I'd been expecting it for many months, but still, when my sister Sharon finally called, I had the reaction of having run over a big ass roofing nail in a bad part of town.
"Hey Paul," she began, then getting down to business. "Listen, the reason I'm calling is we really need to do something about Dad's Shack."
Sharon and I had never been particularly close. Even growing up as the only kids. There was always a mysterious barrier between us. Both of us, we rarely and only picked up the phone if we had something to say. Some pressing news or mood.
We were tumble-around siblings growing up and all. There was the awkward year when Sharon grew from thirteen to fourteen. Since I am always a year older, I didn't want to do any more spontaneous couch wrestling anymore. Not when suddenly my sister had tits precisely when tits were all I could think about.
It took me awhile, but I got that all sorted out. But by then there was distance between us, a cleft that just kept widening. We weren't brutal about it or anything. We were always quite civil when we bumped into each other at the old house. Which happened often enough because we both elected to stay in town, even after getting our degrees at the local university. I spent some friendly evenings getting to know several of Sharon's steady-Eddies over the years. Good buys, I mean guys, all around, but then they'd all evaporate.
I was actually back living at the old house for a few weeks following my divorce. A short marriage that ended badly. Sharon dropped by for a visit, and first thing in the door she faced me and shook her head. "Pitiful. I told you not to marry that whore." As, indeed, she had, from the first announcement to the very day of the wedding. What could I do but shrug? I'd gone right ahead and married that whore.
But my sister had the technicalities wrong. So I defended my ex-wife and my decision to marry her. "Yea, but you got her all wrong. I was game for that trade-off. I get to watch ESPN in the evening unmolested while she's out bringing in a couple hundred dollars. You lied to me. I might've listened if you'd warned me about marrying that slut."
Dad's Shack was part of our shared inheritance. We were late children, but even so he'd died early, barely in his 50s. Not quite a year ago. The cancer shark had snagged Mom two years before that.
I was just 25, and my only living relative was my year-younger sister. Who called me because she wanted the cash from selling the shack of the dad.
Her pushiness left me feeling dirty, though her logic was clean. I had no attachment to the shack, and the land had shot way up in value. She'd been advised, she told me, that first we needed to go patch the place up. Even though, in all likelihood, any buyer would first-off raze the dump; building anew. A grander shack, built from actual blueprints, not pen scrawls on a cocktail napkin.
Daddy was a gamblin' man. Some years we ate a lot of cans of pork-n-beans. Some years, he built his shack. Improved over other good years. He was good with barter. One year when he was in a good mood, the several miles of mud ruts from the tiny road to the shack got expertly graded and graveled. The outhouse got housed inside, frosted with the addition of an indoor shower and hot water. Electric lines replaced the generator.
It was a thrilling place for us to go as kids, even if our mother got tired of it pretty quick. It was just the one room, and pretty bare. Mattresses and cushions would've gotten pretty fusty real fast. Our mother was not born for bedding down in a sleeping bag.
The times after that were fun. Dad had an army cot he'd tuck into a corner, where he'd snore the night away. Sharon and I would sleep before the crackling hearth in a pallet we'd construct from whatever bedding we'd remembered to bring along for the floor. We slept together like that even after I'd noticed my little sister had sprouted breasts.
I was pretty passive-aggressive in just accepting her plans for us to waste the long Labor Day weekend meeting up at the shack, making repairs. If things got stupid, I'd just heap all the blame right back on Sharon.
I didn't know what to expect, so I took my old truck. I had a big plastic tubby for all my tools. I went to the Lowe's and filled the bed with a couple sheets of plywood, tons of 2x4s, a roll of flashing and cartons of caulk ... and two huge coolers, which I packed full of booze and food. A dugout crammed with skunk, and I was ready to roll.
I was sort of thinking that we'd get the little repairs done, or enough for me to wave her away while I stayed on a couple days by myself. I didn't have anything pressing going on the upcoming week. I came packing a ton of beer and a deck of cards.
