Chapter 1 of a Novella in Progress
He stirred from sleep when a sound entered his room: the punctual beeping of a crane, greeting the foggy dawn. The crane’s mast rose upright, carrying a wooden crate into the sky. It paused a moment at its apex, swaying softly in the morning breeze. The crate then descended onto the roof of the tall pavilion, where it landed with a thud on the unvarnished surface. First task of the day.
As the first crate was unhooked and a second readied to launch, the foreman set his arms akimbo and tilted his head back, bellowing into the still morning air: “Remember now boys, every second counts.” Such was his mantra. Tasks and days made sense in such a frame of mind; grueling tedium grew into a greater purpose: Don Smith Gymnasium, a big slab of concrete and steel.
Two months stood between the foreman’s reverberating roar and May’s graduation ceremonies. There was work to be done. The idea of an unfinished gymnasium displeased the foreman. Generally, he detested that possibility of the possible going unrealized. He dreamt of a happy occasion: Don Smith Gymnasium opening its doors in the midst of their festivities.
The foreman had climbed the rungs, from a teenager working odd jobs to a full-time overseer. It would be the crowning moment of a long career. He saw himself tall in his Sunday best, rubbing shoulders with men of commerce atop the broad concrete stairway. Their collective industry would foreground the slab’s marvelous façade. The school’s president would recite sentiments. Heartfelt gratitude for Mr. Smith. Proud commendations for the institution’s progress. A wistful anecdote touching on the slab’s small predecessor. United, a series of words and modulations performed with intent: show the slab’s worthiness, explain its right to exist. A fine gym for a fine institution, not to go unnoticed by U.S. News and World Report.
Perhaps the eponymous benefactor would be seen, the man whose munificence was larger than the playplace put together in his name. “A fine name for a more than fine man,” the foreman thought, and said aloud at the dinner table now and then. “A fine man, I’ll tell you. A successful man too. And my God a generous man. Fifty million dollars for this beauty.”
The foreman’s dream lay latent, its substance miry. Sometimes the dream grew clearer, without ever materializing. His temperament would not allow otherwise. He possessed a knack for rationalizing expectations. Nature had calibrated a responsive inner compass, with neural networks stitched together by the fibers of reason. The foreman had ascended life’s arc with graceful ease.
“Well yes you could say I was involved. I oversaw the project from day one.”
“It really looks marvelous, the kids are going to love it.”
“Oh yes, they’ll love it alright. This beast has everything they could need. Not to mention we only finished up the roofing two days ago. I’ll tell you, pulling it all together in time was no easy feat.”
“No easy feat indeed!”
“How did you do it?”
“Well, its good you ask. I’ve considered the question myself. You see, two months ago the finish line appeared far away. There were no expectations for any grand unveiling ceremony. As late as a few weeks ago it seemed we wouldn’t get it done.”
“Yes, what a tragedy it might’ve been! But, I’ll tell you, as you can see” – gestures solemnly toward the slab – “constructing this guy was no easy feat. And don’t forget, we only had two months to see it through.”
“No easy feet, indeed! Tell us please, how did you do it?”
“Well look. The talent of a man like myself isn’t in strength or stamina, as with the workers.”
“That’s right. You see, I’m the one who organizes. I’m the one who gets them in place. I’m the one who sets the agenda. Task by task, day by day. But more than that I help them understand their effort in its entirety. You see what needs teaching is intent. That every day, every hour, every minute: each matters. More than they know. More than you or I may ever know. If intent were not felt to the fullest extent on my site, things would have fallen into place a little too late. But once the workers fully felt it, boy I’ll tell you, only one outcome awaited – the right outcome: Don Smith Gymnasium opening its doors in the knick of time for ladies and gentlemen like yourselves.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said the crane operator. Taskless workers approached the foreman first. “The balusters, handrail pieces, and posts have been taken up. The men have started installing them.” A pang of dread arose in the presence of ambition. The boy detected his boss’s mood before his boss spoke. His mood was apparent from either the presence or absence of a glint in his steely gaze.
“Get up there and help set the railing. We don’t want these kids falling to their deaths, do we? Wait a minute let me think,” he said shifting his steely gaze to the slab. “Yes alright, go and help them. We’ll get it out of the way. Wait, no, here’s what you’ll do. Get up there and tell half of them to start on the railing. But you – go and grab two of them and get em back down here. They’ll help you haul over the crates with the rows of seating for the second-floor courts. About a dozen this time and they’re damn heavy. Half on the railings, the other half installing the rows of seats. Let’s get it all before lunch, get and tell them the plan.”
