It was hot outside that week. The dog days of August, they call it – yeah, seems about right. The air carried the kind of hot that plasters you to your sheets as you lie in bed struggling to sleep – even breathing makes you sweat. The air smelled stale, sick and sweet — like rotting compost, swamp water, and damp forest. The fan on my dresser, pointed directly at me, didn’t help. It only, momentarily, helped me catch my breath.
Every time I closed my eyelids, I could feel them resisting each, as if the top and bottom lids were the same ends of two magnets. So I opened them, left them open, and stared at the crack in the ceiling above my bed. Hopefully the three trazidone I had choked down an hour ago would eventually knock me out.
In the distance a dog was barking. It sounded empty, or hollow, almost ghostly. I wondered where the dog was, who’s was it? In the thick air, it was hard to tell. Probably Jim Ladwig’s lab. Jim, my nearest neighbor and employee, probably chained her out in the back and yard and then passed out. Now, I’m sure that damn chocolate lab had managed to wrap her chain around the big oak that had split last summer during a bad thunder-storm. She was either barking to come in or at some rabbit or deer off in the woods around Jim’s house – who knows, that dog was always barking. I am sure if sleep eluded me long enough the barking would wake Jim up and I’d hear hollering out his window at her.
“Shut the hell up, you good for nothin’ mutt…”
If he ever did yell at her, I didn’t hear it.
The following morning, I went to Jim’s house to pick him up for work. It was still hot as hell. Even at five in the morning I was sweating like a bastard. I knew I was late and I knew the son-of-a-bitch would be waiting for me at the end of his weed-infested driveway. Somehow, no matter how much he drank the night before, Jim was always up and waiting for me when I showed up. Gravel crunched under the tired of my battered ’78 Chevy truck as I stopped next to his mailbox.
Ladwig, dressed in beat up overalls and a faded flannel shirt with sleeves cut off, yanked on the rusty passenger door handle like he was trying to rip it off, until he realized it was locked and rapped on the window to let me know. I pulled up the lock and Jim got in. The truck’s old suspension groaned under his weight.
“Jesus, you like shit,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said flatly, not in the mood for talking.
Ladwig was a strange guy – the kind of guy that would talk at you for hours and suddenly you’d realized that he really hadn’t been talking about anything at all. He was full of bullshit storied about this and that, bits of useless trivia like Cliff Kleven from Cheers, and mundane observations that he pronounced as if they were major pearls of wisdom, which, when you actually listened and thought about what he said, became pretty evident as just thinly veiled complaints. Jim was a master of the mouth.
Forty-two years hold, my employee, and an unrepentant alcoholic, Jim had deep wrinkles on his face, yellow Camel straight stains on his goatee, and permanent reddened look about his face. His hair had started graying out in his early thirties and he had to two fake upper front teeth from a bar fight he instigated back in ’98.
“So what’s the plan today? We gonna try to pull the roof?,” he asked pulling a cigarette outta a crumpled pack.
“Shit man, it’s too hot for that…you wanna be up on that roof today?” I asked turning to Jim. He shook his in agreement.
“Naw, I was thinkin’ we’d just take it easy today with this heat. Clean up the place a little and plan for next week,” I explained.
A drop of sweat fell from Jim’s forehead into his lap, followed by a bit of ash from his cigarette.