Short Story: Toad – Part 1 of 3


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.  

Rene continued,

“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 Liskeard.”

“New What?”

“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.  

“Que tal.”

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

Short Story: Jack-in-a-box

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“Cheers bro,” said Manuel as the second round arrived. “We haven’t hadn’t had beers in months.”

Oddie had become the fixer just like Andre said.  Sandoval was so insulted they went ahead and created the position right under his nose. And angry because he didn’t notice it was all going on.  But when he yelled at them he told them they should have told him because he would have said yes.

Everyone knew Sandoval would have said no to the idea.  Because it wasn’t his idea.  And because that is exactly the kind of position he wanted Ricky to have.  That way he could tell his dad if someone was stealing materials or dealing drugs on his jobs sites or the union was coming around.

Being the fixer was very cool.  He bought a pick up truck once he heard what he heard what his salary was going to be.  The site supervisors loved him if they understood this guy was the best solution to their day to day issues.  Or they hated him because they saw him as stepping on their toes.

“How you gonna get home?  Cuz you’re not drivin anywhere bro,” said Manuel.

“I know, I know,” said Oddie with a swig of beer and a look over the patio wooden fence into the summer dusk. He stifled a sigh.

“Are you sighing bro?”

“No.”

“Jes you are. I heard you.  And I saw you go like this.” imitating heaving his chest and for effect glossing over his eyes as if he was a mime.  “Are you sad for Trina?” Manuel teased Oddie.

“Grow up.”

When Oddie drank he pined for Trina; when Manuel drank his English got better.  Oddie was haunted by his ex: Trina. It irritated him – the clarity she and the app (fuck their plans for the app) had given his life before.  

Behind the gaze over the patio fence, in his mind Oddie was replaying the call from Sandoval at 7:30 this morning.  

Sandoval knew that Oddie was the guy who mentored Ricky for the five months he worked on site.  Was that a good thing, Oddie was trying to figure out.  And now Sandoval had him on speed dial.  When he saw the initials JS on the screen of his phone in front of him – he took a deep breath, answered and put it on speaker.  

“This is Oddie,” he said on his way to the Ardale site.

“Oddie, good morning.  This is Juan Sandoval.”

“Good morning Mr. Sandoval.”

“You can call me Juan, remember.’

“Ok Juan.”

“How is my Jack-of-all-trades today?” Sandoval asked all chipper.

Oddie was stunned for a moment as that was the phrase Trina used in their last argument.

“Ready and raring to go,” said Oddie.

“Good to hear. Where you headed today?

“Ardale.”

“Ok. Who is the site super up there:  Oswald?” asked Sandoval even though they both knew it to be true.

Oswald was one of the supers who welcomed Oddie’s help as the fixer position and gave the office great feedback about Oddie.  It had become the Oddie and Ozzie show at Ardale.

“Yes,” said Oddie, sounding formal.  His instinct was poking him in the stomach with a thin twig.

“Ok. Change of plans. I will notify Oswald at Ardale.  I have a specific task that needs your focus.”  Sandoval was skilled and shameless at turning his needs into your responsibility.

Specific task was code for doing Sandovals’ dirty work.  It had come up once before and Oddie had phoned Andre right away.  

“If you don’t want to do it – don’t,” Andre said. “The thing is, and there is nothing I can do about this, he will fire your ass if you don’t.”  Andre was a good boss but he wasn’t afraid to share with Oddie the heat he felt from head office.  This time Oddie didn’t bother calling Andre because the fewer people that knew about this shit the fewer people could rat on him. 

“Earth to Oddie.”

“What?”

“The waitress is asking you to marry her,” said Manuel.

Oddie looked at the waitress and smiled.

“Not in this lifetime honey.  But if you like I can gecha another pint.”

“Sounds good,” said Oddie, finishing his pint and handing the waitress the empty glass.

“Bro you look like shit.  Do you have a terminal disease we don’t know about?” asked Ozzie.

“No bro, I’m just not eating well.  I’m a burger slut,” said Oddie, patting his belly that had definitely rounded out with an extra 15 pounds in less than a year. 

“Are you gonna cat my Stevens?”  asked Ozzie.

“What the fuck does that even mean?” asked Oddie.

“Cat Stevens went all Muslim when midlife came and tickled his soul,” said Ozzie.

“Mid life!  Bro I’m 27.”

“Just sayin you aren’t the you of before and I was wondering if it was work or, are you spending time with your uncle and studying your Arabic or what the hell is rattling around in that brain of yours.”

Instead of saying anything about the task this morning Oddie says, 

“Cat Stevens – that’s a pretty obscure reference.”

“I have an eclectic taste in music.”

“And women.”

“Hey I like women.”

“And they like you,” said Oddie, motioning his pint towards the group of women who just sat down at another table on the patio and had found Ozzie on their radar.  Ozzie responded to the love by raising his pint towards their table, “Cheers ladies.”

“See what I mean,” said Oddie.

“What?”

Ozzie was divorced and had a six year old son who was on summer vacation with his mother so Ozzie was not losing a moment to enjoy life.  He liked hanging out with Oddie because it made him look younger.  Or at least feel younger.  Even though 35 is not old – it is if you don’t want to be in the market for divorcees who could see him coming from a mile away.  But that can also work in his favour.

“The question still stands or at least the principle does,” said Ozzie referring to his Cat Stevens question.

“What was your question?” asked Oddie, not remembering and seeing if Ozzie remembered as his attention had been hijacked by hormones.  

“Can you even stand?  You handsome drunk bastard,” said Ozzie, redirecting. 

“You know what I can’t stand,” said Oddie to the world.

“Here you go guys,” said the waitress putting down pints for Oddie and Ozzie.

“Thank you ma’am,” said Ozzie.  Oddie takes 3 long gulps of his beer and says,

“I can’t stand people who don’t do their own dirty work.”

Manuel could tell there was a story to be heard behind that statement and he was glad Ozzie was there to make light of whatever it was.  He was also glad Oddie was buying because he didn’t want to have that argument again when he got home.

“Man you wouldn’t believe what goes on behind the scenes.  This morning Sandoval calls me all buddy/buddy, first name basis bullshit… “

”Dude, we all have to deal with the bullshit,” said Ozzie.  “You deal with it in a pick up truck, Manny deals with morons al day and I deal with it when the fuckin PM prances around my job site.  And I’ve been dealing with it much longer than you.”

“Whaddya mean, I’m not gonna be anybody’s fuckin lackey.”

“What’s a fuckin lackey,” asked Manuel.

“Someone’s bitch,” said Ozzie.

“And then there is the law.”

“Exactly bro. So in the end you work for a company and the company is responsible.”

“Not exactly bro,” said Oddie.

With that Ozzie could tell Oddie was talking about something beyond the run of the mill regulatory hijinks they were asked to condone but he didn’t want to kill the vibe.

“Shut up and don’t think so much bro,” said Ozzie.  

“Ya bro, it’s Friday, relax.  That pendejo doesn’t own your weekend.”

“Listen to Manny.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself – you should come out tonight.”

“Let’s order some wings,” says Oddie.

It just happened, in the last few minutes and Manuel usually listens to it. 

“I gotta go,” said Manuel.  He drained the remaining half of his pint. 

There’s that threshold between relaxing after work and partying. It starts with a few beers after work with the guys on the patio. Then it eases from dusk into night,  flirting with the women at the other table, eating fried pub food and ordering shots, tequila in honour of Manuel, they yell.  Manuel wasn’t Mexican the last time they ordered tequila which Manuel didn’t drink because he doesn’t like it, and he isn’t Mexican today.  His wife is.

Manuel texted Azucena from the bus saying he would be home in 45 minutes, did she need anything from the supermarket. 

He didn’t bother grabbing a plastic basket so he is piling everything up in his arms: cilantro, the small bag of yellow onions, sour cream and he found the good tortillas.  Azucena reminded him he already had two tins of chipotle at home so he didn’t need to get any. He actually has three at home; two stacked in the kitchen cupboard that she knows about and one hidden in the bottom kitchen drawer.  The beer has released his inner rebel so after passing the salsa section in the Mexican food aisle he stops, walks backwards saying out loud to himself in English,

“You never know,” as he puts a small tin of chipotle on his small pile of groceries. 

Without breaking his stride he leans over and grabs the expensive roasted chicken before taking his palace in the express line.  Since it is now 7:30 pm the roast chickens aren’t the best.  They can be a little dry unless they did a second batch mid afternoon. He can’t complain to the chicken. But he just might ask him if he is the best. 

Manuel is intrinsically logical.  And then there are those other days, like today, he lets beer run his decision making.  Manuel hardly cooks so there is no way he can tell Azucena he hates the smell of boiled chicken.

Hugging the hot plastic chicken container to his chest  he wavers a little as he reads the gossip on the cover of the magazines. He is glad he didn’t have another beer because he has a nice buzz on now.   

