I didn’t remember setting the alarm. Mom. Sometime in the night she musta come in my room and checked my clock in case I’d forgotten.
I remembered this wasn’t gonna be a regular work day. I was quitting, taking off. I could roll over and catch another coupla hours sleep.
Mom’s little voice saying my name. Her hair across my neck as she leaned over me. Dad woulda lifted up the mattress and rolled me out. “Mark. It’s for you.”
Gus on the phone: “You all right?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Been thinking. Meet me outside the gate at work, east end of the gate. Be hard to find each other in the crowd.”
After hanging up I tried to remember if I’d told him last night I was quitting. If I had, he’d forgotten. Or didn’t believe me. But now I had to show up, just to tell him.
I thought of telling Mom and Dad. But Mom was flitting around making Dad’s breakfast and wrapping lunches for both of us. She always looks worried. If you dunno her, you think something heavy must be on her mind. But she just takes everything so serious. Doesn’t matter if she’s talking to Dad about money or reading one of her books or making lunches, her forehead is all puckered up. The only part of her face that looks her age, cause she’s the only older person I could imagine was a teenager once.
My dad now, he’s always been forty-something. First thing in the morning, he’s sitting there at the table with those thick black eyebrows saying “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s how he reads the morning newspaper. Same as when we used to go through those question-and-answer sessions. “How you doing in school? “ “Okay.” “Studying enough?” “Think so.” He wasn’t asking to get an answer, just to let me know he’d believe it when he saw it.
Anyhow I was feeling like hell, so I didn’t tell them anything at breakfast about quitting. Told them about the strike though.
Dad put down his paper and asked about it. I expected him to get mad and I’d have to point out it wasn’t my fault the guys at the place went on strike. But he didn’t. So I said some union guys were coming down to help us today.
He said, “Hmm,” and his eyebrows added the “We’ll see.”
He used to be a union guy himself when he worked for a contractor but he and two other men left to start their own renovation business. He was sorta mixed up that way. Like he’d never hire me to work for his business, cause he wanted me to make it on my own. Which hadn’t stopped him from getting me in at Cruikshanks by calling the personnel guy he knew.
Anyhow, I was late. So I asked if I could take the car and, another miracle, instead of blowing up, he agreed. I’d just have to drop him off at his shop.
So we went together. We made some small talk, way we always did, and didn’t mention the strike again until I stopped to let him out. Before slamming the door, he ducked back in to say, “Try and keep a cool head, eh? Some of the guys can get pretty hot.”
I turned the car back towards Cruikshanks, thinking about that. Useless advice. But it was weird getting it from him like that. Working guy to working guy. I couldn’t remember anything like that between Dad and me before. When I was in school, it always seemed the adults on one side — you know, teachers, parents, principals, all of them on one side — and us kids on the other.
When I got to Cruikshanks, Gus was waiting alone at the gate. I rolled down the window and asked where was everyone.
“A guy was here telling everyone to go in.”
“I dunno. I was just waiting for you.”
“I don’t wanna go in if we’re just going back to work.”
“Probably having a meeting inside,” he said. “I haven’t seen Duffy.”
“So who was this guy said go in? Management?”
“Didn’t sound like management.”
“So whadya gonna do?” I asked.
“Aren’t you coming in?”
“I wasn’t even gonna come today cause I’m quitting. Really.”
“You were saying that last night.”
I told him I was going down the street for a coffee. I’d bring it back and wait in the car. Come out and let me know what’s happening.
So I sipped my coffee and watched a few workers straggle in late. They looked around, surprised too at the empty yard, then wandered towards the entrance. An arm opened the door from inside. I finished my coffee and still no Gus. For some reason I thought of the recliner I’d banged up in the warehouse. I shoulda told Gus. Got him to hide the box. Maybe I should go in and do it myself. But I couldn’t just go in for a couple minutes and then walk out again without joining in whatever was happening.
Finally the factory door banged open and Gus stormed out. I rolled down the window but he went around to the passenger side and got in.
“Drive away,” he said. “Before they connect you with me. Least you still got a job if you change your mind and go back.”
“Fired. I think. Long story.”
He just stared ahead, all the way back to his place, his face all red and angry, sunk down into the collar of his army coat. He wasn’t going to tell me what happened. Not yet.
I followed him into his place. The room was as crummy as he’d described it. A bare blue light bulb made it look worse.
“Why don’t you get a decent light here?” I said.
“Previous tenant left that.”
With his coat still on, he laid back across the bed that took up half the room.
I fiddled with the blind to let some sun in. A brick wall of another house was two feet away. I cleared space on a chair and waited for him to speak.
“So,” he said. “I’m finished there,”
“Figured as much when you said you were fired.”
“You can forget a strike or any other action there.”
“I was quitting anyhow.”
When he didn’t give any more, I said, “What now? Back to mornings in the pogey office? Afternoons with the rummies in the park?”
“You’re a dink.” He lifted his head towards me, then let it fall back on the bed. “No, I’m a dink. Look, gimme time and we can talk later.”
“I gotta get home anyhow. Case anyone phones to find out why I’m not at work. I’ll have the pleasure of telling them to fuck off. Call you later?”
He didn’t answer. I shrugged and left.
After I closed the door, I thought I heard him say something.
When I put my head back in we both said, “What?” at the same time.
“Anyhow I’m taking off,” I said. “You know, out west. So you wanna come too, I can wait till tomorrow or next day to get your stuff together. I mean, if you’re interested.”
“Sounding better all the time,” he said. “A lotta jobs out west these days, aren’t there?”
“Vancouver. San Francisco. Mexico. Experiences. Ways of living. Waiting for us.”
“Jobs in the oil fields and lumber industry, I hear.”
“You coming or what?”