The boy darted up the broad concrete stairway and up two more flights of stairs inside. He told a condensed version of the plan, then grabbed two and brought them back down. The boy reentered the crane’s operating box and delivered the first crate, then a second, then a third. Every flicker of movement passed under the foreman’s watch. He surveyed his machine with pride.
It was around half past seven when the student stirred again. The belch of a leaf-blower prodded his slumber. A worker from Campus Services was cleaning the sidewalk because the sidewalk needed cleaning. The worker was walking north, uphill to main campus. In the moment the student stirred the worker glanced up from his leaves and encountered rows of beige slabs with terracotta roofing. Further on, verdant foothills and white mountaintops shrouded in mist, reaching up to the fence of clouds and pale blue expanse.
It was only a stir but the student sensed daytime’s obligation. When 8:00 arrived and his iPhone screeched he was grasping the day already, moving for his iPhone and silencing the alarm before getting online and deleting spam emails and checking the weather with an outfit in mind, then communication channels where a text from parents, hazy Snapchats, a red disk of Facebook joy: The Night of Nights, something about the best party of the year, details at breakfast, now to Instagram and CNN, all the while his iPhone propped overhead and arms starting to grow sore. The student sprang from bed and paused a half-second before knowing to shower. He rummaged through his drawers and assembled a reasonable ensemble: flip-flops, shorts, a polo. He lay his clothing atop his unmade bed, stripped down, wrapped the bath-towel around his waist, and glanced at his closet’s sliding mirror door. Tom’s dark eyes narrowed at the sight of his morning self.
After showering and dressing he grabbed his stuff and left. It was 8:15 and his first class was at 9:00. The school’s dining hall awaited his service a hundred feet north. He glided past rows of dormitories, content and alert with his destination in mind. While arriving he caught sight of shadows behind the opaque glass. He pulled open the door and pivoted aside, allowing two younger ones to exit. Two thank yous were exchanged for a smile. He entered the building and slipped his student ID from his wallet, greeting the one who worked the register on mornings.
In motion past the register he extracted a pump of hand sanitizer. Grabbing a tray and looking around there were three people in line at the omelet bar; he filled a mug of piping hot coffee and a tall glass of water before claiming his favorite table, which abutted the tall window walls opening onto the community’s main artery. He set down his drinks and bag to walk unencumbered for an omelet, eyes on the move. “Not too crowded for a Friday, not yet” he thought surveying. He rarely ate breakfast alone because the dining hall was often crowded in the morning. He shared tables with full-friends and half-friends to happily lament full-days of half-misery.
About the time Tom sat down to eat, Broderick finished preparing his feast: yogurt-mixed-with-granola, toast with peanut butter, slabs of scrambled eggs, and a tangled mound of bacon. His hands full with the heaping plate and glass of milk, Broderick was caught off guard by the dining hall’s congested appearance. He spotted Tom by the window and decided that one will do.
“Hey Tom, mind if I join you?”
“Not at all.”
“How’s your day looking?” Broderick crashed his fork down sideways on the slab of eggs for a post-bite question.
“Fine,” responded Tom, eyeing the hulking specimen. “A full day of classes but nothing’s wrong with Friday. Yourself?” Tom was not thrilled by Broderick’s suddenness.
Broderick swallowed hastily before responding. “Just Astronomy at 1:15, then nada. Definitely hitting the gym after that, you feel? Ha! Then we’ll see.”
Tom chuckled inwardly. “Cool man. Hey did you see the size of that party tonight? Haven’t seen anything that big since the old days.”
Broderick gulped down some milk. “Yeah man, I got that invite on Facebook last night! Looks like a proper banger, ey? Ha? Haha!”
Tom could not suppress laughter this time. “Oh yes, for sure man, for sure. I have no doubt that good times will be had.”
When food consumption recommenced, Tom remembered to open Facebook for party details. With happy delight he discovered four pleasant facts: (1) Over two hundred people had rsvp’d (2) The Facebook event was only eight hours old (3) over two hundred people had yet to respond (4) There would be two kegs and three water-coolers each with its own flavor of punch. Things were in order. The matrix of happy numbers gave rise to a grin. He glanced up to find Broderick intent on his food and then remembered an Instagram photo posted by the party’s hosts a few weeks prior: “new addition to the fam,” a big new stereo. Tom’s grin grew wider.
Upon finishing his meal Tome bid adieu to Broderick and grabbed two bananas. He exited through the backdoor and followed a road to Clayton Institute, slinking into the classroom at 9:01, just in the knick of time. He pocketed his iPhone and took a seat, ready for lecture.