The dark blue shop coat hangs to his knees, Elton emblazoned white across the left chest pocket. His name is not Elton. A thrift store find, no doubt. It’s a good match to the feed store cap that shadows his face, always pushed groundward by life-burdened shoulders bending low.
He’s scooping ash from his back entry into a pile of debris that changes every day. Seems it grows neither larger nor smaller. He shovels and pushes and rearranges.
But it’s the same black pile of once-was. Can matter, piled just right, become a void?
Today, on the top, sits a rain gutter, buckled at the middle, paint bubbling down the side. A board, half eaten by flame, dangles off the end.
He stops a while to fret aloud about the electricity. When can he have it back? If he could just get power, and move a couple of doors, well, maybe they could move back in. The motel down the road, the beds are lumpy. It’s cramped with the two of them in there.
And it’s not home.
He shovels a little bit more.
We tell him to stop. We’ll get a crew to take care of it.
But he doesn’t care. It’s his pile. His void.
And for now, it puts something in his hands.
He stops, looks up at walls that’ll soon be gone and his shoulders droop closer to the ground. The fretting begins anew. What about the electricity? When can we come home?
The kittens wrestle atop the woodpile, and we turn to watch. It was the cat that made all the noise. Screaming bloody murder. That’s when I saw the fire blazing out that window.
I motion to the dog, the stone one. He’s pulled it out of the rubble, and now he pats it on the head. Sat in the corner, this one did. Not good for much, he says. Dogs like this don’t bark. But he broke his ear in the ruckus.
He reaches into a flower pot and pulls out a lump of concrete, cradles it against the rebar jabbing out of the panting dog’s head. A little glue, he thinks, and he might be able to fix it.
For three days now, we talk about the dog’s ear. It’s the same every day. A little glue, he’ll be as good as new. And I know, that at least for a breath or two, he doesn’t putter with the ash or trouble himself over the power.
Today the laundry is out, and we pass waving hands and outstretched arms as we walk back to the truck. It sets me a little off balance, this that’s freshly laundered billowing against black that will not clean.
I look back once more. A gray dog sits still and watches over a long blue coat as it crouches over the sidewalk, straightening flower pots in the shadow of a void.
Photos: Work last week