The machines arrived five hours late with us already working noon to eight. Meant a long night, most likely. Great. Dragging down the week's only Friday. But devoted to the cause because we'd be paid.
"Hundreds of pounds each, these things," said Bruce, and he beckoned us three -- the painter, Wade; my supervisor, Cable; and the eternal intern, me -- down to see. Team lifted out the truck, brought them up with also two large shop vacs, a red box, and some orange extension chords to start. Last phase of a quarter-century-long project.
Attempted a mindful idealization of the prospect while silently watching my muted mentors convene shortly over our objects.
Construction requires collaboration from differently minded and alternatingly expertised people, piecing various girthy structures together meticulously for months. And the margin for error often proves quite wide -- perhaps because of the process, but probably also due to the participating particulates. Pre-designed blue lines on white guide just slightly more than suggestion, fickle human hands left to find the final direction.
Turns out, walls're made of not much but dust. Filled with fiberglass. Then puttied and painted. Prefabs get snagged and cracked upon delivery. Repaired, used as, replaced, or plain sent back. Flimsy materials frame rooms, halls, and ceilings, all held together with jagged metals and angled plastics, velcro, duct tape, caulk, and mastics. Holes might not line up until forced or re-cut. Plumbing, ventilation, and pipe-encased electrical lines get strung and spread throughout like the insane nervous system of a collective idea. Wobbling slightly in the wind, low vibrations where the joints butt, but stable. Trust.
Ten years ago, and fifteen or so after the building had been erected, laborers smeared yellow glue in squiggly ridges over the surface of the second-floor cement. Low pile nylon stretched over that, held along the edges of each room by tacks. Easily vacuumed and trod, the carpet made a buffer between the solid but porous floor underneath and the traffic above, allowing a decade of tenants to flatten the glue deep into even unseeable crevices.
Months ago, different and younger men tore the carpet away.
The commercial building has by now become much more akin an art installation. Except professionally done and functional -- so, not except at all. Our team aimed to shave off the yellow glue and the top level of concrete beneath, so the entire floor might take stain. And a lacquer -- or, preferably, "an epoxy," said Wade.
"Yeah." Bruce remarked, "And much more expensive!"
"We're talking an extra nickel per square yard, B..." the painter pressed.
"It adds up," Bruce waved the topic off an imaginary table and pivoted to open a slot in their circle.
"And lasts longer," Wade uttered low enough to be ignored.
Cable met my gaze and we grinned reflexive, reflective, then phased into our respective positions at-the-ready.
Bruce commenced speedy yet deliberate instruction, like properly drawing the plunger on a pinball machine. A couple half-seconds crescendo to full pull, then release. Pop! We each scattered and bounced around the environment coordinating eyes, feet, and hands as tandem as possible while he pointed, jabbed thumbs, or requested someone sweep this, come hither, and then connect and start the equipment. He took control the large planer and proceeded to scrape, then gouge the cement. Stopped only after visual evidence of erroneous efforts and called forth for the operator's manual as everyone panicked, shut the thing off, and settled.
Cable grabbed two booklets I'd never seen from an unnoticed ledge and handed them over.
"Parts list," Bruce passed the top one back. Cable took a single step and slapped it on the sill before returning to Bruce's side.
"User's Manual," Bruce confirmed of the second thing, gave a thumbs up.
Cable grunted and went to the machine as Wade paced and I followed. Quick check of both sides and we found a small level on the left, set the proper height just as Bruce got that far in the directions. But he grasped the handle to lock it in place before any of us, and flipped the red button, continuing the task as if nothing had happened.
Once the conference room had been mostly completed and the large common area between all the surrounding offices remained only just started, Bruce bid us good night. And good luck. Wade waved wordlessly, smoke blowing out the side of his mouth, a lit stick in his fingers, and slunk to his truck. Neither would stay.
"See you at seven thirty," said Bruce with gun hands and a silver smile, sunglasses, standing beside a stainless steel sedan. The boss disappeared behind a heavily tinted front windshield and cruised away.
"Mother. Fucker," I awed once they'd both gone.
"Yeah," Cable agreed as he removed a blue box from his pocket, prompting me to peruse my own. Found a bent one. Lit it. We stood under a lowering sun in the parking lot, alone. But with cigarettes.
"You hear that?" I asked.
No response but exhaled smoke and a raised eyebrow.
"What?" Cable spun slightly on heels to face me, squinting softly.
"He said something about seven thirty," I expounded. "Like... in the morning."
He rocked on his feet, took a drag, and turned his face toward his original heading a moment before quickly snapping back. "Well, fuck that," he uttered, "I'd rather work until seven thirty. Go all night if we have to..."
Mind read. "Me, too."
"Just knock this out, know what I mean?"
"I'm not waking up at seven on a Saturday," I said. "Not after working 'til midnight and playing PlayStation until two."
"Alright," ended his cigarette but held onto the butt. Grasped his hips, belched, and said, "But I'm gonna need a drink."
"Oh?" I asked.
"Even better," he leaned toward me, "If we had some weed."
"Oh." Pause for disguise. "I agree."
"Yeah?" Eye contact.
"Oh -- I don't have any right now, sorry. Between dealers..." I shrugged. "Kinda had a falling out, I guess..."
No response from Cable except continued leer.