Coming up the long gravel drive, I was glad I'd come in the truck. The drive really needed another layering of gravel. Or, gasp, a ribbon of asphalt. It was a great pity Dad wasn't alive to make that happen over a friendly night of cards.
It wasn't like my car would've been ruined by the ruts from the bottom up; it was that it was so much more fun to be bouncing safely around in the truck.
Eventually I took one more curve, and then I was out of the bottomland woods and at the lip of the Log Bridge. The creek down below the cabin. I stopped and got out of the truck. There was the clear view up to the place showing that Sharon wasn't there, unless she'd walked. Or hidden her car.
Not seeing at least her car on the other side, I wanted to give the Log Bridge a visual inspection before I dared my truck drive over. I knew the understructure was solid enough. It was all big boy bridge gauge metal, and Dad apparently had won a cement mixer up the dirt drive to pour all the footings. For the bed of the bridge, he went for foot-round pine logs harvested from his domain. Drilled and bolted down, of course.
There were some individual issues slowly developing, but mostly I was impressed by how solid the Log Bridge still felt under my stamping feet. After the tire-tracks and over the years, the bark had mostly flaked off the logs. The wood was quite solid, but bald. I wouldn't have wanted to drive across it after an icy storm. But it was the end of summer, when everyone's praying for some slippery rain. I was just glad to learn that the bridge hadn't turned to tinder.
Sharon showed up minutes after I arrived. I'd barely gotten the moment to stand and survey and appreciate this little stand of nature when there she was.
We both had huge coolers as well as suitcases. Lastly, I lugged in my tub of tools, bringing them in out of the elements. I was smart enough to have a tarp to tie over the bed of the truck, to keep the dew off the lumber.
We were just getting settled when the sky got dark and this endless rain began roaring down. This nasty front was supposed to pass well north of us, but apparently it decided to dip down south, and stall. With lightning ready to set the woods on fire.
That certainly put a damper on our plans. As did the power going out. We found some old board games, and I'd brought that deck of cards. Our Hearts tournament lasted until it was time to pick from our coolers to make some dinner on the old Coleman stove Sharon had thought to pack.
It was a tasty meal. And we were smart enough to leave the clean-up to daylight. Which left us in an unlit cabin as dusk settled into dark. There was really nothing to do but get a fire going in the hearth. It was starting to get a bit chilly even under the roof, within the walls. But there was like a whole rick of ready wood stacked inside next to the fireplace. That chill was no problem.
We had a few beers sitting cross-legged before the fire. Sharon pulled out a one-hit, so we wound up telling stories while poking at the campfire. The conversation was threatening to take a little nap, until my sister gave me a poke. "Should I maybe pack another one?" Her eyes danced for me in the fire light.
"Permit me the honors." I dug down in my pocket. "Have a nice taste of this." Sharon gave a little squeal as I fished out, um, my canoe. "How lovely!" she gushed. I flipped open the top and held it over. "Have a whiff." She bent her nose down to take in the bouquet, and then she sat bolt upright. "Dayum."
"It's funny," I said as I started packing the bowl. "I'm totally not a weed snob, it's just I happen to know a guy who gets some motherfucking righteous bud. Why don't you grab a couple more beers and toss another log on the fire. That plus this, at this juncture, we'll have a fun forty minutes, and then pillows will sound like the most perfect answer to any question."
My prediction proved pretty accurate. Sharon took the first puff while I watched, taking a first sip. She sealed a smile to keep it in, eventually letting the hit dissipate out her nose. "Suh-weet" she agreed. She leaned in to hand it off, but then fell against me giggling. Her arm against my arm, her head on my shoulder. The scent of her filling my nose. Her eyes were like fireworks, even if that was just the reflection of the new log finally catching serious flame.
"You like?" I laughed
"I definitely need to hook up with my big brother much more often!" Her hands were then all over me, pushing off from me back into an upright position.
We finished the bowl without further incident. From there we drifted into a recitation of childhood memories. Sharon was quite excited by the talk, and her enthusiasm was infectious.
.... There is more of this story ...