Issue 212, Spring 2015
She stuffed fistfuls of her underwear into trash bags while the Detroit city bailiff leaned against the wall and fiddled with his phone. The other bailiff waited outside. Lelah saw him through the front window. He did calf raises on the curb near the dumpster, his pudgy hands on his hips.
She’d always imagined the men who handled evictions as menacing—big muscles, loud mouths. These two were young and large, but soft looking, baby-faced. Like giant chocolate cherubs. It had never come to this before. Lelah had received a few thirty-day notices but always cleared out before the Demand for Possession—a seven-day notice— slid under her door. Seven days might as well have been none this time around; before Lelah knew it, the bailiffs were knocking, telling her she had two hours to grab what she could, that they would toss whatever she left behind into that dumpster outside.
It was the end of April, but it felt like June. The bailiff leaning on the wall carried a gray washcloth in his back pocket, and he swiped it across his brow from time to time. He pretended not to be watching her, but Lelah knew better. He had a plan ready if she snapped and started throwing dishes at him, if she called for backup—a brother or cousin to come beat him up— or if she tried to barricade herself in the bathroom. He probably had a gun. Mostly, all Lelah did was put her hands on the things she owned, think about them for a second, and decide against carrying them to her Pontiac. Furniture was too bulky, food from the fridge would expire in her car, and the smaller things—a blender, boxes full of costume jewelry, a toaster—felt ridiculous to take along. She didn’t know where she’d end up. Where do the homeless make toast? Outside of essential clothing, hygiene items, and a few pots and pans, she focused on the sorts of things people on TV cried about after a fire: a few photos of herself taken over the years, her birth certificate and Social Security card, photos of her daughter and grandson, her father’s obituary.
The second bailiff stopped his calf raises when Lelah walked outside with another box. She imagined that the neighbors peeked at her through their blinds, but she refused to turn around and confirm.
“I’d give you a hand, but we can’t touch none of your stuff,” he said. Lelah used her shoulder to cram the box into the backseat.
“I know you’re thinking, like, if we’re not allowed to touch your stuff, then how are we gonna dump everything at the end.”
Lelah did not acknowledge that she’d heard him. She took a step back from her car, checked to see if anything valuable was visible from the windows.
“We hire some guys to come and do that part,” he said. “Me personally, I’m not touching none of your stuff. I don’t do cleanup.”
The bailiff smiled. A few of his teeth were brown. Maybe he was older than he looked.