The two month delay because of the strike meant the real estate developers were way behind schedule to get 120 townhouses framed on their big Rowntree 3 project. In order to avoid stiff fines for not having the homes ready for their buyers to move in on time they had to get the project done in a ridiculously short window of time. As a result they were paying top dollar and brought in any and all guys who could swing a hammer. Diego could swing a hammer. He could also stand around with his hammer in his hand and talk while you work. You would think he was single and had no one to talk with at home and so he used work as his therapy. Paco wasn’t single either, he just looked that way. His family was back in Guatemala where he hasn’t been in the three years he has been in Canada.
“Donde chingados esta mi coche?” said Diego, freakin out. “NO me dices esto,” he says, with his eyes scrunched shut and pulling on his short black hair. His new-to-him cobalt blue (no sunroof) 2016 Chevy Cruze is gone. He stood still for a few seconds playing a very brief mental movie in his mind called Fear.
Fear of his girlfriend/mother of his daughter cell-yelling when he wasn’t home by 5:30. If he was driving he couldn’t text but when he declines her call that drives her crazy. Then he would text her to say he would be another 30 minutes and she would think to herself why is he texting if he is driving. Or maybe he isn’t driving, he is with una vieja and I’m gonna pull his hair out and feed it to her and pull his hair out and feed it to her.
Then, according to the script, when he gets home he can expect:
‘I told you not to get a car. You know you can rent a car for like 80 bucks a day so to take my mother to Niagara falls you don’t need a car. So you can’t say it was for me or for my mom or for the baby. It was for you because you don’t want to wake up early and take the bus.
‘Or stand in the fuckin cold at the bus stop,’ Diego, the pudgy whiner, imagines himself saying.
Paco looks at the screen on his cell and sees it’s a call from Diego – he already regrets recommending this guy to Gus.
“One second Gus,” Diego turns away and sings as much as he talks his greeting. “Que pasa hermano?”
“Alguien robó mi pinche coche. Vieron algo?”
“No me dices esto bro,” said Paco without caring.
“Preguntale brother,” insists Diego.
“When are you gonna learn English cabron?” said Paco.
“Askem bro, por fa,” said Diego thinking his Spanglish would help his cause.
As Paco drops his hand with his phone to his hip he puts it on speaker.
“Hey Gus, Diego’s car is gone. Do you know anything?” Asked Paco.
Gus motioned with a quick flick of his chin towards the side street beside the job site.
“No idea. Remember. I told you earlier. Tellem – Don’t park there – they will towem. And fuck me. Looks like they did just that,” said Gus, restraining a stupid-people-do-stupid-things-laugh.
“Is that what you yell this morning?” asked Paco.
“Ya. I saw you nod and smile,” said Gus. “So I thought whatshisface would move his car.”
“Porque no me dijiste pendejo?” Diego heard everything over the speaker.
“Where take it, you know?” Diego yelled into his phone so Gus would hear. His love of his car overcame his fear of speaking English.
“You gotta phone the city. They impounded it. Shouldn’t be too far.”
“Impounded? What the fuck,” cried Diego.
“Diego buddy Tabarnak, they towed it. That’s all I know.” said Gus looking at Paco with wide eyes that asked ‘who the fuck is this guy?’.
“How much pay?” persisted Diego.
“Dunno. Couple hundred bucks maybe.” said Gus accepting his steaming hot coffee, “Thanks Dimitri.”
Gus was a few years older than Paco but both of them were in their 30’s. Over the past few years they had been on a few projects together. Gus liked Paco but didn’t make friends on the job because when push came to shout Gus couldn’t have any favourites. But there was that one time when the concrete guys saw his name on his hard hat and started talking shit like, ‘Paco, where’s the taco?’ and all of them laughing. Gus in a very calm voice actually said to their foreman.
“If you and your fuckin clowns don’t shut it and say sorry to my guy then there might be an engineering report that says the drainage is not to grade and this whole slab needs to be repoured at your expense. And I don’t think your butt ugly money grubbin boss is gonna like that. Are we clear?!” Said red faced Gus staring the foreman straight in the eyes.
“We are,” said the pissed off foreman.
“I want to see you in the site office now.” Gus yelled at Paco,
At this point Paco had been with the company only a few months so he wasn’t sure where he stood with management. Once in the trailer Gus keeps talking,
“Did you hear what they were sayin? Calice” Gus swore in French. His French is still really good but he only uses it for choice swear words.
“Is no big deal,” said Paco.
“I am not going to school those fuckin morons on Latin cusine am I?”
“No,” agrees Paco, having no idea where this was going.
“Guatelmans don’t eat peaches tacos,” said Gus pacing around the trailer with the awareness of his poor pronunciation but in the moment he felt he had earned some cultural credibility by trying to swear in Spanish.
“You are so right Gus,” said Paco wondering if this out-of-character burst of Latino solidarity maybe came from a previous life when Gus was a Mayan curandero.
So now when Gus gave the ‘kill it’ signal with his hand at his throat Paco took it off speaker.
“Diego, come back and I will help you later,” said Paco and hung up.
“Hey Paco, what did you think I said?” asked Gus.
Paco laughed at himself and shook his head.
“I thought you say, tell Diego he’s a fuckin toad.”
“I said – tell’em if he doesn’t move they’ll fuckin towem”.
Maritza was gonna kill him. It was Diego’s first day on the job and he was losing more money than he was making. He relieves his self inflicted stress by comforting himself they will start receiving the child tax credit very soon. Diego says once the baby arrives she will want a car. But she says they have a bus stop right out front and the No Frills supermarket is 3 blocks away. She keeps repeating that you don’t need a car in the city. It’s a waste of money according to her dad.
Maritza remembered her dad being there in person for her eighth birthday. While he worked in the US for 6 years they would Facetime but it felt weird. It was sad when he would sing Las Mananitas on her birthday. As he sang her mom would bring the gift that he sent money for from Oregon where he was driving a tractor in a vineyard. He was close to Canada but never went there. He figured the Americans would grab him at the border before he crossed. He should have tried, he says to his wife now that he has been sent back. If they wouldn’t have let him travel to Canada then they just would have sent him back and it is the same result.
He got deported when he got in a car accident in town with a lawyer who had been drinking. The car accident meant he came back home which made her happy but that is where Maritza got the idea cars were a bad idea. Plus the maintenance. But when you get one, if you can’t afford a good one – don’t buy one.
Her dad taught her English even though he and Diana, his wife, knew that meant she would be more apt to leave when she got older. Also he wanted to prove that being away so long has brought some benefit to the family. He had sent more money than he could have made if he stayed in Mexico but he hadn’t been there for the childhood of their daughter and son. Or for their marriage. At least he came back. He was faithful to his family – to his wife not so much. Reynaldo, his son, was bad at school but good at soccer. He was a good striker being tall for his age. He didn’t show potential so he had no future as a pro player. It was fun for now but difficult for later. Maritza was the bright light of the family.
Before she gave birth Maritza worked as a Cook A in a restaurant for 2 years while Diego would spend about 6 months in each job. She worked till she was 7 months pregnant and then couldn’t handle being on her feet all day. The restaurant liked her from the get-go and had offered her a full time job after a few months. That way she could apply for a work permit. Diego also got a work permit being her common-law spouse.
She was really scared when she got pregnant. But now they had to rely on Diego’s income for the whole family. Maritza knew that was a recipe for a stress fueled, argument filled disaster. She needed something she could do while the baby was sleeping.
Also she didn’t know, maybe they would cancel her work permit and it wouldn’t give her enough time to apply for permanent residency. Rhonda, the manager of her restaurant location was so supportive but it was not her decision – it was the owner’s: Mr. Jackes. But she would speak to him. He had various restaurants and other businesses on the go. Maritza knew Mr. Jackes was a lawyer and had met him briefly once when he came to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
A few weeks later Maritza was tying up her apron and looking at her belly when Rhonda called her into the tiny, cramped office. Rhonda motioned to the only chair in front of the desk.
“Have a seat Maritza. How are you doing?”
Feeling fine,” she said, seated on the edge of the plastic chair rubbing her belly. “We just had other doctor’s appointment, all good,’ she said, putting two little thumbs up in front of a weak smile. “But obviously I’m nervous.”
“Yes, of course. Obviously no heavy lifting. Get Clifton or someone to help you,” said Rhonda.
“Yes, thank you very much.”
“Listen Maritza, I talked to Mr. Jackes last week. I explained to him your situation and I told him you were an excellent person and an excellent team member, fast learner and that it would be a good idea to find a way to keep you on board. And of course for your work status right?” Rhonda looked into Maritza’s dark anxious eyes. “So he called me this morning and he had a very interesting idea.”
Maritza nodded as if she was riding a bike on a bumpy road and wrung her hands.
“His idea is for you to transition out of the kitchen into an IT role. Updating websites with promotional materials for his restaurants and stuff like that. What do you think?”
“Wow, sounds amazing. Thank you so much. Because…”
“Because in a few months you can’t be in the kitchen all day on your feet.”
“Yes, of course,” Maritzasat back and laughed, then she breathed a huge sigh, then she cried as the stress left her body and joy germinated – all in succession over the course of ten seconds. She looked at Rhonda and smiled and suddenly she hiccuped. They both laughed.
It was Diego’s first day on the job and he was excited. Not so much that he found a job. That was good too. It was the first day he had driven his car to work. Sunday night he texted Paco offering to pick him up even though it was 20 minutes out of his way. Paco said he was good taking the bus. Diego parked close enough so he could keep an eye on his car but not too close so it didn’t get splashed with mud. At 7:30 in the site office he showed them his certifications, took his orientation and then tied up his work boots while Paco waited for him outside the trailer. Through the open door he could see Paco outside talking with Gus the site supervisor.
“Qué dijo, el jefe?” asked pudgy Diego.
“Que eres un sapo,” said skinny Paco.
‘Raro tu jefe.”
“Mira, como ellos me pagan entonces ‘no complaints bro’.”
At 10 am the coffee truck driver honked his augmented air horn so they dropped their tool belts and Diego took off to check on his car. It’s like taking your headphones off when D leaves. The guy talks nonsense nonstop, mostly about his car and rarely about work.
The house they are working on today backs onto an established neighbourhood with mature trees. Standing with his tool belt dangling in his hands he breathes in and holds his breath to maximize the impact of the autumn morning fragrances of wet leaves and mineral mud. Since they cut down the majority of the trees there are only two little pockets of trees on the site. He is on the second floor and looks right into the back yards flaming red maple leaves and the tragic yellow from the aspen.
You could say its not worth it walking all the way to the gate, lining up for coffee and then walking all the way back. There is no time to even drink your coffee. The point is to get coffee and everything that goes with it. Giving your shoulders a break, stretching your legs and shootin the shit with Dimitri the coffee guy. He should teach marketing classes or something because he makes the whole experience uplifting. He wears an apron over his heavy sweater today but it’s funny to see when he wears it under his winter jacket. He has a personaized brown baseball cap that says DC Coffee whe nthe ‘DC’ actually means dimitri’s coffee. Somehow he remembers how you like your coffee out of the probably thousands of guys he sees each week and he knows when to up sell you a sticky danish with an extra coating of heartburn. He talks hockey with the Canadian guys but Paco doesn’t really care about hockey.
