Authors: Mary Ellis
Tags: #Religious, #Amish, #Christmas stories, #Fiction, #Religion, #Holidays, #Christian Fiction, #Christmas & Advent, #Christian, #General
al! Cal, you in there?”
The incessant pounding grew louder, until Cal opened one eye and then the other. He had been dreaming that he was pounding in a dowel while straddling a barn beam. The season was summer; the sun felt hot on the back of his neck, and down below boys scurried to-and-fro delivering materials and hauling off debris. His father worked only a few yards away, securing the other end of the beam.
But the pounding wasn’t from his hammer, and he wasn’t in Fredericksburg, Ohio. Cal Beachy bolted upright and glanced around. He’d dozed off on his plaid couch in front of the TV. The game show of contestants trying to answer questions for great sums of money had lulled him to sleep. He hadn’t known a single answer since he’d started watching the program. His mouth felt parched, his back was stiff, and if the apartment grew any colder, he could unplug the refrigerator.
“I’m not goin’ away, so you might as well answer the door,” a voice hollered.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” He rose and walked with more stiffness than normal for a twenty-four-year-old. When he opened the door, his friend Pete Taylor stood glaring at him.
Without waiting to be invited in, Pete stepped past him into the apartment. “Man, it’s freezing in here. Is your radiator on the fritz?” He headed toward the living room’s heat source and began banging on the iron pipes.
“Easy there before you bust something,” Cal warned. “I have it turned down.” He raised the thermostat one notch.
Pete rubbed his hands together and took a perusing scan of the room. “Man, this place is a dump. Whatever you’re paying in rent, it’s too much.”
Cal peered around too, trying to view it objectively. “It’s not so bad. I got the couch and chair for free. People moving away set them on the tree lawn.”
“No kidding.” Pete’s tone didn’t reflect much astonishment.
“And the TV was only thirty bucks. The bed and mattress were left behind by the previous tenants, same with the potted plants and the kitchen table.” Cal strolled around the room stuffing empty soda cans, fast-food wrappers, and pizza boxes into a trash bag. He felt ashamed of his untidiness. When he glanced back, his friend was staring at him.
“You are joking, I hope. Tell me you’re not sleeping on a mattress somebody didn’t think worthy enough to take with them.”
Cal shrugged. “I bought a new mattress pad, sheets, and pillows. That blanket is brand new too.” He pointed at the bright yellow heap in the middle of his unmade bed.
Pete nodded, but his expression didn’t change from utter disdain. “I hate to be the one to tell ya, but your plants are dead and that table only has three legs.”
“What’s up with you? You been watching
The Martha Stewart Show
? I’m sure you didn’t stop over to criticize my housekeeping.” Cal slumped down onto his lumpy couch.
Pete flashed a half smile and pulled up one of the kitchen chairs. “Nope, I didn’t. I came to tell you I picked up work today at the union hall. A project manager needed four carpenters for a hospital remodel—that big hospital on Twenty-fifth Street that takes people who don’t have insurance. It’ll be at least a year of work at prevailing wage and full benefits. You could have signed up too if you’d been down at the hall this morning.”
“Is that right?” Cal asked. “I’m happy for you, Pete.”
Only I don’t feel happy. I feel jealous and a little angry. How come jobs didn’t come in during the countless hours I sat there?
He’d been an apprentice carpenter for almost four years. He would have made full journeyman by now if the housing bubble hadn’t burst and the banks hadn’t run out of money to lend. No matter how many times folks explained the mortgage crisis, he didn’t understand how the situation had caused construction to grind to a halt. But for whatever the reason, his big dreams of union wages with a pension plan and three weeks of paid vacation had been squashed.
“Why did you stop coming down to the hall?” asked Pete. “You won’t find a job sitting around here watching game shows.”
Cal felt a knot of resentment tighten in his chest. “I wasn’t getting any work there, either. And paying bus fare and buying my lunch downtown was costing money.”
“Bus fare? What happened to your truck? You loved that Ranger.”
, I left it parked overnight where I shouldn’t have and they towed it away. When the police ran the plates, they found out I forgot to renew the registration, so they impounded it. By the time I figured out where they had stored it, the daily impound fee had risen to six hundred bucks. All told, I needed almost a grand to get my truck back. I didn’t have that much, and the truck wasn’t worth it.” Cal set his feet up on the wobbly coffee table, pushing aside a stale bag of potato chips.
Pete looked sympathetic. “Cal, why didn’t you call me right away? I could have explained what was happening.”
Cal shot to his feet. “What do you think I am, stupid?”
“You know I don’t think that, but you haven’t lived here long enough to learn the ropes. I would think if I went to live with Amish people, somebody would explain how things worked down there. I’m sure I’d have plenty of questions. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Pete talked slow and easy. That’s what Cal had first noticed when they had met on a hotel construction project in Sugar Creek. Nothing got his dander up. He went along with the flow, no matter what the boss said to do. And Pete was smart. He could read blueprints and mechanical schematics. The foremen never had to keep an eye on him. Cal hadn’t been surprised when Pete made journeyman after only a two-year apprenticeship.
