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?”
“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.