of boats and hang man
Most days Carl and Ernie did their jobs quietly--Carl stood watch on the mountain and Ernie sat in the site office--but clear evenings made Carl think; got him to talk.
"Look here," Carl wiped his hands on his belly and they left sooty smudges as they ran down his body. The coal dust coated everything. "When I was getting these sandwiches, you know what I saw?"
My office is small, almost too tiny to fit two people, yet I average about four on busy days. On slow bank holidays and Fridays I average one. I have hung stills from Fellini films, three record albums and the sexy priests on the walls. It makes it homey in here. Like decorating a shoebox with postage stamps. All the offices are close together and the walls are thin. Sometimes I hear an office team running relays above my head. Most of the time the French Analyst, the Peruvian and I shout messages back and forth to each other. It usually beats standing up.
I look at her, attune my ears to detect sounds other than the relentless white noise produced by the air conditioning and listen. "I don't hear anything."
"Cans." She replies. "Kovsky is crushing cans." She pauses. "In his office."
"Our cans?" I ask, "Or did he bring his own here?"
"I don't know."
Mr. Hartman leaves us strange gifts: bags of ski jackets, packages of bottled water, t-shirts in odd sizes. His rheumy pale eyes stare past me; we never make eye contact. I feel too guilty to look at him, or talk to him more than I absolutely have to. I'm his "dear girl" or "sweet child." Sometimes he moves his worn fishmerman's cap from hand to hand before patting my hand. He pulls up in his Honda SUV, parks in the handicapped spot, and collects himself. His watery and red-rimmed eyes fix on a point towards the sky (he can only drive seated at a strange reclined position). In these moments it's like he's underwater and gasps for air: his face slackens into an expression of repose. His daily resignantion before he grabs the battered box next to him and begins with us all over again makes my breath catch.