31 July 2012
It is a very hot afternoon. When I get home, I unlace and remove my boots on the porch, and leave them there for the night. I give Kieran a quick hug and kiss in the living room then it’s into the back hallway, the laundry room, where I peel off clothes damp and filthy and dump them in a soggy heap onto the top of the dryer. I drop them there instead of the hamper because I don’t want those clothes, soaked in kerosene fumes and diesel exhaust and who knows what the fuck else, to contaminate everything that is washed, the normal t-shirts and and shorts and bras and onesies. In my underwear, I walk through the kitchen to the bathroom. Sarah is holding the baby. I kiss him on the forehead. He scrunches his face, annoyed. Sarah giggles and makes a joke about my extreme farmer’s tan. She does this more days than not. Her favorite joke. She is pale, chained inside because of the heat and the new baby. She's already twenty-five pounds lighter because she’s breastfeeding and bounces a little with each step, this despite being cut open less than four weeks ago. I shoot back with a crabby, self-pitying comment. This is what I get for having this job. This is what I deserve. Sarah titters, tells me to relax. I step into the shower and I let the cool water pour over my head. I’m too tired to jerk off. I leave the bathroom in nothing but my underwear and shuffle into the bedroom where the air-conditioner is running. I fall onto the bed and stay there for ten minutes. I don’t want to leave. Prefer to not get off the bed. I get up and get dressed and I help Sarah wrangle Kieran and I hold the baby so she can make dinner. She scoffs as though I’m joking or being lazy when I call to her from the couch and tell her that Declan is not happy that I am holding him, that he is looking at my face and screaming out of fear. Declan is never thrilled if someone besides Sarah holds him, but this time is different. I rock him and use a soothing voice to no avail.
Sarah comes from the kitchen, apron tied around her waist. She peeks at our red-faced screeching baby.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“You're not holding him.”
“He sound like he’s kidding?”
The screeching dulls into whimpers the second she takes the baby from my arms.
“What am I supposed to do?” she says.
I fall back onto the couch. Kieran is pleading with me to play super-heroes with him. I am having trouble keeping my eyes open.
“Let him cry,” I say.
“I’m almost done.”
“Whatever.” I lift my arms. The screaming fills the room.
The mind drifts, clouds on a day of stiff winds, racing through the atmosphere, changing shape. If I stay at this job, I”ll need to get a house on the beach. Or very close to the beach. Close enough for the cool ocean winds to pour in through the windows. View of whitecaps, boats tied to their moorings, listing up and down with the outgoing tide. I need a new job. Teaching. Something indoors. A climate-controlled space. Maybe I can finish a novel, sell it to a publisher, hustle writing jobs. With what time? What are you doing to yourself? Cut it out.
After an indeterminate stretch of time, Sarah enter the room carrying a plate of food. She trades the plate for the baby, who quits his screaming instantly.
It isn’t long before I’m back in the bedroom, the air-conditioned wonder, darkness closing in around me, the frenetic shuffle of my brain going dead for a few hours, finally, thank fucking god.
1 August 2012
My eyes snap open in the dark. According to the glowing numbers on the alarm clock it is a few minutes past one in the morning. I lay and alternate between dozing and staring at the ceiling until Declan cries for his mother at two, an hour earlier than usual. The crying, weak to begin with, ends as I lift him out of the bedside crib. The boy is in full observation mode, eyes wide and staring at everything as I carry him to the changing table. He does not fuss as I switch the soiled diaper for a clean one. He starts up again when I hand him to his mother. That newborn anxiety of being so close to food (mom’s boob) and being unable to get it himself. I’m not sure we ever entirely outgrow that one.
Mothers, take comfort.
Mothers, take comfort.
Slate-gray skies, threatening. The Weather Channel reports a storm system traveled up the Ohio River Valley, pummeled New York. A tornado may have struck Elmira, NY.
Outside it rains furiously for five minutes, a blinding downpour, and then stops as fast as it appeared.
I kick off the sheet and get up. Sarah leaves the clean work clothes on the dryer where last night I left the dirty heap. The boots I retrieve from the porch. I lace them sitting on the couch. The house is quiet and dark and cool. it will not stay like this. I don’t want to leave.
“We’re losing light in the morning,” Warren says. “Lost forty-six minutes last month.”
Last month being July, today being the first of August. Warren’s lower lip is packed tight with chew. He spits a long brown trail before sharing a rumor with me.
“Don’t pay no mind to all the gossip floating about: there’ll be work this weekend for those that want it.”
Warren’s old-time northern New England country accent is a welcome change to the city accent most around here use, including myself, a clipped thing of little elegance. He speaks simply and rarely spikes his story with curses. The conversation can be wry and eccentric and a little folksy but the man knows of what he speaks, otherwise he remains silent on the subject. If he says there’s work Saturday and Sunday, I believe him.
The news is welcome. Money is tight. Sarah’s unemployment claim is being contested.Sixteen or twenty hours of overtime will help a little.
“How much longer this going to last?” I say.
“Lets see,” Warren says. “Fourteen thousand left to install...we’ll lose a few days at the interlocking and the stations...if we do the stations...the beginning of September, my math is right.”
According my silent calculations, Warren’s answer doesn’t jive. We average about three-hundred and fifty ties a day. Divide fourteen thousand by three-hundred and fifty and you are left with forty. Forty divided by five is eight. Eight weeks from now is the end of September, and that’s if no unforeseen obstacles arise, if our daily average remains the same.
Warren spits again and runs down the weekend forecast for me. Temperatures in the low nineties with high humidity and the possibility of isolated thunderstorms.
Any of those conditions by themselves are tolerable. The combination represents the worst weather I can imagine. But the wife, the kids, the money.
“Welcome to August,” Warren says.
“Yeah, but it’s almost over.”
“August is a hot month.” Warren is a bit taken aback with my comment.
“But it’s the last one,” I say. “Soon the weather’ll change and it’ll start to get cool.”
The days, I mean. The temperature will drop around the time hurricanes are being born in southern waters and christened with names. The decline is incremental. First, the mercury quits striking ninety. The humidity dries. Before long it is September and the mornings are cool enough that we pull on a long-sleeved shirts before we leave our houses. It won’t be long before we are sitting on the couch watching football and happen to glance out the window and it will hit you: Shit, when did the leaves start to change? The absence of heat distracts us from the cold air creeping closer and closer. And by then it is too late. Another summer, gone.
Warren smiles and takes leave of my company when Joe pulls into the yard. I watch the two old men who have worked together for close to thirty years smiles as they bitch about dentists and dental work and missing teeth. Both pack more chew into their bottom lips. Both spit strings of brown into the dirt at their feet.
Most of these guys die a few years after they retire. Some blame boredom or a lack of purpose, and that’s part of it, sure, but not the whole story. The hours and days and months and years they spend around each other factors into it. They are separated from their true family when the working life is done and they go home to brood among their wives and children and grandkids.
It is the distance from their loved ones that kills them.