Azucena hates the whole beer and wings thing.  She doesn’t mind the beer so much as Manuel doesn’t drink all that often but can’t stand that he would eat eight stupid little chicken wings for $19 when at home he has homemade tinga de pollo.  Already fending off his wife even before he gets home, he justifies bringing home his new best friend, he says out loud, “No estamos en tu pueblo flaca.”

Short Story: Jack of All Trades

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

“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?”

“Why?”

“Did e?”

“He asked about the team, nobody specific.”

“Whadya say?”

“That our work speaks for itself.  Well built – on time – no drama.”

“Whade say?”

“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?”

“No.”

“Where is Octavo?”

“In the shitter.”

“He just went.”

“You sound like Gerry.”

“Don’t insult me.”

“Relax bro.”

“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.

“Joking.”

“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.”

“Ok.”  

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.”

“Trina babe.”

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

Manuel Labour: Short Story from the Series : Tool

photo on pexels by Tiracahuad K




“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.

“Tourettes,” helped Manuel.

“Tourettes,” repeated Oddie.

“Quieres más?” asked Octavo, finding Oddie’s comprehension therapeutic. 

“Mas,” said Oddie.

“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.

“Eres valiente.”

“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

Guy Wire – A Short Story from the Series: Tool.

Photo by William Wendling on Unsplash

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:

“Yo – wire guy – why don’t ya – come along?”

Short Story – Knock It Off

Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels


Sandoval, pointing his tanned index finger from atop the conference room table, told his VP of development Andrea to make sure there was a fresh shitter on site for when the engineer visits.  Andrea emailed Andre the project manager to take care of it.  So Andre texted Gerry the site supervisor to take care of it.  Sitting in his pickup truck in the curving line of the Tim Horton’s drive thru waiting for his large double double coffee Gerry got an idea.  He was going to get Ricky to take care of it.  Ricky has this inborn arrogance that makes it seem when he asks you for something it is more like a fact than a favour.  But Gerry was scared of Sandoval’s son Ricky one on one. 

“Hey I need one of you two geniuses to order a new port-a-potty.”

“What the fuck for?” said Oddie.

“Don’t those guys just show up on schedule every like ten days?” 

“Ya, well it’s potty time,” said Gerry, making Oddie smirk.

“Fuck that farmer Joe, that’s your job and you know it.  You’re trying to pawn that off on us because you don’t have the huevos to do it yourself,” said Oddie.  In mid sentence Oddie remembered that it really annoyed Gerry when someone threw in phrases from their mother tongue.  Spanish wasn’t his mother tongue but it still slid the job. 

“You tell Ricky he has to order the new shitter,” said Oddie, imposing on Gerry the 4 inches taller he was to punctuate his point; then walking off.  

Gerry was fuming because he didn’t have what these assholes did. Oddie had an x-factor.  He had a way to receive a problem and without doing anything crazy; without yelling and droppind f- bombs all over the job site, he got stuff done.  50% Mike Holmes + 50% Macgyver but with better hair than both of them.   Ricky had money. 

“We make that dumbass’s life way too easy,” said Oddie, including Ricky.  “Dude I’m getting tired of Gerry not givin me any recognition.  Does the office even know I exist?  What Gerry should do is tell his superiors that Oddie is a man who can think on his feet and is great with managing people on the job site,” said Oddie with Ricky nodding his head and just trying to stay neutral.

~~~

Oddie didn’t like complaining to Trina but he needed to vent.  Trina was more surprised at the level of pettiness than bothered to have to hear about work drama from her boyfriend.  She told him “Just speak your mind on the job site.  But do it in a way that highlights your  ability and your effort. Especially in front of that Ricky in case he can go over Gerry’s head and say something to his dad.”  

“Just look at how I basically transformed Sandoval’s son into a young man who believes in his ability to do shit.  He is outgrowing that insecure spoiled brat his dad dropped into Gerry’s lap and Gerry passed off to me,” said Oddie to Trina as he cooked dinner.  She looked up from building the app on her laptop and saw his afro grazing the bottom of the stove fan and wondered how a hard hat could actually stay on his head all day without falling off all the time.  

“Gerry is such a weasel.  The least he should do is throw a few gift certificates my way:  $200 for a nice steak dinner,” Oddie talked to himself while seasoning the onions.  He liked how the grains of rock salt gave his finger tips a mini massage.  He loved the sweet fragrance of frying onions but today he couldn’t smell anything because he was stewing in his own thoughts. “Ya know, Gerry is like a house cat: he is afraid of the outside world,” said Oddie.  

The outside world for Gerry is anyone under 30 years old, an assertive woman, anyone whose first language isn’t English, doesn’t approve of his e-cigarette or has creativity and leadership.  

~~~

When Ricky ordered the new port-a-potty he got the day wrong.

“Where’s the fuckin port-a-potty Ricky!” said Gerry inviting cardiac arrest.

“What’s that Gerry?” said Oddie.  “You’re not happy with how someone else did your job for you?  Then instead of sucking on your phallic e-cigarette why don’t you dial Justin Time?”

“Ricky!” yelled Gerry.

“Sup Gerry,”  said Ricky, taking off his orange hard hat and wiping his forearm across his forehead.

“Where’s my fuckin port-a-potty?”

Oddie took a step back and watched as this moron turned purple in the face thinking that we waste so much of our emotions on such silly things. 

“I dunno Gerry, I ordered it so it should be here.  Relax, the engineer doesn’t get here till tomorrow, right?” said Ricky with his moneyed coolness.

“Fuck it,” said Gerry as he pulled his cell out of his pocket and called Justin Time for himself.

“What!” Gerry yelled at his cell phone pacing down the suburban street where they were putting up new 5,000 square foot homes in a cul-de-sac.  “I need that port-a-potty here today.  Now.”

Gerry got to the job site at 6:15 the next morning just in case their port-a-potty was the first delivery of the day.  He leaned on his truck, took a pull off his e-cigarette and a sip of his coffee.  The morning in the cul-de-sac was cool and quiet and the sky was clear.  For some reason he looked over his shoulder in time to glimpse two deer bound down into the ravine.  He thought of just quitting and moving back to Manitoba and taking care of his parents.  He felt guilty everytime he e-transfered money but wasn’t there to help out.

“Gerry looks like shit, how do you think he slept?” said Oddie in a mock conversation with Ricky so Gerry could totally overhear it.

“Fuck you.”

“It’s just a toilet,” said Oddie.

“What’s his problem?” said Ricky, putting on his gloves.

“Last year Gerry phoned Justin Time yelling at them, droppin f-bombs that he needed a new port-a-potty right away because Jean was totally hungover and he puked all over the inside of the port-a-potty.  It was a stinkin hot August day and the shitter smelled like shit.”

“What happened?” said Ricky adjusting his safety glasses.

“Their boss called someone at our office who emailed Andre who yelled at Gerry.  So Gerry is ashamed to talk with them.”

“Did they give you a new port-a-potty?”

“No.  Gerry made Jean clean it up.  After telling me to do it of course. I told him to go to hell.”

The engineer is scheduled to arrive at 9:30 a.m. and the architect should arrive around then too.  Andre the PM was already on site and looking pleased with the progress.  

No one thought to reschedule the lumber delivery so Peter from Access Lumber was walking on site with a purchase order in his hand and trivia in his head. 

“Where do you want me to put it down?  Same place as last time,” said Peter.  His last delivery to this site was about two months ago.

“Who are you?” said Andre.

“Access Lumber bro,” said Peter.  

Oddie started to hum a song that made Ricky giggle but a glare from Gerry shut them down. 

“Why is he here?” asked Andre.

“I need the lumber or my guys are gonna be just sittin around all day playin with themselves,” said Gerry in an attempt to sound like a decision maker.

“What’s your name?” said Andre.

“Pete,” said Peter quickly while taking a step forward.

“Ok Pete,how fast can you get that lumber unloaded?” Andre asked Peter.

“I can be pullin outta here in 90 minutes if nobody gets in my way,” said Peter.

“It’s 8 am.  I need you outta here in 60 minutes.  These guys can help you,” said Andre motioning to Oddie and Ricky.

“That’s right Peter of Access Lumber.  We are at your service.  We got 60 minutes together,” said Oddie with a wry smile.  Andre could tell there was something going on between these guys but he didn’t care.  He wanted the lumber offloaded and this guy off his job site before the engineer arrived. 

“Get it done Oddie,” said Andre.  With that comment Oddie felt that the people in the office might know that he wasn’t a bobblehead like Gerry. 

“Why the fuck is everyone so tense becaue of one fucking engineer?” Ricky whispered to Oddie.  Oddie was directing Peter to back up the truck onto the front lawn, chewing it up a bit more. 

“Ya I know.  It’s complicated,” said Oddie.  Ricky had learned the vocabulary of evasion on site when the guys didn’t want to talk with him about shit the company did or rumours about his dad.  Ricky stood between Oddie and the space to get out from the back of the truck with a stance that declared that he was not his dad.  “Dude.  Now’s not the time,” said Oddie.

“Is this guy a real fuckin hard ass or what,” said Ricky walking with Oddie.

“No.  Not really.  She’s pretty fair from what I understand.  Not being an engineer myself.  She just doesn’t take bullshit – and therein lies the issue,” said Oddie.

