One warm sunny day in early spring, the concrete was poured for my studio addition. Our quiet farm life was interrupted first by a backhoe, then a dump truck, and finally a concrete mixer that barely squeezed in through our front gate. The workers, clad in dust held together by denim and leather, smushed and shoved the slurry mix around until it settled into shape, a long, rectangular slab that connected old to new.
The head mason looked like a skinny, slightly less crazy Mel Gibson, if Mel Gibson wore neon yellow t-shirts, a baseball cap and knee pads. He smoked only while doing the most backbreaking of tasks, a cardiac trick I didn’t fully understand. He listened to country music – naturally – on a lower volume if he suspected I was nearby, and laughed and sang jovially while he worked.
His partner was a burly giant of a man, exuding wads of hair everywhere except the top of his head. He was boisterous and loud and jolly and just a little bit frightening. He guzzled water from a massive metal tankard and sweat it back out through his brow, flinging it aside with reckless abandon. He was sober, though you might not have guessed it by the sight of him. His volume was just a pinch too loud and it was best to keep the womenfolk at a distance.
Together they smudged and shoved and smoothed some more, back and forth from one end of the studio to the other, and then back and forth again. The concrete truck came back for seconds, eking through the gate as it returned. Mel Gibson asked if he should brush on a texture when he was done. I shook my head. Smooth, I insisted. Smooth like glass! he laughed triumphantly, as if he’d accepted my challenge.
As the hours rolled by and the sun arced across the sky, the sludgy gray surface entrenched itself into its new home, a foundation of what was yet to come. As they made one last pass across the now pristine surface, a duck wandered through diagonally – naturally – the longest path a curious duck could take. Farm finish! laughed Mel Gibson jovially. I shook my head at the duck.
The masons gathered up their things and left for the day, and once they were gone Alan and I surveilled the surface. Two more ducks wandered onto the slab while we were looking, and Alan waved his arms and yelled for them to get off. Stout the dog, being his usual helpful self, ran across the concrete to chase away the ducks. I shook my head at Stout.
Alan tried to explain to Stout why the gray part of the ground was off limits but not the green, but Stout was quickly engrossed in a new adventure. A vole had taken refuge in the pile of dirt and rocks that the masons had discarded, and come hell or high water, he was going to find it. He buried his head in the pile and pawed frantically at the ground. While he was head-down in the dirt, the vole snuck out and ran across the concrete – naturally – to freedom. Farm finish? Alan asked sheepishly at we watched it all unfold. I shook my head at Alan.
The vole hid in the wood pile, and Stout followed soon after. When Stout was nose-deep in the wood, the vole snuck across the driveway and hid among the field stones. Stout pounced toward the stones but the vole sat still, doing its best impression of a rock. Stout looked around confused. The vole looked up at Stout. Stout looked down at the vole.
They sat there nose-to-nose for a moment before the vole, switching tactics from flight to fight, bit Stout right on the tip of the nose. Stout pounced and flung the vole straight up in the air, ten feet at least. He looked around while the vole was airborne, not knowing exactly which way he went. The vole landed – naturally – on the concrete.
He squeaked like a squeaky toy when he hit bottom. I remember the first time I heard that sound from an actual creature and not a toy, when I realized that the sound was inspired by nature and not just some random squeal of plastic and air. It is a sound a dog knows well, if he has ever chased a vole from a pile of dirt on a warm sunny day. He just can’t figure out how the vole ever got into the toy.
Sammy, our guardian dog, used to rip squeaky toys to shreds until he found the magic plastic squeaker. He’d chew it triumphantly like a wad of bubble gum, squeaka squeaka squeaka squeaka squeaka, until someone could finally wrestle it away from him. Then he’d sit there all dejected – what was the point of playing the game if you didn’t even get to keep the prize?
As for the vole, I’ll spare you the details of his fate except to say that much like the concrete, by the end of the day he was pale and gray and mostly flat.
I was the last person to walk across my own floor. I brushed off the tracks of duck and duck and duck and dog and vole. Smooth like glass! Farm glass, that is. I suppose I’ll leave my own imprint in time. But for now, I shake my head at everyone else’s.