by Robert Maynor
The Shop sits on a road called Farm. It’s a cinderblock building on a concrete slab that is divided in half by a thin wall. One half is offices, the other is a warehouse full of tools and steel pipe, an old Murray lawnmower without a hood, a white 1994 Ford F-250, tubs of Gojo, motor-oil, two tall wooden shelves full of pipe fittings, an ice-machine, a STIHL calendar with bikini models on it, five-gallon buckets, a cardboard cutout of Bill Elliot, a big monkey stuffed with beans, ladders, one hundred empty cans of Kodiak, a scissor lift. Across the street is a transmission shop. To the left is an empty lot where a VW bus is parked with sweet-gums growing out of the windows.
My grandfather bought the Shop sometime in the early eighties after telling the bigwigs at Grinnell to suck his ass and after working for a little while from my grandmother’s kitchen table.
My grandfather will be turning seventy soon. He likes to talk about retiring. I think if he really does retire, he’ll die, despite his health. Good health can only take a man so far.
His secretary, Nance, is at least as old as he is. She still uses a typewriter and a rolodex and sticks post-it notes all over the Shop like they’re wallpaper. She was always kind of fat, but these days it’s gotten to where it’s almost fascinating. Normally my grandfather hates fat people, even though he’s growing a little liquor gut himself. He yells at Nance like he’s married to her.
My dad started working for my grandfather when he was seventeen, as a helper. After he graduated, he went to school in Sumter for two years and got an Associate’s degree in Forest Management, then went to work full-time fitting pipe. He is forty-seven now. He hates his job. I think he hates his life. He haunts the Shop like a ghost.
When my dad goes to the gas station for a drink or a can of chew, he brings Nance back a snack-cake or a pack of Jolly Ranchers. He always picks on her about Jesus. She thinks he’s the funniest man in the world. She probably loves him more than she loves Jesus.
When I was sixteen, I started cleaning the Shop. They paid me fifty dollars a week to scrub the commodes and vacuum the floors inside. My grandfather gave me a key. It was the first key I ever had to anything. My dad gave me an apron.
“Don’t pay no attention to that dickhead,” my grandfather said, grinning beneath his thin little mustache.
“I don’t,” I said.
My grandfather keeps a lot of pictures in his office of me and my cousins; my dad and my aunt and uncle; my grandmother. There’s a stuffed pheasant on the wall and a piece of paper with a cartoon buzzard that says: “Patience, my ass. I’m going out and kill something.” I’ve never known what that means. There’s also about fifty copies of handprints tacked over the window from biggest to smallest, with the owner’s name written on the bottom of each one.
When I was seventeen, I had sex with a girl named July in that office, on a drafting table, at a kind of weird angle. Afterwards, cleaning the toilets, my back was sore as hell. Driving her home, the whole car stunk like bleach.
At the Shop, trucks cling to the parking lot like the shed skins of men. My dad drives a tan colored Chevrolet with a broken tailgate. My grandfather drives a Ford Sport-Trac: it’s green. It used to have two gold racing stripes down the middle, but it doesn’t anymore. My uncle drives a two-wheel drive F-150; clean and well-oiled, like him. The workers drive dirty, faceless trucks that cough when you crank them.
In the mornings they gather, these working men, in the lot like dogs. They are every color. They stand in a broken circle, wearing short-sleeves, even in winter—thankful for the cold. One of them has a mustache and one of them has an eyelid that sags half-way over his eyeball. They don’t drink coffee. My father stands before them like a priest. He lays blueprints out on the hood of some truck and draws on them with a square pencil sharpened with a knife. He brings home a little over eight-hundred dollars a week.
My uncle moved to the Shop from Texas. He is my dad’s younger brother. He lived in Texas for my entire life with his wife and two poodles, one black and one white. They knew how to do tricks, like play dead. When he moved here, my grandmother said he was coming home. The floor of his office is covered in the shells of sunflower seeds. Sometimes he leaves his radio on over the weekend. He tries to teach Nance how to email.
My own brother loves to go to the Shop. He’s eleven now. He climbs up in the lift and grabs the joystick like it’s his own dick and drives the thing around like a madman. He hooks the safety chain onto one of his belt loops, but he never goes up. He says he’s never going to college. He says he’s going to own a Shop that sells and works on lifts.
“There’s only one problem,” my dad says. “You’re scared to go up without me.”
My dad’s office is outside, in the warehouse. It has a cracked tile floor and a desk and a metal folding chair that I’ve never seen him sit in. He wears boots every day until the leather begins to peel off of the steel toes and then he throws them away and buys another pair.
I quit cleaning the shop when I went to college and they hired a woman to do it. I took up working odd hours for a plumber.
“School comes first,” my grandfather said.
“I should’ve know you’d turn full queer,” my dad said. He calls plumbers hockey jockeys. “There’s only three things you need to know to be a plumber,” he says. “Shit flows downhill, payday is on Friday, and knockoff time is at 3:30.”
I quit that job too.
There’s a squirrel that lives in a pine tree that rises up over the Shop like a steeple. It jumps from its tree onto a power-line and then from there onto the roof. My grandfather wants it to be killed because he says it’s getting into the Shop through the roof vents and eating the insulation. My uncle bought a pellet gun and spends at least two hours every day trying to shoot the squirrel. If he ever kills it, I think he’ll cut the tail off and zip it up in his fly and walk around with it hanging out like that until it rots.
“You know,” my dad says, eating a gas station hotdog off the hood of his truck, his shirt soaked through with sweat, his knuckles black and scabbed; he is smiling with the thought in the corner of his head that in a few hours he will drive home and have the opportunity to run his truck headfirst into an oak tree, but won’t; will go home instead to my mother and that crumbling yellow shack and count the hours until he can go back to the Shop; leave his family behind for a little while; further break his gnarled back. “That ain’t the only squirrel that can climb.”
Someone painted the front door of the Shop red. It looks like lipstick on an old woman. It shows her age: her tits are sagging, there’s cobwebs in her eyes, her carpet has grown moldy and is starting to stink. She could use a new set of shingles.
My grandfather will be turning seventy soon. My dad will be fifty, half dead. Nance goes home at 4:30, and my uncle knocks off at five. When the men come back from their jobs, they get in their emphysematous vehicles and leave. My grandfather goes out into the warehouse and runs a push-broom over every inch of the cement floor. My father sits on an upturned bucket, reading the paper and spitting into a bottle of motor oil.
“Go home, boy,” my grandfather says. “Go home.”
“There’s nothing left to do here.” He leans his broom against the wall and stands in an open bay-door and looks out. The sun is beginning to set over the top of the transmission shop. He is nothing but a shadow.
He reaches up and grabs a string, pulls the door shut, and the whole warehouse is dark. My dad folds his paper and stands. “I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he says.
“I’ll be right here.” They go inside to my grandfather’s office together. They look silently at the photographs strewn about the room like dust—vestiges of another life outside of the Shop. They turn off all of the lights, lock the doors, and go out to the parking lot. They nod their heads and get into their trucks and drive towards home.
Robert Maynor is from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. He has worked as a commercial plumber, dishwasher, cook, landscaper, and musician. His stories and essays have previously been published in Bartleby Snopes and Lander University’s New Voices. He is twenty-two years old.