No sound coming from it. It’s quiet again.
I can’t complain. I won’t. I am stronger now, my spine limber, upper body worked out. It’s because I have to climb in and out of the window several times a day. I am afraid if I move the dirt, I’ll have to pay the money back. I’d say thank you if they returned. With my happy voice.