Work

Summer Job

Wyatt broke another piece of drywall over his knee and tossed it in the pile he’d been building for the last two hours. The powdery grey dust clung to his face and choked his throat. The afternoon sun was bearing down, baking the construction site and making the white of the drywall harsh and bright. Wyatt’s back ached from the constant hunching over and lifting. All he wanted to do was drink an entire gallon of water before lying down to return to his sleep, interrupted at 5 AM.

Wyatt’s boss, TJ, pulled up in his battered red pickup truck to make a final inspection before he left for the day.

“How’s it going, bud?” TJ asked, stepping out of the cab. TJ was a scrawny wire-frame of a man inside work boots and faded blue jeans. As usual, he had an almost empty bottle of diet coke in one hand and a Marlboro burning down to the butt in his mouth.

“Almost finished here, boss.” Wyatt said, wiping the sweat from his face. TJ nodded in approval and slipped the butt of his old cigarette into the coke bottle before pulling out a fresh smoke.

“I’m sorry to stick you on this by yourself.” TJ said, exhaling smoke as he did.

“It’s no biggie.” Wyatt broke down another piece of drywall and added it to the pile.

“You got all the loose shit out of the house right?”

“Yes sir.”

“Alright. Well just get all this in the dumpster and you’re done for the day. Here’re the keys for the dump truck. Just put em through the mail slot on the office door when you’re done.” Wyatt nodded, though the idea of reloading all the drywall was exhausting.

“Thanks.” TJ said before climbing back into his truck and making his way down the neighborhood to inspect the concrete foundation pouring on the other side of the development. Wyatt held the keys TJ had tossed him and with a sigh of resignation, trudged down the sidewalk to get the dump truck.

The cab of the dump truck was filthy and covered with a thick layer of dust, baked in by the days’ worth of unshaded sunlight. Just the act of climbing into the driver’s seat stirred the dust and dirt into a cloud that stifled the already cramped space. The smell of the old pleather seat and the stale odor of cigarette and fast food were all made even more unbearable thanks to the heat.

Wyatt sat for a moment, his foot engaging the clutch, feeling the August day weighing down and enticing him to sleep, in spite of the discomfort. All he’d have to do was lean his head back and close his eyes and the buzzing of insects and muggy air would do the rest. He turned the key and the engine rumbled to life.

When he pulled up to the pile of discarded and broken down drywall, he set right to work in loading it, feeling the urge to be done for the week welling up inside him. Clasping pieces together and heaving up as many as he could at a time, Wyatt set to work in loading the truck.

Slowly, armful by armful, the pile shrunk.  The grass and trees of the neighborhood were vibrant green with a yellow tinge brought on by the sun. Gone was the sun-bleached white of high noon. Wyatt could feel that the work day was slowly dragging to a close. The occasional and far too short-lived breeze of air kissed his neck and promised him a cooler evening.

One armful after another. Beads of sweat trickled down his forearms leaving traces in the dust that clung to his skin.

By the time he had moved the truck and unloaded the discarded material into the massive red dumpster in the construction vehicle parking lot, Wyatt felt almost numb with exhaustion. The green of his t-shirt was darkened with sweat and his arms glistened in the setting sun. He could feel the soreness setting into the small of his back as he took a seat on the side of the dumpster, his boots knocking idly against the metal.

The houses on the row all followed a similar layout with only the smallest of differences in their overall plan. Some stood fully constructed and only awaiting families to furnish them while others still only had the wooden skeletons of their frames standing. The bricklayers had been building up the chimney in the lot next to where Wyatt had been working. He envied them their trade in constructing something more permanent. They could always drive past and point to the structure they helped erect, brick by brick. Wyatt looked into the dumpster full of broken drywall and shook his head.

As he parked the truck, his phone buzzed to a text from his girlfriend Melissa.

How was work?

Wyatt was too tired to really get into a conversation about it.

It was long but it’s over now.

Wanna stop over here? We can order some food if you want 🙂

Wyatt hadn’t planned on stopping at her place. As much as he liked being with her, her house wasn’t home. He stood by the door to the construction office, mentally weighing the decision in his head. He sighed and put the truck keys through the mail slot.

Sure. I’ll be over in a few minutes.

