Roadie still sleeps with me in the car and it’s a good thing. I lay awake trying not to think how that brief moment of closeness with Anne unlocked a longing I’d rather keep dormant. Roady’s doggy snoring makes me smile. When his legs start twitching in his sleep I think he is dreaming about running through woods and fields with not a care in the world.
“I’m right there with you,” I say. He gives a doggy response and I take it as “let’s do it.”
But I’m working tomorrow. Roady will go with me and he likes to wander around the build sites so he’ll be happy at least.
Next morning, I’m cutting rafters and hauling wood; the softness of Anne washed from my mind. Jerry keeps me busy. I don’t know why but he stops and shows me how to do even simple tasks better. Actually not better, I know I’m doing well. I mean any builder worth his salt has to make clean cuts, exact angles. But he says, “Not there yet.” Then shows me what I did that made it less than perfect. Does perfect really matter? Slight imperfections won’t show. He hovers near me so I have to concentrate.
“Gary didn’t do you any favors with how he trained you,” he says.
I don’t remember ever mentioning who I apprenticed under.
“You’re surprised I knew it was Gary?”
“You think I’d hire you on to work with my crew if I didn’t check into your history?”
I wonder what he means by ‘history’. Did he contact Gary and find out about the accident? Why am I still working if he knew that?
“It’s a small world, especially around here. I knew who you were the moment I came upon you. You look just like your dad. Hard worker, just like you, but he got lost. We were friends though.”
Jerry nods. “High school. We all had dreams. Really felt bad that he couldn’t see them through.”
I can’t think now. I measure over and over without starting a cut. “What was his dream?”
“You were young when he passed on?”
“Ten, but he wasn’t around since I was five.”
“Damn shame to lose a father at that age.”
He’s not answering my question and now I’m consumed by wanting to know. I put down my square and turn to him. He adjusts his hat, wiping sweat off his brow.
“John always wanted to build a house, a solid little house in a clearing in the woods. He thought he would have a workshop and make enough money to raise his kids. Maybe have a small farm.”
That’s my dream. Well at least the house part.
“He was always making something with his hands back then, custom mailboxes, signs, furniture.”
“What happened?” I don’t think much about my dad. All I remember was the yelling and my sister Emily reading me stories saying, “It’s not really daddy. It’s the drunk man who looks like him.” She told me just to stay under the bed and tomorrow real daddy would be back. Then one day, he wasn’t back and neither was the drunk one. Emily stopped reading me stories, so I started reading alone. When I found her drinking my dad’s whiskey, I asked her if drunk Emily was going to go away too. Drunk and high Emily did, when social services caught up to Mom. Neither of us were enrolled in school and it was clear we were half starved and mostly on our own. That was the year I lost. I don’t remember one moment of it except a blur of anxiety. Emily told me years later that I was in a foster home, a different one than her. I was returned to Mom but Emily stayed with her new family.
“I don’t know that it’s my place to tell you,” Jerry says.
I stare at him, not moving. He’s going to tell me because I’m not doing another thing until he does.
“It was in the news, you could find out all you want to know son, just do some digging.”
“Should I? Or should a friend of his tell me?”
Jerry sighs. He picks up the square and starts marking out a cut. “Should’ve never started talking this way.”
“Well you have.”
He gives another deep sigh. Roady comes up to us and sits as though he should be a witness. “As I was saying. John was handy, a craftsman. He would be proud of you.”
I don’t even know how to take that. Can a man feel pride in a son he never took an interest in?
“He had a good business going on. We’d all work at job sites but he would go home and make stuff. He ended up getting a deal with a builder to make a fancy carved bench swing for inside a gazebo. He did well of course, so they started ordering more. Too much for him to keep up. He didn’t know how to say no. So Gary and I helped him.”
Something inside me shifts, a premonition of what is to come makes my breathing falter. I hear inside my mind, “No!” Before there is a reason to speak it.
“Carving and being artistic is not my thing so I worked on sanding and staining,” Jerry goes on. “John did the designs and he and Gary assembled and installed them. We were all making money on it but driving ourselves into the ground, especially John. He wouldn’t quit till everything was right. He would double check every installation except one night, he came down with the flu and couldn’t inspect all those that Gary did.”
There was that catch in my lungs again.
“Your mama had to drive him home he was so taken with fever. Probably sick the whole time. Story has it that next day, one of the contractors was showing off, he was a heavy man and he jumped on the swing like it was a horse. The swing separated from the chains and dropped. The man broke his neck, died instantly. It was a freak accident.”
He pauses. A million thoughts go through my mind.
“That was the end of the business but worse yet your dad could never get passed the man dying. Blamed himself. He told me that he should have finished checking all the benches. There was another bench before that one that he had to tighten the bolts, seemed like it wasn’t finished. God forgive me but I wanted to kill Gary that day. They checked the rest and found them all loose. Officially John was the installer. He took the blame. There were no charges but he never got over it. That’s when the drinking became a thing. That’s when we lost him.” He looks at me with deep sorrow that must have been dwelling in his heart for a long time. For a split second, I want to give him a hug or him to give me a hug but it passes in a flash. “So you wanted to know and now you do.” He gives Roady a good scratch on the neck and walks off.
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This post is fiction based on the back story of a supporting character in a novel in process by Clare Graith. See ClareGraith.com for more info about the author.