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My brother Tom and I are eighteen and nineteen, which makes us too old for rope swings, but it seems to me that we need one nonetheless. Of course, I hate swimming. I hate swimming worse than I hate the sticky heat, and the swarming flies of the “shipyard.” I can’t stand dead bottomless lake water, much less being in there with decomposing fish, which must inevitably be the case. Worst of all is swimming with people who genuinely love the water, like my dad and brother. But I tricked Dad into taking us there because I thought it would be a nice thing to do, considering how hot August is in Addison, Maine with no shade. The way I feel about swimming is just a small thing to hold back, next to how little time we have spent together as a family since we started building the “ship.” Sometimes the less I say, the better.
Earlier this week as we were finishing up the keel, Tom kept picking at all the globs of tar that clung to the side of the keel, instead of “maximizing” his time. The keel looked like a wall next to him and Dad. Tom stood atop a bird’s nest of homemade scaffolding and Dad stood next to him on his own twiggy sawhorse pile. The keel was about seven feet tall, and was blocked seven feet off the ground. So they were a good fourteen feet high. The skinny board at the very top of Dad’s scaffolding – the one he stood directly upon – barely reached the two sawhorses that supported it. It clung by its two finger tips and bowed in the middle. Dad trusted white oak’s unnatural strength. I should have mentioned how close to disaster he stood, but we had to make progress. So I risked it. Safe on the ground, I looked down at my saw and cut the next board.
Dad was working like crazy to nail down the next keel board in their system. He said, “get back to work,” without raising his voice, or looking up. Tom continued to fiddle around with the hydraulic jack.
As soon as it squeezed his board into place, he stopped to clean the fresh tar. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, playfully so it sounded more like, Fuck off old man! All the way from the cut station I could tell that Dad was a little too pissed. I should have said something but we worked faster with piss in the air. As he turned to face Tom, he must have bounced slightly. This bounce caused the fingertips of his board to lose their hold, because they weren’t nailed down. (Nailing would have taken precious time.) He fell through the scaffolding, splashing it to the sides. He landed across a hemlock beam. It was all surprisingly soft sounding, and quick: the tumble of the saw horses, the squish of his lungs, the small crack sound, like when you pop your knuckles. That was one or possibly some of his ribs breaking. He crawled off the beam and then stopped, tucking his legs up. Tom stared at him, not moving. I wanted to see him get up.
None of us had insurance, which was a scam anyway. And a doctor would have cost too much in cash. “It’s my fault,” Tom said. “I got the money.”
“No, not yet,” I told him. Dad wasn’t throwing up. “What are you talkin’ about? You ain’t got that money.” We were all alone there at the “shipyard” except for the occasional Winnebago.
For a couple of days, slowing down the process felt like walking slowly next to someone who couldn’t keep up. I dusted the top of the keel with a chainsaw for one whole day, carving it smooth, dogging the work that was slated for that day. At the same time, Dad still wanted to run things fast and shitty. “I ain’t dead yet,” he said, setting the hand plane down on its blade – on a rock, which pissed me off. He gave me this strange look. He was a big old horse, staring me down but he didn’t know what to do because he broke his leg running too hard. I just watched him for a while, and then wished I had a gun, but then decided the best thing to do was let nature happen.
Today, Tom helped Dad stack the sawhorses right back up and climb to the top again. Then he handed him a running chainsaw. That Tom is 100% a family man.
“Dammit! You’re tired!” I said. “Take a rest!” He turned the chainsaw off when he saw me staring. “You’re too important for that,” I said. “Let me do it. You need to figure out the big problems.”
“Now you’re thinkin’,” he said. “That’s what I like to hear.” It made me sad that he didn’t catch my slight sarcasm. At least I thought it was there.
Then just a few hours ago, when I went to get in the car, he grabbed my arm, and started dusting the sawdust off my back with his gloves. “I ain’t no perfect father,” he said. “There’s plenty I’d do different. That’s why when you have kids, you should listen to my advice. Right?”
“I know,” I said. “Thanks.”
“It’s like that saying: when I was sixteen my dad didn’t know nothin’, but somehow by the time I was twenty five, he learned more than I ever knew.”
“I know,” I said. I had a feeling that would never be the case with me. I might have fallen for that when I was sixteen, but I was nineteen. I think he was scared of losing something important. That’s when I said, “We should celebrate finishing the keel.”
“I ain’t made of money.”
“Don’t you think, though? Rope swing’s free, ain’t it?”
“I thought you boys was too old for that. I don’t know about this rib. Hurts to breathe.”
“Well, you know.”
That’s how I got us here, at the rope swing on the Blackwoods road. Dad eases himself down the bank and into the water. He doesn’t swim, but stands about chest deep, then belly deep, then sits down with his digital camera on his knee. He keeps trying to put it to his eye, but it hurts to lift his arms that high. He says, “Oh, don’t that feel good!” I want to explain to him that I brought us here so we could be like a family, but there is the matter of using the rope swing and getting this over with. He tries to take pictures of Tom and me swinging from high up the bank, trying to dive unnaturally head first from the rope. We look like baby horses falling through the air.