“Right,” said Ricky as they walked around the truck.

“Now level out that area where the plywood goes.  And I want the 2 by 4’s over there,” Gerry gave redundant instructions to Oddie and Ricky who already knew what the drill was.

They got the lumber offloaded and Peter pulled onto the street at 9:15 and he sat in his truck doing paperwork or on his phone.

“I just got a message from the engineer.  She can’t make it today” said Andre.

“Fuck me,” said Gerry.

“Not today,” said Oddie.

“So when?” asked Gerry.

“We’ll let you know.  Just keep on schedule and don’t fuck up or we’ll have to tear everything down,” said Andre. 

Gerry was exhausted.  “I’m goin for coffee,” but then he saw he was already holding a large coffee in his hand.

Peter jumped down from the cab of his truck and walked across the street to the job site.  

“Hey guys,” Peter said.

“Is that you Peter?” said Oddie.

Peter loved his job because he would visit different job sites all the time and could use the same trivia on all of them but get a new reaction each time. He ached to overcome his sense of lack of accomplishment as a man by bringing his own Jeopardy show where he is the host and the contestant.  He just kept talking when the guys rolled their eyes or he heard others laugh at him.  He was like a comedian who came to practise his routine on the guys before going on stage. 

“Brother, I think you’ll like this one,” started Peter. “The original Zeppelin, the LZ 127 Graf…” 

Oddie got a kick out of giving Peter a hard time but also admired his spirit to do his thing regardless of what others think.  And he occasionally had a good story to tell.  He  was pretty sure the trivia Peter came up with was determined by his children’s homework assignments.  Ricky now used wrist braces because his wrists weren’t used to the framing.  He pretended he was adjusting his braces so he could listen to Peter.

“Knock it off guys.  Get to work?” said Gerry, breaking up Peter’s seminar on airships.

Oddie laughed to himself and started singing so Peter could hear as he walked to his truck:  