The drive to Melissa’s was a short one. Wyatt left his music off and didn’t bother to turn on the air conditioning, instead opting to just put the windows down. He was still sweating like a pig but knew that there was air conditioning in his immediate future. A few miles down the road and he was in a development that looked eerily similar to the one he’d come from. But instead of the drab yellow backhoes and vacant lawns, there were cars and some form of children’s toys in each yard.

Wyatt pulled up to Melissa’s house and slowly pulled himself out of his car. He walked up the path winding through the professionally maintained lawn and rang the doorbell. In the shade, he felt just a touch cooler enjoyed the setting sun’s light changing from yellow to amber.

Melissa opened the door and greeted him with a smile and a quick kiss. Her large brown eyes were the first warmth Wyatt had felt all day that he didn’t mind. Her dirty blonde hair was as usual trying to hide her face. Even in her jeans and faded pink t-shirt, she still looked put together and pristine. Wyatt stepped into the sweet air-conditioned air and felt all the heat that was weighing down on him peel off in a moment.

“You look funky.” Melissa said as Wyatt pulled off his boots.

“I feel pretty funky.” He replied with a half-smile, acutely aware of how dirty he was.

“Did you want to grab a shower? I’ve got a pair of your jeans still here you can wear after.” Melissa said, smiling. Wyatt nodded and thanked her. He walked through the house up to the second floor shower. As he did, it still struck him as odd at just how immaculately clean the house was. Everything looked ready to be modelled for a perspective buyer. Were it not for the collection of photos and the odd piece of mail, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a model house. Even the kitchen was neatly maintained and organized. The carpet was crisp and cream colored, and all the furnishing smart and new-looking. It looked incredible and artificial at the same time. Wyatt treaded carefully in his socks, fearful of leaving some stain or mark that would betray he was ever there.

He stepped into the bathroom and pulled the sweaty t-shirt off his back, revealing his pale skin underneath. His arms were darkened with sunlight and grime while the rest of him was merely flushed. Melissa stepped in for a second with a clean towel for him.

“Thanks.” He said, embarrassed to be disturbing the pristine bathroom with his grime.

She smiled and kissed him again.

Despite the great sensation of removing the dirt from his body, Wyatt kept his shower brief. He was far more interested in laying down than washing. He clambered out of the shower and quickly threw on the jeans Melissa had brought him.

He exited the bathroom and walked into Melissa’s room. Like an oasis, her bed was resplendent in its soft purple comforter and thick pillows. Without a second thought, Wyatt laid down and let out an audible groan of satisfaction as he did. The pain in his back dissipated and he felt the exhaustion slip off his body like the shower water had a moment ago.

Melissa stepped into her room and shut the door behind him.

“Feel better?” She asked. Wyatt nodded and felt his eyelids grow heavy. Melissa climbed on top of him and sat there with a playful look on her face. Normally, this was enough of a cue for Wyatt to take a hands-on approach, but now, he was content just to rest.

She leaned down to kiss him and he weakly put his arms around her.

“What do you want to do for dinner?” she asked him. Her voice sounded distant and the words only half-registered.

“Babe?” Wyatt’s hands slipped down her back before coming to rest on her hips.

“Wyatt?” The light had gone out and his breathing had slowed. Melissa asked him again but he was fast asleep.

Welcome Home

“Hey Wyatt. Where have you been saving the memos you’ve been working on?” Alyssa’s condescending tone came through the phone. Wyatt locked his jaw, composed himself for a second before picking up the handset.

“I’ve been saving them in my folder on the public server.” He answered, trying to sound as calm and even-tempered as possible.

“No. You need to be saving them to the memos folder.” She corrected him, with her usual brand of tact and grace.

“I see. I’ll fix that right away.” Wyatt responded, gripping the phone even tighter.

“Ok. And can you leave a list of the memos you worked on in case we can’t find them?” she asked. Wyatt felt his blood boiling.

“Absolutely.” He forced himself to say. It always happens the minute before I leave, he thought.

“Oook thanks.” The line clicked dead. Wyatt stared at his computer screen for a minute and contemplated ripping it off his desk and throwing it down the hall. Alyssa had a special talent for crawling under his skin. He’d never met anybody with such terrible people skills. Even her compliments were so shallow and condescending. He still had the post-it note she left him the night he stayed in the office until 11 to fix some calamity inflicted on the office by their idiot receptionist. It was a coffee-stained note with barely legible scribbles that simply said, “Thanks”.