Paco walked alone for ‘a block’ along the muddy/gravelly road towards the gate. The smell of the mud transports Paco to when he was six and seven years old. Swimming with his brother and cousins in the Motagua river thet squeezed the silty mud between their toes, brought it to their hand and threw it at each other. He misses the emotional logic of being with his family, part of his land and living his culture. If he can’t get them to come here in the next two years then that’s it – he will go back to El Porton and start a business. Some kind of tourism because he sees there is so much money here that people have no idea what to do with it. Just look at D and his stupid car he doesn’t even have money.
Gus fell in step with Paco as they turned the corner and got in the short line for coffee. Gus was great until he wasn’t. He was cool 80% of the time and red faced maniacal when he felt he could lose his job because of some dumbass sub-contractor.
Gus’s first ex-wife divorced him exactly because of that explosivity. His second ex-wife would have said the same thing but she up and left him right before their second anniversary. She didn’t need or want anything from him. Ex-2 wasn’t going to let herself get impregnated by this guy like Ex-1 did. Then she would be divorced from the guy but still get infuriated dealing with him about things like who is going to pick up the children from daycare.
Ex-1 and Ex-2 knew each other because of the weekend visits with Gus Jr. so it was funny but the second person Ex-2 called after walking away from Gus was actually Ex-1. They got together for coffee to commiserate and so Ex-2 could dish the truth about Gus. Before he tried to micromanage the weekend visits now that he was single with no maternal figure in his home for Gus Jr.
Gus’s construction management skills had not helped him express his desire to make his wife-of-the-moment happy. The honeymoon with Ex-2 was over before the wedding reception finished. Six months later Gus drove solo the six hours up north to attend his grandfather’’s funeral. Gus was named after his grandfather Angus. His grandfather was a hardass from Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec who worked the copper mines and didn’t seem to say much to his wife in French or English. Maybe that had something to do with Rene, Gus’s dad wanting to work on the railroad – to get out of town and get a fresh start.
Manon, Gus’s sister, had already driven home because she lived close by. Gus was staying the night and driving back in the morning. He sat in his funeral suit on the living room couch where he watched Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday’s he opened up.
“Hey dad… How do I even say this?” Gus moved his bum to sit on the edge of the blue velvet couch. “How did you cross that threshold from wanting her to be happy, to making her happy?
Rene held Gus’s eyes as long as he could with a look of love that needed to be listened to.
“Son, I don’t know if the X-factor to our marriage was that I needed your mother more than I loved her or the other way around. Or maybe we were just a good match as a man and woman.”
“But there was, is an ingredient, that in the moment,” Gus searched for the right word. “Secretes understanding into your brain so you understand. Or at least do the right thing.”
“Things have gotten that bad?” asked Rene.
“Ya.” Gus fidgeted.
“So this marriage is based on love… not like the last one,” the locomotive engineer drove his train straight ahead.
“That hurts but I can’t really …” then Gus interrupts himself, “I am lost. On the job site I tell guys what to do based on the blueprints and they do it. If they don’t, they get a tongue lashing. They know it, I know it – no need to argue. No grey area. Only blue.”
“Well, that’s useful,” said Rene, hearing his wife’s voice in his head, ‘Help Angus honey, talk to him – he’s doing it again.’
“I just focused on work when it was time to work and on family when it was the priority. Maybe it skipped a generation but you turned out more explosive – like grandpa.”
“This is the kind of stuff I need to hear, I need to know this.”
“Maybe my work gave me the kind of satisfaction that allowed me to be the man I needed to be. I know you like getting stuff done, but does your construction management, in the city, bring you satisfaction?”
“It’s a little late to be asking that. I mean I bought into the whole industry, the training, the contacts I’ve made.”
“You can pivot. Picture it – you’ve got the puck in the slot but you don’t have a clear shot so you send a quick pass off to your winger down low, pivot on your back heel to get around the defenceman and he passes the puck right back to you and boom it’s in the net – top cheddar.”
Gus was reliving the rush of his hockey days from his dad’s analogy and losing the whole point.
“Have you ever tried skating in figure skates?” Gus figured that his dad knew that the answer was no. Gus had been a good hockey player growing up in New Liskeard and his parents would drive literally hours in northern Ontario from town to town through crazy snow squalls at all hours. Because his dad was away for work a fair amount his mom did the bulk of the driving. Sometimes other parents would give Gus a lift so his mom could stay home with his sister instead of dragging her along on school nights because she wasn’t staying home alone.
“Figure skates have a coupe of sharp points in their pick you can use to do graceful twirling jumps. Manon wasn’t a poster child for graceful figure skating but she did quite well. My point is you can use the pick to fly up, or if you catch the pick on the ice you fall flat on your face. Or you can kick someone in the shins if you really get angry at them.” Rene paused again, waited for the light to go and then he spelled it out.
“It depends what you want. What kind of man you want to offer those in your life”
Gus nodded his head as he was impressed at the clarity and poetry of his railway engineer dad.
Rene felt guilty that he didn’t know his son and that his son had no inkling of how emotional scrabble worked.
“I don’t know if you ever met Mark, he drove train too. Way back in the early days we would go where they sent us and sometimes have a layover at the same time. Well, he said the funniest thing to me, and this was some 30 years ago now. He liked games n actually brought a mini scrabble board with him. If you didn’t keep yourself busy on those layovers it just became a booze fest and that was not a good mix with having to drive a train the next morning. So we were playing Scrabble which he would always win n so he is gatherin all the letters, those littlewood tiles, n he says, ‘but I think you are better at emotional Scrabble’. Obviously I asked him what the hell is that. So he says,
‘Emotional Scrabble is when you want to communicate something of value in the moment so you access the resources available to you. In emotionally Scrabbling, you share your resources and it helps others as well as generating fresh ones for you. If you don’t use your emotional energy creatively and sincerely,’ He paused as he sorted through the tiles, turned a few over as he searched for the letters he wanted, and then put them on the two wooden tile benches and showed me, ‘then you get random letters like: n,o,l,o,s,t,w and u,b,i,t,t,e,r. ‘I have seen it happen’ he says.
So when it came to dealing with Gus, Paco just kept his head down, his mouth shut and did his work. His dark green hard hat has his name on the back was his security system so no newbie can show up hungover and steal it.
Gus fakes remembering Paco’s name but actually just reads it on his hard hat.
“Hey Paco, how was the weekend?”
“Love this weather bro, not too hot, not too cold,” said Paco.
“It’s the bugs man, hardly any. That’s why I moved to the city.
“Where you from?”
“New 6-hours-north-of-here. Hey, how’s the new guy workin out?” asked Gus.
“He knows his way around a job site.”
“Cuz if he is any good you can bring four more guys like him tomorrow.” Then Gus lowered his voice a bit as if he was privedeging Paco with the inside scoop, “We gotta fuckin knock this one out fast and dirty if you know what I mean.”
Paco and Diego met last year at the Plaza Latina when they both went to get their haircut Saturday morning.
Diego stepped into the barbershop with his untied work boots and unzipped orange winter jacket with its hi-viz reflective stripes. Even though he wasn’t working he wore his work clothes. Diego did it as a signal to his girlfriend Maritza, that he was serious about getting a good job. It didn’t fool her.
The basement barber shop was a tiny 10’ x 20’ space with two red barbershop chairs. The two plastic chairs for the people waiting were squished together in the corner so it was easy to see what the person next to you was looking at on their phone. Paco was watching videos of high speed trains in China going 400 km/h. Diego was watching the construction bloopers of building materials falling off of a forklift. How do people catch that stuff on video?
“Nada más se están filmando los forkleaf con la esperanza que algo se cae o que?” Asked Paco peeking at what Diego was watching.
“Si guey. No trabajan – se quedan con el pinche celular en la mano todo el día para hacerse un famoso Youtuber.” The Carpenters’ and Allied Workers Local 16 strike had just ended. Neither of them had been allowed to work as a framer for almost two months. Paco wasn’t never going to risk it and take on any non-union jobs. So in the meantime his buddy squeezed him onto a crew working commercial demolition. He liked the change of scenery and it gave his wrists a rest from swinging a hammer. But he needed more money and wanted less dust so he was happy when he got the call to go back to work. Diego picked up work here and there, mostly painting. Paco was back at work the day after the strike was called off but Diego was still looking. Which was strange considering the need for framers. Paco should have taken it as a sign.
from the Short Story Series Tool by Kevin McNamara
“What did Andre say?” asked Manuel. Looking sideways at Oddie as he walked he twisted his ankle on an offcut of 2 by 4 and almost fell. “Fuck,” he said break dancing into his balance on the wet plywood floor.
“Careful bro,” said Oddie as reached out his hands to catch him. They were out of whack having sat through the two hour rain delay in the trailer. “I hate this when our day gets shot to shit.”
“So what’d he say?”
“Andre? Not much, just shootin the shit.”
“Bullshit, you guys talk all friendly til Gerry came back.”
“Ya, he was asking me how the project was going.”
“Did he ask about Octavo?”
“He asked about the team, nobody specific.”
“That our work speaks for itself. Well built – on time – no drama.”
“I can’t remember,” said Oddie, getting irritated and dropping his hands to his side with the palms out. “I think he nodded his head. Said nothing.”
“Whad you say?”
“Bro, it was actually a private conversation. Is there something you want me to say to Andre?”
“Where is Octavo?”
“In the shitter.”
“He just went.”
“You sound like Gerry.”
“Don’t insult me.”
“I think there are some shiity nails that need hammering on that far wall.”
Andre had zeroed in on Oddie when he dropped by the job site earlier this morning as the rain ended.
Andre explained Gerry had been with the company around nine years and was a known quantity. Meaning he was known not to take initiative or develop a strong crew. Everyone just came to work and did what they were told yesterday.
“Kind of like a government employee,” said Andre. “But this is actually a business.”
“Ya I have seen him in action,” said Oddie by way of agreement, not wanting to sound negative. Andre had stopped to ask Oddie questions on his site visits before. But those had been in the flow of work. This was a targeted convo. ‘I’m glad, thought Oddie, ‘he didn’t buy me a coffee.’
“Listen Oddie, you’ve been with us for what a year?”
“Ya, a little longer.”
“What do you think of us, as a company?”
Now it felt like a job interview right here on the spot. Which was fine because it was so much better than having to take a day off work, wrap a tie around your neck and find a place where you can print off a copy of your resume.
“Lots of work and the pay is always on time.”
“Cool,” Andre nodded, leaving space in the conversation purposely as if he came home from the supermarket carrying empty shopping bags. It’s amazing people will say really revealing things to fill that awkward space.
Oddie didn’t take the bait. Andre liked that.
“I am looking for a fixer,” said Andre, looking Oddie right in the eyes and let that sink in a few seconds.
“A guy we can rely on. We have several projects at various stages of development,” Andre continued, now sounding like a politician. “Sandoval lost his shit the other day because we had to push back the delivery date on one project and the company is gonna be fined. So I had a meeting with the other PMs and we agreed we needed a fixer. Someone we can dispatch where and when needed. I brought forward your name.”