"Kinda dating the ex-wife of a mutual friend... And, I guess he's more friends with the ex-husband than me." I shrugged. "Can't sell to me, or whatever. Nbd."
"What?" Both eyebrows.
"'Not a big deal.'"
"No," he blew smoke. "I mean. What!? That's childish." Pronounced, 'chuldish'
"Oh, I know. He should just not tell him about, I say."
"...Or grow up!" Put his cig in the dumpster, "It's alright." Began walking away. "I know where we can get some."
"Oh..." trotted after him.
"But you'll have to drive."
Most every metro has secret streetways known best or solely by its denizens. Highways cut quickly to destinations with threadbear scenery, skipping neighborhoods by slicing through or circumventing. Nothing living on either side except billboards and fast food, gas exists. Cable knew many direct routes around Riverside, Parkville, and Gladstone that a GPS device might never suggest. So, even during a personal excursion with me at the wheel -- he gave the commands.
And I follow gladly those who trailblaze down paths I'd never have noticed.
"Gotta go to the Kansas side," he muttered. "Across the bridge."
Brief merger onto I-635 South and the box below the seat beeped. Brandished it and blew into the mouthpiece when prompted. Left hand on the wheel. Signaled right to continue onto the sweeping overpass that branched west and into the sunflower state.
"No," Cable said. "Stay in this lane."
So instead we exited onto an arch over brown water and into industrial KCK as the sun slipped quick beyond our right horizon. Sparkling silos and warehouses winked together on the other side of the river. A sea of twinkling lights set in asphalt. Broken glass and natural gases.
"Wow," I mused aloud. It had probably been waiting there a long while, but I'd never seen it.
Kansas City resides half at the top right, gnawed off corner of its namesake state and half on the upper left little ear of Missouri, bisected by the river. Bridges traverse the broad, curving gash like thin and far between stitches.
Finally dropped the little box into a try under the seat as it displayed my BAC: 0.00
"Is that camera always on?" I asked, pointing at the top right corner of the windshield. A tiny white rectangle with a little black lens hung there, wire strung down to the floorboards.
"Not sure," Cable slurred.
"No," He said. "Just when the truck's running. It's there to make sure the person driving is the one blowing. Don't worry about it."
Cable delt directions half a block before each turn and pointed out locations important to his own lore. There were many turns. And even more places he'd once worked for, on, or with a guy who worked for, or on this or that property fading past us. We eventually arrived outside a predictably disheveled house at the end of a deserted, unlit street. Parked facing uphill along the left-side curb and stopped the engine.
"Kill the lights."
I fidgeted around the steering wheel until he told me where. Turned a knob counterclockwise three clicks to black. Full night, but with generous moon presence. Not a soul or empty husk in sight. No glow in the windows of any residence.
Waited for further instruction, but he gave none. Just popped his door and got out. Leaned back in the cab and asked if my phone had a flashlight.
"No," I admitted.
He unplugged and tossed it into fumbling hands. Caught and tried frantically to be unintrusively useful, sans questions. Swiped the screen, no lock code. Dragged the toolbar down and selected the torch icon, which turned the backside camera's flash into a steady beam perfect for late nite larceny. Followed to the darkened porch when beckoned.
Lighthouse and lookout.
The outer door had a torn-out screen as its bottom half and a smudged, adjustable pane of glass on top. A corroded steel handle hung broken and unlatched. Wooden, white flaking front door beyond that left unlocked. Swift swing and push, no knock. Cable did a hand beckon even though I was directly beside him.
Just inside the entry stood a mattress wrapped in dusty plastic. Went around to a path along the northern wall, walking with light held high. Sidestepped between stacked boxes and blanketed furniture. Sheetrock walls broke the square house into segments. Navigated through a kitchen and horseshoed to the front again but in a storage room.
Cable indicated along the way which windows and walls he'd installed. Lost count, not paying attention.
"The house caught fire shortly after he bought it," Cable said. "It's supposed to be his mom's place. Has his own down by the plaza. Insane pad -- you should see it. Keeps the best stuff there, but I know where his stash is, here."
He checked several identical containers from a shelf, each with a shallow tray under the lid and deeper compartments beneath. The fifth container had an eighth or so ground into a heap in the hold and papers in the top. Cable took two pinches of the mess into an empty cigarette box. Well, this certainly felt wrong.
"That enough?" He asked.
"Be honest, now."
Pause. "I feel like we should take all of it or none of it -- you know this person?"
Cable's face creased with severe disappointment and puzzlement, followed by a quick shake of his head. "He won't mind -- Look at these! They're like rice paper," he held a few up for me to see. "Three of them?"
"Should be plenty..." said sweating and ready. "Let's go."
Cable replaced everything except our requisition, and we left.
The absence of conversation does not become uncomfortable between two like men. Drove the way back with no need of telling or much speaking at all. Only during a spot in the middle did he reveal that drinking could no longer be his buffer. It had put big brother in his vehicle and the wife on his ass.
"But I gotta have something," Cable reasoned, looking sideways, the only time we made eye contact on the drive. Blinking big glassy blue ones at me from the passenger seat. "Something to break it up..."
"The monotony?" I guessed.
"The routine, yeah. Everyday life. I can't just do the same thing... all the time. Feel the same way... all the time. It's not like I need it, I guess, but..."
"It's boring otherwise," I agreed. "To always have the same filter on."
