Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Clouds brewing on the horizon

Mother’s battery-powered radio brings grim news: It is supposed to rain today. And not just a little drizzle. Full blown Southern Mississippi thunder storms. Which means if we do not put something on my father’s roof, there is going to be more water damage done to the house. Insult added to injury.

Hate to do it, but I wake Dad. He was snoring blissfully. Doesn’t like my rude interruption. Until I tell him about the forecast.

Oh, hell, he says. Go get your brother.

Jason is with Mel, at her mother’s house. One block north. I zig-zag the car past now-familiar mounds of debris, drive up to their house and yell through the open window screen: Jay-aaay, come out and play-aaay.” (a’ la The Warriors from 1979.) But nobody takes the bait. Of course it is early, Jason likes to stay up late, and he doesn’t have any kids, so there is a strong chance he is recumbent somewhere, snoring.

The front door is unlocked. I walk right into the living room. Cases of bottled water litter the floor. Mel is sleeping in one recliner. Jason in the other. His head is cast back and his mouth gapes, snoring mildly in the hot August air. He looks like my father, with a moustache. But without all the wrinkles, minus two hundred years of sun tanning.

Jason, I say.

He keeps snoring.


More of the same.


Mel wakes up. Looks at me. Looks at Jason. Looks at me. Rubs her eyes and stretches.

Jason, she says.

What? he asks. Waking up at the sound of her voice. Rubbing his eyes and stretching.

I need your help, I say. It’s going to rain in a couple of hours. We need to put some plastic on Dad’s roof.

He’s wearing what he wore yesterday. Jeans and a white t-shirt, stained yellow at the arm pits. Rubs his eyes some more and follows me out the door.

Be careful, Mel says as she rolls back to sleep.

Laundry list: hammers, roofing nails, plastic. That’s all we need for the repairs. And that is about all we have. Not including pieces of the neighbor’s wooden fence, which we pluck out of his yard and plan to use to anchor the edges of the plastic sheeting.

It isn’t bad for the first ten or twenty minutes, but the remains of the roof quickly start to heat up and I’m guessing it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 110 degrees while we’re working. The humidity doesn’t help. The lack of sleep doesn’t help. And it isn’t long before I’m literally drenched in sweat. Head to toe. My shirt is soaked. My hair is wet. My socks are wet. The sweat drips down the front of my shorts and leaves streaks like I’ve pissed myself. And the sun shoots through the cloudless sky to lump some more redness onto my neck.

I picked the wrong week to move to The Coast.

We get half of the exposed wood covered when my body decides to revolt. I don’t feel tired. I really WANT to wrap this up and take a break, but my right hand is not holding the nails correctly. I keep dropping them. They’re skidding down the roof and I’m not able to catch any of them. And when I do convince my fingers to hold one correctly, I can’t get the other hand to swing the hammer correctly. I hit my thumb, but it doesn’t hurt. Hardly any force behind it. Then I notice I’m hunching over, my head hanging down. Panting. Almost gasping for air as sweat rolls into my eyes. The world really isn't in focus right now. It's kinda grey and blurry at the edges. With black dots swirling around my head. Probably a plague of locust come to finish me.

What are you doing? Jason asks.

I don’t know.

Are you okay?

I don’t know.

Jon! Can you hear me?

I don’t know.


But I don’t hear the rest. I’m staring at my hands, like they’re new and I can return them if I kept the receipt. These bastard don’t work, I’d tell the guy who sold them to me. I want some new ones.

Then Jason’s lifting me onto my feet, one arm over his shoulder, taking the hammer away from me. Letting more nails roll down the roof. I’m just looking at him and trying to figure out why the hell I can’t talk and how we’re going to get down from here.

We tip-toe to the ladder. My sweat contributing to his. Moving slowly like two old men. Careful not to follow the nails tumbling to the ground. My legs work, if nothing else. So I can shimmy down the ladder.

And my mother is there. With cold bottles of water. And Gator Aide. Saying something that I don't hear. And Dad's jabbering at me. Just the sound of the ocean in my ears. I sit down and swallow orage Gator Aide. Rub the cold plastic on my face.

After I drink an entire bottle, I can hear again. My hands reboot and come back online. I'm able to focus my eyes and say polysyllabic words.

Nobody wants me to go back on the roof. But there are clouds brewing on the horizon. Dark ones. I imagine I can hear their thunder. And the neighbors who were looking at us like we were crazy for putting up plastic so early in the morning now scramble to get ladders and sheeting of their own.

We go back on our roof. But Mom has a new trick. Cold towels. She soaks some of them in the water from the bottom of the coolers and drapes them over our necks. Micro air conditioning.

I start to recover my senses. The nails are going in correctly, now. There’s actually a little less sweat pouring out of me. Not much longer, we'll be done. And it is almost time for lunch.

Nothing like complete physical exhaustion to work up an appetite.

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