“The Fixer. Sounds like a contract killer who comes out of retirement for one last job kind of movie,” Oddie regretted his attempt at humour as he said it. Andre winced.
“You, I have seen, slash heard, provide solutions. You can think on your feet. And you know how to work with all kinds of people,” Andre said, tossing Gerry under the shadow of the bus with direct inference to his small mindedness but also Oddie’s ability to work with people who didn’t speak a lot of English.
“So, it’s a new position in the company. Nobody has done it before. It will mean a pay raise but I don’t know exactly what the salary is yet.” What Andre didn’t mention was that the job had not even been proposed to Sandoval, much less approved. Once he saw the efficiencies it brought to each project he would yell at the PMs less. Hopefully.
“So it’s salary and not hourly,” Oddie inquired about the money.
Andre tilted his head forward to look over his safety glasses at Oddie.
“Brother,” said Andre with slow words following each other like there were in rush hour traffic bumper to bumper. “I don’t know, who it was, that put limits, on how you think: parents, teachers? But, I suggest, you exchange those limits for goals. You’ve got a damn good opportunity here.”
“Very cool, very cool,” said a nervous Oddie matching Andre’s vocabulary while wanting to sound appreciative. “What’s the next step?”
“Well, take some time to think about it and talk with your family. Are you married?”
“I live with my girlfriend.”
“Ok. well you guys talk it over. Here’s my card. Text me and I will call you back.”
“Perfect. I appreciate this. When do you need to know?”
“ASAP. You are my choice but there are other candidates.”
“Ok. and what is the actual job description would you say?”
“You’re the Fixer – so you fix what someone else broke. You’ll get from job site to job site as needed. You could stay somewhere for a few hours or weeks, if you see what I mean. Putting out fires, filling in if some assshole just walks off the job. You bring a good vibe so the whiners don’t infect the others.”
Oddie wasn’t sure of the meaning of the word caveat; maybe, at street level, it was like bait and switch.
“And you know, PR – for the company. The eyes and ears of head office. Since you are salaried you are paid for driving between job sites and you expense gas and a certain amount of car maintenance. We will cover all that down the road.”
On the bus ride home Oddie was doing somersaults – ‘Trina is gonna flip. She doesn’t want to invest in a car right now. Sure when we have kids but she wants to focus on developing the app and finding funding – It’s more money and lots more contacts – she has to see that. She can focus on the app while you bring in tons of industry knowledge.’
“You’re gonna be a jack of all trades and master of none,” said Trina, closing her laptop as she stood like she didn’t want her screen to witness her arguing.
“So there is no conversation?” asked Oddie.
“Dude. I thought you understood the trajectory of this project,” said Trina, sounding like Andre. “And our lives.”
“Exactly, that’s the point. Our lives can use the money and the contacts of my new position,” said Oddie.
“The position! the point is, where is your focus?”
The focus of the moment was the fury that fired from their eyeballs at each other.
“Your focus is out there,” yelled Trina, her frustration thrusting her arm up at 10 o’clock. “We need it in here,” Trina now pointed to the closed laptop. The air was hot with argument but still within a domain of recyclable love.
“The app needs someone who is all in and I can’t go all in if I am working construction. And we both know we can’t afford to not have an income. Unless you have a rich uncle I don’t know about.”
“Speaking of uncles, does this have anything to do with your uncle Mo.”
“What the fuck. Why do you ..?”
“Well?” said Trina.
“Listen. This is not a problem. This is a good thing. We need to decide about growing. So can we please not, not dramatize the whole thing with other issues? That would be an unfair disaster,” said Oddie wondering what a fair disaster might be, as his brain looked for an outlet to the pressure.
“You’re right. It is definitely not a problem. You want that job – you take it,” said Trina with fatality on her lips and both hands on her hips.
“Why in God’s name are you shining some bad light on me because the company wants to give me a promotion?”
“Listen young man,” said Trina, causing Oddie to stand up straighter than a scarecrow. “I think you’re better off not subcontracting God to do your dirty work.”
In the pit of her stomach Trina felt one of her inner lives jump overboard without a life jacket.
“You’re making yourself out to be a mistake maker,”
Regardless of the love that travelled between them on their many threads of endearment – something was broken. The first thing the job offer as the Fixer had done was to break their relationship.
Their fights had been stupid misunderstandings from where they would ease back into loving and being loved. This fight started out implicating Oddie for not focusing on their app project but somehow got hijacked to be about them. If the silence earlier today between Oddie and Andre was engineered to be awkward then this silence was free radical, spontaneous. And veering towards disastrous.
For the first year Trina will insist, in the boudoir of her life vision, it is unfair. But after the initial disillusion and hurt she will repurpose all that energy to be a catalyst for greater self reliance and success. Oddie will settle into convincing himself it was a fair disaster. Only a matter of time before their ideas usurped their need for each other’s kind of love – till their differences took them in different directions that couldn’t co-exist in the same relationship.
From the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin Mcnamara
The rain was neither here nor there. The thing was, which was becoming irritating, Gerry. How is he going to react?
“D’you check how long the rain is supposed to last?” asked Oddie
“All fuckin morning,” said Gerry.
“Gerry, we’ll be in there,” said Oddie over his shoulder as he ran to the trailer. “Let us know if you go on a coffee run,” said Oddie from the top step.
“I’m gonna leave the door open cuz otherwise it gets too steamy,” said Oddie.
“Bro, that guy sucks the energy right outta the room,” said Manuel.
“Jou know what I mean, moron.”
“How do you say moron in Spanish?”
“Imbecil,” said Manuel motioning to Octavo to take a seat in the trailer, “Sientate guey.”
“Imbecil. I was expecting something with more, you know, meat, less English. More insulting.”
“That’s more like it,” said Oddie smiling.
They took off their wet hard hats and shook off their jackets putting them over the back of the plastic chair.
“Si nos pagan por estas horas verdad?” asked Octavo.
“He’s asking if they pay us to sit on our asses?”
“For an hour. Any longer than that and Gerry will panic and send us home.”
“Que tiene en contra del Herry?” asked Octavo.
“He’s asking what you have against Gerry.”
“Nothing really. It’s just ya know. Nothing wrong with therapy but the construction site isn’t the place. He panics, usually for no reason and we always deliver results regardless of what he fears or thinks.”
They broke out their lunches even though it was only 9:30 am and ate to the sound of crinkling aluminum foil and slurping coffee.
Oddie’s phone pinged on the dirty, white folding table so he picked it up and disappeared into the screen.
To Manuel rain meant mud which smelled of the minerals of home which transported him fast and far. He leaned forward in his chair as he picked at the dry skin around his fingernails.
Octavo leaned back in his plastic chair, joined his hands on his belly and closed his eyes, soaking up the peace he got from being on a good team and the satisfaction of working with his hands.
Octavo was sliding into snooze mode and Manuel was staring out the open door when he heard Oddie talking to himself.
“Yashmal kula shay,” said Oddie.
“What’s that bro,” said Manuel.
“I’m no exper but was that English?”
“Are you doin an hechizo on me?
“Hechizo, you know, like magic n all that.”
“No, no no. I’m learning Arabic.
“Cool. Are you going to Arahbia?”
“Is Arahbia coming here?”
“No, Arabia! Is not coming here. Stop being stupid.”
“But is so easy for me.”
“I’m… Listen,” said Oddie and he paused as he breathed in deeply.
“My uncle got me into studying the Quran.”
“What’s that like?”
“Cool. But …. I am lost. It’s so .. big and ..”
“What jou say? A minute ago in Arabic”
“Oh. Yashmal kula shay. It means ‘encompasses all things’.”
“What does encompass means?”
“Does that bring jou closer to God?
“Less call him,” said Manuel, spreading his hands apart above his shoulders like it was a banner, “‘The big guy, in the sky.”
“Well I want something more than this shit,” Oddie kicked some mud off his boots.
“I’m with you bro.”
Octavo yawned and stood up, stretched as he put on his jacket and went out to the port a potty. The rain had let up a bit.
“So, tell me abou the Quran.”
“I don’t know. Its ancient, is huge it’s mystical and its confusing.”
“Sounds like Gerry,” said Manuel laughing.
“Ya! Minus the mystical,” said Oddie smiling.
“I listen to a couple of these guys talk about their experience and they reference the Quran. It helps to guide them in some kind of higher purpose they say. I don’t know if those are my kind of words. But, anyway, I can feel something.”
“Impulse. Ya, I guess. It’s an urge but it’s not mine.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know – who else could it be?”
“Is annoying no bro?”
“It’s annoying but, annoying like when you’re in high school there is a cute girl but she is really stuck up, but you still are attracted to her, you want her. Why do that?”
“What is stuck up?”
“Your God is arrogant?”
“No bro, not at all. It’s the feeling I have that annoys me. Like I need to do something that takes me beyond. But what?”
“Beyond, that sounds far out.”
“Ya . Beyond the daily grind.”
“Was daily grime?”
“Trabajo bro,” said Oddie. “That’s why Gerry is so annoying. Not him. But the feel of the cloud that is always over his head. That there is nothing more to life than a shitty job bro.”
“Bro you need a anger management session at the pub.”
“That’s the thing. It’s not anger at anyone. It’s, it’s frustration that I, there isn’t a person I can talk to, you know, someone to…”
“The church has priests.”
“The church also has lawsuits because those priests can’t keep their hands off little boys.”
Octavo stomped back into the trailer, shook the rain off his jacket and took his seat. His entrance broke the flow of the conversation so they just sat there in the musty yet gritty trailer air. After scrolling for a bit Manuel spoke,
“I read the bible.”
“You read the bible now or you used to,” Oddie sought clarification.
“When I was jung.”
“What did you get out of it?”
“Well it was the bes way to talk with girls because the mamas approved of bible class.”
“Honestly, is like I remember nothing. But I have this residuo of believe.”
“Residue of belief. I like that. And how does that impact you? My point is do you have, do you feel an impulse, impulso?”
“For answering the call. It’s like I can hear my cell phone ringing,” said Oddie, putting his hands in and out of all of his pants and jacket pockets. “But I don’t know which pocket it’s in,” said Oddie, hunching his shoulders.
Octavo understood very little but the conversation caught him. He listened to them with his eyes closed as if it was the World Cup finals on the radio. Manuel pulled on the various hairs in what passed as a beard and sat up straight. He hadn’t thought about this stuff in a long time so it was really clearing away cobwebs in his mind.
“Bro, is like the daily grime is analog and belief is dihital,” said Manuel.
Oddie sat there a while with his elbow on the table and his chin on his fist digesting Manuel’s pronunciation and then the concept.
“No. Is like Defi.” continued Manuel with his next analogy.
“You mean like crypto?”
“What does Defi mean again?”
“Decentralize finance. And that iss what I think you are talkin about. Taking control of your shit, your destiny. That way bro, jou discover what has value for jou, here,” said Manuel as he sent his right hand into the air imitating lift off. “ And for jour beyon.”
Autumn rain fell on the trailer roof as the soundtrack to this episode of connection. Their phones forgotten, they could hear their own breath as they picked at dirt on their boots for a while, sipped coffee.