"Or no filter," he mumbled and shook his head. "Just raw."
Blew a couple more times and made it back to the property well into the evening, unsure how to proceed. Never been in such a situation. No previous experience from which to pull cues. Singular context. My social interaction requires prior example from television, movies, or the past. And practice.
Had my hands brandished absently so he passed the supplies before getting from the vehicle and taking a long dip from an upside-down bottle, clear liquid bubbling. I rolled a thing. When he came up for air, he joined me and we rolled another each. Teamwork. He tucked the two fat ones into a half full blue box, and we shared the first on the spot. The grass burned low, a streetlight glow, but buzzed euphoric and energetic enough, allowing us to gradually find ourselves steeped in hazy perspective.
Heads held high and proper tools in the truck, we peeled out parallel yellow lines on blacktop toward the building to make that glue into dust.
Dim domes hung high above an algae-covered deck at the northwest corner of the building, which led to a handleless and blue-painted secondfloor door. We approached this entrance in silence, dual solitude. Cable clicked his key FOB against the plastic pad beside the entry, bent at knees and waist to grab the bottom edge, and pulled the door open.
"Nice," I told him.
He dropped a wooden wedge in it and we smoked first.
"Doesn't have much to it," Cable critiqued. "Not compared to that stuff my buddy gets out of Colorado. Whew!" He made a chopping motion toward the peak of his forehead as if to shave off the uppermost curve of skull and scalp away, revealing braintop. Instead of grey matter out spewed rainbows and fireworks.
"Oh, sure! I probably couldn't even find something this low grade in California," I added for corroboration. "But I like it... For here. This could be a tobacco replacement."
"I like something that works with a one-hitter," Cable decided. "Just one and I'm done. Easier to keep secret."
"Right," I agreed. "I'll appreciate any grade given -- kinda like with pizza."
"Damn," Cable bounced his fist on the wet wooden railing. "We should order a pizza."
"I'm ordering one right now," I said while activating my phone's data. Went up the dusty stairs tapping and swiping the screen on my device, being blinded by brightness. Had to find the best price possible, and on the right website. Typing in all my information, no apps or logins. Worth all the hassle just for the forty-five minute countdown. Ringer volume to the max. Halftime alert.
The inside LED lighting seemed much brighter at night. And no other contractors around, no tenants at work, had the space uncluttered and quiet. Until we got into place and began our little zone defense plan. Cable, as usual, made equal amount suggestion and command.
"Which one you wanna run?"
"Doesn't matter to me," I stated. "They look the same. But, Bruce said the green one is supposed to be more powerful."
"Get on the red one just to feel it out. We'll switch in a bit."
"That's orange," I told him.
"And this is green?" He jabbed a finger at the one in front of him. "Looks blue."
"Well, teal." I put my palms in the air and added, "So, same difference." Or, different sameness, I thought.
Cable and I tested each machine briefly, but then we split to find some headphones -- which I agreed he would need. Already had mine. A playlist going. Took the moment to refine and cull tired tracks. Added some electronica to cut the hip-hop and quicken my pace.
Cleaned until he returned muttering about leaving them at the shop.
"Go get 'em," I encouraged. "You'll want those," although I didn't remember what he was talking about.
He left with keys this time and I stayed, sang to myself, danced, and tip-toed about the bright and vibrating building, grinding glue. Thirty minutes went by in fifteen and Cable returned, triumphant and drunk. Asked him for the keys, pretending I'd need them shortly to get my charger (and never went). He stood sideways, slipped his sunglasses off and used the headphones to keep his hair back instead.
Did the same with my overgrown mane. Steadied. Set our sights and began again.
The vacuum linked to each grinding machine were meant to prevent too much kick up, but dust still got everywhere. Filled the air as we took turns forgetting to switch on said vacuums while grinding. Caught each other equally and cleaned between intervals. The vac traps would fill, need emptying, and extra dust would settle over the floor all the while, anyway, disguising our progress. Scrape a nice matte finish and sweep it away to find a shiny, partially glue-covered floor still waiting.
"Well, fuck!" Cable said each time.
Four long chords strung behind and beneath us as we pushed the machines. Each plugged into a semi-portable breaker box, a conduit cable connecting it to the electrical room for direct amperage.
"Stagger them," Cable had told me as he attached each line the first time. "A machine on this side, with its deal -- the vacuum -- plugged in above or below it. Each side of this is it's own... uh, socket. Has a max amp of seventy-five, per side, I think. I don't know. Any case, two machines on the same side will blow a fuse..."
"I heard the electrician saying something about that, yeah."
"Ok, so keep them like this."
Cable steered his machine over and under the chords as he went. He switched machines with me at whim, usually to see if he could remove the glue that I couldn't (or wouldn't). Then trade stations again. He crisscrossed the lines repeatedly. Overlapped and wound them as I followed tripping to untie and prevent knots. Restrung them straight and untouching as often as possible between stints.
Phone rang in my ears. Pizza here. Told Cable.
"Alright," and he returned to his work as I took the elevator down. Hailed the driver. A hot box delivered with standard greeting, tossed him cash. "Keep the change," I straight said instead of mumbling. Back up, ate grub, and in each our own headspaces, resumed the grinding.
Tangled lines ceased once we began separate rooms.
