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Wiping the dirt and sweat from his brow, Dennis Pitch took a look at the day’s progress. The ominous clouds that began to darken three hours ago now hung precariously over his men as they hurried to load the trucks. Favoring his good leg, he walked over to the splintering picnic bench where the loggers usually enjoyed a beer or two around midday. Beside the table, a workbench held a vast array of tools, both rusted and new. He let his eyes scan over them, looking for anything that would need immediate replacing. From the corner of his eye, he saw his oldest employee and long-time friend sidle over to him. “You better get these men outta here, Denny. This storm is going to be a b**** and a half, and I’m not going to listen to Charlie p*** and moan about poor working conditions,” grumbled a man with thick red hair and freckles. Fred was Denny’s only close friend since moving to Maine eighteen years ago, and he respected his uncanny ability to predict the weather perfectly. Dennis took a look over his shoulder just in time to hear the first crack of thunder, shortly followed by fat droplets of rain.
“Alright boys! Pack her in and head home! Get here bright and early tomorrow to make up for the lost time. Yes Charlie, that means you too,” he added as an afterthought, giving the new kid, Charlie a stern look. The new guy always got reamed on, that was just fact, but this kid was born and raised in Greenwich and had never gotten his hands dirty before. The very first day he cut himself on a dulled saw and had insisted that he needed “immediate therapy”.
Shaking his head at the thought, Dennis packed up his things and left Fred in charge of clean-up and closing. He snatched his brown-bag lunch that his daughter had packed him and lit another cigarette from the carton in his pocket. Rolling through the overgrown dirt roads in his less than reliable pick-up, he began to settle into his usual evening routine. A make-shift ash tray out of a Styrofoam cup teetered on the dashboard as Dennis swerved over the various pot-holes in the middle of the road. One after the other, cigarette butts flew out the window as he tried to compensate for the cigarettes he wouldn’t be able to have when he got home.
Checking his watch, he reckoned that he had a good twenty minutes before Sara would start to worry. She would just be getting dinner ready, boiling water for potatoes or preheating the oven. If he was more than a half an hour late on any occasion, he would walk in to his daughter sobbing on the couch, convinced that he had died in some traumatic logging accident. Pushing his truck to its personal speed limits, Dennis pulled into the parking lot of Mike’s Package Store.
“Mr. Dennis, how nice to see you! Where’s Miss Sara today? We have not seen her in so long, it seems. She is still as beautiful and smart?” The bustling Chinese woman shouted as she sped around the store, refilling coolers and changing sales signs. Dennis made his way towards the whiskey and rum, alone in their own refrigerator. Checking behind his back, as if it mattered, he grabbed four large handles and jostled them to the counter. The woman suddenly appeared before him, smiling too broadly and looking at him too knowingly. “Sara…yeah she’s good. She’s going to school. She reads a lot,” he added as an afterthought, thinking of the mounds of books Sara brought home each week from the library.
“That’s good, very good. If she is a smart girl, you need to send her to college. University!” the woman exclaimed, bagging his goods and accepting the outstretched twenty dollar bill from his hand. He barely grunted in agreement before vanishing back to the safety of his truck. Taking a healthy swig from the bottle of Jack Daniels, that instant numbing washed over him. His incessant headache receded just a little bit, and he could feel the pain in his bad knee vanishing.
Right on time twenty minutes later, he walked into the house to find his daughter sitting comfortably on the slightly worn sofa. She had her legs crossed in some unfeasible way that only a nine year old girl could do and her eyes were big and bright with excitement. He could tell that she had something she wanted to tell him from the wide-spread grin on her thin little face. Her glasses were awkward and too big, sliding down her nose every time she bent over. A thick mass of unkempt hair sat balled on her head in one big pony tail. She had the same piercing blue eyes that her mother had had, and just looking at them long enough made Dennis’s mouth yearn for more whiskey.
“Hey stinker, what’s for dinner?” he asked as he hung up his coat and popped a stick of mint gum in his mouth. He kicked off his shoes, ridden with holes and caked with mud.
“Mac and cheese with hamburgers and guess what I got today Dad? Mrs. Halverson gave me money for babysitting and told me to spend it on something good and I did and it’s for you, I hope you like it!” she finally exploded in one breath. At the end of her sentence she was literally shaking with excitement and he was afraid she would pass out right there. A pit sank in his stomach. “I don’t want you to spend money on me, Sara. You don’t work to earn money to spend it on me,” he said gruffly, casting his eyes toward his brown paper bag from the package store.
He peeked over to find her smiling wildly. “It’s fine Dad! Really! She said I could have some extra for staying so late last night, so I put the extra in my piggy bank, just like you told me!” She busted out of her sitting position and scurried into the kitchen, coming out holding a big box. “Open it!” She squealed. Groaning inwardly at how backwards this situation was, Dennis thought about the last time he had gotten Sara a gift just for the heck of it. He couldn’t remember. Pushing her playfully, he told her to open it for him. The box was torn apart in just under five seconds. Inside sat a pair of brown working shoes. They had obviously been worn before, but they were still in good shape, and they had deep grooves on the soles that would be perfect for trudging around all day in the woods. “I got them at the thrift store, I hope you don’t mind…” she trailed off, suddenly embarrassed and unable to look him in the eyes. In one swift movement, he had her up in his arms, tickling her until her laughter echoed throughout the entire house. When he finally stopped and kissed her on her forehead, she whispered almost to herself, “I knew you would like them.”
Catching a glance in the mirror, Dennis was disheartened at what he saw. His hair was a messy mop of curls, and his beard had grown out of control, covering the lower half of his face. The apples of his cheeks were a permanent shade of red, not unlike many of the loggers he had worked with for years; the rest of his complexion was a sickly pallor. Dark circles and heavy bags hung under his tired eyes and his teeth were yellowing and rancid looking. This was a far cry from how he had looked as a young, handsome twenty-year-old when he first trekked to Maine in an attempt to make something of himself and get away. The feeling of Sara’s small hand on his forearm forced him off the couch. Slipping on the shoes, he felt his pride that had slackened in the past few years tighten its grip. He thought of his old shoes, of the shoes he had worn everyday for the past few years of his life. They were old, beaten, and tired. They could no longer support him. Dancing around the room to the delight of his daughter, the person that now embodied everything he loved in the world, he thought about the new life he would have in these shoes.