“Construction,” by Kelly Kiehl

Aug 20th, 2013 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

It started with a toe. Well, the three big toes on the left foot. You see, Hadrian (pronounced Adrian, the H is silent) wanted to make a down-payment on an engagement ring for his girlfriend, Hanna. Hanna’s name too possessed a silent H. She said her name like Anna, and had spent her life resenting the fact that her mother decided to spell her name with a silent H. This was the reason that Hadrian and Hanna began to date, but it was not the reason that they fell in love.

You see, Hadrian and Hanna shared many things in common. They both still lived with their parents. They both liked to eat, and to listen to music. They both enjoyed sleeping at night and sometimes during the day, too. They liked friends and family. They liked to drive, and liked to nod their heads seriously when people at a party began to talk about social issues. They liked to save money, too. Hadrian and Hanna also enjoyed being part of the United Methodist Church, though neither of them believed in God. Hadrian and Hanna were soul-mates, everyone said.

Hadrian had a job doing construction on highways. He used the job to pay for the school loans he took out the first two years of college, before he decided that he didn’t like college and quit to jackhammer highways. He liked the job alright, except for that one day that his buddy, Thor, got his by a semi as he was jack hammering the road. The semi was a little too far to the left, and Thor was a little too far to the right. Hadrian thought it was okay though, because at least his family got 100,000 in compensation for Thor’s death. They were rich now.

The state had begun a program to revamp all the interstates that spread through its hills like ivy covering an old house. The state did this not because the highways needed to be redone, but because it needed to look like it was giving jobs to the unemployed in order to get money from the federal government.

Hadrian looked at engagement rings, but the ones that he thought Hanna deserved were all out of his price range. They were soul mates, after all. The next day at work, Hadrian thought about Thor. He divided up his buddy’s body parts and tried to calculate them all to equal 100,000 dollars. With these calculations, fueled by Hadrian’s C+ in College Algebra, which was above average, Hadrian figured that his toes were worth as much as a down payment on an engagement ring. He thought, my toes will heal anyway. It’s like nothing.

Hadrian waited for a real car to break his toes, not one of those hybrid, Japanese tin cans. He didn’t know if those even weighed enough to break his toes. He jack hammered facing towards the oncoming traffic, craning to hear the sounds of a Ford over the redundant tongue clicking of metal on rock. Finally, Hadrian’s ears picked up. A Jackrabbit anticipating his prey. His ears heard a rumble that made his heart beat a little faster. It was the rumble of an American-built engine, humming the Star Spangled banner in deep baritone revs. The red Ford approached, and, Hadrian felt like he was being overpowered by the jackhammer!

“I feel like I’m being overpowered by the jackhammer!” he said. Consequently, he stuck his left foot a little too far to the right.

When asked, before his death, whether his toes were worth it, he would say “unequivocally,” which was a word he learned before he took the SATs.

“She said yes!” Hadrian told his friend Ed when he returned to work after paid medical leave.

“Nice, man!” Ed said. His real name was Edificar, which was like Latin or something for building. He got the job building roads for the state because he said his birth certificate was proof that he was born to build. Roads, that is.

“How’d you pay for that rock on her hand?” he asked. Rock was slang for diamond ring. Because Ed had become his new best friend since Thor died, Hadrian decided to tell Ed the truth. He decided to tell Ed how the idea came to him when he was thinking about how Thor died. Ed thought about it as he jack hammered. His face was screwed up in concentration, like Ed had jack hammered his face instead of the road. Nobody would notice how hard he was thinking though, because everyone’s face looked like that when they were jack hammering. Finally, when Ed and Hadrian took a break for lunch, Ed said, “Dude, that’s a messed up way of making money.”

To which Hadrian replied, “At least I’m not a prostitute or a drug dealer or one of those guys that works in a cubicle.”

Ed used his jack hammer face to think a little bit more as he ate his ham and cheese sandwich. He came to this conclusion: “I wasn’t saying it was a bad way to make money, just that it was messed up.”

And then Hadrian said the most profound thing he would ever live to say. “All things are sorta messed up these days.” But then, Hadrian hadn’t seen the half of it. Over the course of the next few years, Hadrian would need to take out a mortgage, pay his wife’s credit card debt, and begin to buy diapers for his baby boy, Jack. They had named Jack after the tool that his father used at his job every day. His middle name wasn’t Hammer, though, because that would be mean to the baby. His middle name was Knife, with a silent K.

Hadrian had thought that Hanna would have a problem with the way he’d decided to make money, but she didn’t. She only said, “you do what you have to do to provide for our family, you know? Doesn’t matter how you get money, just that you get it. Means to an end.” Hadrian would lose a leg and an arm in the coming years, but at least he made money for his family.

Ed had spilled the beans to the rest of the crew that was working on Interstate 70, and had unknowingly began an epidemic. Thaddeus lost both sets of toes in order to pay his daughter’s community college tuition. Formunculous sacrificed his tibia in order to buy front row seats at the Cincinnati Reds game. They lost in the 12th inning to the Cardinals. Rosie lost her right breast and half of her face to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments.

“At least I won’t get cancer in my right boob now,” she told her mom, whose breast cancer had begun in her right breast.

So, the state had begun a road improvement project intended to bring money into the local economies, but in the end, they lost money paying for workers compensation. You see, this is why construction companies voided the workers’ compensation clause in the contracts with employees. Now, you do not get money for getting hurt. Now, people are forced to deal with whatever thoughts of hell camp out right by that part of their brain that reminds their heart to beat, without a corporate safety net.


Defenestration-Kelly KiehlKelly Kiehl is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia and would appreciate any thoughts you may have on what she should do with her life, although she will probably never be a lumberjack, or an accountant, or a road worker that sticks her body parts into traffic to get money. Her fiction has also been in The Devilfish Review.

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