"Where We Were Headed"

Honestly, it was kind of strange the way he came downstairs and stood next to the couch, watching the T.V. with me, with his hands on his hips the whole while, all along me waiting for him to tell me to go to bed, but he didn’t. He laughed at the T.V. and kept watching, and finally when there was a commercial he turned to me sitting there and asked if I wanted to go to Mr. Avery’s tomorrow to work on the barn with him. Last week I had asked if I could go along and help lay the foundation, but that was because the cement truck was coming, and it would have been cool to run through the ditch dug out into the ground where it all had to go, like a trench, and to use the sticks to guide the shoot where the cement came out, and then use the shovels and hoes to flatten it out, spread it out, and get it all even. It was nice to do it, and was not like work at all, pushing it around and pulling some out, and making it even, making it the way it needed to be. I had done it when Uncle Jack built his new garage with Anthony and Vincent, and Anthony and Vincent were older but not much older, so when I was there he let me help, and told them to mind me, but there wasn’t really any minding that needed to be done with us being so busy making sure to get it all straight before it started to set. It took us all day and Uncle Jack kept standing over us, and yelling at us for what to do, and correcting us with his flat shovel, showing where we were wrong, and yelling loud over the truck, the banging of the truck and the screeching of the hydraulic piston that moved the mixer around. I had to ask him three times what the word hydraulic meant until finally he explained it to me. It was funny because I kept saying hychrolic.

He asked me again if I wanted to go when the show came back on. I really didn’t want to. Kenny and I had planned to hike up to the reservoir to see if we could find Michael Connolly’s old fort, the one he built with railroad ties that we heard was off the trail from the back of his property deep in the woods. We were gonna take sandwiches and everything, and go all the way up there, past the reservoir if we had to, to the county line, to the edge of where the woods met Bear Mountain because we knew all those woods, and had been clear up there with Kevin. Then I was wondering why he was letting me go with him, and was thinking that maybe it had something to do with Darlene going to the mall, that mom took her to the mall and she got some stuff, some clothes and stuff, and that even though I said I wanted to go with them I didn’t, and just did it to make her crazy, and that maybe he was feeling it was unfair to me. Then I remembered Brook’s deli was on the way to Mr. Avery’s house. I knew that if I did a good job, and didn’t complain, and listened, and stayed out of the way, that I could probably talk my old man into buying me a chocolate milk on the way home. Michael Connolly’s fort wasn’t going anywhere, and maybe I could use the circular saw. All right, I said, yeah, that I would go.

He woke me up early. Way earlier than I thought he would wake me, but he said we were already late, and that we had to hurry. My father was already dressed in his jeans and flannel, and ready to go. It was still cold in the house, and I got out of bed, and tried to keep my blanket around me, around my shoulders, and when my feet hit the floor everything was ice. I pulled them up and just sort of sat there on the edge of the bed with my legs up hovering above the cold wood, and my shoulders hunched down trying to stay warm while he tossed my clothes from out of my closet to next to me, and without paying attention to me or what he was doing, told me I should take an extra sweatshirt just in case, then left.

The house was quiet. Darlene was still asleep, and my mother was still asleep, and the dogs, for the most part, weren’t doing anything or were out back. Everything was so much louder, every movement and sound that I tried not to put my feet down all the way as I came out of my room and went down the hall. When I came into the kitchen, my cereal was already on the table. I wanted something warm like eggs and sausage. He said we didn’t have time for eggs and sausage, and that I had to eat up. Even without moving the spoon or putting any in my mouth I could tell it was soggy. I lifted the spoon and pushed it around turning it over, and again he told me I had to eat up. After he left to load the truck I put down as much as I could and threw the rest away.

Now the house was really quiet. I could hear the things banging in the truck outside as my father threw them in the bed. Every time I stepped, the floor creaked and sent a wave of noise down the hall to the rooms where the doors were only half-closed. I went into the front room and lay down. I flopped down on the red couch by the door, the one we used for coats, where Dilinger slept. I could smell Dilinger. I didn’t care. I was too tired.

He came in to get me and saw me on the couch. “What are you doing?” he said and laughed. “We gotta go. Come on.” He picked up some of the coats I had knocked on the floor and threw them on me. Now I could really smell Dilinger. “You want me to get Darlene to help?” he said. “I’ll go get her instead.” He laughed at this too.

I was all covered in coats and couldn’t see anything.

“Yes,” I said. “Get Darlene.”

“Come on,” he said. Then he kicked the couch, or hit the couch, or did something to the couch.

Even though the sun was out and I knew it was going to be warm later, much too warm for a sweatshirt and, once we got working, even pants, the air now was cool, and the bottom parts of the windows of the truck were frosted over, and I thought for a moment I could see my breath. Outside was just as quiet and still as in the house. Maybe more so. There was no sound at all and nothing happening, nothing moving except for the truck running a low mumble in the driveway, a sound that drifted over all the grass of the yard from the house out toward the road, thick in the quiet like the creaks from the floor inside, filling the air, the yard, and the Murphy’s yard as it went.

The tools were all in the back. As we got in, he told me he packed a hammer just for me and a nail apron. I thanked him, and he leaned over and messed up my hair, and said that it wasn’t a matter of thanks, that I was gonna need them, that I’d be working today.

“What about a tape measure?” I said.

“I only got one of those,” he said, “so we’ll have to share.”

“What about a drill?” I said.

He laughed at this. “I doubt we’ll be needing a drill today.” And he looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “But even so,” he said, “I don’t know if it’s such a good idea.”