Dead on the Scaffolding
He’d flag up his hand at them in some half-hearted acknowledgement and move from the concrete front porch back inside to delve into his hoard in search of God knows what. The old set of rubbers brought back his could-have-beens from high school. The stacks of ancient oilcans brought back would-have-beens from graduation. The baseball glove brought back shouldn’t-have-starteds from childhood. All of it present. All of it impotent. All of it shrouded in this vague, subjunctive loss: what it he hadn’t been left out?
They stopped dead on the scaffolding, both having heard the change in tone. “Yeah dad?” Ivan asked.
“Are you doing okay I said?”
“Yup,” Bennet said. “Sand worm.” He pointed at the earth.
“Sand worm?” Charlie asked.
“There’s a sand worm under the ground,” Bennet said.
“Uh huh,” Charlie said.
“There is,” Bennet said. He let go to put his fists on his hipbones, lost his balance there up two stories, almost fell and then grabbed the bars at the last second.
“Good grief, be careful. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”
“Well come out an play then,” Bennet said.
“I gotta work on my buried treasure. Want to help me dig?”
The boys looked at one another.
“You know the rumbling’s from the train tracks?”
“Not on Saturday,” Bennet said. “Sand worm. I told you.”
It was Saturday.
“And we can’t touch the ground or it’ll get us,” Ivan added, “swallow us whole like Jonah when he didn’t want to do what he was made to do.”
“Uh huh,” Charlie said. “Well stay off the ground I reckon you’d better. I’ll be in.”
Inside, a dozen years’s accumulations burdened him with the weight of memory — dark talismans of time. There sat the old Coca-Cola sign he’d nicked off a vendor in the seventies only to turn it into a circular bobsled for the boys. In the corner stood a large pile of aluminum vent fittings that he’d scavenged off a series of construction sites back when Lakedale was nothing but a bunch of spec houses. One of the cubbies on the fourth row above his head held a collection of one hundred fifty-seven hot wheels and matchbox cars from his childhood, all rusted. Prized possessions, those. Gems in their cases.
He wandered through the storefront door (which was hard to open for the crust rain gear stuck under the jamb) and made his way back into the back rooms, passing a large stack of unopened cans of Miller from the 1950s. The hall of trinkets continued winding and he worked hard, but during this stacking and sorting and occasional discarding he mostly just reminisced.
When he came to something he really enjoyed — like the license plate off of his old black hot rod (there was an old Polaroid of the truck glued to the back) — he went out front to show the boys. They took mild interest and then returned to their rickety, makeshift jungle gym, shouting, “Get off the dirt, Dad! Them earth drakes’ll swallow your man pieces whole!”
The ground rumbled.