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I think that many people will get a lot out of this story, writers certainly will. So, without further ado:
Josh was bone tired by the time he pulled into his yard, the day having already taken a heavy toll. What with the electricians not having enough boots on the ground and the flooring applicators mysteriously lost somewhere out in the ether, not to mention his one and only carpenter, apparently understanding the workings of a builder’s transit about as much as he did the handling of the space shuttle (thereby guaranteeing that all the grid lines laid out today would have to be re-laid again tomorrow) Josh had a pretty good idea that a shot or two of whiskey was going to go down rather well. Trouble was, there was still work waiting for him, so those shots would have to be deferred for a while.
A story comes into his mind. A man, alone in his yacht circumnavigating the globe, arrives at a primitive south sea island populated by beautiful, scantily clad women, and fiercely savage warriors. Cannibals? Headhunters? Perhaps. He would have to make some notes. Not now though. There was too much in the way.
He switched off the truck’s ignition and climbed down from the cab, the greenery of the yard and tranquility of birdsong lost on him. Such luxuries would have to wait for a better frame of mind.
A furry patch of orange burst out of the woodlot bordering his property, closely followed by an even furrier patch of mottled charcoal, both loudly demanding attention. This morning seemed a lifetime ago, but he vaguely remembered checking the weather and deciding that Mr. Jinx and Belinda could stay out for the day.
“Hey you guys.”
At the sound of his voice, two tails came up like flagpoles with shepherd’s crooks at the end.
“Ya get a mouse?” Josh asked, expending precious energy to bend down to stroke Jinx’s silken coat. He fancied he could hear his spine crack in the process. “How ‘bout you, Bel? Any luck in the mouse end of things?”
Neither cat volunteered any information; possibly because there was some concern it might interfere with their rations for dinner. Instead, they bounded up the steps to the back door, clamouring to be let in.
“Alright, gimme a sec.” Josh fumbled with his keys and found the one for the house. “You’re not the only ones who had a hard day, y’know.”
Bart stood alone in the middle of Main Street, Stetson pulled low over his eyes to protect them from the sun’s reflection off the storefront windows. He loosened the heavy Colt in its holster just as the saloon doors swung open and the lone, dark-clad figure stepped out on the street to face him. It was time to clean the slate, time to take revenge for what had been done to Jennie…
When the door swung open both cats more or less boiled over into the kitchen, making a beeline for their bowls. Dipping their faces in and finding both empty, they turned to him with the same surprised expressions they wore at this point every day, and sent up a generous chorous of protest.
“Okay, okay! I’ll be right with ya.”
Wearily, Josh went to the fridge and took out the can of food and gave each a generous dollop. After checking they had sufficient water, he went into his study and emptied the contents of his shirt pockets onto the desk.
Note pad, pocket calculator, memo recorder, a couple of pens and a carpenter’s pencil. On top of these, he unclipped a measuring tape and cell phone from his belt; layer by layer, shedding himself of the day.
Keeping with that theme, he went into the bedroom and shucked off his clothes. Naked now, he traversed the short distance to the bathroom, turned on the faucet in the tub, then back two steps to switch on the fan. The water now flowing hot, he flipped the knob for the shower; each movement a carefully choreographed economy of time and energy, perfected from long practice.
As always, the shower helped, although at first, the shampooing and lathering were nothing more than additional chores needing attention. Afterwards, when he stood first with his lower back and then his head under the spray, he increased the hot water and allowed himself the luxury of precious seconds while he let the pulsating jets massage his lower lumbar region, then his scalp. The heat helped his back somewhat, but whether or not it increased the blood flowing to his brain, he couldn’t say for certain, but he believed it did, and every bit helped.
A woman is jogging through the park late at night. She isn’t aware of a malevolent presence hidden in the bushes ahead. Instead, her mind is on the mysterious dark stranger she’d met earlier in the subway. She had thought Daniel had died in that horrible plane crash three years ago…
But the clock in his brain refused to be silent. With evident regret, he switched off the water, and grabbed the towel from its ring on the wall. While he dried himself, he thought about a shave, but decided it could wait for a better day. He didn’t want to invest so much time doing what was not strictly necessary. With luck, there might be some left for himself when the day finally ended.
Post apocalypse. A man and a woman are the last two people on earth. The future of humanity depends upon them. They know each other from before – from their particularly hostile divorce. Would mankind be saved? Interesting…
Back in the bedroom, he slipped into a pair of shorts and t-shirt before returning to his office and switching on the computer. While waiting for it to come online, he opened the green hardcover diary, turned to the correct date, and began making entries.
