One finds his stash of junk, the other finds a girl. Borrowed to the Bone. Chapter 15
February 8, 2013
When they returned from Clark’s house with their things, Deacon was not in the shop, though the lights were still on. They dropped their duffels on the floor of their new living quarters. Deacon had rolled in a small chifferobe while they were gone. Ben Tom ran his hands lovingly over the scarred oak piece. “This is my piece.”
Willy’s eyes widened. “You sure?”
“Course I’m sure. I found it in a garage sale a few months ago. Lady gave it to me for hauling off a few of her other things.”
“So that means old Deacon, the church man, is a damn thief.”
They looked out the back window and saw light coming from a small building in the yard. The building sat on wooden skids and looked like it had been used as a construction office. They were waiting in the yard when Deacon came out of the building. Deacon laughed when Ben Tom looked inside. “Recognize any of that junk?”
“That’s my stuff from Uncle Clark’s building. How did you get it?”
“Bank put it all out for the trash man a few days after Clark left. I loaded it up and brought it home. I thought I recognized a few things that might be worth something. Decided to just keep it all. Figured you were collecting it.”
Ben Tom was skeptical. “How did you know I collect old stuff?”
Deacon smiled. “This stuff has got your name written all over it. You like metal, wood, anything old and primitive. The more rustic and worn the better. Am I right?”
“Yeah, but how did you know?”
“I’m an observant man, Ben Tom. Aren’t you?”
“How much do I have to come up with to get this stuff back?”
“About ten bucks a month for storage. You can work it out doing blacksmith work as soon as I teach you.”
With a new place to live, the boys returned to their old school. Deacon made it a requirement for living in his shop. Willy took Ben Tom’s job at the salvage yard when Purcell got Ben Tom an apprenticeship with the construction firm he worked for. Deacon registered the Ford and allowed Ben Tom to drive it back and forth to work and on the few dates he had time for.
Ben Tom had less than a year left of school and Willy had three. Both struggled to catch up on missed days and had trouble making passing grades. Ben Tom wanted Deacon to teach him how to work with metal, but his time was limited to an occasional hour at night and on Sundays in the blacksmith shop. Willy surprised everyone when he held his temper long enough to keep his job at the salvage yard. Ben Tom hoped that his brother’s days as a thief were over.
Ben Tom was a construction gofer at first, but was soon allowed to help hang sheetrock. He tried the stilts as a stunt at first, but Purcell recognized that he was a natural. The walkers seemed like mere extensions of his legs as he moved easily and quickly around construction sites. When he was allowed to hang a few sheets, Purcell and his boss stared in wonder as Ben Tom deftly maneuvered both eight and twelve foot sheets into place and screwed them down with speed and dexterity.
Purcell was soon pitting his son against more experienced drywall men and making wagers. He shared his gambling winnings with Ben Tom. Money from bets and his construction pay enabled Ben Tom to buy nicer clothes and school supplies for himself and Willy. He even had enough money to begin dating Penny, a girl he had met while working at the grocery store her parents owned.
Penny was shy and petite with thick curly hair that she trouble keeping under control. Her brown eyes seemed to sparkle on the rare occasions that Ben Tom could coax a few words out of her. She reminded him of pictures he had seen of his mother at that age. He planned to ask her to marry him as soon as they graduated and he could afford a place for them to live.
The pieces he constructed in the blacksmith shop sold for enough to pay his rent. He began taking custom orders. He made a complete set of poker chips out of bois d’arc. He made spurs and designed his own unique pieces with metal bent into the shape of horses, boots, cowboy hats, cowboys, and farm and ranch scenes complete with houses, barns, livestock, even ponds, flowers and trees.
Late on a Sunday night, Deacon picked up a pastoral scene Ben Tom had created. A tiny metal fence surrounded a miniature barn and house carved out of scrap wood. A chiseled farm couple stood in a yard painted green. “You understand what’s happening, don’t you, Ben?’
Ben Tom did not stop his wood chisel. “What do you mean?”
“You’re expressing your innermost desires with these creations. These are the places where you want to live. The wife and family you want. The life you want.”
“Never really thought of it that way. I just make what comes into my mind.”
“Like me, you seem to have a deep desire to cleanse your past life and start a completely different one. Don’t wait as long as I did.”
“I been wondering. Where are your wife and kids?”
“Kids are grown. Remember when I told you I devoted my life to making it up to them?”
“Well, love and trust are sort of like bank accounts. I made a lot of withdrawals, and it’s taking me a few years to fix the overdrafts.”
“What does that mean, exactly? Where is she?”
“She lives with one of our children in San Antonio. Keeps house and babysits my grandkids. They let me come and visit, but I can’t stay in the house with them.”
“After all this time?”
“It takes a long time to regain trust once you lose it, but I try to make a deposit, do something to prove myself, every time I visit. My family has forgiven me, but they still don’t trust me. Take that as a lesson the first time you think about doing something stupid. You may be paying the price for the rest of your life.”
Ben Tom didn’t have the words. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m just grateful I’m a free man. I belong in jail.”
Within a few months, Ben Tom had saved enough to buy his car from Deacon. By the time of his graduation from school, he had a union card and Purcell was organizing larger contests and taking bets on his son’s proficiency and speed with both stilts and screw guns. Ben Tom took on all comers and beat them. The crew called him Spiderman because he seemed to go up walls with sheetrock like the comic book character. He carried his screw gun in a holster like a gunfighter.
Blacksmith and wood carving creations were a tidy source for pocket money, but construction was where the real money was. And escaping poverty was job one for Ben Tom. Working fulltime after graduating, he quickly advanced to foreman and began taking smaller jobs to be done on weekends and after work. He was as adept at taping and bedding, painting, laying carpet and tile, driving nails, framing, and other construction jobs as he was at hanging sheetrock.
When he was promoted to superintendent of construction for a small strip shopping center, he bought a small rent house, intending to move out of Deacon’s shop as soon as he could fill his new purchase with antique furniture. Willy’s volatility had made their single room too small for both brothers.
He planned to ask for Penny’s hand in marriage as soon as the house was ready. He felt an almost compulsive urgency to get married and start a family. He knew that Penny was the right one for him, but he also was on a mission to prove that he could hold a family together, be faithful to his wife, and provide their children with all the things he never had. He just was not sure that Penny felt the same way. He also feared that her devout parents would never give their permission.
But the family living in the rent house he purchased pleaded with him not to make them move. Even though they failed to pay rent for several months, Ben Tom did not have the heart to evict them, so he postponed his proposal to Penny.
But moving took on new urgency when he opened the door to the small room he and his brother shared in the back of Deacon’s shop and found Willy in bed with a thirteen-year-old girl.
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.