When winter came I was out of work again. For two months I did nothing but drink and smoke and fall asleep in front of the television. I knew I should look for work before the money I’d saved over the summer ran out, and most mornings I flipped through the classifieds with my coffee. But I couldn’t concentrate on them, or if I did find a promising ad I couldn’t bring myself to walk through the cold. So when my brother called, early one Monday morning, waking me, I was already a month behind on the rent.
“Time to come out of the cave, George,” Brian said when I finally answered. “Hibernation’s over. I found you a job.”
I rolled onto my stomach and lay propped on my elbows, the phone pressed between my shoulder and cheek. The blinds covering my bedroom window were bright enough to make me squint. The mattress was on the floor, along with an empty bottle of Livingston, a juice glass with a circle of crusty wine at the bottom, a pile of newspapers, my work boots. It had been a month since I’d spoken to Brian, at Christmas, when I’d had too much champagne at his house and said something nasty to his sister-in-law. He was 27, three years younger than me, and filled with shame for the way I’d lived my life.
I picked up the glass and dug at the dried wine with my fingernail. “Your gutters clogged again?”
“Nothing like that,” Brian said. “Real work this time. A steady job. Steady pay. Not this half-ass seasonal shit you’ve been trying to get by on. George, it’s not working.”
I wanted to ask Brian what he thought he knew about real work. But he was right. I’d spent the summer and the first warm weeks of fall laying stone paths from front doors to driveways, from back doors to garages, across lawns I’d been hired to cut the summer before, and the summer before that. I’d always seemed to work for the same people, who all lived in the same house, a house with a deck, French doors, bay windows, a swimming pool. When I first came back to North Moreland I’d worked six months for a moving company, and these were the people I’d moved. Brian’s kind of people, and I was tired of them. Tired of hauling slabs of stone from the bed of someone else’s pickup, tired of looking for work every time the weather turned.
I scraped all the wine off the bottom of the glass and now my fingernail was darkened with red flecks of what looked like paint or wax. I touched the dried wine to my tongue. Tasteless. I spit it onto my pillow.
“You okay?” Brian asked.
I told him I was listening.
“Good. I met a guy in a bar on Saturday. Nice guy, friendly. He said something about needing good workers at this factory where he’s the foreman. I told him about you, and he wants you to stop in this morning. There’s bonus and some overtime. He said you can clear six hundred a week pretty easy if you’re diligent.”
“If I’m diligent,” I said.
The last time Brian had found me a job was the winter I’d been laid off by the moving company. I’d driven on icy roads to his three-story Victorian, where he said he’d pay me a month’s rent to dig snow and ice out of his gutters. In his driveway he pointed a garden trowel at the icicles hanging from his eaves. A ladder leaned against his ivy-covered wall. I’d told him to go fuck himself.
So I wasn’t sure I could trust my brother, even though his great motivation in life, ever since I’d returned to North Moreland, was to save me from the disaster he seemed sure I was heading for. But the rent was overdue, the fridge almost empty. I asked where the factory was.
“Right on Moreland Road,” he said. “Not too far to walk for a tough guy like you.” But he wouldn’t give me the name of the company or the address. He insisted on driving me there himself.
The twins screamed, and Rhonda called Brian’s name. “Ralph, the foreman, he’s expecting me to bring you over,” Brian said. “ I’ll be there in a half hour.”
After he hung up I dropped the phone on the floor and lay my head on the pillow, listening to the dial tone with my eyes shut. I felt a twinge in my back, an echo of old pain, and my head was muzzy from my late night with Livingston. So today was the day my laziness would end, if Brian could help it. Let it end, I thought. When the phone started beeping I replaced the receiver and went to the shower.