He wrote the name of the project at the top of the page, the letters scurrying toward the indecipherable in his haste to get them on the page, “Job #442.” Underneath, on the left-hand side, he listed the names of his crew in a column: Gord, Rick, Thomas, Denny, Lou and Sam. Last, he wrote ‘Me’.
From the middle drawer of his desk he drew a sheet of paper titled ‘Labour Breakdown’, at the same time clicking the mouse of his computer to the Start menu, then up to the Email icon.
A man treads water in shark-infested seas. He has a knife and telepathic powers. He sends a cry for help to his frantically searching wife. All the while storm clouds are gathering to the west, carrying with them the psychotic hit man the CIA has sent to silence him…
There was a moment’s hesitation when the cursor seemed to settle of its own accord on Office Word. Weary understanding of what that ‘W’ symbolized flickered in his mind. That was the insulated place, the place where the stories were, the place where he could become centered instead of flying off in the hundred different directions that so accurately defined his every normal day.
‘Normal’. Christ, the word held no meaning.
His mind gave an irritated wrench, and he moved the cursor up to Outlook Express and clicked on that. Wishful thinking was a luxury he couldn’t afford.
Back to the Labour Breakdown, a long list of duties, each with a corresponding code number in the margin beside it, all of which was supposed to represent his crew’s responsibilities for the entire project; although that was seldom ever the case. Just by looking, Josh could tell it had been a good long while since, whoever had made up this list back in Winnipeg, had run a job….if he had ever run a job, that is.
Extraterrestrials were invading the earth with the intention of capturing all women capable of child-bearing. Laser blasts from their giant ships scar the earth, atomizing all who dare defy them. Only Lenny Torino, and his newly discovered knowledge that he was a coward, stood in their way…
His pen hovered over the page to the right of Gord’s name while his eyes impatiently ran down the column of tasks. Layout, layout, layout…where the hell was ‘layout’? Finally his diminished mental faculty understood. Of course there was no layout. That was something that should never have been their responsibility. Only the new wing was ready to go, and the surveyors were either too busy, too lazy, too stoned or too couldn’t-give-a-damn to show up when they were supposed to. Whatever the reason, they hadn’t been on site.
“Layout….layout,” he thought. “We layout the lines so that we…can…excavate!”
Excavation was on the list, the code number 131 typed neatly beside it.
Josh scribbled the numbers beside Gord’s name with an exasperated scrawl. He was damn good and sure there was no code number for ‘Botching the Layout’. The hours so wasted would have to be back-charged to the surveyors. Given the number that was eventually going to take, he could visualize a fight shaping up somewhere down the line; but no use worrying about that now. On to the next.
A soldier comes home from war. His body is unscathed, but he shows the symptoms of some dark and mysterious mental trauma. Post traumatic stress? His wife wants to help him, but he finds it impossible to explain. Only by accompanying him on his journey through his past will she ever truly understand, and thereby have any hope of saving both him and their marriage…
Beside Rick’s and Thomas’ names, he penned ‘141’ from memory. Cribbing was second nature, and he tacked on an extra half hour for each. There wasn’t often very much he could do for good service, but he tried to whenever possible.
Beside Denny and Lou he wrote ‘Absent’, his irritation causing the letters to be stilted and crimped. Maybe their excuses were legit, but he didn’t think he was being uncharitable when he allowed that they probably were not. Lou was young and had yet to learn the meaning of commitment, while the sides of Denny’s nose were an intricate pattern of burst blood vessels; then, too, there were mornings his hands shook as if he’d become a palsied old-timer overnight. An alcoholic was seldom an asset on a construction site. Trouble was, Denny had experience – loads of it – and these days you didn’t just toss that out the window without thinking about it good and hard. Still, just like the surveyors, all the experience in the world didn’t amount to a hill of beans when you were home sleeping it off while others took up your slack. He’d have to make a mental note to have a word with him – that is, whenever the bastard decided to make a showing.
Beside Sam’s name, he inked ‘105’ which was code for ‘Labour For Site Services’ which was, in turn, code for ‘Clean Up’, but that was only because there wasn’t anything on that list that even remotely resembled ‘Dog Fucking’.
A husband and wife try to bring together the tattered edges of their marriage. There has been an infidelity, a meaningless affair. Will the strength of their commitment be sufficient to overcome the obstacles? Will the third party stand aside and allow it?
Beside ‘Me’ he scribbled ‘101’ for ‘Supervision’ although that wasn’t strictly true, either. Several hours throughout the day had been spent hauling heavy metal doors over broken ground into the almost completed first phase. That was supposed to have been Denny’s and Lou’s job for the day, and was also why his back felt like a psychopath had been at it with a dull axe.
Next, on to the sub trades.
