I was about ten years old, sitting in my best friend’s garage just across the street from my house. When it rained, like it was on this day, his Dad would crack open the garage door halfway, toss some pizza boxes in the wood stove, and we’d sit around playing board games and talking about the band we swore we’d always start. I didn’t really have a curfew but I knew it was time to go home the minute I heard the front screen door open and Ma sounding the alarm – “Jas, let’s go!” If we tried to squeeze in one more round of whatever we were playing, ten minutes later we’d again hear the front door open and the second and final alarm – “Jas! Let’s go mister!” I quickly say my goodbyes and start the trek down the driveway. As I got closer, I noticed she was holding the kitchen phone in one hand, a smoke in the other. She’d always smile and say, “You’re lucky, mister man. Now get your arse in here.”
I walk down the gravel driveway, turning the two minute walk in to a ten minute saunter as only little boys can do as I found reasons to stop and study every rock and bug along the way. I could feel the hardened mud on the sides of my legs from playing all afternoon. My fingernails were black. As I rounded the corner I didn’t head up the two faded blue steps to the back door. Not tonight. The doors were open on the baby barn in the backyard, and as dusk was settling down the light from the barn cast a yellow spotlight glow out in to the backyard. Large slender shadows stretching out into the darkness. The lapping of the ocean waves against the rocks down along the shore mixed with the metallic screech of a circular saw – and the familiar ringing of the metal guard falling back in place when the blade has cleared the edge of the wood. The damp air seemed to hold the burning smell that came from the sawdust and Dad’s cigarette. The pack tucked in his shirt pocket, the corner of the flap missing – used after supper as a makeshift toothpick. He’s got a carpenters pencil behind his ear. His broken-in brown leather tool belt buckled around his waist. The sound of the nails in the pockets is almost musical. Every time he’d drop his hammer in to metal holster of the belt, it sounded like a knight sheathing his sword.
He grabs a board and measures it once, marks it lightly with his pencil. Measures it again, and this time uses another board as a guide and presses hard – a grey lead line he then slices with the circular saw before noticing me in the doorway. As he finishes the cut the guard rings closed on the saw, the blade still spinning inside as he holds out the pencil toward me.
As I step forward, taking the pencil, I ask “Whatcha buildin’?”
“I don’t know yet.”
I drew the lines on a couple of boards and watched him cut them, saw dust going up my nose and in my hair.
I can smell it again now, all because on the way home tonight I drove past a baby barn whose open door was casting a yellow light that reminded me of him.