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Editing chapter three July 30, 2006

Posted by jeanne in construction news, Editing.

i’m going to post the chapter in its early stages, as it moves between outline and note to flesh and blood interactions. it’s totally unfinished, just the stuff i can grab out of the aether and put down before it dissolves. as you can tell, in the latter stages it’s just notes, and just the construction notes, at that. what has to happen to establish the characters and set up the action is a whole nother issue, for which i basically don’t have any notes.

when i’m done writing the chapter, i’ll post it in chapters.

* * *

Construction News Chapter Three

Thing one tries to scam the old couple

The tree is damaged, the arborist is called

A bulldozer breaks

Another meeting

* * * 

It was Thing One at the door. ‘Altman’s downstairs,’ she said curtly. She’d torn herself from her work and stomped thru the kitchen, living room, and foyer – half the house – fretting over how rapidly she was losing the thread of what she’d been doing and growing wrathful at the interrupter, whoever it might be. And of course it was Thing One. The imperious way he rapped on the screen door and shouted through the house, the smell of clothes lived and slept and peed in that hit her while she was still in the living room.

He stood in the door fidgetting, his hands scratching the air by his sides, rapidly shuffling his feet and slouching in front of her, his eyes darting. He mumbled something she couldn’t hear, his mouth barely moving. She came closer to the door. The draft sucked his smell past her in waves. He looked her in the eye and repeated himself, louder. ‘How’re you doing?’ he started, intently examining her. She backed off and turned to go, so he hurried. ‘I, um, I just thought you might be interested in something.’ He scuffed his foot against the door and hung his head. ‘I guess you don’t want to know. I’d better go see your husband. I just thought,’ he broke off. Velha waved him off. She had heard his speils before, and didn’t feel like wasting her time.

He tried again. ‘You see, I’ve got some kitchen equipment.’ He watched her narrowly. ‘A set of pots and pans, they’re in great shape, no scratches.’ He warmed up. ‘I’d almost swear they came fresh out of a box. I’ve never seen anything like them. A whole set.’ He started to wheedle. ‘I thought you’d want to know. I’m nore than ready to put them aside and bring them around to show you at your convenience.’ He stopped speaking, and stared at her intently.

Velha felt the pressure of his gaze. It was like thick gauze laid over her face and noxious liquid poured on, for her to breathe the fumes and pass out. Nasty fumes. She fanned her face. ‘Sure. Bring them by. I’ll have a look.’ She moved off and snuck away from him.

Later. He’s talking about the pots. ‘The finest steel surface, really heavy and well-built, solid handles. Pots I’d be proud to own, if I had somewhere to put them. But I don’t, so out of the kindness of my heart I’m coming over here trying to find them a home worthy of such fine quality.’ She was thinking, Yeah, why are you wasting my time telling me this, why don’t you show me, but all she said was ‘Yeah.’


Thing One was back, standing proudly in the middle of her porch, surrounded by a 7 or 8 hideously scratched, bent and broken pots and pans made of the cheapest non-stick aluminum. She laughed shortly. ‘I think I have enough pots and pans in my kitchen for now, thanks.’‘But you said you wanted them!’ he protested, spreading his hands. He was indignant. ‘I went to a great deal of trouble getting these, I’ll have you know. I had to fight off somebody who saw their outstanding quality and wanted to make a buck off it himself. No way, I told him. They belong to a great lady.’ He moved his hands and feet as if he were dancing, shuffling along the floor, manic and panicky at the thought of losing a sale.

She smiled at him warily. She considered Thing One too crazy to understand her point of view, so it would be useless to argue. He would simply use any argument from her as a chance to prove her wrong. And she couldn’t handle the stress of a pointless argument. ‘I’m afraid I can’t use them,’ she said, backing into the shadows. ‘Sorry.’ She could hear him cursing as he packed it up.

The first thing that happened out the back was a crew of Mexicans pushing a giant mower-digger metal box that made a lot of noise. A high pitched whine with frequent chokes on the large things it passed over. they were cutting a line for the silt fence. A guy came along with metal rods that he pounded into the dirt. Another guy came along with a roll of black netting. Another guy came along with pins to fasten the net.

They were putting the silt fence along the back yards half a dozen feet inside the neighbors’ property lines.She watched them push the mahine thru her trees in the back, running the fence just this side of her big pecan tree.

She made a note to tell Forman that he needed to remember that it was her tree, and the bulldozer guy hsouldn’t be thinking it was their tree. She wondered if she shouldn’t have a word with the bulldozer guy herself.