Oddie walked to the trailer door and looked at the lumber skeleton of the house they were framing. He associated with the wood and the precision and instinct it called him to use. He hadn’t realized that before. That was why he liked his job. Not so much his job but the work: the feeling of building something – and working on a team – and needing vision to complete a project.
Octavo looked at Manuel. From behind Manuel looking at Oddie framed in the doorway. Manuel could tell Oddie was engaged by something.
The rain had let up. The air was clean as Andre the project manager pulled his SUV up to the curb. Gerry jumped out of his pick up where he had been this whole time and said,
“Quit playin with yourselves and get to work,” as he walked to greet Andre. Nobody in the trailer moved. Gerry shook hands with Andre.
“Now,” Gerry yelled at the trailer.
“Alan,” said Oddie standing in the doorway as his mind landed back in his reality.
“Who is Alan?” asked Manuel.
“Alan? I dunno.”
“But jou just said his name.”
“Oh, Alan. Wow. I said that outloud? Alan means now in Arabic.”
Alan – From the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara
I spent a couple of delicious hours yesterday at my library, soaking up the ambiance as well as a cranberry scone and black coffee, perusing the newspaper and a copy of Canadian Geographic, and came across this article:From Canadian Geographic I did not succeed in taking a ‘readable photo, but the article says that the […]
“Where’s that illegitimate son of yours?” Gerry asked Oddie proving that even though he was the site supervisor – no one at head office even thought of sending Gerry an email.
“Ricky’s time in the trenches of physical labour came to an end on Friday,” said Oddie. “It was stupid that he couldn’t wait until we at least finished the project.”
“Fuck. Where we gonna get another guy to replace Ricky? Not that he was any good,” said Gerry. Oddie ignored the fact that Gerry was ignorant of the skill level of his own team.
“What he tell you, eh?” Gerry fished for intel.
“Never said nothing about his next job,” Oddie lied in Gerry’s dialect. “Thought maybe you would know. He go to head office?”
No one was surprised Ricky sped off in his shiny blue Rubicon Jeep to see if his genes resonated with being the heir apparent to Sandoval Developments. Oddie would stay in his little framing world and go back to taking the bus home after work.
“Who the fuck hires these people? Why can’t HR just bring em onsite for an hour and I can see what they can do. No resume, no cover letter no fake interview with some fuckin HR pencil pusher who can’t hammer of fuckin nail. Just skills on display,” said Gerry. The angry version of Gerry was preferable to the non angry one. In his non angry mode he would walk around looking for something to be wrong. It was annoying and got in the way of getting work done. Angry Gerry would stomp over, yell, lose his train of thought which flustered him so he would kick or throw something and then sign of with his signature insult,
“Quit playin with yourselves and get to work.”
Gerry had trouble distinguishing between getting to work and delivering results. As long as he heard hammering hammers, sawing saws and guys swearing at each other he felt his job site was a well oiled machine.
Gerry’s therapy was driving to the lake as it woke to the grind of the city. His coffee would sit slightly tilted on the hood of his pick up and his purple e-cigarette in his hand. This morning Gerry saw a dead raccoon washing up on the beach this morning – half out of the water on its back. Probably been rolling in the wee waves dead 2 days. Gerry thought raccoons had a bad reputation. Though their urban interface (shitting on people’s roofs, raiding their garbage) made them deserve it.
But they were fabulous animals he would tell anyone if they would listen. He heard some people had them as pets. He admired the dexterity of their nimble black paws. He thinks they would be great on the job site. If you could train a raccoon, or a pair of them, to bring you materials and tools and hardware they could scale the skeleton of the house so quickly and not drop anything from those clawed mitts. The crew would laugh at him if he mentioned it. If Tim would say it, it would be a hilarious lunch time idea. But if Gerry said it, it would be sick, cruel and pathetic.
Gerry didn’t like the version of Gerry they associated him with. He wanted a different Gerry. His wife wanted a different Gerry too. And that is why she up-and-left-him. He knew her affair started before the divorce. But their marriage was dead way before that. Good thing they didn’t have kids forcing the kid to bounce between parents on weekends. But Gerry would have loved taking a son or a daughter to Manitoba in the summer to visit grandma and grandpa and to fish.
“You see that guy over there in the orange hard hat – that’s the new guy,” said Oddie. “He has three years experience in wood and metal framing, he’s done roofing.” Oddie knew he would have to sell Gerry the idea of Octavo so he just kept talking. “Just fuckin look at his pouch. He showed up on time. It’s all good.”
“Did HR send him over? Why didn’t I hear about this?” asked Gerry. “What’s his name? Where’s he from? Does he speak fuckin English?”
”He comes recommended,” said Oddie, deflecting Gerry’s undercurrents of racism and pettiness.
Oddie didn’t tell Gerry that Ricky had told him last Monday that it was his last week. In case Oddie had a friend he wanted to give a job. So Oddie asked Manuel if he knew anyone looking for work. Oddie, Manuel and his buddy Octavo met for beers last Friday.
“I was eight of eight chilren,” said Otcavo. “My mama tol me something was differen when I was born. The worl after I was 7 years old se transformo,” Octavo looked to Manuel for translation.
“Transformed, I get it” Oddie translated.
“I was a really organize chil, really really. I organize my toys. Then. I don’t play … ya no.
“Anymore,” said Manuel.
I no play, only organize. Then all eyes turn to grandmama. Grandmama is huesera.”
“What’s a wasibera?” asked Oddie.
“Huesera menso. It’s a healer; of bones.”
“She tell my mom I need to wash my brain so I drink garlic crudo and fuckin rábano.’
“It’s a small red raice,” said Manuel
“Radish?” says Oddie.
“Horible, they mix with olive oil. Sometime with miel, honey. “
“Did it help?” asked Oddie.
“HA. I try. I hide my simptomas so they think it improve so I drink less garlic and rabano,” said Octavo. “My grandmama say I have sindroma de Tourette. Everyone now more raro than me.” “Weirder than me,” clarified Manuel.
”Shit,” said Oddie leaning back, nodding his head. They all take a drink from their pint of beer. Manuel’s anxious brown eyes meet Oddie’s pensive brown eyes.
“So what was your thing?” Oddie asks, then simplifies his question. “Your routine?”
Octavo nodded at the table and gestured like a flight attendant to give Oddie an example. Octavo’s beer was exactly in the centre of the coaster, the coaster was exactly in the middle of the plank of wood on the picnic table and the coaster was exactly halfway between the umbrella post in the middle and the edge of the picnic table.
“It feel good, you know, to get tal cual.”
“Just right,” said Manuel.
“But then it molest me that your beer,” Octavo points to Oddie. “And his beer not in the place correct,” Octavo smiles and drinks.
“Physical labour lets him express all the things it makes him need,” said Manuel. “You know what I mean?”
“He needs to keep his hands moving so he can hide the … ,” Oddie said, beginning to grasp Octavo’s struggle.
“Como nino I organize todo. Cars, size y color y funcion and speed. My cloth always fold tal cual por color según el arco iris – rainbow. Cantuerraba sin parar.
“He hummed all the time,” said Manuel.
“I had 10 years ol, in school they knew I was differen. Teachers protec me from los matones.”
“From the bullies,” said Manuel.
“Rechine los dientes, apreté los dientes” said Octavo.
“I don’t know. He grabbed his teeth really hard,” said Manuel.
“Headache. I stop school for work,” said Octavo.
“Shit,” Oddie’s admiration of Octavo suspended the moment. “Bro you are brave.”
Octavo froze till Manuel translated.
“Valiente,” repeated Oddie.
Gerry was happy with what he saw so far from whatshisface. The crew received Octavo without missing a step. Within 30 minutes they nicknamed him Doc Oc – Spiderman’s arch villain. Octavo loved it. It highlighted him and not Tourettes. Octavo worked constantly to impress his new boss and hide the Tourettes. He wasn’t quite sure who his actual boss was: Oddie or Gerry.
His last site supervisor had a roommate in college who had Tourettes. The roommate took 5 times as long to enter and leave their apartment with all his idiosyncrasies and routines that he had to complete before the door was sufficiently closed, locked, double checked and the key in its proper place. It was the tidiest and most organized apartment you’d ever seen. They discovered that chicks loved it so Octavo and his roommate worked it in their favour to invite women over for a few drinks and any extracurriculars they could agree upon.
These good memories meant the supervisor sponsored Octavo’s presence on the job site. The crew hammering in studs and installing headers didn’t have the same breadth of humanity. According to them, a man in their world didn’t suddenly yell for no reason or constantly ‘correct’ the arrangement of their tools. These were issues the foreman took up with the site supervisor. The foreman got Octavo booted off.
Octavo didn’t know or care what the real excuse was, as if excuses were real. Usually they complain about speaking English or certifications in case the inspector shows up.
Octavo wasn’t about to justify his chemical torment. It painfully didn’t matter, people’s overbearing ignorance relegated his life to the bargain bin of souls with the schizoids and the otherly afflicted. For whatever reason the genetic gods graced him with Tourettes. He was Tourettes and Tourettes was him. No small minded pendejos could corrode his dignity.
Manuel Labour is a Short Story in the Series: Tool from Kevin McNamara
Mondays and Fridays Tim drops the refilled ziplock bag of pistachios onto the lunch table in the jobsite trailer. Manuel picks at them during their 30 minute lunch. Oddie prefers them like dessert. Those hard shells, the dry mauve-coloured skin and the light green flesh: only an idiot would say he couldn’t feel the resonance they shared from the simplest plastic bag. It is the kind of love that is shown not spoken. It is a need and not passion. It is reliability. It is salty healing and $2.75/pound of brotherhood.
“I was the guy who wore his pyjama bottoms to school with a wad of gum stuck in his pocket,” said Tim.
So..? said Manuel.
“Two weeks in a row,” said Tim.
“That’s commendable and disgusting at the same time,” said Oddie.
“Yo bro just by looking at your low budget face I can tell you were the guy who punctured the principals tires on the last day of school,” said Tim.
“No, that wasn’t me. I was the guy in high school that put my shoulder pads on backwards at the first football practice. They fuckin had a fuckin field day with that all season,” said Oddie.
“Bro – how did you not notice your shoulder pads are on backwards?” said Manuel.
“I know. But I am glad they did because it made me see wanting to be part of the football crowd was fuckin futile. Once I started making money in the summers driving dump truck and showin up to school in my fuckin steel blue camaro those fuckers could fuck off and die. Chicks just opened that passenger door and slid in oozing sex and sexy,” said Oddie rekindling his high school status.
“Whoa, big man on campus,” says Manuel.
“What’s the fuckin difference between sex and sexy?” asked Tim.
“Dude. That is the whole fuckin point. It’s like what ice cream is to gelato,” said Oddie, liking how that sounded but not even sure what it meant.
“What the fuck does that mean?” said Manuel.
“Bro. Despite the fact that Oddie has the poetic tact of a parking ticket he is right,” said Tim
“I am lost,” said Manuel.
“If you don’t know what it means, start asking around for a good divorce lawyer,” said Tim.
“I’m not even married yet.”
“Not on paper.”
