Bent Words

Bent Words

June 09, 2009

With a back pack slung over his shoulder he sort of elbows his way through the door, as though he were about to embark upon a dark, imposing cavern. Once fully inside, with eyes adjusted to the environment, he carefully lets his pack fall but remains squarely staid on the linoleum with a breath held high in his chest. I raise my eyebrows. He lets out a sigh. I inquire, "What's up?" and he covers a smile by smoothing the beard on his cheeks with one hand.

He's wearing camo shorts and a winter hat. His black socks blend with his shoes. His unshaven face has grown more unshaven and I can smell the fine layer of dirt that covers his skin. He bends over his shoes to unlace them and I watch his back spread to an impressive width of three feet.

I think of the line in Coal Miner's Daughter when Sissy Spacek, looking at her husband, Tommy Lee Jones, says 'You look like an old baaaer.'

If I approach for an embrace, he won't return the gesture. He will poke my sides. I remain seated at my desk while he begins his usual evaluation.

The kitchen table -- he will scope out the contents in case I've laid out something for him. Parts, new old stock acquired from the shop, clothing, Mint Melt-Aways...

The calendar -- he will lean in and squint while rubbing the tips of his fingers together. He will scrutinize this month and next.

The refrigerator -- he will chuckle at the presence of food, nod mockingly/sadly/knowingly at the lack of it. If there's milk, he'll wonder if there's bread. If there's Red Bull, he'll wonder if there's Vodka (but rarely makes himself a drink).

The freezer -- he will throw out a thumbs up if there's leftover ice cream or if I've relocated the Mint Melt-Aways. I will know if he's staying if he places his water bottles in the freezer for work the next day.

Finally, he turns toward me.

"I need a shower."

Before crossing over to the carpeting, he strips down to his socks and boxers and walks around the room like a cat in a new home. Everything seems familiar, perhaps because I'm there, but he will take nothing for granted, pausing every now and then as though expecting everything to have changed.

"Long day or short day at work?" I ask him.

"Long day -- lots of lifting -- my back is stiff."

I'll evacuate my desk chair as he exits the shower. I'll wash the dishes, prepare a drink or involve myself with a book. He will take up my spot with a towel wrapped 'round his waist. E mail, race sites, weather, Waukesha restaurants, movies. He will smoke my cigarettes though he says he quit.

"I need to eat."

He dresses and I brush my hair. We hop into my car and he curses the seat belt BEEP. He tells me about cantilevers. I can't remember what they are. He talks about silt fences. I notice them when we drive past a hill. He points out interstate signs he's set up and refers to the cat walks he won't step foot on. I know how many bails of hay he's moved in a day. I can't quite recall how many trees he's chopped down this week.

"Where should we go," he asks while we drive around aimlessly.

"I don't know. What do you want?"


We return back to town undecided and he pulls into an unfamiliar spot. No food. A few beers. We sit down at stools in a new bar and glance at the patrons already turning their heads away. Older men lean over their mugs, occasionally expecting more when they look down into the yellows and browns of their glasses. Older women stand with daring expressions and elbows propped against the bar. The younger adults are crowded about the pool table, breaking briefly to play another offensive song on the jukebox.

"This isn't Pantera," he says with a smirk.

The bartender asks what we'll have. He turns his head in the opposite direction but points a thumb at me. I order first.

No food. A few beers. We head home.

He orders Chinese while I run to the gas station for soda.

I bring my Diet Coke to the counter and hand over my credit card. The clerk pauses, looks directly at me, cocks his head, smiles and asks,

"How are you?"

Written at 10:34 p.m.