Honest Work by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Working

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Honest Work

           Working as a carpenter was the most honest work I have ever done.

In the beginning, I saved for the family that hadn’t yet materialized. Later, I left the house treading softly with babies snuffling familiar scents. My wife always got up with me, made me breakfast, handed me a lunch.

Those early, dark summer mornings were a sensual prelude to the next 16 hours’ stimulus. The earth rolled us toward the position of sunrise. But, I always found a moment, in the predawn, with a pale smirk on the horizon allowing a pause—not to shrink back from the open-mouthed laughter of the sun’s oppressive heat, but to appreciate silence in all its forms.

I slammed the door on my truck, started the motor and the spell was broken—as if thousands of geese had opened their throats and wings at once, as if all the soft, green leaves in a cottonwood suddenly dried and clattered against each other, as if ants had just started in on a carcass.

From my mountain pass at 2200 feet to the bare desert at sea level, I descended through zones of habitat. Condominiums awaited assembly. Concrete slabs, still in the process of drying, were a form of order in rectangles — arranged among the dunes. Sections of trees lay nearby in bundles. Kegs of iron, having been once melted and stamped into rough pins, gave me the power of a seamstress. I would stitch the lumber into right angles, and ordered dimensions. I would hem the seams that would define the patterns and ultimately provide decoration for the bodies within.

Would a flock of geese flying over marvel to each other at the cacophony of the woodworking below? How would we appear from above; slapping lumber, wheeling our hammered arms against the nailheads, cursing testaments to our power, orchestrating the pitches of electric saws? Might we seem like a movie about ants — only on rewind — as we assembled a carcass?

Salt dried on our bodies in wavy ripples. Bandanas or straw hats grew crusty and stiff. Socks within heavy boots collected trickling sweat until they were soggy. Our skin labored to regulate body temperature, while deep within our cores I imagine Scotty shouting to Captain Kirk that Warp Five was impossible, that the reactors were melting down. But Captain Kirk knew his ship — he knew that another half an hour at 105 degrees was not an emergency. This was merely a test of reactors–and manhood.

I called it a ‘final surge’. I took the time to make sure that the angles were right. I stitched together the final hem. And then I took care of my tools; accounted for them, and put them away.

Just as I reached for the door of my little yellow truck, I paused and looked over my days’ work — a physical testament to my labor, the skeletal structure of a place that someone would call ‘home’.

Now, years later, I still cash in my emotional reward. Driving by, I’ll say, “I built that.”

Profile photo of richard c rutherford richard c rutherford

Characterizations: well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Richard, this is a beautiful story! I love that you start working for a family that hadn’t yet materialized, and then later the snuffling babies. All of your descriptions are so vivid, I almost feel as if I am there with you. The sunrise, the truck, the lumber, the sweat. . . . Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. John Zussman says:

    I can feel this story with all my senses—the salty sweat, the soggy socks, the arid heat. I like your seamstress metaphor too.

  3. rosie says:

    The very best story of yours that I have read. So vivid and not a wasted word or image. Thanks for the story.

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