That summer was shaping up to be the best ever. I finally quit my job roofing with McGill and told that cocksucker where he could stick it. I’d had just about had enough of that prick telling me what to do day-in day-out for barely enough pay to drink a few PBRs after work. That and I couldn’t deal with my fear of heights day-in day-out anymore either, ever since the I fell off that scaffold and cracked my collarbone. ‘Course I never told the rat bastard that.
I got a new gig working with some guys who were in the tree business. Arboreal work the boss called it – he was a fancy guy, educated I guess. I saw him the first day I came into the office and never again after that.
Anyhow it was a good deal, with better pay. And I didn’t have to worry about falling off a roof and breaking my neck, since all the other guys that’d been there longer did all the work up in the trees. I just stayed on the ground and fed all the branches they cut down into the ‘chipper.
This was a helluva machine since sometimes those long branches could be as thick around as your arm or thicker, and two or three times as long. The foreman, grimy bastard that he was, had given me the long and the short the first day on how to run the thing.
“There’s only two rules for working the ‘chipper,” he’d said afterward at lunch, while we drank beers in the shade. “Always face towards it when it’s runnin’. That way you won’t fall backwards into it.”
“That’s only one rule.”
“Wiseass, eh?” He took another swig of beer. “The second rule is that if ya fall in to make sure to go in headfirst.” And he gave me a knowing look over another swig. I didn’t laugh.
Over time we learned to get along and he let me start driving the truck. I was glad – I wanted to keep the shit I was responsible for on the ground. I’d no desire to be yanked up one of them trees and be all dangling up there with my balls hanging out. Still couldn’t stand the thought of working at heights ever since I fell off that scaffold.
It was hard work: long days of long hours until after the sun set, but beers over lunch helped me get through ’em and I always looked forward to the ones waiting for me at home after. Day after day I watched the other guys chop and saw up in the trees. Day after day I gathered up the giant branches off the ground and fed them into the chipper to be turned in sawdust and woodchips.
The foreman started to take a couple days a week off on account of his time being split between two crews now (business was booming) so some days I was the last one on the job, since I drove the truck. All the other men (“arborists”, the owner had called them that first day) went home earlier and I took all the equipment back to the shop and closed up.
The shop was on the foreman’s farm property and I remember the first time his wife came out and brought me and him cold beers after a particularly tough day. It’d been a long one, hotter than hell, the temperature never falling below 90 and the whole lot of us just sweatin’ like pigs, even in the shade of the mighty oaks.
So the foreman and I were closing up the shop and out marches his wife in a little summer dress, like some black-haired angel, with a big smile and a bucket of ice filled with cold Buds for us filthy sweaty men.
The smile wasn’t for the foreman, it was for me, I saw, I could tell she took a shining to me right off the bat. The way he talked to her and the way she looked at me, even on that first night, I could tell he wasn’t layin’ the boots to her like he used to and she wanted something to make her feel like a woman again. Some big strong man to make her all warm and tingly down there.
Which is why when the foreman went up north for a week the gig got even better.
I wasn’t acting foreman or nothing, but I was the one that drove the truck which meant I was the one to close up shop. Back alone at the foreman’s farm with the sun dipping low in the sky, and wouldn’t ya know it his wife comes out the house with that big smile of hers on her face and bucket of beers, but this time the beers are just for us.
We sat on the porch of their little country home and drank and laughed. Come an hour later and I’ve got her bent over their kitchen table, moaning, and staring at their wedding photos while I’m giving her what for.
That was a great week when the foreman was gone. She was an animal. The week when he came back, not so much – I drank a lotta PBR by myself those nights; a lot more than usual.
The days flew by with me driving the truck and watching long thick branches disappear into the noisy spinning drum of the chipper and getting turned into sawdust.
The foreman kept giving me the stink-eye and I thought something was up, thought he knew. But he never said anything. Then I had my day off when he was down on the quarry line grinding up oaks, and I went by their country home in the morning, drank his beers and fucked his wife again, this time in their own bed. It was like I wanted to get caught.
Two weeks later all the other men had gone home and the foreman and I headed back to the shop to close up. We were all finished sweeping up when out comes his wife again with a bucket of beers. Only this time she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. She set the bucket down on the cement of the shop floor instead of handing us cold Buds dripping with ice water and condensation.
“Stay and have a brew with us m’dear,” the foreman said, popping the cap off of his.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, in that sing-songy little angel voice of hers.
She still wouldn’t so much as meet eyes with me and she just stared into the cold gray cement of the shop floor. She disappeared back down the gravel drive and I tried not to watch her beautiful ass swinging beneath those shapely hips given that her husband, who was my boss and I’d made a cuckold, was standing there right next to me.
He and I started getting into the drink and talking about trucks and women and love and life when and all of a sudden he stands up and heads around to the side of the shop without so much as saying a word.
“What’s up?” I came around the corner.
“D’ya mind helping me with this for a spell?” He said, gesturing at the woodpile. “I wanted to get some of this done before I head in for dinner with the missus.”
The chipper lay like a sleeping dog with its hitch atop an old log nearby. It was his machine and he used it to grind up the wood from his property into sawdust and woodchips on the weekends and after the workday was through.
“Sure thing,” I said, even though I felt a little off about the whole thing. I was spooked what with his wife acting all strange around me, and now here we were nearly three sheets to the wind and him wanting me to help him run the ‘chipper.
We took it from its resting place and dragged it over to the woodpile, turning the chute towards the enormous mountain of woodchips and the hopper towards us and the pile of large branches behind the shop.
We woke it, the sleeping dog, and that monster roared into life and that didn’t help with me being half in the bag from all those Buds none. The foreman he stood behind me and I stood facing the ‘chipper and we started feeding them enormous thick branches into the hopper, and the grinding sound from it was even louder and shriller than the roar of the ‘chipper’s engine and the spinning of the toothed drum.
I was waiting for him to hand me the next branch but nothing came. I turned around to see what was going on and he was already up on me and that fucking rat bastard shoved me hard backward. My arms windmilled and I fell and put one out to break my fall. I felt my elbow connect with the steel of the hopper funnel and then I screamed when my hand went into the business end of the ‘chipper.
That pain was the worst thing I’d ever felt in my life; worse than falling from that scaffold and cracking my collarbone, worse than when that fucker in Toledo cracked that beer bottle over my head, worse than when I had to watch her walk away after she set the bucket of beer down on the shop floor and couldn’t so much look in my eyes.
The chipper was grinding my arm into fleshy bits now and pulling me up into the cone of the hopper. I looked over and saw the foreman coming on strong toward me with this dead set look in his eyes. I felt pain again when that bastard kicked my legs out from under me and my knees hit the dirt. The ‘chipper kept pulling me upward and spitting out red and white bits of my flesh and bone like the deranged monster it was.
I looked up at the foreman and he was standing further back now. He had his elbows out and his hands around his mouth like he was shouting to someone far away so I could hear him above the noise of the ‘chipper.
I know about you and Margaret, I heard him shout.