Abram Lewis stood off by the side of his idling Caterpillar smoking on a self-rolled cigarette. It was a gray November day, foggy and cold. The mists rising up out of the ground made it hard to see more than fifteen feet away.
Every time he blew the cigarette smoke out of his mouth, his breath would combine with the mists and make it look like he had a fire going on in his belly. He watched as the boys in the back of the rig ripped open grain sacks and poured the contents into the hoppers. He always stared a bit too long at Blue Daniels as the one armed man hoisted the sacks using the stump of his left arm to steady the bags on his right shoulder. Blue had lost his arm to a Nazi grenade. When he was drinking, he said it was buried somewhere in France and every now and then he could feel it making French gestures while he slept.
Blue never wanted to talk about it much though and every time the young, dumb ass Billy Hollis tried to draw him out on the subject, the other men in the crew would tell him to shut-up. One day, Billy got riled up and exploded.
"I'm getting awful tired of all you motherfuckers tellin me to shush all the time! If I got somethin to say, by Gawd, Imma gonna say it!" There was a brief moment of silence broken only by the sounds of tractors in the distance. Billy was standing more or less in the center of a loose circle of men, and he turned and faced them all in a threatening posture with his fists balled and his arms defiantly bent at his sides.
Then, one by one, they started laughing. It was only chuckles at first, but it kept growing till they were all guffawing loudly. Mooney Gomez had to bend over to catch his breath. All the men had been overseas and had seen death and dying and some of them had even killed men. Billy, on the other hand, was a second string half-back on 2-6 football team.
The laughter subsided, and Castor Nichols put a dot on it by loudly farting in Billy's general direction. Slim Jones then spit a big glob of tobacco juice on the moist ground. Billy slowly put down his fists and slunk away his tail draggin behind him.
The Caterpillar had once been painted orange but now the paint was old and faded and rusted metal poked through ever where. Two dirty canvas flaps were hung from the side to guide the heat back toward the cockpit to where the glove wearing driver handled the sticks that guided the beast across the field. The constant breathing of the canvas made the machine look somewhat like a asthmatic dragon trying to catch its breath.
" She's near ready to go, Abram. Hoppers full and loaded up with diesel. We woulda had her ready last night, but it was so foggy I couldn't find the fuckin truck much less drive it."
" Ain't no thing, Slim. I could use the extra time to try and let this hangover loose."
" You tie one on last night?" Slim questioned. When Abram grinned and shook his head shyly, Slim asked, " What did Edna Lou say about that?" Slim was one of the steady poker players down at the Brunswick, so was Abram. Usually he played on Friday nights but had missed last night's game because of church supper his wife had hosted. Him and Abram talked all the time about their domestic concerns.
"Well, she weren't happy I can say for certain. She stayed up late and near brained me with a can of peas when I walked in the the door. Only thing that saved me was I turned my head. Lookie here at the scar it made. He pulled up his cap to show the wound over his right eye." Hell, I slogged across France and Germany with nary a scar and two years with this woman I already broke a rib, got two black eyes, and a broken toe. Now this."
Slim laughed, " You marry a wildcat, you bound to get mauled. It's what they do. I tried to tell you. Her mama was the same xact way. She did jail time for stabbing her ex-husband while he was sleeping."
"Well, she sure keeps me on my toes, and sides, she's kind of sweet when we're alone."
Slim laughed again, "When she's alone, you mean." They shook hands and Slim walked back to his service rig and climbed into the Cab. Abram was sad to see him go, he liked Slim, and looked up to him as a kind of a mentor. Abram's dad had died in a car wreck when he was twelve.
Later that evening, Abram had gone back to the Brunswick. Edna Lou had gotten mad over something and taken the kids and scurried over to her sister's house to commiserate with, in Abram's eyes, the most miserable excuse for a caterwauling bitch in the whole damn universe.
When she stomped out and slammed the door. He sat there for a bit, and then went and got dressed and headed out the door himself. He knew it was a risky choice and ripe for potential disaster, but he didn't care. Tell, the truth, Edna Lou was beginning to get on his nerves. He hadn't supposed to work that day, but Bill Jessup got thrown in jail, and he'd got called out to take his place.
He was four beers in and up fifty dollars when she came walking in the back door of the bar carrying baby Timmy on her hip. Her sister Martha came in behind her carrying little Joseph in her arms. Martha stood by the back wall in front of the gold framed autographed pictures of Hank Williams and Hank Snow. The look she gave the room made her look like she had swallowed a whole sack of peeled lemons by her damned fool self.
Abram excused himself from the table and went and took his wife by the waist and walked her out the back door. She tried to resist, but he was determined and she had to hurry her feet to keep up with him. Martha scurried out behind them.
Once they were standing outside in the alley beneath the light of a single street lamp hanging from a crooked telephone pole, they stopped, and he released his grip on her waist. They stood there in the alley way facing each other like Hamilton and Burr. The anger in their eyes was palpable, little frozen breaths hanging in the air between them. It was looking at the frightened eyes of his boys that calmed Abram down.
"Them boys shouldn't be out here in this cold," he finally stated.
She had never seen her husband this way, and after looking to her sister for guidance and finding none, she impulsively spat, " The boys got a right to know where their daddy goes at night!"
"They're babies, Edna Lou. They need to be home in bed and not out standing in the alley behind the Brunswick."
She started to rear up again. She was gonna say, "Just like their daddy." But something in Abram's eyes warned her to not go there. This whole mess was Martha's doing anyway. She knew deep down that her husband was a hard worker and a doting husband and father. She knew he needed to blow off steam from time to time, but she was jealous of the fact that he preferred the company of men when he did it.
Abram spoke, " Edna, I'm trying my damned best to make this work. I'm new at it, and I suppose I'll get it right sooner rather than later. But, you gotta come to a decision your own damn self. I'll support you in whatever you want to do with your life. I mean it; I will be your bedrock, but don't ever come walking in a room with the intent on belittling me and trying to shame me in front of my friends. If you do this again, then you can pack your bags and go live with that miserable bitch." He pointed toward Martha who suddenly looked like a suffocating fish on a dirt bank sucking at air.
To her everlasting credit, Edna Lou fought back the urge to become her mother, she stared deep into Abram's eyes and then slumped her head down and started crying like a little girl. Abram quickly went and put his arms around his wife and child.
They stayed locked-up that way for several minutes before he finally muttered, " Go get in the truck, and I'll take you and the boys home. Give me a minute to go get my winnings." He fished around in his pockets and handed her the keys.
As he was collecting his chips from off the table, He saw Billy Hollis sitting at the bar in front of several empty bottles looking his way with a huge grin on his face. When their eyes met, Billy quickly looked away and mumbled something to the kid sitting beside him.
Abram said his goodbyes to all his friends and meandered over to where Billy was sitting. He leaned in close and said, " You are a lucky sumbitch. You are young, free, and got a job, but you need to listen to your elders a bit more and quit trying so hard to impress them."
He gestured to Carlos the barman to put Billy and his friend's next round on his tab and slowly walked toward the rear door feeling more like a man than he had ever felt before.