It’s Saturday morning. Half-eaten pastry on the dashboard. Takeaway coffee in hand. Dad hops out of the van, and I follow him into the back lane. The weekday lads have left the skip half full in the garden, and it’s wet from last night’s rain. Shrubs and roots lie dying in the skip.
‘The place is a bit of a tip, Dad,’ I say.
Dad is too busy looking at the ground to respond. He’s 35 years on the job with a card that won’t punch out.
Paid from the neck down on weekends, I click keyboards and answer phones while wearing a collar and tie on weekdays.
I’m still holding the half empty coffee cup as we stand, in high vis, on the precipice of a sodden back garden. The boundaries belong to a stranger. The houses’ owners wanted an extension. They sought tenders. Dad won the contract. The weekdays lads came and ripped open the house from the back. They removed the old walls with a Kango Hammer until the house bore all its naked timbers, revealing its age and the rot that lies underneath. New foundations were dug. Fresh concrete poured. Old bricklayers built the new cinderblock walls. New four by twos added, extending at forty-five-degree angles at the top of the brick walls. Timber rising into the shape of a pitched roof above the concrete floor.
Dad takes the first step, ground squelching. Following behind, I pour the lukewarm coffee into a dead bush. Coffee tears drip from its lifeless branches. My father is rhyming Pythagoras in 3,4,5.
‘Don’t forget your hat,’ Dad says, picking up one from a wheelbarrow. He shakes the dew from it and places it on my head.
‘So, what do you need?’ I ask.
His hand gestures towards plaster, timber and rubble littering the garden.
‘I just need you to clean up the place as much as you can while I get the Lift Genie ready’.
‘The what?’ I ask.
‘The Lift Genie. We’re gonna use it to raise the universal beam over there,’ he smiles, like a magician about to perform his ultimate trick. His finger points towards the large contraption assembled on the outskirts of the timber roof and brick walls.
‘And that’s the Lift Genie,’ he laughs.
The Lift Genie looks like someone butchered a forklift for its lifter and added small, stiff rubber wheels to move it around. A large steel beam rests on outstretched fork arms, with two blue ropes tied to each end.
My work boots struggle with the suction of the muck as I follow his stride further into the garden.
‘Why’d you need the steel, anyway?’ I ask.
He winks and points up at the wooden frame and the brick walls, ‘When that beam’s put in place it’ll help support the weight of the roof.’
Walking under the half-built roof, I see the grey clouds high above the gaps in the four by twos.
Dad steps up to the winch handle at the back of the Lift Genie. His hand moves like a piston, cranking rotations as the beam rises inch by inch into the air. Pulling a pair of flex gloves from the pocket of my jeans, I walk back down the garden. Gloves on, I pick up dead wood, rusted nails, cracked plaster, and rubble, and toss them into the skip. Dad continues to turn the winch. His brow furrows as he works. It’s a contest between the weight of the steel and my father’s strength, fought across the Lift Genie’s metal fibre ropes. The beam turns slightly to the left as Dad stops moving the winch.
‘Right, over here,’ he shouts.
‘Yeah,’ I reply, tossing a piece of plasterboard into the skip.
‘Grab those two pieces of blue rope,’ he commands.
He is waving his hands, attempting to mimic the beam’s movements, as he looks from me to the beam.
‘The vibrations from the winch and the wind will move the beam. Keep it straight as I raise it but be careful, too much pulling one way and the beam will fall.’
‘Right,’ I say.
Taking hold of one rope, I walk away from the steel beam around the back of the Lift Genie. Holding the rope tight in my left hand and keeping the rope straight, I grab the other rope in my right hand, and walk back away from my father and the Lift Genie. The steel beam is now 20 inches off the ground. Gently tugging on the strings, the steel twitches right and straightens up as it sits on the forks. Dad’s lips curl in as he rotates the winch once more. The beam rises and tilts gently in the breeze. Tugging on the rope in my right hand, the beam turns on the forks until I counter with my left. It straightens and rises. The wind picks up and we are sailing a beam of steel into the sky.
‘Keep it straight,’ he shouts.
‘Yeah,’ I shout back.
The small garden is quiet, but we yell anyway as the beam rises above the brickwork where there’s a gap on each side of the extension’s new walls where the beam will nestle. My feet press into the muck as the beam rises higher. The weight of the steel is becoming scary as I try to lean back to counter the movements of the beam. A foot goes from under me, and I lose my grip on the left rope. As I hit the grass and muck, my hand is still holding the right rope. The steel bends to the right, towards the new brickwork.
‘Mind!’ I hear him shout.
Dad’s heavy boots squelch towards me and he picks up the other rope and then grabs my hands and pulls me to my feet.
‘Easy now. Easy,’ he whispers.
As dad pulls against the turning steel, I grab the rope with him, and we strain for a moment as the steel slowly stops turning. We watch in silence as the steel pulls back to the centre and level against the twists in the wind.
‘Sorry’ I tell him.
‘No, you’re fine. Now, hold it steady. I just need to raise it more and then pull the Lift Genie forward so I can lower the steel onto the bricks and that’ll be that,’ he smiles, letting go of the ropes.
My hands are like vices on the ropes as I watch him walk back to the winch.
‘Not a bad way to earn a bit extra’, he giggles.
I nod. Extra. Saving. Bills piling. Rent due. Car tax due. Car insurance due. The electricity bill is a top up. I own my phone, but I rent the calls, texts and 3G by the month. Work a five day. College. Wedding. Mortgage. Pull the other leg. I strain. The beam sits on the forks inches above the brickwork.
‘It’s fine now.’
My hands clench between the two ropes.
‘It’s fine,’ he repeats.
‘Just in case.’
‘Okay,’ he shrugs.
A cold drop of water lands on the back of my neck. Taps on the helmet. Cold on the cheek. Rain begins to fall steadily. Tightening my grip, I watch dad crank the winch in the opposite direction. The universal beam descends. Resting. Dad smiles as the metal forks leave the steel sitting atop the parallel walls of the new extension. There’s no noise except the tapping of rain as the winch stops.
I let go of the ropes.
Dad is already up the ladder with the level as the new brickwork stands solid beneath the unfinished wooden roof.
‘Will it need to be tightened or screwed in?’ I shout up at him.
‘Nah. It’ll sit there until Monday,’ he sighs from the top of the ladder before continuing, ‘I’ve to go off for a bit. Just finish up there and head home.’
‘No problem, kid.’
‘Thanks for letting me help. Money is money.’
Staring down at the mud, I hear Dad’s feet clanging down the ladder. He clears his throat and speaks awkwardly, but I can’t make it out. When I look up, he waves and walks back down into the garden.
Raising my head up to the timber frame and steel, I see the sun breaking through the clouds and rain before disappearing. When I look down the garden again, I see Dad lying still, face down in the mud. The rain continues to fall, tapping my helmet.
Matthew Farrelly grew up, lives and works in Dublin. He writes fictional reveries of life in between the headlines. The point where the gears meet and grind inside the M50 belt.