Let me tell you about my dad. He’s a concrete worker. Seventy-three years old and moves like he’s twenty. Old Man Gorski, they call him on the job-site. Gorski and Son Concrete. I’m the son. He announces his arrival every morning at dawn with the metal clank of form stakes tucked into his pocket and the smell of a Polish cigarette.
My father never saw a reason in life to complain. Says carpenters complain. Concrete men get the job done. Nazi soldiers put a bullet through his father’s head. He was lucky to pour concrete.
It wasn’t easy growing up with a dad who worked so much. I don’t want to hit you with all the cliches. Like he wasn’t at my little league games. And was too tired on Sundays to throw the ball. Except it’s true. I never saw him in the crowd of clapping fathers after I got a hit. And he’d grunt and drink beer watching antique shows on the television on Sundays when the sun was still high enough to toss the ball. Mom kept his pierogi and goulash soup warm in the oven when he came home late from the job-site. He ate in silence. Knuckles set in stone.
He sat me down on the couch in the living room one night after dinner when I was eight. Said immigrants had to work twice as hard. No two ways about it. Complaining left you in the dust with an empty stomach. It’s a race, he said. Everything is a race. And America is no place for friends.
His eyes were soft and gray, and there was a slight quiver around his mouth. He sucked his lip and clinched his jaw to hide it. I wanted to reach out and hug him. But he gripped my shoulders firm, and he smelt like beer and meat and I felt like if I hugged him I might never let him go.
“I don’t want to go to college,” I told him ten years later when I was a senior in high school. Second baseman on the varsity team. “I want to learn the trade. Be partners in the race.”
That’s the closest thing I saw on his face to a smile. He told me we’d start the next day at dawn.
For twenty years I’ve met my father at the job-site at sunrise every morning. If the sun beats you to work, he says, the day is gone. He exhales his cigarette, and the smoke mixes with steam in the cold morning air. Then he pounds form stakes with the same Polish hammer he brought to America sixty years ago. Nazi symbol burned on the bottom of the handle. A reminder, he says. Of what’s at stake.
The carpenters arrive after our first coffee and chuckle as they cut rafters for the roof. “Old man Gorski,” they say. “Not a smiling bone in that Polack body.”
He checks his watch and smokes while we wait for the roar of the diesel engine to announce the arrival of the concrete truck.
The truck arrives and the engine idles and the thick viscous mix slides down the chute into our forms. My father taught me to agitate the pour as it fills, releasing pockets of air that burst into tiny gray bubbles. It’s what you can’t see that kills you, he says as he lights another smoke.
I look up at him, cigarette clenched between his teeth. He stares back and frowns. His eyes the color of stone. Were they always that way? I wonder, as I agitate the pour. I remember that slight quiver in his jaw on the couch when I was eight. The sweet smell of beer on his breath. Softness in his eyes. As a boy in Poland, I imagine they were blue.
PETE PROKESCH — Pete is a writer and lives in Watertown, Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in Four Way Review, The Westchester Review, BlazeVOX Journal, Ponder Review, and TINGE Magazine, among others. He is an MFA candidate in fiction at Indiana University, a reader for Epiphany, and has received support from the Mass Cultural Council. You can read more of his stories at peteprokesch.com.
Art by DANIEL BEAUDOIN –Daniel is a professor, multi-disciplinary artist, and works out of Israel. You can find him on danphotoart.com.