Although the blades scraped instead of cut off the top layer which we trod, the mechanisms themselves handled and resembled lawn mowers quite a bit. The best motion became a hairy sort of back and forth line like unpracticed pencil artists might make, drawn across the concrete same as a front lawn.
"It's like mowing concrete," Cable yelled over his shoulder.
"I was just thinking that!" I laughed.
He turned off his machine and lowered headphones. Slapped the vacs off as I followed suit.
"It's like mowing concrete," He repeated.
I laughed. He joined.
Left the lines and shapes behind. Scurried down the hall at an angle and slid a whole story down, feet kissing each step to the back door. Blazed a rollie amid ambient drizzle but stood mostly sheltered by the canopy above. Trees and vines grew from the steep hillside underneath and beside the deck. Scene bathed in sepia. Neither of us spoke. Went back inside to the conference room full of couches. Lounged in a chair but couldn't wind down.
"Just taking a quick rest," Cable said.
"I'm gonna keep working, actually."
Snores began immediately.
Moved the machines around for roughly three hours before checking on him again, then we both slept until my five thirty alarm. Roused the disheveled supervisor for a ride home and not a thing felt different when my head hit the pillow. We'd made off like ghosts. Collapsed onto my sheets fully clothed, and passed out. Toast.
The first call came from Cable around noon. He told me not to worry about it, we weren't working after all anyway. Dead air Tambor of his voice no hoarser than mine, so I said, 'great, okay.'
And signed off with, 'sure thing.' Hung up. Laid back down again.
Wade called so quickly after that I hadn't been able to even dream of reclaiming sleep, although sprawled in bed fully ready. Rarely alone or home late enough for such a stretch 'cross the mattress. Sun high however wasn't glinting through my windows or pushing warm against thin eyelids. Perfect overcast snooze could've been mine, but I swiped on the green encircled phone icon.
The background display rippled away from the arc made by my thumb.
"Wanna work today?" Wade asked. Someone laughed, background of the flat rectangular box at my ear. Wade's shush shushed the static while I stood alone on my side of the phone, cold and silent. In my precious alone. "Hello?"
"Cable said not to worry about it," I tried.
"I just got off the phone with Cable," I elaborated. "he said not to worry about it."
"Ha! Yeah, well." Wade let out a crossbreed of whistle and snort. "Cable won't be there. Bruce, uh... Bruce ain't too happy with him right now. He won't be working... this weekend, anyway."
"...Alright already. But why? What happened?"
"Got here at seven this morning to check on the floors and found Cable passed out in the conference room..."
"So, Bruce got there shortly after and found him, too. He came right up to me and said, 'Cable been drinkin' ain't he?'"
"What? How would he even guess that?"
"Because he slept here last night... couldn't drive his truck home."
"He drove me home just this morning," blurted out my mouth. Type of thing uninclined and unprepared to lie about even as a big fat liar, writer outlaw wannabe, because it had only been an innocent covering of trail on his part. Nothing wrong inherently there. However flagged suspicious behavior, apparently.
Because, elongated pause. And probably a silent dose of shushing all around him, otherside of a wireless cellular connection. "What'dyou mean he drove you home this morning?"
"We worked all night -- until like three in the morning."
"Cable said five!"
"Well, that's when we left. We slept a little before that. Maybe that's what he meant."
"And he was drinking?"
"Not in front of me," Partial truth. "And even if he had, it didn't really affect his work. I don't see what the big deal is..."
"Bruce wasn't too happy about the floors..."
"Yeah," nodded and paced. "And he isn't gonna be happy because it never scrapes like he thinks it will -- Those blades need to be changed or sharpened often, and that's not an option."
"I know, I know." Wade chuckled. "We've been dealing with it all morning. Bruce doesn't want to use more blades than necessary but we probably need them all." Commentary from background voices. "Hey, speaking of: Did ya'll put on any of them new blades last night?"
"No," relieved to be so quickly back in no-need-to-lie land.
"I knew it..." Wade said.
"What?" Had to ask, and add, "we were about to, but decided we should ask Bruce. And it was like two in the morning. Not a good time for judgment calls."
"I knew it!" Wade repeated. "There were new blades on one of the machines. Just three of the four, though, so it was grinding uneven -- Cable said you did it! He must have done it when he got back, probably drinking more. This place was a wreck when we came in."
"It kinda was when I left last night," I said. "I dunno."
"Do you want to come in with us when we finish lunch?" Wade asked. "We'd pick you up at two. Don't worry, gotta be done by six. I'll pay twenty an hour for this."
"Damn, yeah. Alright."
"And I'll pay you cash."
"I already said yes."
He laughed one ha and said, "See you at two." End call.
Crap. How predictably I'd collapsed under the guise for more foothold in an everlasting, cyclical gauntlet of death and rebirth. Money may stop the bleeding if there's enough to apply pressure on the wound, but the cuts of a materialist are self-inflicted. The only escape from gnashing teeth awaits outside the machine.
Short slumber dreams seem more vivid and grounded compared to abrupt actuality found in waking unexpectedly, especially when roused by text message vibration. Chilled sweat on my skin subsequent so much subconscious, nonsensical self exploration. Twisted in blankets, and had to locate my material frustration regardless of insight fading. Pawwed under pillow and pulled out my phone. Contact named simply The Painter said, "Bout 2 b ther!" And shortly after, Wade added, "5 mins.."