Later she did have a talk with him, and he looked conscious ad assured her that he revered her tree.

wondering if it was as haphazard as it looked, 

A big flatbed semi came rumbling around the corner. She saw it from the living room window as she was getting coffee – a big blue cab driven by a big burly guy, then nothing, as the bed passed beneath her vision, and then a huge yellow arm and a huge bubble on treads, then nothing. It was strange to see this parade past hwr house, and even more strange that it was destined for her back yard.

A cat, she knew that much. She looked it up. looked like a spider designed by someone who was real good in 2-D. Sides and corners were angled rather than tapered, teh whole thing looked deflated.

the guy who drove the spider shovel walked out to his truck, wearing a white cowboy hat. He climbed in with assurance and powered it up, and then blew his cool by not being able to figure out the controls. It lurched forward, and then the guy did slow donuts around the lot, while he concentrated on figuring out the switches and joysticks.

The shovel moved three feet, with a great lurch that sent the arm whanging to the ground. he extended the arm with a jerk, and then somehow got the jaws of the shovel stuck opening and closing. It took him a full minute of snapping jaws to get it to stop. Unless he was really sitting in there making the daamn thing chew. The clangs were deafening even across the hundred and fifty feet that separated them. The learning curve on one of those machines must be staggering. He was extending and retracting the arm the next time Velha looked up from her work. Every now and then he grabbed the stick and swivelled around violently, the body tuning on the treads, the arm and shovel whipping around and rattling to a halt. Maybe he was sitting in his air conditioned cab with the CD player and nipping on a pocket flask. He certainly looked unsteady.

He inched the spider to the side of the artificial hill about 30 feet from her trees. Dangerously close, given his apparant expertise. His treads were parallel to the hill property line, but the spiderlike body faced it, and the arm was beginning to make clawing attenpts, over and over, without actually taking any dirt out of the hill. Practicing. eventually he took a few desultory shovelsfull of dirt and deposited them on the other side of his cab.

Then he inched it further along, and came upon a slab of concrete. This captivated him for the longest time. He painstakingly positioned the shovel in front of him and pointed down with it, and then pounded the slab twenty or thirty times. Each impact travelled thru the earth to Velha’s house and made the dishes rattle on the sideboard.

Sickening crunch of breaking limbs, cracking logs. Once in awhile a really big thump sets the glasses clinking.

She got so nervous when the house shook. Whenever the ground wasn’t steady under her she freaked out. Riding the roller coaster was hell for the old lady. Riding a bike was out of the question. She even went barefoot most of the year, to have maximum contact with the earth. Perhaps her connection to life energy was so tenuous that she had to take extreme measures, where normal people have energy to spare.

The old lady tried to express her anxiety to Forman when they went out on their after-lunch dog walk. He was still hanging out in his car. The A/C wasn’t on in the trailer, some malfunction they had to get a guy out to fix. The passenger seat was covered with a stack of thick books, his laptop balanced on top, a monster drink cup in danger below.

He was anxious himself. Velha started asking for assurances that they knew what they were doing when they put the silt fence between her trees instead of to one side. He ignored her fears and responded by telling them how far behind schedule he was, and then told a joke about the electrician that came out to hook up the trailer and didn’t have the pieces, so had to go to Home Depot and pay retail. Then he launched into a complaint about the engineers and the wisdom of hooking up new 8″ pipes to existing 6″ pipes. He cursed some civil engineer who drew up the plans without ever visiting the site.

Clearing ex trees, digging holes and filling dumpsters with debris and a little dirt from what look like exploratory holes.

Digging up a storage tank, one of the ones that was supposedly already dug up. it was filled with sand instead, looks like.

Tuesday 5/30

The contractors have red t-shirts on today, a bunch of fat waddling trolls. The big claw tractor is out there digging up mounds of dirt and making a hill in the middle of the field. I guess they’re digging up the storage tanks, of which there are said to be 2. i was trying to sleep, and they started at 7:30 cranking up and revving the tractor and bringing in dump trucks. The red guys just sit in their trucks, white t-shirted spanish guys are out there relaying orders and making adjustments.

The tree is damaged, the arborist is called

The bulldozer lurched down the hill, sliding in the dirt. Velha heard the engine whine as it struggled to move, and looked up just at the moment when the bulldozer slid into the tree, its metal treads grinding into the trunk. She could see the tree shudder and lurch. Then a moment later, the heavy machine got a purchase and surged up the hill away from her tree. She hurried out to inspect the damage. A huge gouge in the trunk and inches ofinnertree wehad been savagely ripped away by steel treads powered by somebody who saw trees as obstacles. The wound was weeping sap, bleeding. The leaves said shock as they rustled, and the branches were stiff with pain. It wasn’t until she came around the tree trunk that she noticed more gouges on the trunks from where the digger that had made the trenches for the silt fence had squeezed through the space between the trees. She had wondered what they were doing isolating her pecan from the rest of the trees in her yard, but she could see yhow it made a straight line a few feet into their property and one tree was in between the two. She hoped it didn’t mean they would be less than careful with her precious plant. She looked around. The bulldozer had crushed all the periwinkle and ivy, but they’d grow back without any trouble. They’d scraped the trees putting in the silt fence, and now the bulldozer had seriosuly damaged her pecan tree. She stalked up to the basement to tell Atman about it and get him to coat the trunk with pitch, and went upstairs to look up the phone number of the city arborist to complain. Her fingers shook as she thumbed through the blue section looking for the right entry.