“There’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off.  There’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off – there’s a dozen on my cousin I can hear the fuckers buzzin, there’s a skeeter on your Peter knock it off.”

~~~

From the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara

IG: kevin_mcnamaraca

Short Story – Hector Holding the Bag

Photo by Paul Zoetemeijer on Unsplash


“I can’t believe someone would be so stupid to pay $280 thousand for a freakin NFT,” said Matt.  “It’s a measly pdf.”

“Who paid that much?” said Hector.

“Eminem,” said Matt.

“He’s got too much money,” said Hector.

“They aren’t just payin for a pdf,” said Andy.

“Well that’s what they get,” said Matt.

“They are backed up by the blockchain,” said Andy.

“That does Jack shit,” said Matt.

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” bluffed Andy.

“What the fuck is a NFT?” said Hector squeezed between the other two on the work truck seat.

“It means a non refundable ticket,” said Matt as if that closed the conversation on the topic.

“No it doesn’t,” laughed Andy.  Even though Matt could hear everything Andy spoke in a hushed voice to Hector on his right, “Don’t listen to that kindergarten drop out.  He was so in love with Kristen what’s-her-name from the Twilight movie he quotes the movie whenever he can.  But then she came out as a lesbeen and now numb nuts over there has PTSD.” 

“Good morning can I take your order?” came a cute voice over the drive-thru speaker. 

“Ya, can I get 3 large double doubles.  Do you guys want a breakfast sandwich?”  Then Andy turned back to the outdoor speaker, “I’m gonna get a bacon egger – no cheese.”

“Did you want a hash brown with that?” said the nice voice.

“What the hell,” said Andy.

“So then that makes it a combo,” said the bored voice.

“Sure.”

“Hector, you want some chow?” said Andy.

“Ya gemme a bacon eager too,” said Hector.

“Another eager bacon,” said Andy, playing around with Hector’s accent.

“Was that a second bacon egger?” said the tired voice.

“Yes please,”  said Andy then turned back towards Matt. “Yo, numb nuts, quit holdin up the line.” 

“Ya make it a combo for me too.  I need the grease to take my morning dump,” said Matt.

 “So it’s you stinkin up my truck with beer farts,” said Andy.

“Sorry chump, that’s just your bad breath,” said Matt.

Hector laughed hard at everything.

Hating to be laughed at, Matt elbowed Hector in the ribs.

“Owww.”

“Watch what you say, pipsqueak,” said Matt.

“I didn’t say anything.  I only laughed”

Andy saw that Hector didn’t grasp the meaning of ‘pipsqueak’.”

“Pipsqueak comes from the old Ojibwa phrase meaning ‘ye of large penis’.  Did you know Matt here is part native?” said Andy.

“Hector, did you know that gorgeous Andy over there is 100% dumbass?”

Being the first day of spring work the guys hadn’t been together as a group since early December so their banter was especially vigorous as a way to say ‘I missed you’.  Instead of doing snow removal, for the past three winters Matt surfs in Mexico.  Andy and Hector would bump into each other at the yard when they drove snow plow.  As the winter wound down Andy took March off this year and Hector hung drywall with his cousin.  

They couldn’t slide out the plastic cup holder because Hector’s knees were in the way so the tray with coffees and the bag of food were on his lap.  Over the winter Hector had pretty much cut out coffee but didn’t want to open himself to the circus of ridicule from Andy and Matt if he ordered a green tea so this morning he just let it ride.

“Rub-a-dub-dub, where’s the grub?” said Andy rubbing his hands together as he drove.  The paper bag warmed Hector’s thighs as he listened to the song on the radio.  He had no idea the band was Lowest of The Low and the song was called Salesman, Cheats and Liars but he liked the tune.  He had no idea Andy was asking for his breakfast sandwich.

“Oye guey, reparta la comida,” Matt translated.  As he worked over the years Hector had learned English yet many sayings escaped him.  On purpose Andy would use colloquial sayings in a passive/aggressive way that helped Hector broaden his vocabulary while portraying himself as cultured and wise.

“How was Parco el Escondera bro?  Some big surf and a bevy of hotties?”  said Andy through a mouthful of artificially round sausage.

“Que vergüenza ese pinche guey,” said Matt making Hector laugh.

“It’s Puerto Escondido.  And I’m not telling you anything because then you will want to come down there one winter and you will ruin the vibe and scare off all the bikinis,” said Matt.

Hector took a bite of his breakfast sandwich, then looked to his left in expectation of Andy’s response.

“Las nenas guey, una chulada, te digo,” said Matt.

“Orale,” said Hector.  Hector likes working with Andy.  But Andy has this way of joking with Hector’s English that Hector can’t figure out.  So he likes it when Matt speaks his Spanish to kind of even things out.

Out of nowhere Andy slammed on the horn because some idiot didn’t put on their left turn signal.  He squeezed his coffee so tight with his right hand that the brown plastic top popped off and hot coffee soaked his leg and crotch.

“Asshole!  Learn to drive!  Even better, don’t drive at all,” yelled Andy.

“You really told him.  I don’t think he is ever going to drive again,”  said Matt.

“Gimme your coffee,” said Hector so Andy could dry his pants.

“Great, now it looks like I pissed myself,” said Andy, steaming.

“So what does Eminem get for $280k?” asked Hector.

“A bored monkey,” said Matt.

“Exactly.  That’s what Matt sees when he wakes up in the morning,” said Andy.

“No Seriously,” said Hector.

“Google it,” said Andy.  Hector pulled his phone from his inside pocket.

“Not board you Mexican midget.  Bored,” said Matt watching Hector type.

Matt knew Hector was from El Salvador.  Matt was born in Poland and came to Canada when he was one year old so he had no accent but spoke decent Polish.

Hector’s belief in himself as a man was in flux but his spine was strong.  He loved Canada. He loved that his daughter could walk to school. He loved Matt and Andy because they looked at him with eyes that demanded results from a peer.  Hector was having trouble with his wife because he was having trouble ridding himself of a third world mentality.

“How do you spell NFT,” joked Hector.

“I’ll let Andy tackle that one,” said Matt.

“Bro, it’s a cartoon!” said Hector looking at the picture of the NFT on his phone.

“Hector hermano, but actually you should see some of these NFT’s; they are like a psychedelic trip.  But without the drugs.  They are really cool.  It’s a whole experience.  Not just a static image. 

“What’s the point?” says Hector.

“Money,” said Andy.

“Yes, money.  But the tech behind it can root out forgeries because if you cannot connect your pdf to the blockchain it is a fake,” said Matt.

“Fake what?  It’s right here in front of me,” said Hector.

“That’s what I’m sayin,” said Matt.

Andy had reached his limit of his Google search sound bites and succumbed to the most comfortable defence; “Fake news,” he said.

“Blockheads like him,” Matt motioned towards Andy, “Don’t have the mental bandwidth to grasp blockchain implications.  De hecho hay un guey que me está ayudando con todo eso.  Se puede ganar un chingo de dinero,” Matt confided in Hector about his investment.

Hector’s wife would pummell him and then divorce him if he were to risk their savings on a bored monkey.  

He was impressed with how much Matt’s Spanish had improved.  Matt just got back last week and was all tanned.  He could tell Matt loved tossing around slang and swear words but it resonated as an empty cool.  Plus his gringo accent made him sound like a congested substitute teacher.   

“What the hell, why is Fields calling me?” said Andy looking at his phone and putting it on speaker.

“Ron, what’s up?”

“Kurdak is calling me wondering if you guys are coming today.  What’s going on?” said the boss.

“Nothin.  We’ll be there in like 20 minutes,” said Andy.

“Hey Ron this is Matt. First day of the season ya know.  We had to find where everything was in the sea can,” said Matt.

“Where the fuck is Hector?” asked Fields.

“Right here boss,” said Hector.

“Ok good.  Well, welcome back boys.  And let’s get this Kurdak thing done and get outta there.  He’s drivin me crazy,” said Fields.

“You got it,” said Andy.

“Should be maximum five days work,” Matt said smiling at the other guys as he leaned towards the phone on the dash.

“Five days!?” said Fields.

“Ya the ground is probably still frozen in parts at the side of the house.  If we can wait a few weeks then it will probably only take three days,” said Matt trying to muscle Andy out of being team leader.

“I can’t wait any longer.  I need this done.  Go rent a jackhammer to break up the frozen shit,” said the boss.

“Ok,” said Andy, knowing that he would drop the guys and the tools at Kurdak’s place and spend half the morning going to get the jackhammer. 

“Update me at the end of the day,” said Fields.

“Roger that,” said Andy feeling good about his position in the tug of war with Matt for the team lead.

“Hector bro,  sounds like Fields is grooming you for upper management,” said Matt.

“Fields wouldn’t even recognize me if I ran him over with my car,” said Hector.

“You have a car?” said Andy looking across at Hector.

“Ya bro.  Didn’t you see me all winter pull up in that blue Nissan?”

“What year is it?”

“2015.  Runs pretty good.  Got it off my cousin so I can pay it off by hangin drywall for him on weekends he said,” said Hector.

“Nice,” said Matt.

“Last week Fields told me Kurdak had called him like 5 times to confirm we were going to be there today because he wanted to ‘monitor our work’ is what Kurdak said,” said Andy.

“Kurdak.  That’s the spooky guy that stands behind the curtains all day to watch us work?” said Hector.

“No.  That’s Mrs Moosavi.  She’s a whole nother kettle a fish,” said Andy.

“Do we have to go back there?” asked Hector.

“Nope.  We finished her driveway in October I think,” said Andy.

“Don’t these people ever work!?” said Matt.

“Who knows,” said Hector.

“Man they come here with wads a dough and buy a passport,” said Andy, throwing around his sayings again.

“Not like Hector the Erector here who works for his money and pays his taxes,” said Matt.

“Hector the erector, is that your porn star name?” said Andy.

“Hey, there goes a Pyramid Landscaping truck.  Those guys man, they work fast and dirty.  They have the worst Yelp reviews,” said Matt.

“Those guys offered me a job in January,” said Andy.

“As what?” asked Matt, both jealous and curious.  

“Territory Manager,” said Andy.

“Obviously you turned it down because here you are.  What kind of money did they offer you?” asked Matt.

“More than what Fields pays,” said Andy

“So why didn’t you take it?” asked Hector.

“My wife sat me down and showed me the on-line reviews and she told me there must be a reason they are looking outside the company when they need a territory Manager,” said Andy.

“It must be a real shit show,” said Matt, convincing himself where he worked was alright and his feelings weren’t hurt that he didn’t get a job offer over the winter.  

Shit show;  Hector liked that saying.  He was going to use that.