“Everyone shut up. Shut up. Ok. Sex. and Sexy. This is how it works. XY is a boy and XX Chromosome is a girl. We all know that one right? Or were you too high in biology class?”
Tim shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows to enter a guilty plea.
“So when a guy, hopped up on hormones, looks at a woman he sees XX – he sees sexx. With two xx’s. But she feels what she is offering is sexy. Ya see what I’m saying? When she goes out lookin for love, she has on her XY glasses. She has to inhale bad cologne and swat aside the sleazy pick up lines in the search of the right pickle for her grilled cheese.”
“Even coming from you bro that made no sense,” said Tim.
“Oddie don’t worry, you have a future writing romance novelas,” said Manuel.
“But did you know the whole genetic code is being uncovered so you can live like 150 years.”
“Bro – genes and chromosomes are not the same thing,” said Oddie.
“For our purposes I don’t think it really matters,” said Tim.
“What are you a doctor bro,” said Manuel.
“Actually, I wanted to be a doctor. But I can’t deal with seeing blood or causing people pain and all that shit ya know,” said Oddie.
“So be a chiropractor or something,” said Manuel.
“Naw. That is all hourly wage stuff,” said Oddie.
“And framing …?” said Tim.
“Ya but I got plans,” said Oddie lowering his voice even though there was no one else in the trailer. “I’m not going to stick around with these jokers longer than I have to.”
“But bro – the pay is regular and the work is constant – what’s the issue?” said Manuel.
“Gerry,” said Oddie.
“Forget Gerry,” said Tim. “He’s an idiot whose ambition is to be an assohle.”
“That’s my point. If Gerry is running one of your job sites, what does that say about your company,” said Oddie.
Out of his peripheral vision Tim saw Manuel look over at him.
“Did you have this conversation with sleek Reek before he left,” asked Manuel.
“Not in so many words,” said Oddie.
“What does Ricky care – he is set for life,” said Tim tossing a few pistachio shells on the ground.
“Listen,” said Oddie. “Guys, if we don’t look out for ourselves …” then Gerry opened the door to the trailer and yelled even though the guys were right there,
“We can’t get the skid steer back there behind the house to support those trusses and the neighbour is being a dick. We are gonna have to do it by hand,” said Gerry, putting an end to their lunch.
“We need to use the guy wire,” said Manuel, trying to offer expertise.
Tim glanced at Oddie.
“Guy wire! Are you setting up a tent for a wedding reception we don’t know about?” said Oddie.
“Dude – it’s called a come along. You do know the difference,” said Tim.
“Sure, dude. It’s a language barrier. You guys think I understand everything but no,” said Manuel.
“Let’s get on it. It’s gonna rain later,” said Gerry holding the door open.
Tim stood up smiling to himself and said to Manuel:
Entering the Mind by C von Hassett PURCHASE . . . Read Chapter 3 Excerpt: The View . . . Back Cover Blurb In these extraordinary teachings that speak to the way one confidently enters the mind and observes it in its natural state, C von Hassett…
“So you’re telling me you’re angry at your wife because she bought you a pair of work pants,” said Tali.
“That’s right,” said Bruno.
“No, that’s wrong.”
“They’re not the right kind,” whined Bruno.
“I don’t want them.”
“Who cares?” said Tali.
“No you don’t.”
“Fuck you. You can’t tell me I don’t care,” said Bruno.
“Sorry. You’re right. You do care. You care what the fuckin hammer heads on the job site might think of you if you aren’t wearin Carharts. Instead of caring that your wife loves you. And wants to buy shit for you.”
Tali put on his hard hat and got up to take a leak then turned back to say,
“Bro, didn’t your dad teach you that whenever you can say yes to your wife just say yes.”
“That makes no sense. And my dad never taught me anything about women,” said Bruno, screwing the cup back on the red thermos his wife bought him.
“I. Don’t. Know,” said Bruno.
“I do,” said Vanessa.
“It’s not never. It’s just not now,” said Bruno.
“I’m not waiting till I’m forty to have children.”
“Who’s saying you have to wait till you are freakin forty.”
“You’re a fuckin broken record,” said Vanessa.
“I need to feel more stable in my work.”
“Then stop getting fired,” said Vanessa as she turned and walked to the cramped kitchen.
“Let go is the proper term. And it isn’t my fault.”
I don’t care if it’s your fault or your boss is an asshole. Deal with it. Your buddy Tim does. And Manuel does. Why can’t you?”
“I don’t work with them anymore.”
“My point exactly,” said Vanessa.
“Why can’t you stop hounding me?” Bruno’s posture slid from tired to defeated.
“Hounding you?! I’m …,” said Vanessa, shocked that Bruno couldn’t see what she wanted.
“Ya. Where are the children?” said Bruno in a falsetto voice imitating Vanessa. “Don’t get fired,” he continued, karate chopping his right hand into his left palm. “Tim is better than you.” Another karate chop. “Just say nothing to your stupid supervisor when he wants to cut corners all over the place,” said Bruno out of breath.
“You seriously think I am criticising you?” said Vanessa.
“All I can hear is how I am not good enough for you,” said Bruno glaring into Vanessa’s back. Vanessa spins around,
“I am supporting the man I think you are!”
Bruno grabbed his coat and his phone and slammed the door.
‘I am not going to chase that loser’ thought Vanessa. As she banged utensils around the kitchen Vanessa heard the pitter patter of little feet from the ceiling above her.
Bruno and Vanessa were living in the house where he grew up. They occupied the basement apartment and rented out the bungalow above them.
“And if that baby isn’t crying all night, it’s running around all day – pumpum pumpum,” said Bruno about the same little footsteps that make Vanessa edgy. But for a different reason.
“It’s like the only thing Vanessa and I agree on these days,” he said.
“You know I know the total layout of the upstairs so in my mind when they are walking around I picture it. I can’t turn it off. I can’t focus on anything because as soon as they move it’s like I become their tour guide or something. But only in my mind.”
“Take it easy bro,” said Massimo Bruno’s older brother.
“That’s the point, I wish …. I take the wrong things easy and make easy things difficult or whatever. Anyway that’s what Vanessa says.”
“Ok. Breathe Bruno. If I had a beer I would offer you one but I don’t keep any in the house anymore,” said Massimo.
Massimo shoves his hands in his jacket pockets and leans against the frame of the open garage door of his home literally 4 blocks from Bruno’s place. Bruno had walked here in a huff on a crisp November evening. He loved the clean fresh air but tonight he was too busy running his revenge movie in his head of the stupid things he would do and say.
Instead of selling their parents house they had all agreed that Bruno and Vanessa would live there and pay his parents rent for the whole house while collecting rent themselves from the tenants upstairs. Bruno would attend to the tenant’s needs or complaints with the enthusiasm and customer service of a teenage tree sloth. Bruno and Vanessa lived there almost rent free because the rent from upstairs covered the mortgage payment. They just had to pay utilities. Still the mortgage was in Vito’s name, Bruno’s dad. The plan that Vito and Massimo put together was for Bruno to buy the house in 2 years from the date of moving into the basement. Three years later Bruno was still flailing professionally and financially.
Vanessa didn’t bring much to the table. She had learned from her vitriolic parents that, upon their immature version of divorce, she was a commodity that had value even if she did nothing but breathe. Up to this point she had found sufficient success with this model so that it didn’t occur to her to have initiative. So for her it didn’t make sense to her to invest in a career if they were going to start a family and then move upstairs.
“Bro, take her some flowers, kiss her like you love her, go for a tumble in the sack.”
“Ya, you’re right,” said Bruno.
Bruno let himself get drawn quickly into an abyss of fear you could see in how his eyes went distant in an instant. The flowers were a great idea, Bruno thought, but having sex would only reinforce his place as the one guy who can’t get it done. Massimo had seen this look many a time before;
“And find some fuckin sunshine in your day. If there aint no sunshine in the vicinity – fuckin make your own. Dude. It’s life. You’re young,” said Massimo punching Bruno in the shoulder.
“You have a woman who loves you, bro. Make any mistake you want but don’t make that mistake – of not loving her. And being loved by her. I will slap you so hard if …”
“Ok, I get it,” said Bruno.
“We’ll see if that is true, Romeo.”
Massimo was tired of Bruno’s broken record of woe is me.
“I really appreciate … I know I just dropped by and you’re probably about to have dinner and,” Bruno went on.
“Dude,” said Massimo. “This is getting old. It’s so old it’s stale. Ya know. Not stepping up to the plate and then complaining you’re not on base. Bro …”
“Bro, I came here for a little commiseration,” said Bruno.
“What does commiseration mean?”
“It means, like to be, on the same page.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Drink wine from the same bottle?” tried Bruno.
Massimo didn’t want to be the perfect older brother but he couldn’t help shaking his head. In a flash he had visions of their dad and childhood; and the stupid teeenage things they did together amazingly all fitting into a few seconds in his mind.
“Ok, so then what does it mean?”
“Bruno. There is no perfect time to have children. Bro. Make your wife happy. Make us all happy. Fuck – make yourself happy. It doesn’t fuckin matter what you do! Just get her pregnant as you do it. That will answer 90% of your imaginary problems.”
“Ok it’s time for ….”
“You don’t have any issues?”
Can you get it up?”
“Yes, I can get IT up.”
“Then are you shootin blanks?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Well, If your Vanessa isn’t pregnant in the next 6 months you gotta get your junk analysed.
In the cool silence of the dusk the honest cold of the night lovingly takes over. In that bare moment teasing intimate conversations Lisa, Massimo’s wife opened the door at the back of the garage.
“Hi Bruno, good to see you.”
“Hey Lisa, you too,” said Bruno.
“Are you gonna stay for dinner? I am reheating Massimo’s for him now,” said Lisa looking at her husband.
“Thanks Lisa, I gotta get goin,” said Bruno.
“Thanks Babe. I’ll be in in a minute,” said Massimo before Lisa could close the door.
”You see what it is? It’s the whole package. It’s a marriage. It’s a family. It’s a circus. Everyday there is a ton of bullshit if you are gonna count the cost. Bro – the point is to make important things important. If Vanessa is important to you, make her happy, give her a baby.”
From the Collection of Short Stories: Tool by Kevin McNamara
“Ok guys, another session of Hot or Trot. You first Andy,” said Matt.
“OK, give me a second …Gigi Hadid or Scarlet Johansen?”
“All blondes! I like it bro. Gigi obviously. She’s a sultry minx,” said Matt.
“I agree,” said Hector. Matt didn’t trust Hector. Matt didn’t know why yet. Hector knew why he didn’t like Matt.
“Ok Sally,” said Matt using the nickname for Hector he takes from the fact he Hector was born in El Salvador. Nobody else uses it. “Your turn.”
“Selma Hayek or Eiza Gonzalez?”
“Hector and his smokin hot Latinas. Cheers,” said Andy.
“Who the hell is Aisha Gonzalvez?” asked Matt.
“It’s Eiza Gonzalez, you uncultured hack.”
Without hesitating Matt launches an immature missile back at Hector, “You know what the problem with …”
“Hey, Isn’t that the new guy right there,” squints Andy.
“Across the street. The guy who just came out of the fast cash place.”
The three of them look across the street and drink from their pint glass.