Noted the redundant punctuation and shorthand for later cross-examination.
Rolled sharply to my feet. Stumbled into socks and shoes, sat, strung laces through the top three sets of eyeholes, alternating right string left string until the embossed emblem on the tongue became hidden behind bottom cuffs of scrunched jeans. Ran outside to my waiting ride as the text arrived, and rode behind shotgun.
"Hey," greeted people.
"You're late," blurted a familiar buzz cut waiting in the seat beside me. His whites visibly rounded momentarily as our eyes met and we both began incongruent expressions of mirth. He for different reasons than I, but both of us because we'd met before and hadn't expected to meet again.
"Waiting long?" I asked.
"No, we just got here!" Wade assured me, set the vehicle to drive.
"I technically got here first, anyway," I couldn't help pointing out the alternative fact.
"We took such a long lunch," lamented the blonde bucket-headed front passenger as he pivoted to peer over shoulder, into the middle row of seats.
Buzz Cut chuckled redfaced although unshy, "I was gonna say, 'we're late!' to mess with you --actually --, Wade. But I couldn't remember who we're allowed to mess with, and if it included him. So I panicked." He smacked at Wade's shoulder with fingertips and snickered at the awkward swat he got in return.
"You can't mess with anybody!" Wade said. "I'm the only one knows when's it's appropriate."
"Bull!" called Buzz. "You're the one got me confused."
"Because he's constantly messing around -- but when you finally call him out he's telling the truth all the sudden?" I asked.
"This guy get's it," Buzz vouched.
"You remember Miller," Wade motioned toward the blushing buster beside me, who grinned and thrust a hand into the gap between us. I didn't, so I put my hand out, too. Wade continued, "and this is my son, Bud." He and I also made a representational exchange of trust by momentarily unequipping weapons and clasping hands. The quintessential American shake.
"Just Mill," said the first kid upon palm contact. One pump, drop.
"Peace be with you," Bud recited with a blank-faced, light and clammy jitter of just fingers from the front seat.
Automatically gave the updated response as I took my hand away, "And with your spirit."
Badly timed stop sign brought us skidding into an odd pause. Skeptical side blink from Bud before he laughed once, left Mill leering openly beside me, and Wade craning his neck back, head tilted.
So often this happens throughout my extruding existence. Last passenger aboard the train, bus, plane, or shuttle filled with extroverts, chatty chimps, investigators. Periodic irony reminds me that the universe laughs, too. Fine.
"Didn't know you were Religious...?" Wade tried first.
"Is that really what you say back?" Asked Bud, again turned to look at Mill and me.
"Thought it was, 'and also with you?'"
Could have easily let it pass, claimed ignorance or error, and retracted. But I had that snap of energy you get from jumping up and out of bed. The momentum of action and hunger for battle.
"It's supposed to be a truer translation from the source -- a change of clarification," I attempted. We passed through the intersection, Wade's eyes flicking from road to rearview mirror waiting for elaboration on his own question. "And Religion is like a user's manual for the spiritual life. Which means optional and private, in my opinion."
"I don't usually read the manual," Bud interjected.
"It shows," Wade pointed out.
"Yeah, but who reads?" Mill asked. "Or believes in god anymore?"
"You probably believe in God or gods whether you know it or not," I shot back. "But that's not the only type of spiritual life -- man is a sentient, interdimensional being who has a relationship with the intangible by merely recognizing it, as in gravity, love, the mind, the soul."
"Aye," Wade wagged a finger. "Man was forged with a god-shaped hole inside. So whe'd always have that hunger."
Bud said, "Gross."
Miller looked the same amount of skeptical he had from the beginning.
"As far as I'm concerned," I said, just to him. "Belief in aliens is the same thing as belief in god."
He considered this a moment, but said nothing.
Autopilot guided my bodily reactions and answers to questions from there until we arrived at the job site. Gear waited for us in the largest room. Wade made further comment on the Cable situation. I had the mower in position and all the lines drawn nicely.
"Hey, I'm just saying." Wade always ended long conversaions in this way, when he mispercieved exhausted listening as disbelief. Just because I'm not cheering doesn't mean I don't agree. Tactical to withhold interest until I know who my friends are, and who are my enemies. "He got the last guy fired for drinking on the job -- John." Wade paused. "And now he goes and does the same thing, I don't think that's right."
"So you told Bruce on purpose?"
"No, but I ain't gonna lie." He stood back. "I've been working with Bruce for more than twenty years. Cable been here just a couple and he gets an attitude with me? That's what tipped me off about it. Kept getting snippy with me."
So you told on him, I thought. Pressed play on the device and started grinding the glue and concrete away. Interrupted an hour later for a smoke break, conceded. Jawed automatic with the guys on the back deck, Bud nor Miller smoking but present. And Wade said more things the way they were.
"Look out," he advised. "You might be getting a promotion soon."
"Don't say that."
"Why not? Bruce is a good man to work for -- you'll learn a lot." Wade had told me this before.
"And the money is there. What's he got you at now? Thirteen?"
"I don't know," ended that line of Qs.
The boys started in about their own dead end jobs for paying rent. Overtime and overspending. Amazon, Hulu, and/or Netflix. Excess going toward endless consumption. Didn't matter what any of us made, really, we'd spend it all on something.
