by Brian Eisel
I shoulda called in.
Gravel and mud crunched and slurped under my boots as I stalked through the construction site. I just wanted to get to my rig and shut the door on the world. I gave the ol’ Case excavator a pat and found it just the way I’d left it. Dirty. The yellow machine had a layer of grime all over it, but it treated me better than my wife.
The November sky was gray and it was supposed to rain. Seventy-percent chance. Even the weatherman probably would get this one right. The early morning air was cold so I’d been forced to throw on my old Carhartt to keep warm. My battered, old helmet wouldn’t keep my head warm, so I’d put on a skullcap too. My beard would keep my face warm enough.
I didn’t feel like talking and only acknowledged the greetings of my coworkers with a grunt. I’d had enough talk. Last night’s “talk” with Ashley did not go well.
I set my lunch box and mug of coffee inside before hoisting my six-foot-two, two-hundred-twenty-pound frame up inside. I got comfortable, then looked out the window at the ditch line outside. Digging holes was my living, but I had the urge to dig one for myself and die inside. Better yet, I should dig one for my wife and bury her ass in it instead.
Everything fell apart between us last night. Twelve years of marriage. Done. Just like that. If only marriage was as easy as this project. Marriage was just about as tedious. We were running sewer and water lines out to the freeway. We’d been working on the project for three months already, but were only about half done. My job was to dig the ditch so the pipe guys could do their thing.
How long had Ash has been cheating on me and how in the hell did I not know?
Tony, the site foreman, came up to the side of my cab and called up to me, “What’s your problem, Tom? You too good to talk to us?”
“Fuck off. I ain’t in the mood today. Let’s just get going.”
Yeah. I’m an asshole, but I’m good at it. Tony turned and walked away, twirling his right index finger up in the air as he did. Diesel engines roared to life. Black smoke billowed out of exhaust stacks. A filthy, red, dump truck lurched forward and rolled toward my rig. Talk about easy. Just pull up next to the guys that do the real work, wait for them to fill your bed, then go dump it somewhere else. That scumbag better not have done my wife in my bed.
I fired up my machine too. It sputtered to life and I gave it a moment to warm up in the cold before I touched any of the controls. My eyes wandered down the ditch line. I really could dig a hole for Ashley and bury her in it. I’d be the first one the cops would suspect, though, so I’d have to dig it deep. Last night’s conversation crept back into my thoughts.
“I can’t take any more of your bullshit, Tom. You’ve changed.”
“Come on, Ash. You’ve changed too. We grow up. We get older.”
“You haven’t grown up. I’m the only one acting like an adult around here.”
“Bull shit. I take care of my responsibilities.
“What about me? You don’t take care of me anymore? All you do when you’re home is sit in front of the damn TV and drink.”
“It’s the only way I can handle this circus. Kids screamin, you bitchin, dogs barkin, it drives a guy crazy.”
“Maybe if you’d help around the house, it wouldn’t be such a circus.”
“I work a lot of hours. I’m tired when I get home. And I help with the kids, so I don’t know what crack you’re smokin.”
“Shouting at them to listen to me is not helping.”
“I help more than that.”
“Tell you what, you don’t need to worry about helping anymore. I’ve found someone else. A good man. He treats me right. He respects me. He makes me happy.”
My thoughts returned to the present. She’d found someone else and was leaving me. Well good luck keeping her happy, asshole. She may still be a knockout, but she’s crazy.
I reached inside my jacket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds. I plucked out a loose smoke and plopped it between my lips. The heat from the lighter warmed my hand, while the heat from the smoke warmed my lungs. Blissful. At least my smokes treated me right. They wouldn’t turn on me.
Bitch. How could she? She was crazy, but she was my crazy.
That red dump truck rumbled to a stop close to me. I saw the driver give me the “thumbs up.” Time to work. I grabbed the control sticks and with experienced ease, I lifted the excavator’s control arm and bucket from their resting place. I swung them over the ditch, picked my spot, and plunged the bucket down into the earth. I’d been doing this shit for twenty-years.
Twin jets of smoke streamed through my nostrils while I scooped the bucket full of earth. The excavator’s motor growled as it hoisted the load up and over to the dump truck. A flick of my wrist was all it took to dump the load of soil into the bed of the truck. It made a hollow, metallic whump in the empty bed when it landed.
The smell of damp earth mixed with the smells of diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke. I found it therapeutic.
Good man. Hah. It was probably that damn accountant she worked for. How else could she hide it so well. She barely left the house, except for work. And groceries. Target too. Man, she spends a lot of money there.
I swung the control arm back over the ditch and lowered the bucket back into the ditch. The teeth of the bucket went back into the ground and bit off another chunk. Up it came and back over to the dump truck.