“Basically it’s sales and customer service,” said Andy.  “Putting out fires and dealing with Kurdaks.  I wanted the money, of course.  To buy a house and stupidly chain myself to a mortgage for 30 years.  But my wife told me I would have become exactly like my father.  And we don’t want that for her or for me.  So now I am stuck with looking at your sad faces everyday.”

“I know, I am getting these bags under my eyes,” said Matt checking out his tanned face in the mirror in the passenger sun visor. 

“You sound like a woman,” said Andy.

“You look like a woman,” said Matt with an instant response.

“No seriously, you remind me of one of those women in her flowing dressing gown,” said Matt as they turned onto Kurdak’s street.  “You know the 1960’s kind who sit at their boudoir with a cigarette and their Martini to put on their makeup to go out for dinner with their aloof husband,” Andy continued. “Their young daughter stares as her mother gets ready, ‘you are so pretty mommy,’ and mommy smiles to hide her sadness.”

Hector typed boodwar into google translate.

“It’s tocador guey,” Matt told Hector then to Andy he said, 

“That’s a whole lot of Disney princesses you got going on in your head bro”.

“I’m an artist,” said Andy.

“You’re an idiot,” said Matt.

“Now Matthew quit teasing your sister,” said Hector in a scolding voice.

Matt turned toward Hector, “If you were a woman Hector, you would be …,” 

“If Andy was a woman …,” interrupted Hector nervously.

“What are you talking about, Andy is a woman!  I mean have you ever seen him take a piss?  Me neither.  You know why, cuz he’s gotta sit down,” said Matt.

“Now who’s got the rabid imagination?” said Andy to Matt as he put the truck in park. 

Mr. Kurdak was waiting for them in his garage with the garage door up.

“Good morning Mr. Kurdak.  How are we today?” 


Also from the Short Story Series: Tool by Kevin McNamara is Jerry Rig



Short Story – The Honest Cold

Photo by Rick J. Brown on Unsplash

“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.

“So what.”

“I don’t want them.”

“Who cares?” said Tali.

“I do.”

“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.  

“When?”

“I. Don’t. Know,” said Bruno.

“I do,” said Vanessa.

“When?”

“Never.”

“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?”

“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


Short Story – Shorten Up Ricky

Photo by Kevin Jarrett on Unsplash


“Oksana asked me what Haka meant,” said Oddie,  “So I gave her my best version of it.”

On his first day Ricky had seen the word in black marker on the back of Oddie’s hard hat but figured it was his last name or something.  That was when he hadn’t asked questions because he feared it would only have shown how little he knew.

“What is Haka?”  asked Ricky.

“It’s the warrior dance the All Blacks do before each game.”

“Who are the All Blacks?”

“New Zealand’s national rugby team.  Watch this,” says Oddie as he stands right in front of Ricky and starts slapping his forearms as he squats and shouts with his tongue out.  

“What the fuck … are you two love birds talking about now?” asked Gerry the supervisor out of breath.

“Nothin,” said Ricky. 

“What in the world could possibly motivate you to get out of your truck and climb that ladder?” said Oddie.

“Sandoval is coming later today,”  said Gerry, feeling awkward talking about the boss to the boss’s son.  “He hates a messy job site and he will yell at me saying the minister of labour is just around the corner …”

“The Minister?” said Oddie.

“Yes the fn’ Minister of Labour is comin down here to find us,”  said Gerry.

“Fine us,” said Ricky, the boss’s derelict son.

“Fine,” said Gerry.

“Ok we’ll clean up your job site Gerr Bear,” said Oddie.

“Now,” said Gerry.

Sandoval got his start in Quebec 30 years ago renovating apartments when the tenants moved out so the owners could jack up the rent.  To avoid the unions in Quebec he brought his guys to Ontario.  Two of his best men, Rejean and Frederick, were machines 20 years ago.   They had forgotten more about how to build a house than these young guns would ever know.  Frederick became a supervisor years ago but Rejean had framed himself into a corner.  He told himself he couldn’t do anything else. 

“Tabernac, Jerrie.   Kick doze feckin punks inta gear.” said Rejean.

“Relax, Jean.  I got em cleanin up the job site.  Nothin you need to sweat your little French balls about,” said Gerry.  

Gerry found himself squeezed between this wrinkled and weary red seal swearing at him in French and these newbie cowboys knocking in nails as they gabbed about energy.  Oddie could see Gerry stressing because he didn’t have skills to get the team to work together.  Oddie loved sitting back and watching Gerry squirm. 

Strapping on their tool belts after tidying up the job site, Oddie wondered,

‘Why is it that some people are just so easy to make fun of?’ 

“Ok Gerry-atric,’  Oddie yelled down to Gerry, “Looks real cute your job site.”  

“If by cute you mean tidy then get back to building my fuckin house,” said Gerry.

“He’s not coming,” said Ricky.  

It took Oddie a few seconds to realize that Ricky was referring to his dad; the boss, Sandoval.  Ricky obviously had the inside scoop.  Oddie inched a 2 by 4 stud until it was on centre with slow taps of the side of his hammer trying to think of something to ask.

“It’s Tuesday.  We won’t see him till Thursday.  Chill,” said Ricky.  Seeing Gerry leaning on his truck, checking his phone and pulling on his e-cigarette he said “It’s like watching a rat in a lab experiment.”

“Bro, who are you tryin to kid.  Ya gotta shorten up on the handle so it will be easier to get the nail in the middle of the block.  Shorten up,” repeats Oddie.  “You never played baseball as a kid?”

Ricky purses his lips.

“Fuck,” said Oddie. “Gimme that thing.  With all your money you couldn’t get yourself a real hammer.  Who made this thing? Fischer-Price?  Watch me; it’s like this.”  Oddie shows Ricky and Ricky gets the hang of it. 

“That’s better.  Now you only look like a spaztic rookie instead of a complete moron,” said Oddie.  

Oddie does anything complicated and Ricky works around Oddie.  Oddie is the only one who isn’t afraid to whip Ricky into shape:  

“Ricky don’t be picky – grab a couple of those lovely 2 by 4’s and let’s frame the shit outta this wall.” 

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph Ricky.  That’s not how I taught you to put in the blocking.  You’re makin me look bad.”

“Ricky, you don’t have to advertise you’re a rookie.  We already know.”

Ricky was still slick; hair coiffed down to the nanometre.  But now his boots were nicked and scuffed; the leather on his tool belt was softening up and wrinkling.  His posture was strong; his gait potent.

“Who is Oshkania again?” asked Ricky.

“Oksana.   She’s Tali’s girlfriend.  He says she’s his fiance but I haven’t seen any rings yet.  Anyway, Saturday morning she has a Zoom call about intention. with this group of people all over the world who are into well-being.  You know, healthy living.  What they do is they take turns sending each other good vibes.  And apparently it cures people of diseases and other shit,” Oddie loved having an audience.

“Whaddya mean intention?”

“Intention.  It’s something you want.  Something you want to happen.  Something you want to be in the world,” said Oddie.

“What have they cured?”

“I think she said cancer but I find that hard to believe.”

“Cancer?!  What… what’s her group called,” asked Ricky.  Oddie feigned needing to pick up a block and looked over at Ricky who, for the first time, was radiating confidence.  And purpose.

“I don’t know bro.  But I’ll get that for ya,” said Oddie.

Oddie can see Ricky is just here till the waters calm between him and his family and he will move on to whatever project his father’s money can finance.  In the meantime Oddie is a whole golf bag of services to the little prince;  Oddie is the 3 wood of focus; the 7 iron of curiosity; the sand wedge of problem solving; the pitching wedge of nuance; the putter of belief.  

“Where’s Reggie?”  asked Ricky.

“You know you came along just in the nick of time.  Reggie’s knees went a few years ago.  Now his wrists are so shot to shit he really shouldn’t even be working.  He has to take a couple of days off sometimes.  So that would mean I would have to work with Rejean over there.  You saved me from a long slow death.”   

“What’s wrong with working with him?” asked Ricky reeling with the realization that his privileged upbringing was financed on the backs of these guys.

“I dunno.  It’s just that he is so out of touch and out of shape,” said Oddie, hiking up his jeans.  

Oddie could feel he was getting soft because everyday after work he would step up into Ricky’s Rubicon after putting his lunch cooler on the back seat.  Now Ricky gives him a lift home when at first it used to be just to the subway.

At the traffic light a woman in cat eye sunglasses pulled up beside them in a yellow Jeep Wrangler.  Ricky gave a casual three finger Jeep wave; she waved back.  Oddie pushed his sunglasses down his nose to get a better look.  

“Bro ….”  Oddie loved this.

The yellow Jeep sped ahead while Ricky shifted into second on his own time.  

“What kind of name is Oddie anyway?”

Shorten Up Ricky is from the Short Story Series – Tool by Kevin McNamara  

Short Story – Your Bro Moe

Photo by Ali Mahmoudi on Unsplash

“What the hell?” said Moe under his breath as the mall bench shook.  He was ready to kick into survival gear thinking it might be an earthquake.

The guy on Moe’s left glanced at him; at his phone and back at Moe.  

Realizing what happened Alex said, “Bro.  Sorry.”  Alex showed his cell phone screen to his bench neighbour.   “I just couldn’t help it.  Robin Williams man.  He is crazy funny,” said Alex explaining how when he laughed so much he made their bench shake.

“Comedy.  That’s some of the best therapy there is,” said Moe

“Amen to that bro,” agreed Alex.

“Oh, boy!  Hnhn,” Moe laughed despite himself.

Alex had asked him why he was sitting on a mall bench waiting for his wife to appear laden with shopping bags.  

“When my wife found out I had a second Instagram account she freaked.  So here I am paying for it.” 

“How’d she find out?” asked Alex.

‘My 6 year old daughter has a friend whose dad followed one of the accounts I followed and somehow the 2 girls outed their dads.”

“What happened to the other guy?”

“Dunno.”

They both swallowed the loneliness of being in a place with thousands of people yet feeling alone.  Seeking community Alex asked;

“What’s all the fuss about shopping anyway?”  

“I hate shopping,” said Moe as the elevator music played Dua Lipa.

“What is it about shopping malls; they just suck the energy right out of me?”

Ya, I know what you mean.”

 “Usually I can swing it so I only have to drop them off and pick them up,” said Alex.

“I look forward to that day.”

“Hey man, I’m Moe.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Alex.”

After their fist bump it felt weird to meet someone when you are sitting down.

“What do you do for a living Alex?”

“I’m a carpenter.  I’m up for my red seal in a few months.  How about you?”

“I’m in sales for a loading dock systems company,” said Moe.

“Very cool.”

“It keeps me outta trouble.”

“So do you do any of those huge Amazon distribution centres?” asked Alex.

“Ya,”  paused Moe, breathing life into the doubt that blocked the sun out of his life.  “I put in a bid a few months ago and they should be deciding.  Any day now.”   

