Steel Joists


by ben ohmart



"Htat soeg no... sey, meco no," she pointed to the last unlocked button on his coat. The little man had skipped one at the top, and it was coming out lop-sided. The door was open. It wasn't that cold out. She let the last button hang down, unattached. Then they left the house.

The drive to New Trock was prosaic but quick through the raining sun skies. The kind of humid countryside that sends out tiny droplets of water from seemingly fastidious clouds, but enough for the boy's mom to turn the windshield wipers on.

But before that, "Tle em ese thta," she said, feeling the pressure in her head again. The boy grabbed at a couple things in the glove compartment before getting a positive nod to give her the car manual. The white Lynx was so many years old. She'd performed it so many times before.
But once again, she had the tiny shower parting on the windshield by wipers.

Home was three bedrooms, one kept up as an "extra room", which in reallity yielded junk. Everything that didn't have a place in the sparse den/library, the kitchen strewn with the latest devices that never ran, but worked; it ended up being most everything, so Biran had just his mattress, a few Alf and Gall Dicks, the band, posters hanging around, picture to wall so the images weren't viewable, in the center of this vast room. A room through inheritance, because mom was home all day for him. Money never mattered, they had it.

He wasn't able to sleep very well, the hand waking him early. There was no such thing as sun when she showed him the work order. 7 but very intelligent, he'd scored high enough on special entrance exams actually to be able to read the results himself. It told him that work began in a little under 40 minutes. Luckily, mom was still alive enough to have chosen a house within sprinting distance to Dearden Iron Works, Inc.

She'd shaken her pride awake a little ahead of time she admitted in garish tongues - feeling the swell of voluntary excitement pulsing - but she just had to bask in the moment, and there was ample bask time to go. He was jeans clad, in his vest of pockets and latch hooks that were great for ropes, face washed to shinning skin, hair combed all to one side, Biran had on the rubber laced shoes that went up to his shins and would keep him from sliding off however many floors. She was so proud. Her moment. She had another, flowing into the first so beautifully that tears came easily when she was able to savor her past in him.

She garbled a love warning that the boy swiftly knew. He was happy for her, callow for himself. He had no idea what it all meant. She'd been preparing him for it for so long. It finally came, and his heart pumped more blood, his fingers found it difficult to clutch the black, oval lunchbox she'd pushed into his hand, on his way from one mold of the housing development.

Tears in her mind, she kept a kindly glance until he'd turned the first corner. Something meowed in his lunchbox. He let the kitten go. As an offering she'd given him money before he left, and that was good. By the time he got to Dearden, he'd thought to check his thermos also, and it was full of cat litter. Clean, but he could still use the money.

"I'm ready to -"

The child was cut off by the foreman, "Mr. Chapmion to you, over to the truck. Number four five," when Biran gave him the work order with the proper signatures.

It was easy for him to get a seat. He didn't take up much room. Kidded all the way there, most thought he was the kid of a regular worker, sander, cement layer, something interesting but not dangerous enough, so they let it go. 14 minutes, by route 12, they were there.

"On the 2nd today," a tall man with beard and long hands said, pointing up. "Do good. We'll move you up."

It was an exciting proposition to a 7 year old, especially before the gruel of the work had switched on. He so much wanted to get a good impression to mom, but after an hour, going to look for the Coke machine, and told no, there is none at a building site, his enthusiasm was formed selfish alone. It began to form, at any rate. What right did she have to impose these standards on him? Sure, she was insane, or just dead a little inside, but just because grandma had read her the stories, had captured his mother's fascination through the knights of lore, it was no reason that he should have to be -

Hard work took his mind off. Made anger too tiring a sport. He had to mix the sludge base that would work the crevices of the rivets. Before they were shoved into steel erections, all the rivets had to have their proper lube maintenance. Mr. Chapmion was told it was legal, but it wouldn't help his company as an independent contractor to go getting a protege killed on the west wing of the office flat skeleton where they really needed the help, no matter how much his mind looked like an adult's. Biran would work for what he paid. Fine. But he started 2nd floor.

At the break for lunch, he watched them eat. Mostly, they were cheese sandwiches, and not many melted. Biran went off to the side of the east wing's supply shed. He sat listening to the birds not far off in the tame county. The trees swayed, and kept motion until he got caught in it. The bell rang him back to hunger, and he had to wait in line at the elevator because the big powerful workmen had all been closer, sitting on that metal deck. The elevator made the third trip down, he made it back to his bench. A wooden structure with steel hinges bolted all along the walk as a kind of ruler for work yet to come. He was angry, but the wildness had abandoned him in place of fatigue. It was just a matter of time, and he began to see the insanity of a loved one he'd tried so hard to - no, humor wouldn't be the word. You don't give up your school, your life to come to this.

The thoughts of the change at home, the change he'd make, drove his baby fat straining on to push to something it was not. He felt himself firm, growing firm, and his mind thought clearer through the hatred.

"You're stronger than I expected," the soft voice had said an hour later, booming up here in an unfamiliar resonance.

Biran turned. His sludge bucket fell, but caught by the three inch guard. Too moved to move. Surprise was all around.

The man felt the need to explain. "Your mother couldn't hide a ball in a toy store." He looked at the child, feeling his voice lift to softer shapes that accented his strained emotions. "As soon as I came back. I knew what had happened. It wasn't hard to guess. With her love of the joists. I checked out all the steel towns. No Detroit, there was only one place I knew you could -"

"Dad!" the little one yelled when the shock was away, and lifted. He ran for his father. A new hope of childhood struck in both distended eyes. The steel hinges simply wouldn't let him, and tripped him up. The guards too small to help. Dad went madly for an arm that wasn't there, and on his knees. He saw the crumpled figure of a child laid to rest.

"I want to keep you for -" the doctor tried to say, for the 6th time.

She shook his hand and mumbled the same thing he couldn't understand again, thanking him for the news that she was pregnant. She wasn't pregnant. The doctor went off to see what strong men were on duty, asking the day nurse about straps.

Mom went into the room, story book in arm. He was still unconscious, her little iron worker, the love of a hazy life, still under. She began to read from the Tales of the Bombastic Knights picture book, never looking back to the door, not to make sure no one would take her away before he awoke. She didn't know, so didn't care. The policeman outside was leaking away, the court order wouldn't be there for 50 minutes yet, but it was still a criminal violation for her to see him. So dad hoped anyway, waiting for the court order that would come. It was so difficult to take them away from the mothers.

She turned to the jousting. Her favorite chapter. She didn't think that if he heard something familiar..... She just liked the sound of it. It could soothe them both. Couldn't it?

Prayers began after the fourth time she'd read it. Not tired, but concerned it wasn't helping. She prayed to the Steel Metal gods. Again. She wanted her boy to live out her dream. She was a woman. Impossible, for her. If only she had the spelling down right - she prayed for her joister to be well, and away. Fighting with long rivets to the evil buildings that needed it. Needed something. Some power.

It took three days. The pages became dust waiting to happen. The pages originally unstiffened by her mother, now came out of the book completely with this mother. The mother seeing her child awake from a coma, finally. Happily. He smiled upon awaking. The cop was still in the toilet. Regular schedule with him.

"Ammmo.... ehwre... idd I lfla... erwhe... si sith het..." he began sl=

owly. The bandage on his head constricted his thoughts. "eth griht yaw ot=

veitr... ti si... ho.. psli..."

She laughed. There was nothing else for her to do with the tears now staining the white sheets. She laughed her joy at the one treasure she still had. She clapped her hands, not knowing why, so happy, speaking all the while, they understood each other completely.