“Yup,” said Matt. “That’s him. He’s the guy prancing around in those Carhart overalls he doesn’t need. There he goes into that coin laundry place. Bubbles.”
“Cute name,” says Hector.
“Hector. Since when the fuck did you say something was cute?” asked Andy.
Matt, Andy and Hector were enjoying Friday afternoon beers on a patio picnic table. Monday to Thursday they worked hardscaping projects 12-14 hour days so Friday Fields, the boss, could leave the city early to beat traffic getting to his cottage north of the city.
Though they make decent coin, they do not have cottage bound incomes so they find a friendly patio and flirt like idiots with the waitress: Andy loves her perfume, Hector her eyes and Matt her boobs; all of them mentally promising a huge tip so they earn her wink as they leave. Today they were happy bread to the toaster of 4:30 pm June sun. That Tom Cochrane tune was finishing.
“Jerry,” blurts Andy.
“Jerry? Quien chingados es Jerry?” asked Hector.
“That’s the name of the new guy.”
“My man Jerry. He’s alright,” says Matt, wanting to be drunk.
“Listen guys …” Andy grabs his phone and puts a twenty on the table.
“No bro, not again.”
“Gotta go guys,” said Andy.
“But we just ordered our second pitcher.”
“I’d love to, but duty calls”
“Ya I know. I get that call all the time and I just send it to voicemail. Deal with it when I get home.”
“Not this time …,” hesitates Andy in a way that disarms all their ridicule.
“Whatever bro,” said Matt. “See ya Monday.”
Fridays are for grabbing a beer on a patio so, instead of driving to work, Andy rides the bus in the morning. Post patio Andy loves looking out the window at the scenery from the back of the Uber and disconnecting.
As the Uber waits at the light, Andy sees Jerry, the new guy coming out of the coin laundry, walking past the fast Cash place and going into the 2 for 1 pizza place. It’s pretty good pizza. But all they do is cut a regular piece into two pieces. Voilà: 2 for the price of 1!
Monday morning they couldn’t find the key to the Bobcat.
“Who the fuck has the key to the fuckin Bobcat?”
“Try Fab fuckin Fields.”
“He probably took the key Friday because he feared in a neighbourhood of homes averaging $4 million someone would steal his heavy machinery over the weekend just for kicks.”
“If he arrives and we haven’t done jack shit he’s gonna fuckin lose it.”
“Mother fucker. Start offloading the interlock up to the top of the driveway.” Fields was on his way. Driving south from cottage country he saw the calls on his Bluetooth but didn’t answer on purpose.
Using the wheelbarrow they were getting it done as if they had all just converted to being Amish. Having pulled back a bit the chiffon floor to ceiling curtains in the living room, Mrs Moosavi was observing the chaos outside her home.
“Mother fucker! Start offloading the interlock up to the top of the driveway.”
“Fuckin fields does this on purpose to reduce us to fuckin manual labour so he can justify not paying us more. He is the master of ‘an accident – on purpose’.”
“It’s brilliant and sociopathic.”
“You think that is an exaggeration but you have to see that he sets himself up to be the hero.”
“Relax. All I know is my paycheck arrives on time every two weeks. Baboom.”
Seeing that the two summer hires were setting the lines and had a handle on the task at hand Hector leaned on his rake.
“Andy, hermano, how’s your wife?” Hector loves strategically dropping Spanish into his conversation.
“What? Oh Ya she’s doin alright. Thanks for asking.”
Hector was fishing for gossip because Andy didn’t usually offer up to much info about his family like the other guys did.
Andy hesitated “My wife has serious menstrual cramps. They just knock her right out. So I can’t just sit there Friday afternoon at a bar drinkin beer while she has to get up and feed the kids dinner and keep them from destroying the place.”
“Wow. That’s brutal.”
“For her, ya. But Xochi must have to deal with that too,” said Andy.
“Ya. She and her sister, apparently their cycles are synched or something so they just talk on the phone. I bring home chocolate and ice cream and she seems to get through it.”
“Hey guys, did you need anything?” asked Jerry encroaching on the supervisor bubble.
“Ya. A medium double double and a French cruller,” said Hector.
“Ignore that ridiculous, brown gnome,” said Andy.
“Thank you brother Andy. Now. Jerry, when the Guiness Book of World Records comes searching for the smallest Canadian penis in the history of Canadian penises – you just point them in Andy’s direction, will ya?” said Hector.
“Jerry-rig it for the moment brother.”
Not a chance! Get the fuckin come-along,” said Matt.
They needed to hold the 40 foot white pine back at the side of the house to get the Bobcat into the backyard so they could resurface the pool area. Since the client couldn’t peek out from the window to see what they were doing two of the crew said fuck it just yank on the tree and if it returns to its original position great; if not then Fields and his insurance can deal with it and yell at him later.
The three including Matt said no. Either they said no because it was a lazy solution to a small problem. Or they simply feared Fields’ rath once the customer complains.
“What he meant was to get Jerry to hold it. He’s standing right behind you.”
“Ok Jerry. If you’re the arborist in the family, what do you think?”
“I can make it happen. We just need a couple boards and the hand saw and we will wedge the space open. Also the ten foot ladder,” said Jerry.
“Ok, Jerry. Make it happen. We’re gonna take lunch and need this ready when we come back. Capiche?” said Matt who today was driving the Bobcat.
Driving to Tim Horton’s with nouveau riche mansions on either side there was a Filipino nanny wheeling a stroller and walking a schnauzer. In this neighbourhood because nobody who actually owned a house walked on the street there were no sidewalks. So the babies and their nanny’s walk in traffic.
“You know my neighbour got a ticket for not pickin up his dog’s shit”
“My neighbour was telling me he got a fine for not putting his dog on a leash. Then he went on this rant saying that he was going to submit a proposal to Elon Musk.” Matt told the story:
“You know what Elon Musk should do. He should program his Nueralink chip to…
What is the fuck is a Neurolink chip my other neighboour asks.
Neuralink. I corrected the guy. You haven’t heard of this? It’s another one of his big ideas to insert silicon chips into people’s heads to monitor their thoughts and help people with diseases like MS to be able to move because they think it, the first neighbours says.
So it can listen to your thoughts and do what you want. That sounds cool I said
Ya but the government is gonna want to listen to those thoughts too. You know it’s only a matter of time said another neighbour as we stood there watching our dogs play in the dog park. Anyway, back to my idea. Have the chip geo identify with your home and then have posts, kinda like charging stations, at various points, like in parks around your municipality that you have to get within say 3 metres of every so many days. Basically making you exercise – he says.” said Matt.
What if you have a broken leg – does the chip know that? And you can’t make it.
“No you have to go,” Matt whips out his sarcasm.
“Ya, even when the snow is 2 feet deep.”
“What’s the point?”
“He is saying, my neighbour, that why penalise the people who actually are out there with their dogs getting fresh air and exercise. Make the lazy twinkies get off their couches and take their beer belly for a walk to the park at least once a week.”
“And if they don’t?”
“And if they don’t then he says there is an automatic fine of like $15- 20 bucks,” said Matt.
“Holy shit!” and they all laugh like the time Hector told them he was thinking of importing exotic birds from El Salvador.
“Big Brother doesn’t need our help.”
“We need to shut your neighbour up!” said Hector.
“Shut im up or shut im down!”
“Ya he is a bit of a nut job,” said Matt
Jerry Rig is from the Short Story Series Tool by Kevin Mcnamara
“I’m gonna start my own home services company,” declares Oddie as he and Reggie load the morning batch of 2×4’s onto the forks of the loader to lift them up to the second floor to start framing up there.
8 am on a chilly September morning, the summer heat has peaked and subsided.
Oddie imagines he is an angelic combination between Chris Rock and Lenny Kravtiz; funny and suave. If you saw him you would probably think he looked more like a cross of Kevin Hart and Danny Devito; short and obtuse.
Reggie, the ragged yet loyal employee, smirks out loud and pauses to straighten his back for a moment,
“Right you are.” The clean Spruce fragrance was a weird source of Reggie’s optimism over the years.
Oddie stands for Odd Man Out which is the lengthy nickname the forming crew gave him in his first week. They just had to look at him: his boots were too skinny, his hard hat was on crooked, his face was puzzled. He just looked odd. But he was quick on the job site.
“What’s your company called?
“I don’t know yet. It’s a service that connects the trusty handyman with homeowners needing odd jobs.” said Oddie as if it already existed.
“Right,” repeats a smug Reggie and turns to grab an armful of lumber.
Reggie loved yankin this guy’s chain. He gets so hot under the collar at the blink of an eye. With his grey gloves he touched his left index finger to his right baby finger and started counting,
“First of all, you do know there are like at least 5 of those apps out there that provide those services and seconofall they have like, just a little bit of a head start on you. Third they have millions in financial backing and…”
And .. they aren’t you.”
Reggie straightens up again and looks Oddie directly in the eyes and says nothing.
“Fuck you!” says Oddie.
“I don’t care what you think.” Declares Oddie.
“You don’t want to care but you do,” Reggie exhibits his clarity of mind as he straps on his tool belt..
“Fuck you, get to work,” Oddie orders Reggie
“Get to work, Fuck you”
“Hey Reggie, Gerry the site supervisor yelled from ground level, “Ya gotta sec?”
Reggie undid his tool belt saying under his breath “What the hell does this dipshit want now?”
Gerry was squinting up at Oddie framing in a door as Reggie got down there. Gerry starts speaking to Reggie while still looking up at the second floor.
“You have to be weird and know it to get a nickname like Odd Man Out and live with it.
And that the shoe fits says everything.”
“He loves it.” said Reggie staring at the side of Gerry’s ugly head. “We gave him a back door to being part of a team of foul mouthed framers and he took it,”
“Are you a fucking psychologist?”
“The guy needs what you need. He is shit at how to get it. About the same as you are at dropping in a plumb door header. That’s why they made you supervisor,” said Reggie.
As soon as Reggie heard Gerry say “Listen Reg.” His bullshit detector went off.
“I gotta bit of a situation. Sandoval’s son needs a job and the office threw it in my lap. You worked with him before, right?”
“That pip squeak would carry the same 2×4 from one end of the job site and hide on his phone for 30 minutes. Then carry the same 2×4 to the other side and do the same thing all over again.”
“Ya well he got in some kind of trouble. It’s either cars or drugs. Maybe both. Anyway the message from Sandoval is to keep him busy so they know someone is keeping an eye on him,” then Gerry laughs as he reads the text message he received from the office this morning. “So he learns the value of work.” Gerry looked to his right for confirmation from Reggie but didn’t get it.
A wave of humility and appreciation ran through Reggie. He realised what he already knew: that Rhonda, his wife, was his hero. She had been super strict with their son and daughter and that is why Cherise their daughter was on academic scholarship at McMaster University and their son Malcolm was in grade 10 following in her footsteps.
“He’s not the only one …”
“What’s that supposed to mean”
“What can that miserable little shit do here without fucking up my job site.”
“Ya I know,” agreed Gerry. “Wait. Let’s put em with good ol Oddie.”
Gerry pulled a purple e-cigarette from his inside jacket pocket and hauled on it.
