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Volume 16, Issue 4: Flotsam

Danger Days

Nathan Wilson

It's a big tarp. I'm pretty sure the brown side goes up. I like the green better and it receives the view of the sky gratefully. I would not risk my life for my house. Not with any self- consciousness. I'm not that attached to it. And yet, I find that I am risking. My fingers are tired and they are all that hold me. An uncle is safely on the ground questioning my sanity.

God is good at the game of leak. Water is tricky enough stuff—always going down like that—and then He adds wind. I need a roof on my house. Wood, insulation and sheet-rock all seem to enjoy getting wet, but they aren't selfish. They pass the wet on to those beneath them and I hear a toddler yelling. Before there was time, before the foundations of the earth were laid, things were arranged. There would be a me. That me would have a wife and a daughter, a daughter who would receive the first leak of the remodel on her head. Her hair and lip both curl with moisture. When my house is built, I will paint it the color of a thundercloud. Or maybe just a perpetual drizzle-cloud, or at least a very drippy cloud. I want a give-up-now-and-measure-my-raining-in-weeks shade of gray. A pile of rocks by the Jordan.
I wrestle with the tarp, clinging to the wall, six feet from my ladder. I must play the game. What kind of father would I be if I refused? God dripped on my daughter's head. Was it she or her parents that sinned? Is it judgment? It is a game and I will keep the water out. Only I can't. Not really. Not with all the drops working together like this. They know they can split the tarp if they find a place to pool. And the wind. Still, a solid performance. Water came through over my son's bed. And in his closet. On the stairs. On my own bed. On the dining room table. Blew trim off the sun room windows. Over the couch. But I have a right to pride. Nowhere has sheet-rock collapsed, except where the building inspector stepped. I cannot be said to have been beaten. But then God cheats. He sends my mother to help with the kids and she turns on the broken sink. It's a different day, but the rain doesn't know and people are yelling again. Women I am related to by blood and marriage. The hall is flooded and is flooding. My son dances in it in his socks. My socks play sponge as well. How long? How long? I laugh. But then the swollen drawers in the bathroom won't open. Not for days. I will buy another tarp. I won't fix the sink. I refuse to acknowledge the sink as legitimate points in this leak game. Count the sink and I have to count the hot water heater and the mystery floods in the basement. But I've beaten those, and without calling a priest, though a Roto-Rooter man composed of cigarettes billed me ninety dollars for staring at the drain.
The man in the sixty foot truck is laughing. He was supposed to come Friday. There would have been sun on Friday. Sun on Saturday. Monday morning the sun still tickled my ears. But the truck arrived. It brought trusses, stacks of poorly ordered trusses for my roof. And it brought rain. The man and his truck hit a dumpster. They badly molested the branches on one of the block's Hawthorne trees. They ran over my neighbor's fence.
Rain on an old roof slick with grit and malicious thoughts. Boom-flown death sentences. It's my roof. I would not risk my life for it, but that is what I am doing. It is a game now. I cannot go inside and make life stop, or lie on my back and watch my ceiling slowly collapse beneath bursting tarps. It is no longer so much a game of points. Now we are playing dodge-ball, or buck-buck. We're riding bulls. It is about surviving. It is about not collapsing. It is about laughing. When I stop laughing, then I have stopped standing back up. I would rather ride one of the forty foot girders off the roof than fold now. God wants me on the angry bull. It pleases Him, and I can find no greater pleasure than that. No joy greater than sliding down a roof in the rain, trying to catch a truss. I will not become that kid on the playground who can't win and so squeals, "Stop it," and something about his mother. It is better to be beaten. I hate that kid—the kid who never could never appreciate a nosebleed—and my mother's the one who turned on the sink.
I cannot send the truck home. I just have to shove tissue up my nostrils and keep from crumpling. And from sliding off the roof. The others on the roof have less involved; no drips on daughters, though they risk as much. A couple play this game for an hourly wage, though if money were their only goal they would have run away. Another walked by on his way home from work. He went to get different shoes and came back. We are all laughing. The man in the truck laughs too much. At the wrong times, the worst times. Some have met with angels unawares and I begin to wonder.
Is it fun to ride a bull? God has made a creature. A big creature with horns, and we decide to ride. He means us to try. But God is kind and we are realistic. He lets us hold on with one hand and eight seconds counts as victory.
In my mind a house-length girder still drifts toward me on the end of a fifty-seven foot boom. But the rains have stopped and my trusses are all standing now after a sun-dried week. I wobble and carefully stand and straighten on the very top of one rib to my future roof, more than thirty-five feet off the ground, nearly fifty above the street. I stare at the trees and the birth of another death-season.
The leaves are putting on their passion play, dying beautifully to please their God. When my house is finished I will paint it green. Like moss. It will love the rain, but it will look best when the world rains leaves.

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