Permanence

The brick wall stands across from me as I write
Cracked
Inert
An echo of a life

I imagine the worker who placed each brick
Leaving his silent testament
His creation outliving him
His children
Ensuring that I stay warm as I write
As the man at the bar with thin gray hair drinks
And rants
And talks about the corruption of politicians to anyone in earshot
As the server named Lisa pays for her college degree
One drink at a time
Ignoring the pats on her skirt

The wall as a protector
A bastion
A barrier from rain, wind, snow
From beggars asking for change I don’t have
Or change I’m not willing to give

I think about cracked skin
Split fingernails
A thumb smashed beyond recognition

I think about hard days in the heat
Sunburned neck and ears
Or gloves that fail to keep fingers warm
Numb toes in steel-toed boots

I think about yellow hardhats and long drives home in the dark
Tools spray pained neon green so they can’t be stolen and resold
I think about the worry for the next contract
The next paycheck
Eating cucumber sandwiches
Saving money his daughter
Or his son
Or both

The wife left long ago
For another man
A clean shaven white-collar man
Educated
Cultured
Well-off

Or maybe she died
A car accident
Or cancer
Hospital bills paid with mortar and shale
She wasted away with her soft hands cradled in cracked skin
Kids just outside the door
The boy wearing his father’s reflective orange vest
The hardhat at the foot of the mother’s bed
The nurse politely tells him visiting hours have ended
He tells her he built the walls that keep his wife warm

Then Lisa tells me it’s last call
Notebook tucked under my arm
I walk past the man with gray hair
Now quiet
Nursing his final beer
I walk past the brick wall
Out the door
Out into the cold
Past a homeless man leaning against the bricks
He holds out his hands
Asking for change
His thumb is flattened
I quicken my pace
The cracked sidewalk leading me away

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