HEREAFTER, or THE BUSINESS END OF A NAIL GUN
And my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter. I mean I was lopped on the side, man. Gerrymandered, know what I'm saying? The motherfucker had me looking like that shithead Tom De Lay wearing a goddamn toupee say a Doberman had in its jaws for a couple days prior. JC! I call to the thee! Motherfuck, I walked out of the shop, skipped down to Pop Terry's backyard, hopped the little wire fence at the back alley as usual, and immediately the motherfuckers around the picnic table start with their howling. Oh -My - God, look at Lil Terry's hair! Fuck you, I say. They don't know nothing. So what if I've got a lopsided Mohawk. My stomach hurt, though. 'Twas the real thing. But soon enough the boys quit howling and just the same as always we brought out the cooler and Jimmy passed a beer my way and Pop came out the back door all leaned back and swaying down the steps so the weight of his fat gut don't send him reeling forward onto his face. He laughed a little at my head, but gave his standard greeting. Hey kid, he said. How's that beer? And it was hot, but we sat around and jawed on all like nothing was going on. At the end of that day, the sun slipping below the house across the back alley, I ran my hand along the slick sides of my head and up through the mop on top and let go a little prayer in my head. Pop looked at me like he knew something, which was typical, if nothing else. I knocked back the last of my sixth or seventh or maybe even eighth beer. Easy, it was. Nothing changes, same shit, day after day after day.
I just jumped over a guy who looked like a zombie. I think if the giant spiders bite you, you become a zombie of some kind. Which is gay. Your hair turns black and your skin gets all gray. You become a black-and-white TV movie. Urgh. I see my model girlfriend and she's making out with a zombie. I think I have to cut off their heads or they're gonna make me a zombie, too. But I love her too much. Her breasts are very pert, too. So I take out some spray paint and spray the zombie in the eyes and his head starts on fire. I put my tag on his body and he internally combusts. Rad! I take out a boom box and play some chill music and my girl comes back to her senses. Which is what I thought would happen, playa. But then I turn and see how the rest of the city is all zombies. And my stomach kind of falls as I feel how hard the world is going to be to me hereafter.
Boon's had enough of the radio. He won't let Dale play any music before nine. So the only music we have is Dale's thumping nail gun. And something about those thumps and that whistle of compressed air that follows puts the song "Ain't She Sweet" in my head. In case you don't know the song, it goes like this:
Ain't she sweet
Throw in a second verse where you change "sweet" to nice and ask it once or twice, and you got yourself a song. It's an old flapper song. I only know it because my dad sometimes gets drunk and plays in on his ukulele. Actually, it's more accurate to say that my dad always gets drunk and sometimes plays the song on his ukulele. Any way you look at it, the song is in my head, and it matches perfectly with the beat that Dale is hammering out on that second-floor plywood. It's been going on for so long that I'm adding my own verses. Like:
Dale's an ass
Build some stairs
Just stupid songs. Just something to pass the time. And I'm in the middle of one of these songs, singing along to Dale's beat, when I hear thump, thump, "Yee-oow." At first it's like Dale's singing along with me, screaming out his best glam rock yell. But no. That was a real yell. One thing you learn very quickly on a construction site is how to distinguish between a scream of frustration and a scream of pain. This is a scream of pain. Dale's hurt.
I'm halfway up the ladder with a stack of two-by-fours. I want to pick up my pace, but walking up a ladder with a stack of two-by-fours is already precarious enough. I just keep climbing. It takes a couple of seconds. Then I see it.
Dale sits on the floor. The nail gun is lying beside him. He grabs his right foot and yanks up. He's crying a little. Not making any sound, but tears are slipping out of his eyes. And his right foot doesn't budge. No matter how hard he yanks, he can't lift it. In the middle of his middle toe on that right foot, a little pool of blood seeps through his white sneakers. I see this and I realize: Dale has nailed himself to the floor.
Boon recognizes this at about the same time I do. He says the obvious. He says, "Damn it, son. Did you nail yourself to the fucking floor?" Boon calls everyone "son," but, in this case, Dale really is his son.
Dale says, "What's it fucking look like?"
