-Friday-Rained Out

The javelin still throbbed in my thumb when I rose Friday. I couldn’t reach it with a utility knife the night before, whatever was in there ran too deep. I wasn’t sure about Fir, if it had been treated lumber I would’ve had to cut it out of me. I picked it up out on the forty-second street job, dressing the four by ten beams that would hold the barge rafters at the cantilevered gable end of the roof over the porch.

Going to bed at eight got me up at four-thirty jonesing for a cigarette. All week I played Archie Bunker at dinner before putting the kids to bed. Driving until after midnight to get May to fall asleep; her screaming in her car-seat as we pulled away, resigned to it by downtown, happy on Forest Hill as she watched the lights, calling da-da affectionately. She is almost always gone by the Huguenot Bridge. By Thursday I felt ragged, like worn out boot leather, like I was on drugs again. I fell out Thursday night.

The walls were built with two-by-six studs and had to go up with Ralph’s wall jacks. I had heard rumor of Ralph well before we left town a decade earlier- a hard-nosed son-of-a-bitch cut from the cloth of the construction old-school. He is my new favorite person. Me, him and Elliot (Jud’s father-in-law) got the walls up in a week, fully sheathed, levering them off the floor slowly with the jacks, then on ladders, bracing the thousands of pounds against the wind. We ran the joists and the rafters the next week, I found the stones to walk the top plate of the wall, fourteen feet up, setting material and nailing it in place by hand, jettisoning the added weight of the nail-gun.

The beams had arrived rough hewn from the re-saw operation that dimensioned them into lumber. Instead of sanding, I ran over the surface with a wire brush- a trick I picked up in Tennessee. The wire actually cuts the soft grain, knocking it down and burnishes the hard, eliminating the marks leftover from the bandsaw. I did this for six hours on Thursday, giving the material a look of worn leather, like the banister railing of an old west saloon. The more I rubbed, the better it looked. I made myself stop by three, not wanting to bankrupt the client in the third week of production.

There is a stiffness after weeks of framing that leaves you tired yet ready, like the skin of a drum, like you can never fully go slack. I sat in the blue-light of the kitchen Friday, dressed after shower, boots before me, trying to get it together. I had no music on, the ache of the new day washed over me again and again. The stab in my thumb was insistent and new all over. I would become a hard old tree-stump of a man, shouting down his children for misbehaving at dinner. I dreamt of fir grain, wearing through its rough skin with the brush, revealing the true grain beneath. I dreamt that I ran it for days, till I could peer into a secret world inside each beam. I dozed in the middle of the kitchen, thinking there was no way I could possibly go on.

The phone rang, it was Ralph. I hadn’t even noticed the rain. We talked of installing the beams that day, the walk-board skidding across the wet scaffold, the mud waiting beneath, building up on the ladder rungs. Ralph called it on account of rain, I suddenly felt very happy. A rain-day. I would stay home and rest.