He wrote ‘JP Electric’, then beside it, “rough-in G.L.’s A.0 – A.2.” indicating the task and location which had been that trade’s work area today, beside which he listed the number of men in their crew. He did the same for the plumbers and the masons. Beside the flooring contractor he put ‘?’, and with cynical humour thought of Jimmy Durante saying, “Good night flooring fellas…wherever you are!”
His eyes flicked to the clock on the wall. Seven-thirty – oh hell!
Two young lovers are starting their lives together. The world seems to be their perfect oyster, but no one is aware that, even now, an ICBM is arcing into the stratosphere. Its deadly nosecone lowers its point until it is directed squarely at their home from thousands of miles away…
Josh closed the diary and replaced his copy of the breakdown in the desk’s drawer before focusing on the computer’s monitor. Perhaps he would get lucky and have maybe a half hour to jot some ideas down in his ‘Incomplete Stories’ file.
Oh, damn! There were at least a dozen emails sitting there, waiting. The very boldness of their letters – unopened messages – seemed ominously hostile.
“Okay,” he thought wearily, “best get started.”
Arthur Hawking draws his saber, willing the wind into the Golden Swan’s sails. At last, the Dark Ship is in sight. Also, at long last, is his vengeance upon Don Pedro. So too are the arms of the lovely Juanita….
He clicked on the message from the head office secretary. This should be good. You never knew what she was going to send.
What it was, in fact, was a notice that it was that time of year again, and a complete list of inventory was ‘requested’ to be sent in. Useless red tape, in other words. Somehow he would have to find the time to compile a list several pages long and send it in so that it could be pigeon-holed and never read.
Jane felt the rounded firmness of her belly with quiet happiness. Her world was so complete. A devoted husband, a career that she loved, and now this child; there was only one dark secret that threatened to destroy everything…
The architect wanted site confirmation of the dimension between gridline 17 and the existing brick face.
Josh clicked on the ‘Reply’ icon and typed, “I believe I sent you that information last Tuesday. Please check your files.” It wouldn’t do any good, of course. The architect was a spineless creature who spent most of his time – and generous amounts of others – doing nothing more constructive than making sure his ass was covered. Nothing would do but that everything had to be checked, re-checked and re-checked again regardless of how long it all took…until the next site meeting, and the schedule was being discussed. Then wasted time was very much the focus, except by then it would be Josh’s problem, not the architect’s.
He skipped past the next one. It was from his sister out in Calgary and would have to wait.
The first two people, Adam and Eve. In their genes and personalities lie the seeds of all the complicated creatures we have become and will continue to become. What sort of people were they? What sort of people will we be, say, a thousand years into the future?
Then there was one from Jim, the young man at the office with whom he liaised. His was a query about a bill the mechanical people had received for cleanup and to which they where now strenuously objecting. Josh clicked on ‘Reply’ and laconically typed, “They couldn’t be bothered to bring a broom,” before pushing ‘Send’. It was a small thing, but they’d been giving him attitude lately. It seemed these guys were just too good to clean up after themselves. Which was fine, let them give him all the attitude they wanted, just as long as they understood that, one way or another, it would have to be paid for. Fair? Who gave a damn? He needed to stay on top - there was no use his showing up for work if he couldn’t; when money talked, everyone paid attention.
Dorian struggles through the heavy drifts. Behind him, the trail left by his snowshoes is filled in by the howling blizzard almost as soon as it is made. He’s so tired that stretches of time go uncharted in his mind, but he knows that to sleep is to die. He has to get the message through to General Amherst – the Americans are on the Chateauguay…
The next six emails were a forwarded running commentary between the electrical and mechanical engineers, something about a two-phase switch for the ACU. Not an item to require immediate attention, but best to keep it in the back of his mind. Engineers could siphon off time like parasites siphoned off the very life of their host – usually over the most inane things. On second thought, he picked up his memo recorder and flipped the ‘Hold’ button. “Remember to have a word with Sparky vis-a-vie ACU switch.” Maybe it wasn’t immediate, yet it was best to have a talk with the electrical foreman just to make sure. The unit wouldn’t be ready for some time yet, but it was a good idea to know when a deadline for a decision needed to be reached.
The drums sounded, and the banners came up, waving boldly in the freshening breeze. The Old Guard – Napoleon’s brave ‘Mustaches’ – were coming, and all that was left to stop them was young Lieutenant Crawford and the few broken remnants of the 30th…
The next one was a cc’d inquiry from the owner asking a price differential from steel doors to wood.
Jesus-fucking-Christ! It never failed.
Josh clicked on ‘Forward’ and then on the estimator’s address. Best send this while the ache in his back was still good and fresh.
First he typed, “What the fuck?!” and studied it wistfully for a moment before hitting ‘Delete’. It would have been sweet, but not productive.
