For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Day Into Night
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Since the living room carpet already had a deep foundation of sawdust, Scott fired up the circular saw Todd had dropped off to rip some countertop pieces from the three-quarter inch plywood he picked up on a final run to the lumberyard early in the evening. He was using the table saw bed as a platform to saw on with the hand-held circular saw, the irony and silliness not lost on Scott. He had not used a table saw since the anachronistic Shop Class Scott’s small town high school had preserved even well into the digital age.
“This is great!” Scott thought with an unusual glee. The lights were on. He felt like a country boy seeing electricity for the first time and couldn’t get over the miracle of it. And even though the house was missing many of the lightbulbs it was supposed to have, the few that were on illuminated small shards of hope in Scott’s psyche. They glinted, small and fragile and reflected possibility of progress. Progress meant he was closer to the escape that his mind kept demanding in the moments he was left to himself to contemplate things.
The little ceramic space heater really wasn’t enough to work with in the living room, but he could work with a coat on, no problem. Gloves were a little tough and so he had to surrender his hands to the elements and materials. He measured and cut and then measured and cut, and then used pilot hole-driven screws to secure the countertop base to the cabinet tops, adding a squeezed line of Liquid Nails for good measure. Soon, the lower kitchen cabinets had plywood tops. Scott was positively giddy about it. It meant many things for him.
It meant that even further progress was attainable. It signaled that he could move onto the tiling work that would be next. He could make coffee and heat shit up in the small microwave that had been haphazardly thrown into a bottom cabinet but now could be plugged in. It was going to take quite a cleaning, though. There was a thick, nasty layer of food all over the inside that had been nuked many times, cementing it to the porcelain interior.
But it also meant that he was going to have to ask Todd to help him with the Formica covering. Scott had never done laminate work and had only a vague knowledge of how to do it. Sure, he could figure it out, just like anything. But if he had Todd’s help he could save maybe a whole day of work. Could he even get Todd to show up for it? He had barely seen Todd since arriving, and certainly had not gotten any work out of him. That would have to change.
With the electricity back on, Scott was able to work as late as he wanted. Sleeping there eliminated his drive time back to the motel. He thought to reserve some time at the end of the night to fix up the sleeping room in the back. He swept again, pushing the few spiders out of the room that were drawn to the minimal heat that Scott generated.
After he had taken the carpet remnant out on the back steps to beat it, he slid it back onto the filthy mattress stack and unfurled his sleeping bag out of its sack and laid it out on the makeshift bed.
“Sleep like a king,” he said aloud, remembering Todd’s declaration. “Yeah. Right.”
Scott took stock of the room. He had his big backpack that contained the minimal he needed for as many as ten days, assuming he would wear clothes for more than one day. He didn’t think he’d be needing to impress any females during his brief time there. The little heater was burning away from across the room as the outlet next to the bed kept tripping the circuit breakers, but for some certainly inferior wiring psychology, the outlet on the other wall was fine.
It was almost midnight when Scott went through the house and turned off lights. On his way past the lit laundry room in the middle of the house where the furnace was, he thought to check it out, since it would have to be inspected before they would turn the gas on.
It looked okay. It wasn’t that old. Then he pulled the lower panel off and saw that the dust filter was gone and it was filthy with dust in there, like it had been run without the filter. He left the panel off and made note of the size label. When he got up from his squatting position, he noticed the hole in the cheap wall paneling. It had two wires poking out and an outline of a square shape. It was where the thermostat had been. “This place has been ransacked,” he thought. He couldn’t expect the Gas Company to turn the gas back on with those two essential pieces missing. Yet another trip to the hardware store. And another thing he’d have to pay for, unless for some reason, Todd had taken it down and stored it. He turned off the light in the laundry room.
After that discovery, the resulting darkness revealed the blue digital clock on the microwave, signaling it was plugged in and available for the morning’s coffee. It was comforting. There was no way instant would be as good as CookieSheet’s, but it meant he could get to work first thing.
He just stood there for a moment longer in the darkness, connecting with the blue-glowing numbers. Scott had always felt a resonance with electronic things. They were alive to him, never static, ready to serve his purposes. Purely mechanical objects were cool, too, but they had to be wound up or activated and took effort to fulfill their function. The refrigerator compressor kicked in and it brought a bit more of life to the house.
Electronics had current running through them at all times if they were turned on or had batteries and he felt a kinship that mirrored his image of himself as possessing an energy and responsiveness to life. He felt it made him available to life.
“That’s what got me into this, though,” he thought. But it wasn’t always a bad thing. But sometimes it had been. The jury was out on this instance of availability that he found himself in. Here in the throws of consequence, in a small place within his soul - whatever that was - he believed he could rise to the occasion no matter what the challenges. But if he ever were to openly acknowledge this, it could either empower him or, like his alliance with a live current that kept things going, it could electrocute him.
A round, orange glow like a featureless face on a Halloween pumpkin sat and watched Scott as he waited for sleep. The Little Heater That Could chugged on, its heating coil a metal vibrating hum like a vacuum cleaner running in a carpeted open-floored office. Scott was being forced to let go of his hold on consciousness.
It had been a bit of a dilemma, deciding what to sleep in. His bag was a good REI three-season bag rated for the cold night temperatures inside the unheated house. So, should he get down to only his whiteys or wear some board shorts, or add a T-shirt to one of those? He opted for just the underwear, no T-shirt. His bag would get hot.
Earlier, after he had laid the sleeping bag down, he was momentarily able to forget the disgust he felt toward the mattresses. But he couldn’t get past his anger toward Todd for so totally misleading him. Scott decided that he needed a name for the so-called bed. He’d come up with one.
After he took off his orange-checked flannel shirt, Scott sat way down on the bed, if it could be called that, and untied his boots. Once he’d gotten a close look at them, he was not happy with how beat and filthy they had gotten. He regretted not bringing his old boots to work in. That was a dumb thing. He took the right boot off and saw that the sock that used to be nice and white had become a gradation of brown and gray from all of the crap that had fallen and seeped down into them. He took the left boot off and the same thing. He rolled the socks down from his ankles all the way off his toes, wiping away the little cotton boogers that were in between and around his toes.
He had to peel his jeans off in the same way as his socks. And his t-shirt took some time to get off as well. It reminded him of taking off a cold wetsuit after surfing. You couldn’t just remove it from your body. You had to peel it off.
Given that everything in this high altitude still took extra effort, this tired Scott there at the end of the day. It came as somewhat of a shock to him. This stuff should have been easy for him. It should not have required even thinking about it. Little did he know that this simple act of just getting himself into bed would become a ritual and a challenge for him during his time in the Land of Enchantment. It would even become one of the Small Mercies of his existence there.