She got a black lady downtown. ‘City arborist.’

The words poured out of the old lady. She was shaking with anger.

‘I’m going to pass you to his voicenail. You tell him this, that you are concerned that construction activities are endangering the safety of a mature tree on your property. Tell him that, and tell him where you are, and give him your phone number.’ Velha felt weak. She stood at the phone composing herself, and trying to remember what the woman was saying. Her voice was so kind, that’s what she mostly thought. 

Hello, this is Velha Cobble at 295 Ahr Street. I have a concern about my old pecan tree in the back yard because the construction guys are bashing into it with abandon and they’re going to kill my tree. Oh help me if you can. They’re out there now and they’re awfully close to it. It’s the big new complex out on Bissey Street. Near the corner of Main. I don’t know what it’s called.

Dumptrucks everywhere, four or six. They come in down name street, past the house, and then down the side street. Their transmissions bump like that one did that day that broke. Lots of downtime as trucks sit idle and claw guy discuss things with the foremen.

Think of the life of a shovel operator. Picking up dirt and loading trucks, digging holes, pulling out trees. Destruction. What’s his worldview like if all he does is tear things up and clear them out? This is the guy who’s going to drown in the creek.

7 bucketloads per dumptruck. Where do they go? They hit the highway. They make such noise as they go by the house.

A bulldozer breaks. The service truck, a guy in between the treads. Everybody goes home early. 

The arborist arrives and pronounces. Husband knows him somehow. We sat on the porch and had to stop readiing to each other whanever one came by. They’d cruise by empty, foot off the gas to brake at the corner, the exhaust systems sounding like a dragon with a sinus problem. Then they’d turn the corner, sometimes at the same time as a full one was coming around the corner. Sometimes there were two empties and a full one passing at the same time. And we had to pause every time.

Another meeting

Wednesday 5/31

We’re having a meeting with all available residents and the foreman. They’re supposed to be going over what we can expect when. Meeting 5:00. us, nextor wife, nice gay guy, hippie mom late, the star crossed girl. Each had their own concerns to press.

(Star crossed girl wanted to know what she was getting because she didn’t need grading. She also wanted them to reroute the trucks off of name street, but the site engineer already filed the route with the city. She was vehement. She thinks they’re going to block her access to her house and run her out of busness. She was very erudite before her mom showed up, then she lapsed into passivity. Besides, she’d already been dismissed because she didn’t own the house.)

Gay guy wants grading, so does family next door. Hippie mom wants trees taken down, family next door wants stumps removed, we told them we wanted a pool.

The drainage issue – there’s a pond, that can be solved by gravity drainage. We have trees, so we can’t build up too much. If they can’t change grade then they’ll put in cachment basins. There’s going to be a ramp starting in gay guy’s yard and going up, with a wall running arbout 2′ so there’ll be a ramp down to our property as a driveway. The corners of the property are going to remain the same, and the retention box will be 6′ deep. Still don’t know how many cubic yards.

Our property is 176′ by 52′. The plat shows that our chain link fence, as well as everyone else’s, lies to the left of the property line by some feet. That’s going to cause problems when everybody goes to put their fences back up.

The money will be paid after alley construction starts. They had originallly tied the alley to the critical path, but because everyone wants something else, they’ve detached it, and now it will be some time down the line. Developer’s having a meeeting with us next week to decide how we want our back yards done. People who want trees down in their yard have to get permits right away before the equipment is gone.

There’s a month left for the earth moving. Then they’ll drive piles (they called it something eco) vibro pier gravel thing, for ten days (500 some piers), and then it’ll get quiet as it goes vertical.

It’s going to be leed certified

15 trucks in and out, the landfill about 20 minutes away.

There’s a big black plastic sheet out on the right side of the property, 40′ long at least. Dirt is piled up. it looks wet. For the last year or two black seepy stuff that smells bad used to come flowing out of the property and across the sidewalk. Had to keep the dog away from it.

end of chapter


Chapter four

The tree is damaged again

The second curse

The dump is closed because of rain

The old couple have sex

The construction trailer has to be moved

Animal remains are found on site

Thing one gets paranoid, sees something



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