“Be generous with the zeros on the bottom line.” He wrote instead, “The steel doors are going in tomorrow.”
The last one was from his boss. Even before he opened it, he knew what it was going to say. It was about that time – he got the same message every project.
“There is serious concern over labour costs. Please review work progression and release any employees deemed expendable.”
What the hell did that son of a bitch think he was doing all day, every day?! Did the cheap shit think he was the only one concerned about dead weight? Okay for him, sitting in his air conditioned office, looking at impersonal sheets of numbers. Let him get down in the mud and get his hands dirty. Let him get to put faces to the names, then see what he says.
After the plane crash, Rory was lost in the barrens with only the dog for a friend. Outside of the fire’s glow, hungry wolves circled in the darkness. Thoughts of home and safety plague him throughout the night; but when he slumbers, with death luring him seductively in the wings, it’s visions of Annie’s face hovering before him that continue to bring him back to the world of the living…
He didn’t bother sending a reply. Instead, he clicked on ‘New Mail’ and Jim’s address at the office. In the subject line he typed the job name and number, and then, as an afterthought, cc’d the boss as well.
“It was expected that Tuscan Flooring would be on site today. However, such was not the case, nor were my phone calls returned. This is extremely detrimental to the schedule at this time. Please contact Trent at Tuscan and stress the importance of having his crews show up when requested.” Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t; it was a crap-shoot.
After pushing ‘Send’, he clicked on ‘New Mail’ again, and once more entered the same addresses.
The assassin waited patiently in the shadows behind the curtains, the lamplight reflecting off the steel of his rapier. Soon the beautiful Lady Emma would come into the room, and he would strike; but while he waited, thoughts coursed through his mind. Was it too late, after all of the evil he had seen and done, to have found love at last?
“I have grave reservations about the low numbers of qualified electricians on site. J.P. Electric is falling behind on all fronts, threatening interference with other trades. I have spoken to their foreman, and repeatedly called their head office, but without success. I believe a letter from your office might be of some help.” It wouldn’t, of course. He already knew it was useless; the schedule, unreasonably tight to begin with, was doomed to fall seriously behind. The electricians he wanted didn’t exist, but the effort had to be made.
Josh paused to stretch - trying to will the ache in his back to go away – before clicking on the message from his sister. He glanced at the clock and saw, with a sinking heart, it was now well past eight.
Lizzy’s message was long and rambling. Starting with an inquiry as to why she hadn’t heard from him in so long before veering off to the nightlife in Calgary, her job, her divorce, and this new guy she was seeing. Several paragraphs later, she ended with the hope that all was well with him, and not to be such an asshole and write more often.
He sent her a short note of apology and how good it was to hear from her, but that he was tired and would get back to her later. A crippling fatigue had set in, making even this simple message a chore. By the time he was finished, it was eight-thirty.
McCurdy had never liked tele-marketers. With the onset of his madness, he decided to make it his life’s work to track each and every one of them down, to steal into their homes late at night, and drive a wooden stake through their hearts while they slept…
He went to the kitchen and popped a plastic container of left-over lasagna into the microwave. After pouring himself a glass of dry red wine (the longed for shots of whiskey now forgotten) he took his meal and settled down in front of the television to catch the last of the evening news.
Trouble in the Middle East (who would have thought?), native blockades in BC and Ontario. The economy was in the toilet (again, what a surprise!) and record-breaking layoffs were recorded across the country from the previous month.
Aruk, the polar bear, stood on the rapidly melting ice floe hundreds of miles from shore. Food was scarce, survival doubtful. His only hope was Jack Storm, a young marine biologist serving on the ice-breaker, Wilfred Laurier, with his beautiful but mysterious colleague Marie Tremblay…
Through it all, unable to detach himself completely from the day, he chewed his food with unconscious haste while his mind revolved continuously around the problems at work. The stories of pain and suffering he saw on television were viewed unsympathetically, each forgotten in turn as soon as the next one played across the screen.
With the end of the news, he switched off the set. Gathering up the remnants of his meal, he went into the kitchen and put his dish and wineglass in the sink. By the time he’d prepared a pot of coffee – ready for the next morning’s flip of the switch – his bed was calling to him like a long lost lover. Jinx and Bel, apparently heeding the same call, had already preceded him.
He couldn’t help feeling that it had been a day stolen from his life. Tomorrow, it would have to be done all over again, and then again, and yet again.
On his way to the bedroom, he passed the doorway to his office and half-thought of his ideas file waiting impatiently in the depths of the computer’s hard drive – the fanciful but sane place where the real madness could be left behind.
No…not today…way too tired….maybe tomorrow.
Besides, his mind was as barren as a desert.
CW Lovatt – 09/02/09