Purpose

It’s an early Saturday afternoon, and clouds push through, dropping shadows between the houses. It’s a day when men do their weekend work. There are lawns to cut, cars to wash, window screens to repair. Most of the men are bare-chested and look heroic.

I crouch on the lawn, close to the sidewalk, and comb the dandelion leaves with my fingers. I watch the ants build. I’m just another obstacle to them, like a twig or pop top, and they work around me. They’re busy, and they keep my eyes busy. They have purpose. I wish that I was one of them. Equal in all things, but strong enough to carry a beetle ten times their size. They know what they are. And then I become bored and wish I had a magnifying glass.

A pair of saw horses in front of our house, a stack of two-by-fours beside the Ford. Dad, working on a new project. There’s a pencil tucked behind one ear, a cigarette behind the other, and a fresh bottle of Black Label in his hand. He is wearing gray work pants and a white T-shirt, a serious look in his eyes. He’s not looking at any one thing, exactly, but figuring out a problem, working measurements in his head. I’ve never considered it before, but he’s a quiet man, maybe even shy, more aware of himself when he’s thinking about the things he’s good at. He’s a carpenter, though that’s not his job at the coal yard. I’m not sure what he does there. But on the weekends, he spends Saturday afternoons measuring and cutting, penciling notches on the wood. He builds things for neighbors, like bird houses and trellises for small gardens. He repairs door frames and raggedy fences.

He places the beer bottle on the lawn and runs his thumb against one of the boards. He is focused and his eyes are clear. He doesn’t know how good he is at this, and I watch his hands. They’re strong and they’re sure. He never looks doubtful. He smiles, sees me watching him, and winks. This is his real job.

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