Ryan Rickrode

Rhythm

The sound of the box trailer bounding over a railroad crossing is the rattle-shuffle of every tool, fastener, cord and hose bumping up into the air and mixing like confetti. Then it’s Dad’s voice saying “Take it easy,” and I apply the brakes even though the tracks are already behind us.

The sound of the compressor swallowing up air is a loud, rapid thumping that eclipses the calm of the morning, and there’s no denying it anymore: The day has begun. The tank begins filling immediately after the compressor gets plugged in, and I pull my head out of the trailer fast because it always kicks on loud. When we did the roof job out in St. Thomas, Dad made sure we kept the compressor shut up and muffled inside the trailer. We kept the latch bars in place over the back and side doors because the woman in the house had just given birth to twins.

The sound of the router, the sharp whine it makes as it edges a board, used to make the dog lift her head off the concrete and howl. She’d lay there every day in the middle of the shop, in a bed of saw dust and tattered moving blankets just waiting for Dad to call it quits. Then she’d follow him across the walk and collapse at the foot of his recliner. It was no surprise to any of us that Sandy’s ears went before her legs or her eyes.

The sound of six minutes past noon is the theme song to the Rush Limbaugh Program, blues- rock bass guitar coming through the DeWalt radio building into Rush’s opening monologue. We both listen, but Dad doesn’t get distracted by it the way I do. Somehow he absorbs the news without wasting any effort on listening. Every day large chunks of the program get blotted out by things like the eagle scream of the skil saw, but he can still tell you exactly who the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is and why that person is an idiot. For me the commentary is something to think about. For him it’s a funny joke here and there, and it’s the company of a human voice.

The sound of Dad heaving a bundle of shingles up onto his shoulder is a growl that you’d almost mistake for anger. It amazes me the stuff he lifts without asking for a hand-whole lengths of kitchen cabinets, the tailgate to the dump trailer, the box trailer itself when the ball hasn’t quite lined up with the hitch. He’s past fifty, and even though I’m in my early twenties, he’s still the stronger one. It’s been almost seven years since Pap died, and Dad is used to working alone.

The sound of the machinery is almost like music. When two people are working together, the noise becomes a song, not because it’s pleasing to listen to-it isn’t-but because every sound is purposeful and distinct: the whir of the cordless power drill, bright and aggressive until the battery begins to die, is not the roar of the table saw as it parts boards like a shark fin cutting water. Without looking you can tell which tool it is.

The sound of the old roofing nailer is a pneumatic chunk. The sound of the new one, the red one, is a metallic ping. We use them interchangeably.

The sound of Dad driving in a nail is three to four taps. For me, it’s four to five, but when we hit our thumbs the rhythm is the same, a quarter note, then two sixteenth notes ramming into an eighth, the accent falling on the second syllable: “Ouch. Damn it ouch.”

The sound of the end of the day is the mingle of crushed ice in two cups of sweet tea, no lemon, from the Big Oak Café and a quiet look at what got done today: a coat of finish drying on an armoire, rows of shingles all the way up to the peak, deck boards squared off and screwed down, a kitchen that now fills up our garage. Sometimes Dad pulls out his phone and takes pictures: me on the roof, me beside the porch, me in somebody else’s house. I smile and he sends me a copy.

The sound of Dad’s legs cramping up in the evening after eight hours in the sun or twelve hours in the shop is a quivering moan that splits me in half. It’s like a sound a child would make and part of me wants to laugh, but instead I get quiet because there’s nothing I can do to end his pain. The sound of the pain having passed is the creak of the recliner, Fox News, and then maybe a movie. Halfway through the movie comes heavy sleep and thick, chainsaw snoring from Dad or the dog or both.

The sound of the end of the summer is something I wonder about now that the dog has died and I’m back up at school again. I’d like to think that the song is still there, that maybe it’s just the rhythm that changes. I try to call my dad once a day, whenever I get a moment, and when he picks up, I can still gauge the time of day by the tone of his voice.