In life there are beautiful pauses.  Like, just before he says, ‘Will you marry me?’ as he is on one knee outside the restaurant.  This pause wasn’t beautiful; it felt like it was filled with itchy scratchy fibreglass insulation. 

“How did you get into dock systems?” asked Alex.

“I hurt my back framing and couldn’t do physical work anymore.”

“You didn’t want to continue in construction?”

“You know I did but my wife kiboshed that,” said Moe.

“Hmm,” Alex looked at the shiny floor between his boots.

“Ya, I know.  Sounds pathetic,” said Moe.

“I didn’t say …”

“She was right.”

“What …?”

“Carrie, my wife, said, I can remember it vividly.  She was standing sideways at the stove. She moved the chicken in the frying pan with the wooden spoon and said,” remembered Moe.  “You have two tasks: the first is to get off the painkillers.  The second is to get a job that pays.”

“Shit,” said Alex looking at the floor and then at Moe who was looking up at the ceiling.

“She was right.  Again.  I had been shafted too many times by general contractors.  And I was hooked on codeine”

“So, whadya do?” said Alex.

“I got the pills from my truck, under my shirts in the bottom dresser drawer and the bathroom and poured them all down the kitchen sink as Carrie watched me.  Then, I turned on the fan over the stove as she cooked the chicken and gave her a kiss.”

“Bro.”

“Sorry man.  I shouldn’t have vomited my crazy life story.  You’re gonna think I’m a…,”

“I can think for myself,’ said Alex.  “So you stayed off the painkillers?”

“Ya know I did.  I have.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Like 5 years.  Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Moe.  “But ya know what I miss the most?  Talking smack on the job site.  And the smells, believe it or not.”

You mean the sweet smell when you saw a piece a lumber.  Or the porta potty?” asked Alex.

“Ya right!  Nothing like the fragrance of a portapotty that has been on the site for a week baking in the August heat,” joked Moe.  “But with two young children ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”

“I hear ya bro,” said Alex.

“So how long till you get your Red Seal?”

“By the end of the year I’d say.”

“Cool.  What keeps you motivated to keep going?” asked Moe.

Alex was getting a little weirded out by how quickly Moe could get so personal.

“Same as you.  Family,”  said Alex.

“But what’s in it for you?”

“I love my family bro.  It gives me satisfaction to provide for them” said Alex 

“I believe you 100 percent.  The thing is your life can pass you by and you didn’t live it.”

Moe had touched a nerve in Alex.

“Ya know who you remind me of bro?” said Alex detouring the conversation.

“Who?” said Moe.

The sailor in that poem Ancient Mariner.”

“I thought you were gonna say someone like Mike Holmes.  Who the fuck is the ancient mariner?”

“He’s the wrinkled old man who stops the young people arriving at a wedding.  He needs to tell them his story.  Check it out,”  said Alex.

“I’ll Google it,”  said Moe.  “But that’s a bit of a weird reference,” he said as he was used to a different reaction to his desire to help.

“Hey man, it was grade 11 English class.  Mrs. Downs.  Great teacher,” said Alex.

“Nice to meet bro, take care,’ said Alex as Moe saw his wife come out of the store with children and shopping bags.  ‘You’re a bit of a weird random guy I talked to in the mall’  thought Alex as he watched Moe walk away.

Alex had related the conversation with Moe to Rebecca, his wife, as they were on the drive home from the mall.  As he was merging onto the highway Rebecca asked him,

“So. Is your life passing you by?”  

Short Story – Jerry Rig

Photo by Sandro Cenni on Unsplash


“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.

“Who?”

“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.

“Bless you.”

“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. 

It worked. 

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 

“Ya think?!”

___

Jerry Rig is from the Short Story Series Tool by Kevin Mcnamara

Short Story – Odd Man Out

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

“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.  

“That’s right.” 

“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. 

“What now?!” 

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 what?” 

And .. they aren’t you.”

“Meaning what?”

Reggie straightens up again and looks Oddie directly in the eyes and says nothing.

“Fuck you!” says Oddie.

“Right.” 

“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”

Be original

“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”

“Nothin”

“What can that miserable little shit do here without fucking up my job site.”

“Nothin.”

“Ya I know,” agreed Gerry. “Wait.  Let’s put em with good ol Oddie.”

“Let’s not.”

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

Short Story – Papa and The Bertrand Brew House

Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash


Cappy survived the electrocution.  

It was torture.  Not stuff of Guantanamo Bay legend.  The torture was not being able to use my hand, Cappy remembers saying as he turned over his calloused hand and listened to some pencil pusher tell him how the world worked.

The engineer who had signed off on the project, saying that it was ready to remove the old boiler, forgot to disconnect the power in the mechanical room.  And Cappy got zapped with a near lethal dose of 240 volts three years ago.    

“Ok.  Ok.  I will.  Ya, you too,” said Cappy, hanging up the phone.  He looked through the streaked windshield but was talking to his supervisor Sammy on his right.

“They agreed that we can bill them for the extra labour.  The fuckin moron hadn’t even read the contract when he signed it.”

Sammy just sat there.  He could feel it coming even though it hadn’t happened in something like a year.

“I just want to rewind the movie of my life to the day before I get electrocuted and just be there with that dumb ass engineer, and just ask him, ‘yo bro didya double check that the power got disconnected?’  And then when we both see that even though on his little officey clipboard it has his signature with his little P.Eng number right under it, that the fucker didn’t do his job.  And I can see his reaction and look im right in the eye and say, ‘Bro!!?  What the fuck?!”

Sammy had heard Cappy’s rant a thousand times.  The vitriol towards the engineer, the engineering company, against life was on a gradual decline.  Sammy didn’t clench his stomach anymore when he accompanied Cappy down this road.  

Sammy waited a few seconds before saying, “You done?”

Cappy looked over at Sammy, the four days of whiskers slide across the collar of his hi-vis orange coat.  “Ya.  I’m done.”

“Ok great.”  Sammy rubbed his hands together and then cupped them to blow on them.  It was more theatre to break the moment and get a move on as opposed to actually needing to warm them up.  “So now ya think you might be able to throw yer fancy truck into drive.  That will help me get a little bit closer to my cup of coffee and my breakfast sandwich”

“Why in the world are you gonna get a breakfast sandwich?  It’s noon.”

“At this rate I’m not gettin anything if we keep sittin here.”

After fifteen minutes of idling during the phone call Cappy finally started driving and as a joke slammed on the brakes while they were still in the parking lot.

“Whoa, bro, settle down.”

“You’re a fuckin joy to work with,” joked Cappy. 

“I can see why your wife keeps sending you to work.  She doesn’t want to have to look at your irascible face all day.”

“Wow.  Irascible.  That’s a big word.  Do you need to take a nap now?”

Sammy laughed hard as he looked out the passenger door window and saw the temps coming down the stairs . 

The boiler extraction had gone sideways because they couldn’t get the bin up to the loading dock to just dump all the metal. They had to hire some temps just to unload the debris from the indoor cart, carry it down the loading dock stairs and reload it into an outdoor cart so they could take it around the corner of the building because that was the only place they could put the bin because they weren’t permitted to block any of the loading bays.  It was a shit show. 

It had actually been decent weather for February.  Minus 15 degrees or so Celsius.  The temps made a good team and got it done.  A temporary worker wants to impress the boss so they offer him full time work so it can actually work out really well for all parties.

Cappy got a pretty good pay out in the settlement with the engineering firm.  They still do business together but who knows what happened to that forgetful engineer.  

Cappy could’ve retired with his union pension and the payout but what would he have done.  At the time of the accident he was 59 years old and didn’t golf.  Even if he did he wouldn’t have been able to hold a driver properly.  After 2 months of moping around the house his wife sent him back to work.

It made him famous.  They wrote articles about him in construction safety journals and engineering publications.  Even the guys taking down the perimeter fencing at one job site grew his legend:

“That’s the guy …”  

“Wow!  How is he still alive?”

“Much less working.”

“And at his age he should be at home.  Unless his wife can’t stand him”

“How many watts was it?”

“Two watts?”

“Is that a lot?”

“Man, he is livin on borrowed time.”

“I’ve seen him before, what’s his name?  I think I worked on the bridge repair with him years and years ago.”

“They call him Cappy.”

“Like as in Capitain.”

“I guess.”

Sammy visited Cappy at the hospital daily after the accident.

“We’re amazed that Mr. Moravic survived.  And to be honest a little worried that he is so adamant he is going straight back to work after such a massive jolt of electricity lit him up,” explained the doctor.  “We want to hold Mr. Moravic for observation for an extra few days.”

“Ok doc, he’s all yours.

“They don’t make em like that anymore,” said the doctor. 

“Ya, Marty’s old school all the way,”  agreed Sammy.

 I am just so amazed.  And very happy for Cappy.”

“Cappy?  Who’s Cappy?”

“Ya they nicknamed him Cappy”

“Why would they do that?” asked Sammy.

“He shouldn’t be alive much less lucid after getting fried like that so we are bringing all our interns to come and see him so they can have first hand experience with his case.  This group of interns gets a kick out of giving the patients nicknames.  They don’t tell the patients.  I really shouldn’t have told you,” said the doctor.

“But, what does Cappy mean?” 

“Ya, of course.  Well you probably know better than me but capacitance is the ability to hold an electrical charge.   And your boss can hold more charge than anyone we have ever seen.  And lived to tell about it.  So they called him Cappy for capacitance.”

Sammy thought this doctor was a real cowboy.

“And what are the side effects and timeline to recovery and all that?”

“He will need to come back in for revision in two weeks and once a month for 3 months and then we can give him the all-clear to go back to work.  Or not.  Depending on his progress.  We have to ensure there are no motor or cognitive issues.”

“Three months?”

“Well he can do stuff.  He just can’t work for the time being.” 

“He is going to be bouncing off the walls,” said Sammy.