Boon nods. He starts walking over to Dale. Boon pulls his hammer out of his tool belt, swings it around, steps next to Dale, jams the claw of his hammer between the floor and Dale's middle toe, and pries Dale's foot off the floor. Dale screams the whole time. It's a scream of pain.
I stand there kind of stunned, watching the whole scene. Dale holds his foot. A twelve-penny nail sticks out the bottom of his shoe. Blood drips onto the plywood. Boon hangs his hammer off his tool belt and walks back to the blueprints. Dale says to him, "A little help here?"
Boon shrugs. "Get your ass to the hospital," he says.
Dale looks at me. "Chris," he says, "get over here. Help me down the ladder."
And now I'm torn. I know what Dale wants. He wants me to carry him down the ladder. He's not a huge man, probably five-foot-seven at the tallest. Kinda chubby, but I could probably carry him. I'm sure I could carry him. But I don't want to. I'm not the dumb fuck who nailed my foot to the floor. Besides, Dale was supposed to be building the stairs today. I was supposed to be nailing down the floor and Dale was supposed to build the stairs but he was too hungover and he outranked me so I had to haul lumber up a ladder all morning. And goddamn it, if he made me haul lumber up a ladder because he's too lazy to build stairs, then I'm not gonna carry him down a ladder now. It's karma, I tell myself.
But I think a little bit more about karma and I realize that my hands and feet are always too close to the barrel of a nail gun and it's just a matter of time before one of those nails ends up lodged in me. And I want someone to help me, if that happens. No one will help me. I realize this. I realize that I'm in this game alone. The best I can hope for is Boon to come along and pry my foot off the floor, but that's it. That's all I can count on. And my stomach kind of falls as I realize how cruel the world is gonna be to me hereafter. I even pity Dale a little.
Let's face it, though. I don't pity him enough to carry his fat, sweaty ass down a ladder. Boon bails me out, too, when he says, "You touch Dale, and you're fired." I look at Boon. He points at the nail gun. "Nail down this floor, Chris," he says. "And Dale, walk on your heel."Dale gets to his feet. Or to his foot, really. He hobbles over to the ladder and climbs down. I pick up the nail gun and start nailing down the floor. I thump the gun down in three-four time. I sing, "Ain't She Sweet," first to myself. I guess I'm singing out loud, though, because before I know it, Boon sings along with me. The gun shoots out the perfect rhythm. I don't try to change any words because, for one thing, I'm not angry anymore. And for the other thing, I want to pay attention to where the barrel falls and where my feet are.
"You can't do that here," he was saying to no one in particular, and Stokesie's sort of like standing directly behind him, mimicking his pose like that. Then he chucks this can of V-8 at his heel. Just floors him, the pain. He's wearing these well-dressed manager shoes with no real back to them, not steel toes like me and Stokesie get to use for loading and unloading boxes, and kicking the shit out of 12-packs of RC Cola, tossing them back and forth for like half an hour and then I hold one while Stokes takes it out with a flying scissor-kick and the 12-pack explodes, if we get it right. Stokesie's got on this nametag that says FUCK YOU PAY ME and he spends most of his time in the bathroom jerking off or harassing customers, writing things on the sink.
This morning I went in there to get fucked up before we unloaded that truck. Stokesie's lying in the floor in there, not looking so good. He has this book in his hands and his head in the trash can, and when I flip the book over to get a look at the thing I see it's some kind of Norton Anthology turned to John Updike's "A&P."
I had gone in there to huff rubber cement and Wite-out, but after I saw what this story did to Stokesie I had to sit down and read it. Meanwhile he's sort of convulsing like epilepsy or whatever you call it. I'm thinking he's probably dying. Stokesie's gonna die right there next to me on the floor and I'll have to sneak out and leave him for some poor customer to find, some rich lady come in from the East End, cardboard coffee cup in her hands and headed straight for the restroom, double-wide baby stroller knocking the rest of us out of the way. Stokesie's eyes are all rolled back in his head and later the cops will say it was the Glade air freshener we'd been huffing since 6 AM, but more likely it's this part at the end, after that Updike kid at the cash register quits his job and thinks he's gonna look cool to those girls in the bathing suits, but he walks outside and they've disappeared. He says "and I felt how hard the world would be to me hereafter."
There's something about that hereafter that almost made me choke to death on my own vomit too.