Wyatt finished putting the list of his mistakes together for Alyssa, grabbed his phone and made his way down the steps.

When he stepped through the door, he walked into the thick August humidity. It was almost 6 but you could still feel the oversaturated air practically heave with moisture. By the time Wyatt was down the office steps and on the sidewalk, he could already feel sweat beading on his head.

There were plenty of people on the streets, all in various states of casual summer dress. Guys in sleeveless lacrosse pinnies, girls in tank tops and light skirts. Wyatt felt especially out of place with his long pants and button-down. He pushed the discomfort from his mind and set off through the crowds back to his apartment.

He checked his phone again, eager to see if Kendra had replied to his text. He had forced himself to limit checking the phone to once an hour during work. She was probably just busy at work, he thought to himself. He had read over his previous message a hundred times, thought it over, dissected every possible way one could possibly interpret “Hey! Are you free tonight for happy hour?” That couldn’t be creepy or coming on too strong. Just a nice casual invitation. Nothing to worry about or overthink.

He checked his phone again as he crossed another block. No response. Wyatt sighed and placed the phone back into his pocket.

By the time he reached his apartment, Wyatt could feel the sweat clinging to his undershirt and staining his armpits. He had finally heard back from Kendra as he passed one of his favorite bars. “Sorry, but I really can’t.” It didn’t leave much room for any sort of negotiation or maneuver. Like his old man used to quote, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Wyatt half-smiled to himself and tried to make peace with bottoming out. Perhaps it was just as well. He was in no particular shape to try and impress anyone as he could swear pieces of his very soul were being sweat out of him.

He was stepping into his building when he noticed the new email on his phone. He opened it to see a notice sent to his entire building that the AC was out of commission for the weekend. Wyatt groaned out loud as he climbed up the stairs. He did an honest day’s work, paid his rent on time and tried to be a generally decent person. Was it really too much to ask for a little break like functioning air conditioning in August?

He opened his door and to his surprise was greeted with “hey there, hot stuff!”  His roommate Chelsea’s girlfriend, Morgan, was lounging on the couch watching TV.

“Hey hey! When did you get here? I thought you were still on the road until next weekend.” Wyatt said.

“They let me go early so I figured I’d stop in. Hope that’s OK.”

“Madame, you’re always welcome here.” Wyatt said, in a dramatic voice complete with a tip of his imaginary cap. “Where’s Miss Thing?”

“She went to pick up some beer. Check this out. I got this awesome little package for 4 dollars in Maryland.” She dug through her backpack and pulled out a collection of incredibly corny and terrible-looking movies.

“Is there really a Croc-o-shark vs. Mechasaurus Rex?” Wyatt asked, looking down through the list of titles.

“There sure is. Chelsea hates movies like this but she agreed to watch them as a ‘welcome back’ present to me.” Morgan said, smiling a wicked little smile.

“I like the way you think. Well don’t let me interrupt the fun.” Wyatt said, turning to head to his room and collapse onto his bed.

“Oh you think you’re getting out this? I told Chels to pick up some Sam Adams just for you.” Morgan gave him her patented devilish smile. Wyatt couldn’t help but smile like a goon. Nobody could make you feel like the center of the world like Morgan.

“Well now you’ve got me blushin something fierce.” He said, in his clichéd Southern accent, fanning his face to complete the joke. In perfect sync with his over-the-top style, Morgan blew him a kiss and the two started laughing. Not a bad day, Wyatt thought to himself.

AM Commute

Tom rolled over in bed, trying to keep warm under his covers. The world wouldn’t end if he spent another five minutes in bed, he thought to himself. The air in the apartment was almost as cold as the December morning outside. When Tom’s roommate, Mike, told him that he liked the apartment cold, Tom didn’t expect that to mean meat locker levels of cold.

Tom lazily checked his wristwatch and felt a wave of dread crash over him when he saw the time.

7:55 AM.

With a quick motion, Tom threw his covers off, shivering as the cold ran over his legs. He’d overslept again and was stuck in a race against the clock to work. He pulled his pants on and was still working on his tie as he came out of his room.

Mike was sitting in the kitchen, shirtless and reading the newspaper. It wasn’t the first time Tom had seen it, but it still always amazed him. You could almost see your breath and Mike was sitting there in nothing but his boxers.

