Kilroy waits on I-15 for Raymond Bidwell, his construction manager, reading an article about a rich local business owner and her plans to open three new restaurants downtown.  Raymond’s twenty-something niece pulls up, her new daddy-bought Fusion whispering.  She steps out in black jeans and a black Slayer T-shirt.  She has no experience or education in road construction and it shows on her first day on the job.

Kilroy calls her a spoiled whore behind her back.

*          *          *

Kilroy hasn’t always hated the segregation in Bedmont, Ohio because he hasn’t always noticed the rich gathering on the West, inching their way toward Los Angeles, while the poor are shoveled into the East.

He’s a lifetime East-sider, a road worker, someone who’d show off his blue collar if it weren’t always covered by the issued neon-green vest.  But for the last thirty-nine years he’s worked on the West, fixing their potholes and widening their main roads.  He has arthritis and he’s tired and his dry gray hair pours out like hot exhaust in winter.

*          *          *

The half-dozen guys chuckle with Kilroy as he continues to bash Raymond’s niece, Lara.  Most laugh out of shock because they rarely hear a condemning word from his mouth.  They’re all hanging around the hot asphalt box, last batch steaming inside.  The sun suspends above the horizon, sky white and blank around it.  Cars bluster by on the opposite side of the Jersey walls and they gust like exhales.

“Man, Kilroy.  Don’t let Ray hear that,” says Higgins.  He chuckles like a car engine.

Lara and Ray loiter at the other end of the site where the blacktop is already smoothed for their feet.

“I’ve got nine more months,” says Kilroy.  “He’s not going to do anything.”

Higgins fingers the outside of his pockets, a habit he’s seasoned ever since deciding to keep his cigarettes in his truck.   He says he does it to limit opportunities to smoke throughout the day.  It annoys Kilroy, but he’d never say anything; good for him for trying to quit.

“He could can you,” Higgins says.  “Take away that sweet pension.”

“He wouldn’t dare,” Kilroy says like he’s certain, but he isn’t.

Higgins toes the old asphalt with his boot like he’s snuffing out the corpse of a cigarette.  He packs his hands tight into his pockets the way he always does, arms poking out at his sides like they’re his handles.  He watches Lara as she wipes her face with both hands, brooming the black eyeliner they can all see from fifty yards out. 

The morning wind blows and the toned muscles of Higgins’ neck flex in a shiver.  He’s young and not too bright but he knows enough.  Though he’s only worked road crew a couple years, he knows the machines, knows when to shut up.  Kilroy suspects Higgins goes home to a studio apartment in the city, the East side, works out every other night and then gets drunk on bunny-ear TV, but he has no idea.  Kilroy hasn’t bothered getting to know anyone that well because in nine months it’ll all be over.  He always thought he’d be sad to leave because he used to like the job, the men and the angry sound of engines.  But he can’t wait to go.  For the last five years, he’s hated it.

*          *          *

Five years ago, Kilroy helped repave the Broadway Bridge.  It rose out of the perimeter of the city and met with a state route that hunkered into the rural landscape.  The job started two weeks after his son, Derek, was incarcerated for robbing Gary’s Liquor Emporium over on Crew Lane.  He watched his son in court.  He made prison visits to that open room with the uncomfortable plastic chairs, handfuls of guards all around them.  He always left angry.

Smelling the nauseating petroleum of asphalt on the Broadway, Kilroy gazed at the countryside and the city side-by-side for the first time.  He saw clouds in the East shadow the city, etching themselves between skyscrapers.  In the West, the country, multi-acre plots were lavished with manmade swimming ponds, silver in their reflection.  He saw golf holes built right onto their property, greenhouses lodging peach trees.

He’s read about the wealthy in The Local Courier all his life, the Morellis and Bidwells.  He’s sure that anyone who works for a living could care less about them, even though he himself cannot stop reading.

Now, whenever Kilroy drives up the busy interstate in his F-150 beater, he can smell the difference between his yardless burnt-rubber neighborhood and their café mocha suburbs.  He’s been running steamrollers and cranes for their SUVs with nothing to show for it but a convicted son, bad knees, and a two-bedroom, one-bathroom hole in the street where police sirens ring all night.

*          *          *

The I-15 job began as a simple resurfacing, a quarter-mile cakewalk.  They filled a few potholes, corked the craggy hollows with hot, black mix.  Then they sealed the cracks, two men on the hoses, the rest acting busy.  It turned out the stretch of damaged road was longer than Ray had thought, and he realized he needed to block off the lane for a fifty-yard stretch.

Now, just past the top of the hill, the two-lane interstate is detoured out to the shoulder, the closed lane barricaded by a diesel arrow board.  Segmented concrete Jersey walls cut between the men and the operating lane.  They smell the exhaust of traffic as cars flee the scene of working men.  Kilroy watches BMWs cruise past, their tires hiding behind the three-foot high concrete.

When Ray had brought in the concrete dividers, Lopez, the mustached nomad from San Diego, called them K-rails.  He told Kilroy that he once saw a Ford Escort bore straight into a line of them and the dividers had pushed each other back like stubborn dominoes.  When the car was done, driver dead and bloodied against the inside of his own windshield, the K-rails were staggered like crooked teeth.

Kilroy told Lopez those scenes were reserved for the coasts: he was in Bedmont now.  Inside, though, Kilroy thought of how guilty he would’ve felt if he had been the one to put the dividers there, how ugly that body would’ve looked to him, his fault or not.

*          *          *

Kilroy doesn’t think about the dividers anymore.  He just breathes and watches the men.  Guys like Higgins try to flatten the asphalt a little with the backs of their square-faced shovels, but Kilroy knows better.  He knows what the new HCQ Navigator can do, the power and weight of the roller, the futility of getting his pants twisted over uneven spots, things he can’t change.

Keeping their distance, Lara and Ray chat and let the men finish up.  Kilroy imagines he is his son in prison and they are the guards, the barbed wire fences too thin to be seen.

*          *          *


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