Quarry by Anna Marie Laforest
Turner was so busy cutting stone he did not leave the quarry until 6 p.m. A new order had come in from the masonry, and he must not disappoint, even though it would mean a 12-hour day. The lines of his palms were caked with mica and there were chalky streaks on his neck from a habit he had of wiping his hands down the sides of his face and around to the bump of his cervical spine. The knees of Turner’s denims were thick with dried mud from kneeling where it had rained in the morning. Better not stop in the gym for a shower, though. Better head straight home. Mustn’t keep Jean waiting.
Jean was busy at home rolling out dough for pies and did not notice her husband was late. Their daughter had dropped by with three pails of blackberries, fresh from the farm market, and she would use the contents of one pail before freezing the rest. The lines of her palms were caked with flour and there were white streaks on her jeans around the knees where she had a habit of bending slightly to brush her baking hands clean rather than search for the dish towel which could be anywhere in the flurry of this once-a-year pie making.
When two crimped and carved pie crusts were filled with berries and ready to go in the oven, she reached to set the timer. 6 p.m. already. Could she squeeze in a shower before the timer went off and Turner arrived? Jean slid the side of her index finger along the lip of the bowl that had held the blackberries, sugar, butter, and crushed nuts, and scooped a remnant of the filling up to her mouth. Mmmm. She bent to wipe her hands on her knees and spotted the dish towel on the floor. Leaving it there, and waving off the pile of dishes in the sink, she ran upstairs to the shower.
“How perfectly symmetrical,” said Saturn, the serious old planet with the ring.
“What do you mean?” said Jupiter, the jolly fat planet who never took much notice of detail.
“A perfect couple, both up to their elbows in dust, both needing showers, both time-conscious – I like that, the time-consciousness. Would be a shame to split them up now.”
“He wouldn’t get to eat those yummie pies,” said the fat planet, licking his lips.
Turner kicked off his work boots and rolled his overalls down over his socks and off his feet. He pulled on a pair of jeans from the gym bag in his truck. He picked up the hefty stick of man’s deodorant that Jean had bought for him, decided that it would not help much without a shower, and tossed it back in the bag. Then he tossed the bag itself into the truck and got in. The keys were in the ignition; no one at the quarry would dream of hijacking someone else’s vehicle.
Turner zipped into the express lane automatically, as if on auto-pilot, and only found his bearings several minutes later when he felt soft tufts of grass give way beneath his bare feet. He saw he was walking on the path to the children’s park where he used to take his daughter to play on the swings and slides. It was overgrown now. That he was barefoot was no surprise; Turner often drove home without shoes, but why had he turned off the road to go to the park?
He looked back and saw his truck in a motionless heap, entwined with another truck and partly in the air, like a halted frame from an action movie. He turned to go back but his feet and chest became heavy when he moved in that direction; the only way he could breathe was to go forward, into the fresh air of the park.
Meanwhile Jean, wrapped in a fluffy robe, her hair in a turban, slipped downstairs barefoot to start the coffee maker. Pie and coffee, Turner’s favorites. She checked the fridge for cream, and took note of the leftovers. Perhaps they would skip the leftovers and go straight to the pies, which she now took out of the oven. She turned to go back upstairs to do her hair, but the air in the kitchen was so full with warm berries and burnt sugar she found she could not leave the heavenly scent. On their little table was a book of crosswords that Turner had bought for her and she found her place in it and started toying with “4 Down.” She was soon lost in puzzles, but knew she would come back to “real time” when her husband walked in. He would be back before the pies cooled. Never a doubt about that.
In the park Turner saw two oversized men balancing on the teeter-totter a few yards from the swings. The pinched cheeks and beaded eyes under sprouty brows of the older one was in complete contrast to the younger, who was quite jolly and laughing out loud. He seemed about forty, Turner’s age, but, unlike Turner, sported long hair, a hippie-beard and a Falstaffian stomach. There was a picnic basket adjacent to his right foot and each time he laughed and bounced on the teeter-totter, he sent his scowling partner high into the air, keeping him there by bracing his foot against the basket, which, as Turner got closer he could see was weighed down with magnum bottles of wine.
He also saw that the elder was dressed in a thin business suit, a bit shabby at the cuffs, but quite tailored and a good fit. Near him on the ground were a briefcase and a farming tool with a long handle and curved blade.
Apparently the men were arguing, and did not seem to notice Turner, so he went to sit on the swings, where he could hear them argue.
“It’s the same old thing, you want them to hang around longer than necessary,” the elder was saying.
“With you it’s always duty, duty, duty,” the other said.
“It is his time, it is recorded; if you let me down from this see-saw I can show you the agenda in my briefcase.”
In answer the large man shifted his weight and laughed, sending the old one up higher.
Swinging slightly, idly, keeping his feet on the ground under him, Turner noticed a funny thing; if he looked directly at the teeter-totter he could only catch fuzzy outlines of the men, but if he looked off to the side, they were clearly visible. He wondered if he appeared the same way to them. He held out his hands and looked at them from different angles. Yes.
“He works in a stone quarry, for gods’ sake. You must like that. The man is as solid as the stone he cuts.”
“Used to cut. Someone else will take his place. Now there’s an end to it, let me down.”
“I know you aren’t comfortable unless you are grounded, mate. That’s the point I’m making. Turner is grounded. We need these solid folks down there.”
Turner, who had started scratching the date in the sand, heard his name and looked up. The old man was still a hostage in the air. The other had somehow managed to open a bottle of deep red wine, and was tippling from a paw-like hand.
“I will have to adjust the universals if we don’t take him now,” said the old one.
“Oh, too bad. Don’t pretend you don’t love tinkering with the gears.”
Saturn knew that once Jupiter had wine in his fat gut, no amount of logic would sway him. With only a fifty-fifty chance of winning, he might as well call in Venus and let her take the rap for Turner’s leftover time.
“All right. Let’s let Love decide.”
“Fair enough,” said Jupiter.
And he hopped off his side of the teeter-totter with an agility that amazed Turner, given the man’s build. The scowling older man fell to the ground with a thump, dust puffing up around the slap of the metal seat. Nevertheless, he drew himself up with dignity, straightened the cuffs of his suit, gathered his briefcase and scythe, and disappeared.
Turner walked through his kitchen door sniffing blackberry pies in the air. It was the date he thought it was, their annual blackberry baking day. Jean was sitting motionless at the table, lost in a puzzle. He went over and kissed her behind her ear.
“4-letters: _ _ _ _ moves all things...” she said. “Fire?”
“Love,” said Turner.
The oven timer rang again. Apparently Jean had re-set it by accident. They laughed and went straight to the pies.
Turner remembered all that happened, but said nothing in particular. He was, after all, day in and day out, a stone cutter, a child of the deeper layers of Earth, and knew something more than the planets that circled around arguing over him.