Headphones blaring, back to grinding. This time with a handheld diamond bit held horizonal. Planed room edges for three sessions and caught a ride back home, tired. Messaged the girl and soon welcomed her.
Didn't tell her what had happened or how I felt, just held her. Kissed, too, which can be too much communication. A diversion from without. Mere skin on skin contact exchanges different types of energy our words cannot. The naked membrane not as thick as we think, and through neglect maybe even gets thinner. Weak to intense feelings. Brainwaves transmit through proximity, so touch must be that much more sensitive in intimate spaces. Mindmelding on levels we cannot articulate because the information goes by unknown names.
Phone rang and standing in the corner already, with nothing else in mind, answered. Damn the inventor. Had the present by its haunches and lost it volintarily to hear far away updates, followed by alternating directives, lectures, and questions. Waves lapping against each eardrum, but oddly unerosive by the end since I moslty regarded the interaction as a surreal observation. The partiarchal unit actually hilarious when viewed from an outsider, listening-in perspective.
My father told me his overall plan and recent activity in such areas, as usual. He then suggested missions toward his own legacy and ideals, since I had none. Questioned my answers to questions. And voiced occational doubt at my statements in general, fact or opinion.
"Oh, and while we're at it -- what is this?" He asked near the end. I could feel his middle finger pointing at scribbles on the legal pad in front of him. He sat two thousand miles away, at my grandparent's kitchen table surrounded by stacks of papers and pictures. "They said when they fixed grandpa's bathroom, the drain, the plumbing -- that they found a spoon. A plastic spoon."
"In the toilet?"
"Why would that even be in there?"
"No, I mean in the bathroom. Who takes a spoon to the toilet?"
"Especially a plastic one, that doesn't seem sturdy enough..." I joked.
"I also saved that sandwich from the fridge, and the other thing. The thing you'd cooked and left in the pan." He paused for my comment, but I refrained. "They were both so old when I found them they were already growing... So, yeah! I wonder how spoons get to the toilet."
The laughter on his side of the phone crackled with premeditation.
Fair enough. I pitched in some chuckles, too, and added, "I hope they're both growing nice and big. Living there was basically..."
"Which reminds me!" he began again. Often things he says reminds him of other things he's said or been thinking.
"... uh, an experiment." I finished, for the record.
"Did you leave a gel in the fridge?" He inquired, worried. En edible of some kind was likely, so I said nothing. "Like a red gel in a plastic container? Little leaf on it."
Yep, but said, "No idea."
"Well, you'll see when you get here."
"Look forward to seeing you," he barked.
"Mhm, call me if anything changes."
"...things are always changing," I told him.
"I'll call you."
We left in the afternoon, after a long snooze and some smoke. Had a snack or two, then loaded up the Kia Soul. Road trip with the brotherly unit. Like every other person in my life our time together had become a microcosm. Few other regular participants. More people around means broader language needed, watering down of ideas. While a familiarized couple speak a sort of dialect.
Or, they have to translate back and forth. Which helps hone that shared language beyond spoken words.
"Didn't know if you would want to listen to a podcast or some music on the way?"
The prospect of either when proposed by someone else meant an opporunity to learn, for which passenger seats provide the perfect space. So, selected podcast, please, and tucked my legs. Hands rested on thighs.
"I'm glad because I waited to listen to it when I heard they would be talking about the eclipse."
Oh, right. I'd forgotten our journey's main goal because I'd applied so many other optional tasks on myself, and had been roped into more still by our hosts. The trip felt already long coming and singular although St. Joseph was so close.
"Figured we would drive until it ended, then head over to Dante's house?"
"That sounds fine, we're still leaving early and he doesn't expect us until six."
"And I thought maybe we could invite them to a walk when we get there?"
"Okay, sure. Like in the neighborhood?"
"Anywhere. Just to chat. I feel it goes smoother with a friend-turned-stranger when there's a passive activity."
"Plus, his fiance kinda is a stranger. To me, at least."
"I do not know her name."
Told him and swiftly away we rode north and west through Parkville toward Westin. Our beloved online mentor Duncan Trussell spoke to his guest about the upcoming eclipse, it's perhaps historic nature, and the sheer magnitude of the human animal in regard to such events regardless of import. Our little hometown had completely sold out of hotelspace for the monumental solar eclipse. It happened to be the closest city in line geographically to view a complete blockage of the sun by moon, and be plunged into a midday midnight for several minutes Monday afternoon.
The listen and drive took longer than we planned and we arrived at our cousin's without discussion of the events to come.
"Sometimes it's better that way," my brother said. "Time to digest."
"It's best to digest upright," I reminded him.
"Right," he parked his Soul. "We should suggest the walk first thing."
Family and friends -- all packs of humans found, given, stuck together, or otherwise surrounded and involved comprise a network of influence and reflection necessary for our engines keep running. As a platitude: social interaction excersizes the heart, like running the car kept in the back lot. Leave it cold too long and it might not start.
Long expanse between interacting had us walking a while around a northern circle in Hyde Park. Short drive there and back, forgotten talk. Mostly about jobs and hobbies.
A board game and movie, then sleep.
