It was November and ice formed small circles at the base of each of the posts on the dock and the men’s breath hung heavy a moment before it disappeared. The five sat smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee from tin thermoses that warmed their hands as they stood arm-to-arm watching as the lake pitched slowly back and forth and mostly they were silent and content with the occasional nod to look out at something on the water. They had five minutes left before they had to return to work.
“God, I wish I could live here,” said the first man.
The others nodded.
“What do you think a place like this costs?” asked another.
“More than you’ll ever see,” said the first.
The others smiled.
“What does he do?” asked one of the men lighting a new cigarette.
“Inherited it, probably,” said the first.
“No, he’s big in Seattle, started at a company at twenty, owned them at twenty-five,” said another.
“Yeah, but his parents got him the job,” said the first.
“Nope, grew up in Ohio on a dirt farm. Moved west with two-hundred dollars, before the bus ticket.”
“How do you know?”
One of the five who’s face was young and full and who’s hands were calloused and cut looked at his watch and drank the rest of his cup and began to walk back to the end of the dock.
“You coming?” he asked.
“Soon,” said the first. The others nodded and smoked.
At the house an older man with thick wrists and broad shoulders threw scraps of wood into a bin on the drive. He did not stop to look at the young man who had begun to help. A few moments passed and the old man tried to drag a large beam but could not move it more than a few feet. The young man stood at one end and together they lifted the beam in and the older man nodded and the younger man said nothing and went back to finished the work he had started before he took his break. When the others returned form the dock the older man stopped and looked at his watch and shook his head and then carried on. They did not look at him.
At the end of the day the men packed to leave.
“What a day,” said the first.
“Yep,” said another.
“You coming?” asked first to the young man who was hammering still.
“ After this.”
“You know he doesn’t pay overtime?”
“Suit yourself. See you Monday.”
An hour passed and his shoulders were sore and his neck was tired and his thumb bled from a bad swing and still he hammered the wall. From the other room the old man who owned the house still hammered and it filled the lake house with sharp bursts that dulled in to echo. Another hour passed and the young man had finished his wall and began to pack to leave and still the other hammer rang.
“Are you going to leave?” asked the young man from the doorway.
“After this wall is up,” said the old man.
The young man picked up his hammer and held the other end of the board straight while the old man hammered nails in single swings.
When the wall was finished they set down their hammers and stood before it and it was straight and perfect and strong and their arms were sore and their mouths were dry. Though they ached they were finished and finally they were content and they were free.