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January 21, 2009

The opening paragraphs of a story I started long ago.


The girl sitting in the passenger seat hadn’t said a word since we left the last town behind. She split her time between picking at her nails, staring out the side window, and fiddling with the heater. I wondered if she would be so placid when we passed her turn-off and continued north. For now, we sat in a comfortable silence, trusted acquaintances if not friends. Her father was my boss, and she helped him with the books, just a temporary thing while she made the transition from college to the real world, whatever the hell that means. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted my daughter hanging around the bunch of drunks and vagabonds her father dredged up for seasonal work, but she held her own.

I spent Mays through September working road construction and my winters driving snowplow for Hennepin County. That was my circuit for years. Build roads in the summer, plow them in the winter. It’s not a bad life for a young man. You make good money, have a lot of time off, travel the state. But we don’t stay young, and soon it becomes a transient, lonely life. You watch people live normal lives, drive to work, pack their families together and take trips to the lake, but you live at the boundaries, a highwayman of one sort or another.

That summer, I blasted rock and smoothed asphalt for a new highway tunnel on the north shore. The road curved past a hundred-fifty foot drop and a semi-truck would tumble off at least once a decade. Of course, whenever this happened people from the families of the drivers to the shipping company executives raised all holy hell, and it only took thirty years or so to get county, state, and federal approval for the tunnel. It was tough, dangerous work, carving through a thousand feet of solid rock. A man named Robert Crosby died. A thunder of boulders, come from the hillside, swept him over the edge, into the lake. It happened a couple weeks before the summer season was up, and everyday after I jumped at the sound of pebbles skittering down the cliff. We all called it a freak accident, nothing anybody could have done. A rumor even floated around that Crosby was the careless type and often a few sheets to the wind during his shift. I’d never seen any evidence of that, but such is the way men cope.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Caleb permalink
    February 6, 2009 7:15 pm

    Nice work brother,

    Let me see the rest when it’s done. I’m hooked.

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