Except the Brothers Two who each stayed up seperately, smoking their own stash and detatching from the fabric to locate self. Cast adrift and picked from the waves by an eldest cousin, his rented ship decked full of fluff and fireside comfort -- but the front and back doors open during the storm and I'm splashing against the walls of the living room, ghostriding a sofa. Tabby cat I'd not been able to catch earlier clawwed an armchair. An archway between us and the kitchen, which was also the doorway to a perpendicular hall between the two bedrooms, made a fulcrum for the teetering apartement to totter. Exponentially the waves came, washing ridden furniture into the kitchen and back out toward the patio exit.
At a crest, when the sofa poked out the back door and held there with water blasting past it and out into the street -- I jumped. Slapped against the sidewalk and flushed out into the blacktop street, and washed onto King Hill.
Hiked north to downtown St. Joseph. Kicked an aluminum can around for a few hours and returned to find the apartment undamaged from the storm -- merely a precursor.
Our family slept soundly still and the sun only just started to illuminate the sky when I finally rose from the sofa, sore in the feet for some reason. Cat kept waking me and I heard my brother getting dressed, so knocked on the guestroom door.
"Can I tell you about my dream?" he asked me, first thing.
"Wherever I was -- it may have been here, or deep under the ground. Perhaps in the black center of a raincloud. And a storm was raging. It was far from me -- miles, but I could feel the moisture. The splashing. Could hear the crashing of lightning, or waves against cliffs."
Then he said nothing else, and sat on the guestbed.
I stared at him a moment, then said, "me too."
He met my gaze but otherwise didn't alter his posture.
"But I was in the storm..."
Then he sat up straighter and laughed softly, then nodded. "Of course."
"It could be because it stormed last night," I suggested, pulling down the slats of a miniblind into a triangular porthole. Outside the sky still roiled with clouds overhead, but opened to the east. Sidewalk away from the building had a much darker tone than that which had shelter from overhead balconies. "Although, perhaps it only rained."
"Oh," he said, peeking out.
"Wanna go?" I asked.
"Figured we would leave them the morning since it's Dante's day off and Karen goes in late."
"Right, plus we'll be meeting them for lunch with the rest of the family."
"Could use more headspace?"
"Precisely." He grabbed a packed day bag. "The storm -- real or in my head -- kept me from thinking past the moment of the eclipse. When the moon blinks out the sun, which already leads me to what I've wanted to tell you all night! But, to the Soul with us first!
"Aye, aye," I replied.
And we scuttled out onto the aft deck, to his tugboat tied there. A white Kia Soul under temporary possession, and well sailed. Few knots on her.
"So, what's this blinking thing?" I asked him.
"Ah," he mused. "The moon is earth's eyelid, let's say. I heard this theory somewhere -- somewhat. When we blink, it's a psychological reset. Closing ones eyes for even longer almost causes automatic meditation, especially when paired with silence. And sleeping, the longest shut eye, literally transports us through time."
"And brings us dreamtime -- the ultimate in mental rest."
"Right," and added. "This is basically universal. And even if someone were to keep there eyes open and stay up all the time, there's still the night which resets each day."
"Cool, where is this going?"
"The eclipse," he revealed.
We circumvented downtown St. Joseph by way of highway 55, which overlooked the Missouri River. A double-decker highway giving view to also the old style midwestern metro. A couple low domes, brick blocks of apartments and offices -- indistinguishable from one another, surrounded along the highway sides by factories, warehouses, and open or abandoned lots. Few pieces of trash, clutter, and no homelessness visible -- but neither booming, nor busy, nor important beyond its own walls.
"Did you know that Kansas City finished building a bridge over the river before St. Joe, and that's why it's so much bigger? Why it excelled to metropolis level. Because it beat its competition connecting to the other side. Like a singularity, but for down there and kinda a black hole for around here..."
"That kinda lead to the next topic," Luc confessed.
"Right." I sighed. "So, the eclipse?"
"It's like a giant blink."
I laughed. "Because it's in the middle of the day? Night is to sleeping as eclipse is to blinking."
"Pretty much," he shrugged. "And more importantly -- it's involuntary."
"More like shutting your eyes through a sneeze..."
He turned his head toward me slowly, as if under enormous strain. "What?" Then he turned to look at the horizon, where the sun rose. It'd just broken the distant, violet and violent cloudcover blowing our way. Overcast surrounded on all sides. "Wow."
"Hope those don't block our view..." I mumbled.
"Yeah," he sighed. "Luckily it won't matter, for the blink anyway. And I think being here is still important. To be in the path of totality."
"What an exaggerated term for it."
He laughed, "What's that song?"
I also laughed, "Total Eclipse of the heart?"
We both laughed. "Yeah!"
"So, the seond thing?"
Merging onto Saint Joseph Trafficway had always come abrupt for a highway overpass -- suddenly, kerplunk -- the vehicle found itself at groundlevel after just cresting about a hangar and silo, and now residences and commercial businesses strafed the street. A school. Bars and churches dotted either side, every other one abandoned and boarded up, the next neon lit in just one or two windows, usually saying only: open.
The second thing is state of mind -- and the idea that that might be the next evolution. Perhaps this blink will affect us fundamentally, but either way, minds are changing," he widened his eyes. "And the last time an eclipse like this happened in America..."
We both sighed after an elongated, yet comfortable, quitness down the road. Pointed out to each other the few familiar places we recognized approaching Krug Park. The not famous (except in town) Christmas light show location, home of the weirdest zoo, and a man-made lake set next to a hillside stage. Were it transported to a big city, there would be iconic photographs taken of it to be displayed, eventually, in another city's museum.