“Oddie and I have a decent rhythm if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Listen Reg …” Hearing that phrase again Reggie just turned to walk away. “He starts tomorrow,” Gerry yelled at Reggie’s back.
Ricky parked his 2022 metallic blue Jeep Rubicon beside the portapotty at 7:45 because he was afraid that his dad would take away the Jeep if he was late. His dad was the owner of Sandoval Developments. If the forming crew thought that Oddie looked out of place, Ricky looked like he was modelling for the Home Depot website. Everything he wore was functional, just like Oddie and Reggie.
But the function for Ricky was to look good. New construction boots, tight hi-viz black sweatshirt with silver and yellow reflectors, shiny black hard hat with a Sandoval decal on the front, fresh yellow leather gloves and tinted safety glasses. He never took his ear buds out. He was instantly labelled Slick Rick. Reggie loved how this clown brought comic relief to his day.
Oddie hated working for $24 per hour for some rich fuck. He hated that the same rich fuck didn’t give a fuck for his own son. He didn’t hold it against Slick Rick. Oddie adopted him like a younger brother even though they were the exact same age.
“Bro, you’re holdin the hammer all wrong,” said Oddie.
“Ricky. What did I tell you about holding the nail between your fingers?”
“Dude, did you even put your level on this stud. From here I can see that the thing isn’t plumb.”
“Wow. Nice. Look at that. Fits perfect. Reggie did you see? Our man Slick Rick is good on the saw.”
“Dude. Look at me.” Oddie schooled limp Rick on the reality of belief in yourself. “Haven’t you realised that they think I am a freak. They have more in common with you than they do with me,” said Oddie even though it wasn’t true. As a young man lost at sea Ricky instinctively grabbed his phone to ground himself cyberspace.
People didn’t understand Oddie’s sense of tribal inclusion. In truth, neither did he. He simply felt like we are all in this together. Oddie had no reason to question because that was who he was. He also knew he needed to accomplish something everyday so he got some satisfaction. He wanted to share this.
Slick Rick was a textbook spoiled brat. A tragic teenager. His parents weren’t on the same page about children, marriage or money. His mom’s love wasn’t going to magically make him into a man. His absentee dad supplied everything but the intangibles.
Sandoval pulled up in a white Mercedes SUV to see how his son was being made into a man. To get out of the vehicle would have been to break the macho archetype he loved more than his son. The back seat tinted window came halfway down. Ricky looked at Oddie, looked at his phone, undid his toolbelt and climbed down to talk to the tinted window.
Reggie and Oddie unabashedly stood at the edge of the second floor watching the father/son debacle.
“For the last 15 or so years Sandoval has shown he doesn’t give a fuck about the well fare of his own son,” said Reggie.
“Dude, we are providing a babysitting service to Richie Rich,” Oddie said to Reggie. “The fuckin father needs to know that.” Reggie looked sideways at Oddie and said,
“You are not going to pity Richie Rich. That’s not gonna pay your bills much less fulfil your crazy dream of your Odd Man app.”
Oddie nodded at Reggie’s name for his odd jobs by a handyman app.
“Ya bro. Or do you want to be in the business of handy jobs?” Reggie laughed at his own joke.
Odd Man Out is from the short story series Tool by Kevin McNamara
‘Ya baby’ Joe says to himself. Emerging from the forest he wipes sweat from his eyebrows as he slows from running to a walk. Sitting on the bumper of his open trunk, he chugs water and scribbles the perceptions of the tree sap.
On his forest runs, Joe duct tapes tree sap (today it was Blue Spruce) to his forehead, wraps his head with his blue bandana and runs in the forest. As he runs his heat starts to liquify the resin. Joe’s theory is he will absorb the essence, the history and the mineral of the sap. Then he needs the grammar to be able to translate it.
‘Hey bro, I’m gonna take a shower.’ Felipe said when Joe opened the door to their apartment.
‘Wait. What’s your problem? You’ve been in bed all fuckin morning and, unlike you, I have to work. Why the fuck would you need to clean your shitty body right now?
‘Dude, I apologize.’ Joe said after showering first. ‘I was in another space when I arrived because … whatever. I’m sorry.’
‘Ok, Whatever.’ Felipe copied Joe. ‘ Are you off to work now?’
‘No, I am going to make lunch. Are you going to shower?’ Asked Joe.
‘What?! ‘When I got in I thought you were going to shower.’
‘The moment … passed.’ Felipe said.
‘Don’t tell me. You’re hungry for the food I make. But you’re not hungry for the food you don’t make.’ Joe grilled his roommate.
Felipe accessed his go-to guilt mongering moves: slow shoulder shrug, meekly look to the floor.
A month after kicking Felipe out Joe’s new roommate would be a friend of Sarah’s (one of Joe’s first clients). Irena was arriving in town in 2 or 3 weeks. She already had work and just needed a place to live. Felipe only took his belongings so Joe paid to dispose of the mattress but left the desk and chair in the hope of saving the world from another Allen key assembled desk and bookshelf.
‘Here is first and last month’s rent.’ Irena said, ‘Holding out her hand with twelve one hundred dollar bills.’
Walking up with a bunch of clothes on hangers, Irena’s dad locked eyes with Joe, ‘All good?’ Joe nodded too many times, too quickly thinking he had been seen checking out the guy’s daughter.
‘Hey, what are you listening to?’ Asks Irena as she comes in from her night shift and Joe happens to be putting away his grocery shopping (for the last hour).
‘That’s some early The Weeknd’
‘It’s a little whiny.’ Tests Irena.
‘The guy is talented.
Within a week of Irena moving in the apartment smelled so fresh it made Joe think of getting flowers but that would have been weird. He would put down his phone just to hear Irena walk from the shower to her room. Joe didn’t want to jeopradize the reliable rent but his body was crushing with lust for Irena. Joe was slow. Irena had picked up on that signal weeks ago.
‘Irena, I think we both know that I think you’re hot.’ Joe knew now he had to shut his stupid mouth. And wait what feels like millions of seconds. Wait like an idiot or speak like a moron.
Irena’s radiance fills their 2 bedroom apartment.
‘Ya I agree.’ Irena talking tough, delayed a second, ‘ I’m pretty hot.’ Irena demures through her eyebrows; and then they both break out laughing.
‘You wanna go to the Mexican place up the street for a bite?’
‘Who me?’ Plays Irena.
‘No, with my assistant coach from peewee hockey!’
Walking into the headwind on Hitchens Street North Joe hugged Irena to his side.
At times Irena’s shift work coincided with Joe’s night cleaning contracts. It worked when the frolicking couple wanted to be together. Joe surprised himself how he shared with Irena his deepening engagement with nature.
‘While you are working with doctors helping people I am barely learning to work with nature. It’s a whole education. The forest is a university.’ You know what I mean?’ Joe asked.
From the simple lexicon of willingness to love and be loved Irena said. ‘Yes.’
‘Mmmm, I love that pine scent – so sweet, vibrant and earthy.’ Irena inhaled the pebble of red pine sap she rolled in her fingers.
Joe thanked the tree for the sap then pulled a small piece off. He stuck the duct tape with the nugget of sap to Irena’s forehead.’
‘Weirdo.’ Joe said, smiled at her with a cross-eyed look and kissed her.
‘Ok captain.’ Says Irena knotting her pink bandana and pumping her legs. ‘Let’s heat up some of your sap.’
In the autumn afternoon facing the forest, Joe speaks,
‘I have no idea what this sap contraption does but it just has become my ritual between me and the forest.
He stood erect, shoulders back, vision focused deep into the forest for 10 seconds, and with a slight nod of his head, they entered the forest.
Joe is shaken. ‘What?’
‘Why not.’ Said Joe scared shitless to go out into the forest at night.
‘You are awake anyway, neither of us are working so let’s do it.’ Irena said
‘We can take a thermos.’ Joe rallied.
The trees having surrendered most of their leaves to the cycle of the seasons allowed them to take in a wide swath of stars. Sat on a long shelf of river shale they wrapped themselves in the red wool blanket as they cupped their steaming tea.
‘I need to be different.’ Joe said
Irean looks at Joe sideways, ‘Don’t worry buddy, you are plenty different. Which is plenty sexy.’
‘No.’ Says Joe ruining the moment. ‘Irena, my point is I need to not be my dad.’
‘You aren’t. You won’t be.’
‘I can’t do that to you.’
‘We won’t let that happen.’
‘I can tell your dad is a big bad ghost lurking in your past. Still I wouldn’t mind meeting him – so I can know you better. So I can see where he finishes and you take off.’ Irena said.
‘It’s not like I am in a fight with my dad.’ Joe winced. ‘I don’t even know if he is alive.
‘My dad took me on my first fishing trip when I was like 6 or 7 years old. He yanked me out of school and we went up to a cabin on the French River for almost the whole week. My mom was furious he didn’t take her anywhere mid week on the spur of the moment. One night when we finished dinner in the main lodge and got back to the cabin it was pitch black.
‘Where’s your tackle box boy?’
‘I don’t know. Isn’t it here?’
‘I don’t see it. Are you calling me blind?’
‘No, daddy, no.’
Well if it isn’t here where daya think it is hiding?’
‘Did I take it to the main lodge after I tied up the boat?’
‘Damn good question. You gotta keep track a your gear. The fish aren’t gonna’ do that for you.’
‘What do I do?’ asked a trembling Joey hoping his dad would offer to look for it together.
‘You do what any good angler does.’ Joey’s dad stood with his back towards him and said, ‘He finds his gear before someone else does.’
‘Where is the flashlight?’ asked Joey.
‘It’s in your tackle box?’ He lied.
‘So,’ Joe said looking into Irena’s eyes, ‘I walked towards the lights of the main lodge but my tackle box wasn’t there. I was scared shitless because I had to go down to the dock. There was no light. I nearly kicked the tackle box into the water. It was on the dock beside our rented boat.
So that kind of ruined any nighttime wilderness adventure for me – till now. Till you.’
Irena readjusted their blanket and caressed Joe’s hand as she breathed in every ounce of the moment.
‘You know what my dad said before he left the day I moved in?’ Asked Irena.
‘I have no idea. But he did give me the once over when we were unloading your stuff. By his reaction I think he felt you had nothing to worry about.’ Joe said.
Meaning that there was no way a woman like you would be interested in a schmoe named Joe.’
‘Maybe. Or maybe he could tell you weren’t a prick. And that I was safe.’
Joe loved the breath he was breathing, ‘You are safe.’
Irena laid her head on his shoulder and her imagination went to work.
After a few magic minutes, ‘Hey, what did you mean by a woman like you ?
‘A total babe with beautiful brown eyes; not afraid of the dark and not afraid to duct tape sap to her forehead.‘
Yesterday walking up the moist front steps Tammy sniffed some mineral earthy air that her memory associated with the white quartz.
‘Let’s rent a car. Take the day off.’ Tammy offers Malik to agree with her fresh idea as she walks in the front door.
Malik stands up straight from his work desk, takes in a big breath and looks her dead in the eyes.
‘Tammy ..?’ His voice, simply saying her name, went through a 2 – part process of getting her attention with a strong ’T’ and dipping at the end trying to bring her back to earth. Her spontaneous whims always threw him for a loop. What’s wrong with planning? He says with his eyes.