 I can see that he is such a hands on guy that he might get a little antsy.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Ya he has been somewhat impatient already, said the doctor”

“”Ya, and he is only getting more irritable the longer he isn’t working.  You might see him again.  If he has to stay home for very long his wife will start throwing pots and pans at him.”   

Tomas was Veronica’s dad’s name so she wanted to honour him by naming their first born after him.  Five years later Cappy liked the name Bertrand for his second son.  Tomas is a lawyer who moved to Ottawa to work in government so they don’t see him too much.    Tomas looked for a job in Ottawa because first Sheri landed a job out of law school working on intellectual property law.  Tomas got a job in the Department of  Innovation, Science and Industry.  Veronica doesn’t like such a long name or that his wife took her son so far away.

Veronica tells Tomas, 

“Are you losina weight?  Cherry should start to cook a little for you,” Veronica mis-pronounces Sheri’s name on purpose.  Even though she has been in Canada for over 40 years Veronica still blames it on her accent.  It used to drive Tomas crazy but now he just glosses over it.  He just visits by himself because Sheri called her relationship with his mother temporarily suspended in the best interest of everyone.  Sheri came for the funeral but hasn’t been back since.  

“She is just as busy as me working so I can’t just expect her to …”

“That’sa right.  It should just naturally be what she wants to do.  Anda do it,” interrupted Veronica as she stirred a steaming stew on the stove to prove her point.  Veronica gets all theatrical with her old country accent when she feels she is being left behind by her sons.  By life.

“Anyway Cherry is no a very good cook so maybe it’s even betta, that Cherry doesn’t cook so much.”  Veronica stuck to her one more time.

“Ma, Sheri is a good lawyer and focused on her career.  Plus, Sheri makes more money than I do.” Both Veronica and Tomas know he never says she when he talks to his mom about his wife just so his mom knows he doesn’t accept her mom’s pronunciation. 

“Ti in tvoj denar.  Just like your papa,” said Veronica.

“Ma, that’s totally unfair.  I gave Bertie twenty thousand for his brewery business.”

“Twenty?” said a surprised Veronica.  “Your papa told me you gave only ten.”

“Only ten?!  It’s a lot of money, ten thousand dollars!   Listen ma.  I told papa I gave Bertie ten in case, if papa were to ask Bertie if he can help that you wouldn’t feel pressured to give more if I had given more.   Also I figured if I gave him twenty then maybe he would feel what he brought to the table and that he wouldn’t take money from you and papa.” 

“We gave ten.  I wanted to lend them more money but papa said no-no-no. ” said a proud Veronica.

“Have they paid you back yet?”  asked Tomas.

“Mashee, don’t be like dat!”  Veronica scolded Tomas using his childhood nickname.  But, yes they had.

The other son, Bert, partnered with a friend from college and they started their own microbrewery.   The brewery was just getting off the ground when he died.  Killed by a drunk driver on a beautiful spring night as Bertie rode his bike home after visiting his new girlfriend.

The closure, as a couple, they never had about Bertie’s death has felt like a really bad hangover since he died.  It was the drunk driver who did all the drinking and now Cappy and Veronica feel like shit everyday.    Cappy couldn’t deal with the stupidity of it all. So he boxed up his grief in a strong box and purposely forgot the combination to the lock.    

Bertie had been a really good soccer player in highschool but lost interest after no American schools gave him a scholarship.  Upon graduation he immediately focused on learning about business.    He took business courses at night at the college campus downtown.  Even though it was easy to take on-line courses he liked doing the group work so he could meet girls.  He also met Chad at school.

Chad and his dad Ross brewed beer at home as a hobby for years.  Chad and Bert put together a business plan and took it to Ross.  Ross put up most of the money.  Bertie needed three credits for his diploma when they signed the lease for the brewery. Between working full time, opening up a brewery and his new girlfriend finishing a college diploma took a back seat.

With all the supply chain delays they had to postpone the opening of the brewery so for the last six months Bert worked at Chad’s dad’s accounting firm learning the ropes of corporate taxation.  Bert was more of a numbers guy, Chad was the beer guy and Chad’s half brother Brad was supposed to be the marketing guy.   Brad came up with a cheesy name and logo for the brewery but after Bert died they decided to call it The Bertrand Brew House.

Through the church Veronica tried to get Cappy to go to grief counselling.  Then they tried anger management as a back door to get Cappy to talk.  Cappy stonewalled them all.  Gently enlacing his massive fingers on his friendly belly he would just sit there.  It’s not that he didn’t listen to them.  He actually couldn’t hear them.   He generated a force field to block out anyone who wanted to fix him.  He doesn’t even remember the funeral.  No one saw him get drunk and weep, look at pictures of Bertie or even scream in anguish at the gods demanding to know why.  He just couldn’t deal.  

Almost two years after Bertie was killed, Cappy got electrocuted.

That is why Veronica doesn’t want Cappy at home.  When he’s home it’s like there is a pinata filled with grief hanging from their living room ceiling, slowly swinging back and forth like when the air conditioning is on.  And what Cappy just needs to do is grab the stick and bash, smash and crash that pinata.  Make it bleed sweet grief.  And rejoin the party.

The coffee shop is buzzing with Saturday afternoon millennials typing and talking into their laptops.  Sitting down with his brother-in-law Paulo Sammy gets distracted by all the attractive young women sipping chai latte thingamajigs and just stops talking mid sentence.

‘“Focus Sammy Focus,” said Paulo.

“Bro, I think I am officially old.  The girls are so young and …”

“So you called the ambulance and …,” prompted Paulo. 

“Ya so anyway, I went to the hospital with Cappy.  We’re in the ambulance and I am just shitting myself.  I am practically yelling at him, Don’t die you stubborn fuck. And the paramedic guy says for me to cool it.  So I’m looking at Cappy lyin’ there thinking  Marty, If you are gonna be stubborn – today is the day – now is the time – you’re gonna live.   In those days we still called him Marty.  Cappy refused to die like the stubborn mule that he is.  

“Once I knew he was gonna make it I went over to his house to speak with his wife.  So I go get my truck and I’m driving over there.  Actually I am amazed that I didn’t get in a car accident.  You know when you are imagining something inside your mind and that is where all your focus and your consciousness or whatever goes.   Then you are just totally on autopilot.  Well, that was me driving all the way to his place imagining how I was gonna tell Veronica Cappy was in the hospital.”

“At least you didn’t have to give her worse news,” said Paulo. 

“True enough.  Anyway I was so surprised when he asked me about you,” said Sammy.

“Well, I am happy to be of service if I can help.  I’m pretty sure I met Martin, or Cappy, years ago at your place for a barbecue, a birthday party, something like that.”

“Ya, I think so too,” said Sammy.

“So according to you what would be a good result from our meeting?”

“Cappy needs to talk.  After that if he commits to follow up or something with you that would be awesome.”

“Would you say he is reserved or introverted?

“No.  We have great banter at work.  He’s just, gotta get comfortable and feel that you, or whoever, is sincere.  Not yankin his chain.”

“That makes perfect sense.”

“Ya, and I doubt he will do the whole small talk thing; how are the wife and kids.  I think he will want to … Hey there he is.”

Sammy and Paulo stand up and shake hands with Cappy.

“Grab a seat there handsome,” Sammy directs Cappy who was dressed in his church clothes:  checked button-down long sleeve, v-neck sweater and his navy blue windbreaker.  

“Cappy.  You remember Paulo.  He was saying you guys met at my place one time.”

“Hey Cappy.”  Paulo felt weird calling him that.

“Paulo, how ya doin.”

“Can I get you a coffee?” Paulo asked Cappy.

“Green tea if they have it.”

“Since when did you start drinking green tea?” asked Sammy.

“Coffee is giving me bad heartburn all the time and my family doctor said green tea is good for me”

“Green tea it is,” said Sammy.  “Let me get this.  Paulo, did you want anything?” 

“No I’m good, thanks,” said Paulo.

“It’s one of those March days ya know when the warm sun on your face feels great but once you turn the corner and you are in the shade of a big building it drops like 10 degrees.”  Cappy is talkative because he is happy it’s spring which means the days are longer so they can work later.  

“I guess I should call you Cappy.”

“Ya.  Your knucklehead brother-in-law over there just had to go tell anyone who would listen about that nickname they gave me in the hospital.  And now here we sit.  It stuck like flies to shit.”  

“Cappy it is.”

“Doc. listen. You’re a doctor right?”

“No, I’m a psychotherapist.”

“Sammy told me you were a doctor.”

“It’s confusing, all the different titles.  A psychiatrist is a doctor.  I focus on behaviour change through something called Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy.  All that means is we talk about options for how you are going to grow.”

Cappy was almost stunned by the word grow being applied to him and not referring to his round belly.

“Keep talkin.”

Short Story – Timber

Photo by Callum Hill on Unsplash

“Hey, let’s go grab a beer and wings at the pub.  They probably have the Leaf game on.”  said Stan.

“Wow, ok, ya dad.”  Tim said. “ But where’s mom?”

“She went over to visit your Aunt Magda.”

“Again?”

“Nothin to worry about.  Grab your coat.”

Stan poured them both more beer from the pitcher. 

“Thanks dad.”  Tim said without looking up.  Stan had trained himself to savour those phrases.   Tim really liked this father-son moment sitting at the bar watching the game and licking the bbq sauce off their fingers.

“Ya know, one of the other sales guys at work says his numbers are down because of the pandemic.  Everyone else’s have gone up.  What do you think is going on with that guy?”  Stan asked. 

“Dunno.  Lots of factors: pandemic, budgets, competition.  Or it could be something personal”

“Exactly.  Those are the same factors for all salespeople.  So why would his sales be lower?” 

“OH yes.  Oh, no.  Shit, nice stop by the New York goalie.  Nylander should have gone 5 hole.  Sorry dad. What was the question?”  

Stan made himself busy gnawing on a chicken wing.

“Right, why are this one guy’s numbers lower than the rest of you?  Ummm.  Well I don’t know the guy personally so it is tough to say.” Tim distanced himself from the question.

“He doesn’t know what he wants.”  Stan said.

“Well, who actually wants to sell industrial racking systems?”  Tim grabbed another wing from the plate between them with a rapid glance at his dad.  “I mean does it bring him satisfaction?”