“Seriously dude, don’t you ever get cold?” Tom asked, trying to simultaneously finish his tie and pull over a sweater.

“Ole mies.” Mike said, not even taking his eyes off the paper.  Tom shook his head and stepped out of the apartment into the dreary grey morning.

Tom hurried down the block, praying he could time getting to the metro at the same time as a train. Unfortunately the traffic was not on his side this morning. There were only two red lights between Tom and the Metro but he caught both of them. The roads were packed with overcautious drivers and buses and everybody was driving slower than usual for fear of the quarter of an inch dusting that DC got the night before. Tom rolled his eyes and tapped his foot impatiently.

He thought he saw an opening where he could shoot the gap and run across the street. He had barely started moving forward when a large woman driving a brand new Cadillac laid on the horn. Tom stepped back but the woman continued to lay on the horn, punishing him and everyone else within earshot for even daring to think of crossing in front of her. The Cadillac rolled past him, complete with the driver shooting him a dirty sideways glance. It was then that Tom saw the bright red bumper sticker that read: I’m not mean. You’re just a wimp. From inside his pants pockets, Tom flipped her off.

When he finally reached the metro station, he knew that his luck was not about to change. The crowd was impenetrably thick with dozens of clueless commuters staring off into space. Tom gritted his teeth and hacked his way through the mass. As a new train came in, the crowds all clumped together around the train car doors. Tom shook his head again, seeing that the crowds on the station platform were so densely packed that nobody could even get off the train. For minutes, the commuters on the train pushed against the wall of humanity trying to board the cars. “Jesus Christ! This is clogged tighter than my arteries!” an angry middle-aged man declared as he tried to part the crowd using his briefcase.

Two more trains came through the station before Tom finally was able to squeeze into the car. He wanted to look at his watch but it was pointless to try. Any attempt to move his arms and he’d either break someone’s nose or accidentally grope someone. The man in front of Tom was a massive slab of flesh and was sweating underneath four layers of coat and jacket. To complete the picture, whatever type of deodorant this man was using, it was not working. Tom spewed profanity after profanity in his head as he tried to keep calm.

When the train finally reached his stop, Tom fought and pressed his way to the exit, managing to just slither out as the doors began to close again. He took a glimpse at his watch and to his distress saw that it was almost 8:30. He bolted up the escalator two steps at a time. His day was shitty enough without his pain in the ass office manager giving him a lecture about what time he was expected to be in to work.

Tom was weaving through the street crowds like a professional, side-stepping and half-running past a sea of gloomy city-dwellers. He hated being that guy who was causing so much commotion and threw out a sorry every time he cut someone off or jumped in front of a person who wasn’t moving quite fast enough.

He came to the M Street crossing and saw the green light. Tom hadn’t endured the hell of the Metro to be thwarted here. After a Mercedes ambled by, Tom made a run for it. A cab slammed on its brakes and blasted him with the horn. Tom didn’t stop, using the pause as a chance to hop through traffic.

“On your left!” Tom heard the voice and turned to see a cyclist speeding down the lane right at him. He panicked and stepped backwards but was too slow. Tom let out a howl of pain as he felt the full weight of the environmentally-conscious asshole run over his foot. After taking a second to convince himself that a homicidal rampage was not the best choice at this moment, Tom limped forward.

Stepping into his building, Tom moved as fast as his throbbing foot would permit towards the elevator. He saw one that was going up and threw his arm into the door to keep it from closing. He pushed the door back open and clambered into the small pine-scented box. He pushed his floor’s button and fell back against the back wall. A minute and change to go. Plenty of time, Tom thought to himself. He closed his eyes, trying to mentally compose himself before he stepped onto his floor.

“Hey, you’re Tom right?” A voice brought him back to reality. He opened his eyes to see the cute girl from the floor below his smiling at him.

“Yeah and you’re Dana?” he tried to make himself as presentable as he could without being obvious.

“Yup that’s me. Rough commute this morning?” She asked.

“That’s a bit of an understatement.” Tom replied, his foot still throbbing in pain.

“Well I was going to head around the corner and get some coffee. If you could live with being a minute late for work, how’d you like to join me and you can tell me all about this horror story of a commute?” She asked, her tone playful and enticing.

Tom smiled, more to himself than to her. “I think I’m going to need some coffee this morning.”