“I wasn’t ashamed,” said Cal. “They had switched off my phone. Apparently, I’d sent my money orders to the wrong address. Payments were supposed to go somewhere in Kentucky instead of the phone company’s downtown office. They finally found the money orders, but then they wanted to add a service charge for turning the phone back on. I didn’t bother.” He stared out a smudgy window on the street below. Trash collectors were making their rounds despite a long row of parked cars along the street. They tossed empty cans back onto the sidewalk without caring where they landed.
Pete walked to the window and gazed out, placing his hand on Cal’s shoulder. “I have extra money this month in case you need a deposit.”
Cal stood like a statue as the world passed by on the street below. The English world, of which he’d only marginally joined the fringe. “No, thanks. Save your cash, Pete. I didn’t use the phone much anyway. Don’t know anybody to call ’cept you.”
“What about that chick you were seeing? What was her name…Carol? Karen?”
“Kristen.” Cal answered without emotion. For a moment he remembered his first summer in Cleveland when they had met.
. With her shiny blond hair and green eyes, she’d worn tank tops so low cut that the lace of her bra sometimes showed. And her tight blue jeans had left almost nothing to a man’s imagination. Yet his imagination still managed to work overtime. They had so much fun together—going to dinner, taking a cruise boat along the Cuyahoga River, and kissing at the top of the Terminal Tower.
“What happened to Kristen?” Pete stood waiting for an answer.
Cal’s mind wandered back. “What do you think? When they laid me off, I didn’t have much spending cash, and she lost interest fast. Girls up here don’t consider taking walks to the lake, riding the train downtown, or sitting on the roof to watch the sun set much of a date.”
“Some do,” Pete said. “You need to meet a better class of females, old buddy.”
Cal rolled his eyes, a mannerism he’d perfected since turning English. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”
“Speaking of walks…let’s do it. Let’s take a walk by the lake.”
“It ain’t across the street anymore,” he snapped.
“I know that. I’ll drive us over. No offense, Cal, but your apartment gives me the creeps. It looks like somebody elderly died here and you moved in as soon as EMTs carried the person out. And you haven’t changed a thing.”
Cal glanced around at his scavenged furnishings and headed for his coat. Maybe a walk would do him some good. It sure beat falling asleep on his uncomfortable sofa.
Pete parked his SUV in the deserted lot. Cal looked out the window. To the left was the swimming beach, empty except for about five hundred seagulls standing in neat rows. During the summer months, families and couples set up chairs or spread blankets on the sand to spend a day in the sun. On the right, expensive boats of all shapes and sizes filled the marina, waiting to be taken out on smooth blue water. But today every one of them had been pulled up and stored for winter. Both sights never failed to fill him with longing.
Cal had never been sailing, but from the balcony of his first apartment in Cleveland he could watch them bobbing in calm water or sleekly racing with the wind on Sunday morning regattas. How free, how powerful a man must feel at the helm of a ship.
“No boats out today,” said Pete, scanning the horizon as though he had read Cal’s mind. “Weather’s almost nice enough, but a storm could blow up in no time on a shallow lake like Erie. Did you ever hear of the
Cal shook his head as they walked down the path spanning the beach area. Birds took flight just beyond their footfalls, annoyed by the intrusion. Pete launched into a story about an ore freighter that had floundered and sank during an early winter storm on one of the other Great Lakes. As interesting as Pete’s tale was, Cal found his mind wandering to his first year in the big city and his even bigger plans. He had been so full of himself.
“The higher a man thinks he gets means that much longer his fall back down.”
’s warning rang hollowly in his ears. Cal should have buckled down and taken night classes as his foreman had suggested. He’d needed to learn the building codes that
were so fond of. He should have saved money when the paychecks were substantial instead of buying drinks in loud clubs for people he didn’t know.
He should have made a better attempt to fit in with the other employees. If he wanted to live in the English world, he should have emulated their ways. People didn’t like those who were different.
“And they all lived happily ever after,” Pete concluded.
“Huh?” Cal’s head snapped up. “Really?”
“No,” Pete said, frowning. “Everybody died. All hands were lost at sea. What’s the matter with you? They even wrote a song about that story.”
“Sorry. I can’t keep my mind on anything. Don’t take it personally, Pete. Good story—as much of it as I heard.” Cal jammed his hands into his pockets and stared out at the cold, gray water.
Pete pulled up his jacket collar and turned his back to the north wind. “You gotta show up at the hall at least three times a week, Cal. Otherwise, they consider it the same as refusing work and cut off your unemployment checks.”
Cal released a bitter laugh. “I sure can’t afford to let that happen. You think I live in a dump now? Just imagine my next place if I lose my benefits.”
“Then you had better pull yourself together, man. Take a shower and show up at the union center. I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow so you don’t have to take the bus.” He slapped Cal on the shoulder. “Now let’s go get something to eat, my treat. It’s freezing out here.”
Cal looked once more at Lake Erie, stretching farther than the eye could see. Somewhere beyond the lake lay Canada. Behind him, some seventy miles to the south, lay Wayne County—a place he was never going back to. “I’ll be cleaned up and shiny as a new penny by six thirty. And thanks, Pete. You’re a good friend.”