Fiction — From the June 2013 issue

East Texas Lumber

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Back from lunch, I stood in the early June sun pulling two-by-sixes for somebody else’s load when Mike, the yard manager, came out of the office and yelled, “All right, Brian, I’ve got an easy one for you and Jimmy.”

It took me half a moment to register what he was saying. My mind had nestled itself against the secret, moon-pale skin between the buttons of this shirt Angela sometimes wore at The Hangout, the church club over in the strip mall where the Safeway used to be. But as soon as I did I dropped the two-by-six mid-pull and went up to him and said, “Let me kneel down before you. I swear I’ll get an idol with your face on it and give it flowers and pigeon blood every night.”

Mike colored at that, being Baptist. Fortysomething at least, with a groomed black beard and sunglasses hanging from his neck by a neon-green band, he was the Prime Mover of the yard’s universe, spinning us into motion with his order sheets. My prayers must have climbed their way through the spheres and gotten to his ear. Ever since morning the minutes had crawled, and all I could think of was getting to quitting time and driving to The Hangout so I could pitch my woo Angela-ward.

“Where’s Jimmy?” Mike said, clutching the order sheet to his chest. Jimmy popped up behind him, out of the main warehouse, where he must have been lazing in the door room. A great place for smoking, he told me once, but not for getting high, not with all those doors. Jimmy was a couple years older than me, taller, muscled, long hair straight and brown, with these little round spectacles like you see on timid townspeople in westerns. I’d been paired with him since I started at the lumberyard. After the tornado hit, they needed some extra people, and my dad was friends with a guy who went to Mike’s church. My first week, though, I managed to put a nail through my foot and drive over a stack of sheetrock, and Jimmy was the only one willing to take me on. He was a general master of fuckupery, but he’d worked at East Texas since he graduated from high school and he knew the yard. Those last were Mike’s exact words.

His exact words now were “Don’t screw it up.” The job was a shingle drop for two tornado houses. “Silver Linings to Greenhills and Chestnuts to Oak Ranch,” Mike told us. Jimmy snatched the order sheet from him, looked it over like maybe it was a trick, then beamed at me and told me to get in the truck. Mike gave us an “All right” and headed back to his air-conditioned holy of holies. We didn’t get good deliveries too often. We were always getting lost, and one time we’d scattered half our load on MLK when one of our straps came loose. But all the other guys were swamped.

We parked on the cool cement floor of the shingle warehouse, and Arturo scooted over in his forklift, glanced at the order, and said, “Pinchay my asshole.” Jimmy sat there, grinning as he held his hair up in a ponytail and snapped a rubber band around it. Arturo was always shouting something obscene, and most of the guys laughed without even thinking about the translation.

“Two drops,” Jimmy said to me, relishing it. “And one of them in Longview.”

I let myself sink into the truck’s faux leather, listened idly as Arturo put our pallets together and shouted “Pinchay my asshole” some more. Shingles were already easy because we wouldn’t have to pull lumber for a load, and the Longview drop meant a good long time of getting paid for just riding around. I’d sail through the afternoon, almost nothing between me and quitting time, between me sitting here now and sitting next to Angela at The Hangout and offering to buy her a Mountain Dew.

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’s first book, Byzantium: Stories, will be published next month by Graywolf. He teaches at the University of Toledo.

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