‘Malik ..?’A It’s-all-part-of-the-package look was how she responded to his need for a plan.
After a two hour drive out of town the next morning they set off on a five km hike into the forest following the curving river lined with attentive cedar and spruce. On the riverbank the cedars’ gnarly roots suction themselves to the iron infused sedimentary rock that frames the river. On the forest side of the river bank tree roots delve quickly into the forest floor littered with spongy, green rock cap moss.
It’s a good 5 degrees cooler under all the verdant trees where the river quickly narrows and drops four feet through the effervescent rapids. Just past the brief rapids as the river widens again slightly is a massive white quartz. Although radiant and striking, it is so ensconced in the place it can be confusingly easy to miss. Tammy can’t remember how they found out about it. Malik remembers and relishes holding the mystery.
A mystery that the quartz holds is its size. The carpet of bright green moss acts like a receding hairline on the top and also grows on one side hiding where the quartz meets the riverbank rock. The outlines of the massive white boulder hinted that the beautiful crystal extended some metres beyond what was visible. In his enthusiasm to find out how far it reached Malik confused it with the pockets of snow clinging to winter under the tree skirts; playing hide and seek with the invigorating rays of the spring sun.
They came to dwell with the quartz, to remain in its presence, seeking to be transported deeper within and higher up. The quartz made you wonder. Wonder with confidence. Wonder up. The massive cool fresh quartz engages you as if you were on time and up to speed on your life trajectory. It draws your truth out of you.
They agreed to eat lunch in an hour and served themselves some steaming tea. They sat cross-legged on their yoga mats 10 metres apart on the river bank. Once settled in, breathing and clear of mind Malik found his faculties subtly intrigued. He was being pulled to grasp what was going on: it was the rapids. As the rapids bounced the water all over the place, they were challenging the river, asking the river how important the flow of water was to it. The river, regaining its composure a few metres downriver, always answered the same: I may bend but I will never break.
Tammy didn’t like a sudden burst of her bubble of connection when they were in nature. Malik knew that. But the words just popped out.
‘I don’t think nature…,’ Proposed Malik, impacted by the electrical wash of the huge quartz. ‘… knows the concept of: in the meantime.’ Hearing himself speak he realised he had broken the connection bubble but for him this was a pretty deep thought so he just kept going. ‘Nature is always in the here and now…never waiting… endlessly passionate.’ Malik liked how his poetic kites floated into the early afternoon cool air. Soaking up the moment with his sense of transcendence he sought, Malik breathed in deeply.
Tammy, chill, aware and reflective in the robust, rewarding afternoon was shaken by Malik’s declarations. Hearing him utter in the meantime jolted her out of her cozy emotional vacation and dropped her into an unsettling mental state. Tammy went from cupping the thermos cup of green tea to strangling it.
In six year old Tammy’s mind meantime was what she called the episodes of her parents arguing. She instinctively recoiled under her bed in her and Shelly (her half-sister’s) room. Her bookshelf was empty. Her story books were in piles under her bed. Tammy lay among the dust bunnies and socks turning pages until the yelling and screaming stopped. She found a corporeal focus that completely blocked out life in the meantime. Fifteen year old Shelly wasn’t around so much so Tammy ended up being the flag bearer of her own safety. It seemed her parents first had to be mean to each other before they could approach her smiling saying:‘Don’t worry sweetie, come out from under there. Everything is going to be ok. Mommy is happy.’ Nine months and two police visits later there was no more meantime.
His husband love got overtaken by business. In the moment he justified his focus on growing the business. And his children’s inheritance will prove he was successful – was his mental argument he would have with himself, as he raked leaves or swept the driveway – as a way to assuage the discomfort of regret.
Gord felt he didn’t have the connection with his children for the same reason as when they were growing up he was growing his business. Selling plumbing supplies came easier to him than being there for his children. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be there. It’s that if he didn’t grow his business no one else would. Plus this business put food on the table and would pay for university as long as he kept his foot on the gas and didn’t let up.
‘There are different kinds of love, sweetheart!’ Gord remembers growling over his shoulder at Linda. His teeth were clenched down hard perhaps in an attempt to not let these silly words out. He can see it now. They were in their bedroom one Saturday morning when he was getting ready for work instead of taking Phil to hockey practice and teaching Martha to skate and buying the groceries with Sue.
‘Of course there are different kinds of love.’ Linda was paused by her absolute frustration that her good husband still didn’t get it.’ That’s the point!’ Linda schooled Gord looking him right in the eyes as he buttoned his shirt. Linda’s abstention from swearing gave her message that much more ummph. She was no longer in an argument with him but had already transported herself to how it was going to feel in the car later that morning as she drove Phil to Saturday morning hockey practice instead of his dad. Gord could feel Linda’s disappointment but he couldn’t somehow say he was sorry. Because, he told himself in the moment some 35 years ago, he wasn’t sorry because he was supporting his family. This memory, and others, were the life recordings that went through Gord’s mind as he would slowly sweep the clean front walk of its minimal weekday dirt.
In the few years since the death of his wife Gord had this urge to connect with his family so they know their unique value. Therefore his anchored vision project. Yes it would have been easier to say he loved them. And that if he had failed in some ways as a father he was sorry. But that would have been like the first route he walks in the mornings: short and simple and gets the job done without complications.
Mercifully Gord heard the toilet flush all the way down the hall which yanked him out of his swamp of regret.
‘It’s all very spiritual and transformative and, and, and earthy.’ Cedar vibrated her hands at her sides as she sat back down to show Gord how she was impacted by their chat.
‘Yes but without the sweat lodge.’ Gord fake laughs quickly. ‘ Or if you want the sweat lodge go for it. That was never my thing.’ Gord was trying to be funny in case he was coming on too strong.
‘What was your thing GG?’ Cedar asked, using her position as the preferred grandchild to be so direct.
‘I …’ Gord’s shoulders briefly pumped up and down as he gazed out the kitchen window looking out over the driveway and leaned back into his personal journey.
‘My thing would be whatever my thing was at the time. One thing at a time. When your grandmother was sick, that was my thing. When I started my business, that became my thing. When each child was born, that was my thing. But, as the years went on, with each child it was less of a thing.’ Gord paused and looked into Cedar’s eyes because Cedar’s mother Martha was his third and last child. They could both feel that this could be taken to mean that her mother’s birth and existence amounted to less than the birth of her two older siblings.
“You mom being the third wasn’t loved less by any means. There was just, I don’t know, more going on and as parents we weren’t petrified as we were when your uncle Phil was born.’
Cedar was the third child as well. By 7 minutes. Her twin brother Red went to the light before she did.
Was I less of a thing? Cedar had never even thought of it. In the moment she felt good about being a twin, or having Red as her twin because of how it echoed her existence. Gord saw her face quickly disappear inside of herself but didn’t grasp she was cherishing her birth not feeling any anger for getting the bronze medal. She was very happy to be on the podium.
‘You and Red were born at the same time so you were a big deal. A lot of diapers. Jack loved being your older brother, he was like a mini dad organizing your toys, helping you walk.
‘Actually when your mom told me she was having twins I thought it was great. But then she said, I have to confirm it with the doctor. And that always stuck with me. How did she know? Now Gord was lost inside his mind where fireworks were going off of beautiful family memories. And then, as it had come to be a recent habit, it circled quickly back around to Linda.
‘Your grandmother always loved the whole mystery of giving a child a name. It gave her joy and energy so for me I couldn’t see how others saw it as overbearing or imposing. Anyway it would be an innocent imposition. She would bring her little notebook and look into her child’s eyes for a clue – then look to the sky for inspiration. She really loved doing it and thought it was her role to participate. Martha says it was the only time she saw her mother write. That wasn’t true. Martha just felt that they were her children and she, plus her husband, had the ability to name them.’
‘So how did she know?’ Prompted Cedar for more information on her mother being a young mother. She wanted to admire her mom as the young, dynamic woman she could see in family photos before she was transformed into a bossy mom.
‘That she was pregnant with twins?’ The juicy confessional type of conversation with GG was so novel and satisfying.
‘I didn’t really capture that. Martha came up with your names before your grandmother could really process that there would be twins and get her motor running, so to speak, on what could be possible matching names. And truth be told, the names Red and Cedar that your mom had already come up with were so far off Linda’s screen that, well there was nothing to say really.’’
‘So my mom came up with the idea for our names?’ Cedar couldn’t remember asking and hadn’t really ever wanted to get into it. Her brother had a bit of a hard time because his name was Red but as life would have it Cedar got the red hair of the two. It confused people that a guy named Red didn’t have red hair but he had a twin sister who did. So they would get bullied in high school. That’s what teenagers do when they are presented with something that is beyond their grasp. They would stand up for each other but he was basically a wimp so he got brushed aside. Guys would even just hug him instead of beating on him. Beating on Red was so easy, it was comical.
As a result, sometimes they would play down they were twins, and a few times even siblings. There was no abandonment of one by the other. It was actually an effective teenage social strategy. It was a way to avoid ridicule. They would retreat into the fact that they were twins born Geminis. Twins squared. It made no difference to anyone who wasn’t them but it just made the route to get to them emotionally more convoluted so it provided an extra layer of protection.
But in the same breath, in high school her name gave her a way to sound different. Which she liked because it mirrored the way she felt. It also spiced up how she dressed and helped her come into her own style. Tall with her long, wavy red hair she took on a Boho look that seemed to work for her.
‘I remember your mom saying that she loved the red cedar trees because…’ Gord started.
‘Wait GG. Actually, I think I will ask my mom about our names. If you don’t mind.’ Even though she was eagerly soaking up the downloading of family history from her grandfather she stopped him.
‘We haven’t avoided the conversation, we just made sure we never had it.’ Cedar explained to her grandfather. As it came out of her mouth she could hear how lame it sounded, but it was basically true.
Cedar was glad she had dragged their good-byes outside because in that way it broke the proximity of the two of them that had grown around the kitchen table. She didn’t want a hug so Cedar fumbled with buttoning her coat moving toward the door. Cedar skipped down the stairs and they waved good-bye. Cedar put in her ears buds as she turned right to catch the bus uptown. As Gord stood on his front steps breathing the cooling November evening Cedar was reconnecting with the sound track of her generation. Gord, GG, dad, daddy, hesitated. He stood on the front steps of his fully paid off house, where 3 beautiful children knew innocence and joy; where Linda, his wife would bring each of them home from the hospital and nurture them with sincere service that inspired and humbled Gord.
Waiting till after Cedar had turned the corner he then headed back to his garage. The same garage where he started his plumbing business. The same garage that was his first warehouse for his plumbing supply business. This old man was in a negotiation with his own shoulders to determine if he walked back with the hunched shoulders of a defeated man who had nothing better to do than to test drive his coffin. Or if he was an aging man engaging the role of elder as he addressed mortality with humility/fear/awe/respect.
Gord was comfortable in his coffin. It was only the second time he had laid down in it. He kind of felt like a Formula 1 driver slipping into their sleek race car. He had used his yellow measuring tape to get his height and width and depth. Then he added 6 inches to each measurement. It was snug, not cramped.