Chopping Wood And Carrying Water

11 03 2008

In the dark hours of the morning, I still sat hunched over his makeshift desk. If you were to look over my shoulder and squint in the heavy brown light, you’d see names. Girls’ names, boys’ names, unisex names, names, names, names. Sheaves of loose-leaf paper are stacked neatly around both my spindly frame and his desk’s.

His mother, Becky, leans her head slightly back and to the right when she speaks, doing so mostly out of the lower left corner of her mouth. You don’t really notice, at first, but if she’s giving instruction or asking a favor, she invariably assumes this position. She’s a young woman; brunette but graying. You’d kind of suppose her to have not really a troubled childhood, but one of mild isolation and much time spent reading.

The sun begins to stream through the curtains, and I switch off the old orange light. I lean back and survey my work. I added 764 names tonight. Yesterday I only added 549. Every night it’s like this. My favorite part is climbing into bed with him in the morning. He’s warm, and soft, and his room is small and usually kind of dark.

Later, in bed, a loud clanging noise wakes me. It’s probably Becky, trying to make pancakes for whatever man she’s brought home this time. I lay there another minute and stare up at the dirty bunk bed above us. It’s been empty for quite some time. Maybe four years now. I kiss his forehead, button my shirt, and slip out the window. Yesterday was the same, and the day before that, and they day before, and tomorrow will be too. Becky doesn’t know.

At work, I hear a train press past. Of course, it whistles on the hour, every hour. Also pretty predictably, he drives up; Becky’s decaying maroon minivan squeals to a stop.

“Hey man, can I get $20 on five?”
I push the numbers into the register, and the gas lines open up.
“Have a good one.”

It’s like this pretty much every day. We do a little dance, we pretend we are casual acquaintances united only by an employee-customer bond. Some days I’ll wink, but he’ll look at me funny and I’ll stop because I probably look gay. He’ll go back outside and fill Becky’s tank and then he’ll drive off. I don’t know where he goes, or who else he sees. My manager might come in, but he won’t suspect anything because nobody does.

I clock out and put my jacket on and trudge over to the station. He says I look funny when I walk in the wind because I’m so skinny. He says I look like a stick waving around. Another train whizzes by. It’s not my train. This suburban winter grayness is really getting to me. I feel like it’s been like this forever, but I’ll man up and wait for April.

It’s cold today; I am calm. It’s not the bitter cold that makes your hands shake or freezes your toes. It’s cold enough, though, that I pull my hat down over my ears and zip my jacket up further. The station is empty save for a homeless woman eating dog food. Becky used to eat dog food sometimes. Sometimes when she had enough money she’d buy a bottle of Captain and eat and drink. She thought kibble and rum tasted good together and would always try to offer me some when we hung out in the kitchen. She never saw me upstairs.

I find a bench and sit on it, and I can see a figure on the other side of the tracks that was hidden by a support beam before. It’s a girl, a lithe body bundled in a big plaid coat. The coat looks familiar but then again how many people have plaid coats. Her brown hair is flying all over the place in the wind and she’s leaning into something that I can’t see behind the beam. I look at my watch. I look at the homeless woman and her dog food scattered on the cement. I have 7 minutes until my train comes.

The girl keeps shifting. It’s kind of weird, I can’t see her face but I can see her body. She moves and now she’s entirely obscured by the beam. I wonder what she’s doing, so I move to the right a little. Of course. She’s there with a man. I can’t help but be jealous. I’ve never kissed anybody in public. People would stare or jeer or avoid me. Us, I guess. He never wanted to. It’s always in his room, in secret.

I move a little more to the right to get a better look. I mean, there’s nobody else around and I have 3 minutes until my train comes. There is nothing to do. There is never anything to do. She keeps shifting on top of him, but he looks kind of under dressed, like he gave her his jacket. That was nice of him. Generous. He has brown hair, and he looks big. Not big like he’s fat, but substantial. Strong. They look like they’re having fun, at least. One minute.

I slide to the right a little more and I’m almost at the end of the bench. I just want to see his face. I can see her whole body now; the support beam is way to the left. I hear the train whistle, it should come any second now. He stops for a moment and tilts his head. I think he’s finished, but then we lock eyes. We lock eyes. I know him. I know him. I don’t know her. I know him. The train is closer. 20 seconds. I know him. That is his plaid coat. I wore that coat yesterday. 10 seconds. I stand up and start to walk to them. His eyes widen her eyes widen I am closer I am only 10 feet away.

Too late, I can’t hear the whistle.

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