The Carpenter, The Fireman

In the dusty-aired attic

lit by a bulb hanging from a cord

and streaks of summer sunlight 

streaming through the slats

of a 12-inch high air vent,

I held one end of a chalk-cord

on the edge of a plywood plank.

Uncle Bennie held the other end of the cord

on his side of the plank,

and when he was sure that both ends

were on the penciled markings

he had measured carefully with the L-square

that hung from his leather tool belt,

he reached over and plucked up the middle of the cord

between his thumb and forefinger

and snapped it

down upon the plywood plank.

I released my end of the cord

and he reeled it back into

its cylindrical case,

which he promptly clipped

onto his belt.

A thin blue line marked

where he would cut

with the power saw

that he picked up from the floor

thick with a carpet of sawdust.

The saw screeched at a decibel

that rattled my back teeth,

and fattened the back of my tongue.

He slowly, excruciatingly slowly, cut the plank in half,

all the while his face set with determination.

I wore bell-bottom jeans,

a tie-dyed T-shirt,

and Chuck Taylor All Star basketball shoes.

My hair was long,

way over my ears

reaching close to my shoulders.

I sported teardrop photo-grays glasses,

and I wore a leather ring

given to me the day before

by my first real girl friend.

Uncle Bennie’s hair was military cut.

He wore a navy blue shirt

with a Hazel Park Fire Department emblem 

embroidered above the left breast pocket,

dark khaki overalls,

and leather workman boots.

Safety goggles covered reading glasses 

poised on the tip of his nose.

It was Saturday,

And I was helping Uncle Bennie

convert the attic

into a bedroom

for his third child,

flaxen-haired Heather,

born six months before.

I pictured the dark attic

as it would be,

a white crib,

a dresser dollied with flowers,

toys strewn about,

all bright with light from large windows.

We started ripping out the old insulation,

and I was thinking about my girlfriend,

how we had kissed the day before

on the last day of school,

near the water fountain

in front of the bathrooms,

the hall monitor’s seat empty,

our hall passes clutched

in our hands.

I was sweating

when I started to itch

under my shirt,

under all of my shirt.

The itch slowly changed

to the sensation of a thousand needles

pricking my torso and arms.

I yelped and jumped to my feet.

The needles-prick sensation

quickly changed to a venomous burning,

like a thousand bees had stung me.

I turned and ran down the attic stairs,

out the back door,

and ripped off my shirt

as I leaped off the back porch

into the back yard

not missing a stride as I headed for the plastic kiddy pool

that was inevitably turned over

and empty.

Screaming, I turned around

to head back toward the house,

toward the bathroom on the ground floor,

the only bathroom in the house that had a shower,

when the hard spray of tepid water hit me

from a garden hose

held by Uncle Bennie.

I spun round and round

under the water as it cooled

and became cold,

extinguishing the fire

on my skin.

I fell to my knees and laughed,

and so did Uncle Bennie,

his reading glasses askew,

hanging precariously

from his left ear.


By Stephen Page

As posted on

All photos courtesy of Shawn Spry

5 thoughts on “The Carpenter, The Fireman

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