I took another drag off my smoke, then let it dangle from my lip. What’s gonna happen with the kids? I’ll lose them. I thought of Kaden wearing his pee-wee, black and orange Bengals uniform running down the field for a touchdown. Will Ash let me keep him in football? And what about my little Kayla bear? Would she be able to sleep at night without me tickling her cheek with my beard and helping Mister Snuffles give her give her teddy bear kisses at bedtime?
Who am I trying to kid? They won’t miss me much. Ash was right about one thing. I didn’t really do much with them. I’m practically the poster child for the “seven minute parent.”
I maneuvered the bucket back into the ground for the third time. Eyeing up the ditch, I chose my next spot. I was getting closer to a pipeline running through the ditch, already, so it was time to be more careful. Last thing I need was Tony bitchin at me for not payin attention and slowin the site down while they fixed the pipe. I let the bucket’s teeth nibble into the clay instead of bite, then carefully scooped along the edge of the pipe, exposing the mud stained steel.
Dammit all. I’m gonna end up being a part-time dad stuck payin my cheatin “ex” child support and they’ll probably shove it up my ass with maintenance too, even though she’s leavin me. How am I gonna earn enough money to live?
The engine roared as I hoisted the bucket back up into the air. I swung the control arm back over to the dump truck and watched loose clumps of mud drop to the ground. They hit with a wet splat.
Just like my marriage. Splat. How did pops do it? I know my parents didn’t always get along. Pops was always boozin and floozin, but mom knew she still had it good. It worked for them. They’re still together. Why didn’t it work for me?
I shoulda listened to my old man and found a good, Irish woman. Irish women understand. Ash is mostly Italian. Damn Italians and their tempers. If she was Irish, she woulda just cheated on me and called it good. Hell, she knew I cheated on her. I woulda understood. She doesn’t have to have sex with me if she don’t want to. The point is, we’d stay married. Best of both worlds then.
I plucked the cig out of my mouth and flicked the ash off of the hot box. The clump of burnt material dropped down to the ash tray I used to block the red, “No Smoking” symbol. If I didn’t see it, I wasn’t breaking the rules, right? After placing it back on my lips, I dropped the empty bucket back into the mud.
She’d better not go after my pension. I’m the one that busted my ass to earn it. Goddamn her! I will definitely put her in this ditch if she touches my damn pension!
The bucket tore through the mud and lifted with a growl. Maybe it was me that growled. I was pissed at the thought of losing my pension. Why the hell should she get half of my pension just because we were married? That shit isn’t fair at all!
I sucked angrily on my cigarette and nearly choked from inhaling too much smoke. My eyes watered and I coughed around the cigarette. Last thing I needed to do was launch it into my lap. I’d done it before and that shit hurt. Smoke obscured my vision as the control arm swung over the dump truck. I tipped the bucket and part of the load missed. It tumbled down the side of the dump truck and splattered on the ground.
That jag-off dump truck driver was throwing his hands up in the air and looking at me like, “what the hell are you doing?” I promptly gave him the finger and spun the control arm back over the ditch. My face flushed with anger and embarrassment and I hoped he wouldn’t notice.
Screw him. If he says something, I’ll punch him in his damn mouth. Nothin like kickin someone’s ass to feel better. Hell, maybe I’d get fired and then she’d have to pay me maintenance.
I reached over and opened up the little side window to let some of the smoke clear out of the cab. It’s hard to dig when you can’t see what you’re doing. The smoke cleared from in front of my face, so down went the bucket back into the mud. It ripped off another hunk of earth and moved back up into the air with a roar and a furious hiss. I was sure my mood couldn’t have gotten much worse but getting called out by that dick in the dump truck pissed me off even more.
It’s all that bitch’s fault! How could she do this to me and what the hell is that hissing noise?
I swung the arm back over to the dump truck and prepared to empty the bucket. I had to pause when I saw the driver high-tailing it away from his ride. Pussy. He probably thought I was gonna go over there and kick his ass.
I tipped the bucket and sucked up another lung full of smoke, then I realized what that hissing noise was. I’d punctured the pipe. Of all the dumbass, rookie mistakes I could make, it had to be that one. The odor of natural gas filled the cab and I rose, slightly, in my seat to get a better look in the ditch. A fucking plume of vapor furiously spewed out of the pipe, venting right at me. My eyes crossed slightly as I glanced at my cigarette’s hot box glowing red at the end of my lips.
I heard a whoosh and felt a momentary blast of intense heat. My damn smokes had turned on me too. There wasn’t gonna be much left of me to bury in this ditch.
Brian is a senior at UW Milwaukee. He’s an English major with concentrations in Creative writing and Technical writing. He will graduate in December 2017.