Cole and I had argued that morning so Lance, the crew leader, had put us on the same team. We had all been using scissor-lifts and concrete saws to cut and remove the ceiling of a museum. We would steady the slab on the top rail and lower each piece down. The two of us worked together all right that day—until lunch was called. We were coming down in the scissor-lift. Cole was at the yoke. He had his tinted safety glasses on and he looked at me with this clenched-jaw face and shook his head.
“You got a problem with me like that, man?” I said, putting my foot on the middle rail behind me, “huh?” I had to grab the top rail to steady myself.
“I think you got a slick fuckin’ mouth,” he said, as the basket locked in and stopped descending.
We unclipped our lanyards from their anchor points and hung them on the straps of our harnesses that ran across our chests. I had to pass by him to get off the scissor-lift. I took that walk—hair up on my neck like a dog—and he rose up. Cole watched me as I climbed out. I took off my harness, hung it on the rail and made eye contact with him. I wanted to reconcile; he looked dead set on a fight.
“I’m not your fuckin’ homeboy,” he said, when I had turned my back and got a few steps away. “I ain’t with all this shit talking,” he continued, once he had my attention. “You and Lance want to do that, that’s fine. But you keep fucking with me and I’m gonna’ know something.”
“I hear you. I still see you in that bucket, though,” I said. And that’s where he stayed while I walked away.
Cole was like an only child. He was down for laughs but if the jokes turn on him he gets pissed.
Our company had found Cole through Action Labor. He was in the work release program. He worked so well, the company had a job waiting for him when he was released from prison.
The morning Cole and I argued we had picked up a few workers from Action Labor. We had a short drive in the city before getting to the museum where we were working. The laborer who made it into the truck cabin had been talking my head off about baseball while Lance napped. Lance’s body took up so much of the back seat that the man could not lean between the seats to talk—instead he talked loud from the back to be heard. He had noticed a Red Socks keychain. I told him it was mine and his chatter started. The laborer, at one point, slipped in that he needed a place to stay and asked me if he could crash at my place. I told him to stay at the Greensville Lodge. That’s what pissed Cole off. Lance must have been sleeping lighter than I thought because he laughed.
“Yeah, Cole can recommend the lodge,” said Lance.
I said the Greensville Lodge because it was fresh on my mind—Cole had recently told me that he stayed at the lodge. He said it was dirt cheap, and that he stayed there to save up money when he first got out of prison.
Cole must have thought what I said was a deliberate jab because he put me on his shitlist, and he worked most of that day in a stoic aggravation.
The next couple days we did not work together. I assumed he had talked to Lance about not wanting to work with me. Then Lance got us together at the shop to talk about the museum job. He said that we had left some bits of block in the ceiling-joints hanging only by caulk and because we were the last there we needed to remove it.
We took a truck back to the museum and started to unload our tools. We hadn’t spoken to each other yet. We were putting our harnesses on—just before we were about to get into the scissor-lift—I said, “We don’t have to be friends—like me or not—if something goes wrong I’m who’s got your back and you’ve got mine. Feelings stay at home in the sock drawer.”
“Naw, I’d let you fall,” Cole said, and climbed up in the lift. I climbed in after him and said, “You ain’t no killer, man.” Although as soon as my feet were flat he was driving.
Cole and I, other than to discuss the job, didn’t speak for the next three hours. By then we were nearly finished with the museum. All that was left was a corner spot in the arch of the ceiling. Cole removed his last piece by standing on a middle rail and leaning the top rail into his thighs to steady himself.
I was shorter. I had to stand on the top rail. Cole actually looked worried. I grabbed the block—it wouldn’t be pulled out. I hit it a few times to break it up, but the caulk was holding it together still. I wound back, hard this time, because the block was being stubborn and as I knocked the block free from the joint, I lost my balance. Cole grabbed my lanyard strap before I toppled over and he yanked me back into the basket. I came down on my backside and hit my head on the rails wearing a hard hat. Cole had fallen down too—although he was back on his feet standing at the yoke—I sat there breathing hard and he lowered the scissor-lift down.
I got to my feet after the basket locked in. When my legs strengthened I climbed out. I grabbed the debris cart and started collecting bits of the ceiling so I wouldn’t have to acknowledge what happened.
Cole left the building heading for the truck.
I could hear him talking on the phone. He was telling Lance that we’d be heading back to the shop soon. When he hung up, Cole came back into the room holding a push broom and a flat-shovel.
“Lance said, since it ain’t three o’clock, he wants us to head over to Roy’s job and help them remove a concrete wall they just cut an opening into.”
“Yo, Cole,” I said. He stopped shoveling block and looked at me. Cole no longer had that clenched jaw. He looked like himself again, but softer. His own actions had freaked him out—had surprised him.
Michael Hammerle holds a BA in English, cum laude, from the University of Florida. His poetry has appeared in Eunoia Review, Mosaic Art & Literary Journal, and Poetry Quarterly, where his poem is a contender for the 2016 Rebecca Lard Award. Hammerle was recently named a finalist for the 2016 Hayden’s Ferry Review Poetry & Flash Fiction Contest and for Press 53’s 2015 Prime Number Magazine Awards. He is the Creative Director of C.W. Strickland, Inc. He lives near Gainesville, Florida, with his girlfriend and their three Staffordshire Terriers.