His little box took the one-way, single lane road to the right and around the lake in a wavy line, hugging the rocks and cutting through thickets of trees. Disuduos and Evergreen.
...hurry, cloud coverage and a rooftop party...
Actually we were able to leave immediately because all the traffic left town earlier disappointed and my brother finally started with, "Do you know about the lizard people?"
Sat passenger facing outside and tried a maybe, "You mean, like, Crab People? Er, an alien species that lives among us, in the shadows?"
"Yeah! Well, kinda. Reptilians is what they're called. Apparently, they don't exist here physically anymore -- or never did, at least in the dimensions we are able to perceive... But they still have a hold on the planet. The reptilian mind is reactionary, you know?"
"What I heard or read was that they came here from their own part of space because of the growing intensity of their sun or equivalent. And, like, either through annialation or exodus... they came here in some form. Living among and through us, maybe, as an underlayment or possession in some cases. Anyway, they are weakened by the sunlight. And I just realized that the part of the eclipse we got to see, that last part, is supposed to have been a surge of energy enough to sever their hold over this planet..."
Looking at him by then and asked, "Literally?"
"Yes, and!" he winked. "True or not it's an interesting idea."
"Yeah. Solar flares," I agreed.
"Solar flares are explosions on the surfaces of the sun that transmit tremendous cosmic energy."
"Sure," I wasn't. "But I don't think they affect earth beyond our outer atmospheres."
He nodded and gripped the wheel.
"Imagine if they controlled us from orbit or something? That'd be crazy."
"Well, satalites and stuff get the brunt of even the worst earth-aimed flares but don't tend to contract radiation poisoning from the exposure like sentient beings do, I guess. And maybe being other dimensional incarnations means they don't have atmospheric protection anyway. It's pretty nuts that we barely understand light and how it works -- only just figured out for sure it's a particle and a wave less than a hundred years ago. That's recent!"
"A particle and a wave?"
"Yeah, Einstein made the discovery. He got a Nobel prize in Physics for it, not for his more famous theory's -- which is also nuts."
Tuesday, back to work.
Didja see the eclipse?
We had a good view of it down here.
Cable backed the truck into a downed tree behind the office, Bruce told me. "If he'd been drinking that would have been the end of it, but he passed a blow test. Don't worry." A hand and forearm draped my shoulder unaskedly. "He'll screw up again, sooner or later."
Such a slight pause hung between that and his next string of statements that I didn't realize what he'd said until long after a timely response. So, I'd said nothing for or against. Maybe still evaluating.
Wade pulls up in his van, grinning.
"Well, hey, Junior! Where were you yesterday?"
"I had a doctor's appointment," I lied.
"Where was that?"
"St. Joe," accidentally told.
He popped out of the driver's seat and on the pavement in one shove of the door.
"You can't park there..."
"You just happen to go to St Joe for a doctor's appointment the day of the eclipse, eh?"
There isn't usually a quick way out of scenes with Wade, so I gushed a little and wove in some other true things that would corroborate a not planned trip to see family and get a free physical. Depending on how you scrutinize the words used, it could go either way, lie or truth.
"So you saw the eclipse then?" He gave me side eye.
"No, we missed it." I said. "It was overcast all day."
"Every hotel filled, it musta been hell getting out of there.
"Most people left early because of the rain," I said.
He laughed, "And rained out! Damn. We saw it pretty good down here."
I hesitated, then asked, "but did it go fully dark?"
"It got pretty dark," he nodded.
"That's not the same thing."
"St Joe was in the path of totality so it got completely dark during the eclipse."
"So you saw the eclipse, then?"
"No," I insisted. "But it was hard to miss nighttime in the middle of the day."
"Just hope you had glasses," he sighed. "Bruce brought us all glasses he'd gotten at HyVee or something."
Self-assurity allows such coincidences pass unnoticed because although the trip seemed mostly like an aberration from a reality that promised all the same things, the difference is that we went after our own version than wait around for what's given. Neither way is better than the other, as displayed and explained quite furtively by both Cable and Wade, I needn't have lied or driven far away for anything. Could've had all that and more, gotten paid.
But the function of simply going away had all the effects I'd wanted already.
Removal from a situation to better observe it. And being back after missing a bonding ritual with these people helped reset my perception to objective. Said goodbye to Wade and cable both, that's alright I have a ride.
Rode my bike home.
Monday return to work.
Bruce said, "Hey, you're up early."
"Didn't want to be late since I've been gone and leave again soon..."
"That's alright," he tucked his clipboard into an armpit. "Is he late like this often?"
My eyeline followed the jab of a thumb. Through the thin and tinted window. No truck waited beyond. "Oh." Turned back to Bruce and said, "Almost never. Why?"
"I've always said if I had two good men, I could build an empire," he said with a clap on my shoulder. "Sooner or later, Cable will screw up again. Then you'll be in charge!"
The moment hoovered just long enough for the chemical reactions within to steam forth, "Hopefully not," I blurted, "because I dunno if I could do this job without him. We really pick up each other's slack, you know? And he knows a lot more than me."
"Always time to learn," Bruce assured me. "And the more you can learn from him in the meantime, the better either way! Let's get to going on this..."
Given permission to take the truck home in the evening.