“With all these Amazon fulfilment centres mushrooming up all over the place it is an amazing opportunity to build a career.”

“Are you suggesting that I apply for a job there?”

“If that is what you want.”  Said Stan.  “You see, I don’t see you passionate about graphic design.

“Well, in a way, you’re right.  It’s my entrance into the gaming world and the whole Metaverse and NFTs.  Remember I explained that whole scenario to you.”

“I remember you told me Eminem invested thousands of dollars in a pdf.” 

“It’s more complicated than that.”

“My point is Tim, it has been a year and a half since you finished high school and I haven’t seen any, you know, growth.  I see you in your gaming chair and hear you scream when one of your buddies shoots you.  But don’t hear anything about your on-line courses.  I haven’t had you come up to me with a notebook and specific questions you have for growing a business or finding clients.”

Tim wiped his fingers with that noxious moist towelette they give you and grabbed his beer, 

“So what happens now?” He arched his back after being hunched over his plate of wings and looked straight ahead at the big screen tv.

“You start paying rent the beginning of May.”  Stan said

They stared at the same screen but were miles apart.

“If you want to go to college, for graphic design or anything else, I will pay 50% of the tuition while you live at home.  And at that point we can negotiate the rent.”

“That was over two years ago.” Said Tim grabbing another nail from his pouch.

“So whadaya wanna do, bro?”  Asked Manuel 

“I wanna buy a house.  I dunno, maybe flip it.  We’ll see.

“So what’d your dad say when you told im that?”

“Well of course I didn’t talk to my dad the whole Uber ride home like any self respecting 20 year spoiled brat would do.  Then lying on my bed with a pleasant beer buzz.”

“Wait, who says pleasant?” Interrupted Manuel. 

“Hey, it’s my fuckin story pal?”

“And who says pal?”  Manuel teased.

“Do you want me to push you off this fuckin floor?  Pal?” 

“Chill bro, chill.”  

They were framing the second story of this new house they had been working on for 2 weeks.  They were supposed to have finished by the end of October but they didn’t get started till the beginning of November. And still the general contractor was putting pressure on them.  But it wasn’t their fault.  The general contractor didn’t want to pay such a high price for the lumber so he delayed hoping the price would go down.

The price didn’t go down so that backfired and Tim and Manuel had to pick up smaller jobs in the meantime.  Tim had signed up on one of those handyman apps.  It was called Odd Man.  Horrible name but they paid.  He wasn’t supposed to because he was in the union.  And the thing was the local carpenters’ union had worked out really well for him.

That Friday night Tim went out with his gaming buddies Raf and Tony.   They were attempting to meet women so they were at a bar with Tony’s sister and a few of her friends.

“So chillin there, on my bed with a mild beer buzz I felt the house really, I don’t know, empty without my mom there.  I grabbed my phone but focusing on that kind of killed the beer buzz and only made me angry.” 

“Angry?  Why?”  Asked the friend of Tony’s sister. 

“I have lots of reasons, bro.”

“I’m not your bro.”

“Sorry, man.  Sorry again”

“Like…?”

“Like what?”

“Like what reasons.”

“Like… Well in this case ‘cause my dad was harpin on me about my entire future right.  Anyway, I, like I say, I don’t know but I was driving myself crazy so I went down the hall and my dad was reading at the kitchen table and I said,

“Hey dad …?”

“Tim…”

“Sorry for not, you know, for not talking to you on the Uber ride home.”

Stan looked at Tim slouching in his dropping sweat pants that had never seen a drop of sweat in their life.

“I remember, I took a big breath making me stand up straight and I said, 

“What about Marco, Vince’s son?  You said he joined the carpenter’s union and makes good coin.”

“That’s right.”

“Well that’s what I want.  To make some good coin.”

“Give him a call.” 

“I don’t have his number.”

“He lives right around the corner.  Knock on his door.”

“Dad, nobody knocks on anybody’s door these days.”

“Then be a nobody.”  

“And that was over 2 years ago.”  Tim said.

“So,  Are you a nobody?” She asked.

“Look at my hands.  Are these nobody’s hands?”  Tim displayed his scratched hands, palm and back, to Trish, the friend of Tony’s sister, for her to appreciate his calluses and cuts.  

Trish put her phone in her back pocket “Look at my hands.  Are these the hands of a nobody?”  Turning over her manicured hands, palm and back for Tim to appreciate her silver rings and bright red fingernails.

“Those are the hands of …”  Tim had nothing.

“The hands of the cute young woman at the bar you are going to offer to buy a drink.”

“That is … exactly correct.”  Said Tim, briefly bowing his head.  “What’s your poison?”

“You sound like a bartender,  You’re not a frickin bartender.”

“Ok.  Hey there cute young woman with ravishing red fingernails,  can I interest you in a beverage?”

“That was cheesy but better.  I’m going to the bathroom.  Order me something you think I would like.”  Trish nodded to one of the other young women in the group of friends of the sister and they headed to the bathroom.

Tim turned to the bar.

“What’s your poison?”  The bartender asked.

Tim shook his head quickly.  

“Did you see the woman I was talking to?  What do you think she would like to drink?”

“I actually don’t recall seeing her specifically but you can’t go wrong with a Tom Collins.”

“I’ll get one of those and another pint of Creemore?”   

“Do you remember my name?”  Trish asked as she accepted the drink.

“Do you know my name?”  Tim countered.

“Tim.”  Trish placed the limp slice of lime on the napkin on the bar and sipped the Tom Collins.   “Your turn”

“I don’t … recall.”  Said Tim, copying the bartender.

“Do you live with your parents?”  

“If you can believe it I would prefer the answer to be yes.  I’m trying to save up to buy a house.  I actually live with 2 other guys in a shithole with a filthy bathtub that hasn’t been cleaned in months.”

“Then clean it.”

Alcohol Intelligence is the original AI.  It has been the modus operandi of many a shy/angry/ill-equipped-for-life man.  It has worked well in the moment thousands and thousands of times.  It has damaged lives thousands of times.  It is the algorithm of getting sufficient alcohol into the body of at least one of the participants so they disconnect from reason, standards and dignity leading to sex within the first night, if not hours, of meeting each other.  Whether they want to or not.  

This, not surprisingly, was Tim’s default strategy.  He had not encountered any other creative techniques for flirting .  Stan was a good father/husband in that he was there day to day.  He provided.  Regardless, he didn’t know how to speak about women with his son.  Which is a major reason why now, at the bar, Tim was preprogrammed to align all mental and verbal efforts towards sex tonight. 

“Tina ..?”  Tim raised his eyebrows making a stab at her name.

“Trish.”  Trish wished Tim would stand up straight.  Three beers in, Tim wished he could smell her long back hair.  

“Trish, you wanna get outta here?”  

“And go where?  To your place.  Not until you clean it.”

“Why me?  I am waiting for my lazy roommates to clean it.  We all have our responsibilities in the home.  I am responsible for the kitchen.  Raf, did you meet Raf?  That’s him in the brown Atari t-shirt still holding his first beer of the night – he takes care of the garbage/sweeping mopping and shit like that, and that guy beside Raf …”

Trish shook her head and then leaned in to look into Tim’s eyes to make him stop.

“And why in the world would I be interested in your dysfunctional bro show in Nerdia?” 

“Bro show in Nerdia?”  Tim’s brain was temporarily blocked as her cool blue eyes hijacked his arterial system.  “What the fuck is Nerdia?”

“Oh that is what we call the imaginary place a gamer’s mind goes to when he enters his video game zone.  It’s a combination of nerd and Narnia.”   

“It sounds like you are pretty proud of yourself for coming up with that … title.”

“It works doesn’t it?”  Trish smirked with her eyes and sipped from the pink paper straw.  “I can tell you actually like the whole idea of having your own little niche in the Metaverse.”  Niche got its own punctuation: a wrinkling of the nose 

“Are you actually talking with me or am I like that half dead mouse that a cat plays with?”

“You did pretty well with the drink.”  Trish referred to the Tom Collins not wanting another one but wanting to keep Tim’s focus on her. 

Monday morning was light years away from the here and now of Friday night at the bar.  Right now Tim was the man of the moment.

“Timber or lumber.  What’s the difference?  Tim asked.

“It doesn’t matter.”  Manuel puffed out clouds of steam in the cold morning.  He hated working outside in the cold so he came to work pissed at Woodley, the GC because he delayed the project to save a few bucks and they ended up framing outside in late November. 

“You’re right it doesn’t matter,  It’s just I like to learn stuff, to understand stuff.” 

“What a fuckin waste of time.” 

Tim stopped hammering for a second as he felt the bubble he was in after going out with Trish again on Sunday afternoon was now being burst.   

“The problem with you is you’re a lazy paycheck to paycheck typical idiot.”  Tim puffed.

“Do you lay awake thinkin all these high school insults?”

“You’re worse than the fuckin spolied Canadians.”

“What de fuck you talkin about pendejo feo? Yer Canadian.”

“You don’t know what you’re talkin about.”

“If it was my choice, I’d fire your lazy, insubordinate ass.”

“Insubordination?!  What are we in the fuckin army.”  Laughed Tim.

“Shut your face and pass me another 2×4 before I freeze to death.”  Manuel said.

“Entitlement is usually reserved for white trash Canadians, not immigrants who usually have a better work ethic.  Unless they hate their parents.  Do you hate your parents?”

“What the fuck.  I’m bein paid to frame fuckin houses.  Not be psychoanalyzed.  This is bullshit.  Esto es una mierda.”  

‘Someone always ends up paying for the bullshit of others’, Tim thought as he dropped his toolbelt with a thud on the plywood floor of the open second story.  Their friendly barbs had never landed them actually angry at each other.   

He didn’t really need to take a piss but he needed to create some space between the two of them.  He learned this technique from his dad.  Also it would put him in a better mood because he just loved the inventive names the portable toilet companies had like Willy Make it, or Royal Flush.  The one at the end of the driveway was Urinbiz.

“Here.”  Manuel made up with Tim by getting him a coffee he didn’t ask for.

“Thanks bro.”

“Bro, this is the last job I do for Woodley.  If you wanna keep workin wit em, man it’s totally your right.  But me bro, this is my last. I’m done”  As Manuel sipped his double double he was holding onto a loose 2×4 like it was a small tree.  He let it go and as it began to fall he said in a whispered yell,

“Timber.” 

Final Excerpt of short story – The Coffin

Photo by Roseanna Smith on Unsplash


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.

‘Know what?’

‘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.