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Parts 1 and 2 appeared in issue 89.
Table of Contents
He’s a rat bastard for it, but I can’t fault him, I guess.
He doesn’t move so fast anymore, and he hasn’t dropped those nine hundred bucks to get Laddy’s carburetor fixed, either. It’s kinda funny sometimes to watch him wobble out to their driveway and climb up into the cab and drive off no faster than walking speed. It’s funny when it isn’t for the firewood, the food, and the parts we need.
But it’s not completely his fault.
The mill started rolling belly up last year; it’s taking it a while. It’s sad. Everybody knows where this is going, but there’s nothing to do but watch. It’s like watching a whale bleed to death. So now they don’t have enough money coming in to pay every pay check every week. They give them all out, anyway, because somebody would squawk if they didn’t, Lane says. They need to start pushing the checks back until around quitting time, Lane says; they hand them out at nine in the morning so everybody’s eyeing each other all day long, praying for accidents to happen to their friends, but not really because workers comp has to come out before salaries.
Quitting time’s a mad dash for the time cards and the parking lot. There have been speeding tickets on the way to the bank. Lane says it’s usually the last dozen or so that get nothing, but last week it was fifteen, and this week he said he had no chance at all.
One guy, Lenny or something, has a wife and a kid and both of them are sick. So he had a talk with the bosses and now they let him off an hour early every day, Because, they say, he’s got a long commute. That’s fine in the winter, but these days it’s nothing. Doesn’t even get dark until ten.
Lane came back empty handed and Essa didn’t even say anything to him. She just opened the door, saw him by himself, and shut the door again. Got to get a move on, my friend. I could fault him for it. He just swings his arms when he walks, as though he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Sorta true. All his real cares are up and out there, I guess. But I still got mad at him. He came out to the barn after he had Essa’s leftovers and sat on a bale of hay. Neither of us have horses, but we keep the hay around the insulate the parts. I was working on number two.
“Didn’t get it, again,” he said.
“What are we gonna do, man? Ain’t gonna be that long until winter. Can’t do much then, can we.”
“Not much. And you still don’t say ‘ain’t’ right.”
He took a piece of straw in his fingers and split it in halves, fourths lengthwise.
“You fire off any today?”
“Just the one. Forty-eight, or whatever it was. Got it written down on the sheet.”
“Yeah. Good.” He dropped the straw. “What’d we get?”
“I dunno. I haven’t done the math yet. It’s over there.” I bobbed my head at the manger and the three ring binder lying open on it. He got up and took a pencil from the jar we keep on one of the low rafters. He bent over the papers, flipping them back and forth; I listened to the rustle and measured what I could of two’s propulsion chambers.
“Didja bring any of the stuff back?” I said.
“Couldn’t. But I talked to that guy at the hospital.”
“Yeah, Cal. How’d you meet him, anyways?”
“Saw him at the theater.”
“Well, he said he’d do what he can. They’re not exactly swimming in patients down there. Hell, the mill probably gives them half what they get. So they’ve got some extra nitrogen from removing warts. He seemed like a nice enough guy.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Nice enough.” I stood up and just about broke my back. Sitting too long with a file in one hand and a jeweler’s magnifying lens crammed in one eye. “How does it look?” I asked.
“Pretty good, actually. Solid velocity. Scaled up, got a payload of about two hundred pounds.”
“Well, that’d be you,” I said and grinned. I could feel my stiff beard and mustache trying to hold it back. I clapped him on the shoulder and I think he felt it. “I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He followed me out. Even in August, our breath was steaming. The one halogen bulb we hung above the barn door buzzed its light right through us, gave us faint shadows. He looked up, right into it, and flexed his jaw. He whispered something like, God.
I told him not to trip over anything on his way back to the house. He nodded and laughed out of his nose at me, like Essa does. I wonder if he learned it from her or she from him. Or maybe they both invented it. That’s gotta happen sometimes. All these wide thoughtful people in the wide shrinking world; there’s gotta be overlap.
It’s hard to be angry at him for long when it’s his world up here. He’s where he wants to be when he comes home, and that’s a bit contagious. When I moved here with Kelly, we didn’t know if we’d be able to last. And we have. Whatever happens next is after everything.
Patty called and woke Kell up.
“Go back to bed, honey,” I said loud enough for the phone to hear me. It was something about a lawyer, something about a conference call. The lawyer wanted to tell me a few good stories about how to behave, but I didn’t feel like listening and, besides, my phone’s almost ten years old and doesn’t have the guts to handle that kind of technology.
I got so quiet she told me to yell at her. God damn it, I had to yell at something. And Lane and Essa were over there behind their green curtains. I could see their shadows tilting and twisting and her hair draped back over her head like a flag. I put the phone down and blanked out a couple of million years with my hands. I did it, and then Patty wondered what the hell was wrong, so I told her, I’m living in the wilderness, now. I don’t know of this “conference call” you speak so fluently of.
She got real bitchy after that. Made it easier to go to sleep.
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
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