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Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 16

Early May, 2011

For the rest of the week and most of the next week Frenchy’s days stayed about the same – community service work in the morning, and either working for Sven or at Monica’s in the afternoon.

The work at Monica’s went pretty well. After some study, they decided that the ceiling was salvageable, so using a claw hammer and a chisel that apparently had been left over in the basement from Lonnie’s brief efforts at fixing the place up, Frenchy was soon able to cut the wall plaster away from the ceiling. Then it was easy to rip down most of the plaster and lath. The wood went right downstairs to go to the stove, but the plaster involved more work, especially since Frenchy was trying to keep things from being a big mess.

Frenchy managed to fill several garbage bags with it in the first couple days, and on Thursday morning, trash pickup day, he showed up at Monica’s very early and hauled what he could out to the street. Since there were several bags remaining, he started hauling them down and leaving them in front of neighbors’ houses that didn’t have their quota of trash pickup bags full. “If it works out, I probably can get rid of the rest of them next week,” he told Monica.

There was still a lot of work to do on the room. Because of the limited work he was doing for Sven plus the community service schedule and Chad’s naps, Frenchy could usually only get in two or three hours a day on the project. Even then, he had to miss a day every now and then. Chad’s nap times weren’t a total loss; Frenchy and Monica usually spent the time downstairs on the couch in front of the stove, just talking about things that happened to come to mind. They managed to find a lot to talk about before Chad woke up and Frenchy went up to work on the room again. Usually he worked until late afternoon, and sometimes stayed on in the evenings for a while, but a couple of times he had to take off early because Monica was expecting a visit from another friend who she owed a favor.

Once the plaster was down, there was still plenty to do to stay busy. There were a lot of small nails still sticking out of the studs from where the lath had come down, and Frenchy spent a couple days pulling them. He spent his first real money on the project early the next week, stopping off at the hardware store to pick up a gallon of cheap paint and a cheap paintbrush. There was enough paint there to give the ceiling two fresh coats, and that made it look a lot better.

“It’s getting there,” Monica commented as she surveyed the second coat of paint drying on the ceiling. “We’ve still got to do something about paneling, though.”

“No ideas about that,” Frenchy told her. “I’ve done some measuring, and it’s going to come to about a dozen sheets.”

“I sure can’t afford regular paneling,” Monica told him. “But maybe I have an idea. I have a friend coming over tonight who may be able to help, or at least he may have an idea on it. But Frenchy, you’ve done an awful lot for not having much to work with, and I think that counts up as a favor too. How about if I put Chad down a little late tomorrow afternoon, and then when you come over I can repay it?”

It sounded like a plan to Frenchy. He wasn’t to the point where his desire was overwhelming yet, but being around Monica had been doing a good job of keeping his motor running. But then, he enjoyed being around Monica, anyway – he’d come to look forward to the early afternoons on the couch, just sitting and talking with her as a friend, the kind of friend he’d really been feeling the need for.

The session they had the next afternoon was memorable. Although they still had to keep quiet for the sake of not waking Chad, they didn’t have to be quite as careful about it as when Cindy was in the house. Finally, about the time they expected Chad to be stirring both of them were pretty well satisfied for the moment, and they just lay in bed, naked skin to naked skin, just talking. Along in there, Frenchy asked, “So did you talk to your friend about the paneling?”

“He says the cheap stuff is still pretty expensive,” she told him. “But he told me that they sell sheets of rejected composition board out at Clark’s pretty cheaply, a couple bucks a sheet. He suggested that we put that up and paint it, just for the sake of having something covering the walls. Then, when I can afford it, I could put wallpaper up.”

“That sounds like it could be done,” Frenchy replied, thinking hard. He still didn’t have a lot of money, and being off work for a couple weeks was cutting into his limited reserves. But still, twenty-five or thirty bucks for the composition board was a bargain, considering the last couple hours he’d just spent with her. That would mean there would be more to come. “Maybe I could borrow Sven’s truck to go get it. Why don’t I figure on going out to his place after I get off community service tomorrow to find out?”

The next day after the community service work ended – early, again – so Frenchy took off walking to Sven’s. It was raining lightly, and a lousy day in general. The ground was starting to dry out in general and things weren’t quite as soft as they’d been ten days before, but the miserable walk in the rain just reminded Frenchy of how lost he was without a vehicle. Though the weather was getting warmer and things weren’t quite as bad as they had been, it was still a pain in the ass. What was more, it would have been nice to have a car or something to help Monica out with her groceries and stuff. Cheap though the paneling would be, it was money out of his savings and put him just that much further from getting something to drive.

Sven was out in the barn working on the dump truck when Frenchy arrived. They talked for a minute before Frenchy got around to asking if he could borrow the pickup for an hour or so to go get the composition board over at Clark’s. “Sure,” Sven said. “But da pickup is all full of shit dat might take you an hour to get out of dere. If you just need to get a few sheets of dat stuff it ain’t hardly worth da trouble. Why don’t you just take da chip truck?”

Half an hour later Frenchy backed the chip truck up into Monica’s driveway with a dozen sheets of half-inch thick composition board in the back. It wasn’t the best looking material in the world, even though the guy on the loading dock had let him pick it over, but it would look better than the bare studs in the room. It turned out that Chad had just gotten up, so Frenchy could get under way with the unloading. A four-by-eight-foot sheet of the board is rather unwieldy, and to even get one sheet in the house, up the stairs, and into the room was a pain in the ass. It wasn’t surprising that it took him over an hour, even with a little help from Monica in some of the tight spots.

Finally he was done; the sheets of composition board were all stacked against one wall in the room. “It’s gonna take a while to get it finished,” Frenchy told Monica as he took a breather with a glass of water in the kitchen. “And I don’t think I can get started on it today. I’ve still got to get the truck back out to Sven, and by the time I get back here it’ll be just about time to leave.”

“No problem,” she replied. “There’s going to be another day.”

“Not very many of them,” he replied. “Sven was saying that we’d probably be getting back to work the first of the week if it continues to dry out. Maybe not out in the woods, there’s some other work that has to be done around the barn, but that’s going to blow up the afternoons. I figure I’ve got another couple days, and maybe a good day on Sunday. Since I’m going to have to cut and fit every piece of that by hand, it’s going to take a while, and I can’t see getting it done that soon.”

“If you can’t, you can’t,” she told him. “Maybe you can come over and work on it in the evenings for a while. There’s probably going to be a couple evenings next week when I couldn’t have you over since I’ve got some other favors to return, and you probably couldn’t go late because of the kid’s bedtimes anyway, but it’s not like it has to be done tomorrow.”

“I probably could come over in the evenings, I suppose,” he shrugged. “It’s just that it’s not going to get done real quick at an hour or two at a time.”

“I’ve put up with that mess for almost two years now, so another couple of weeks or a month isn’t going to hurt.”

“Yeah,” he grinned. “But I’d like to get it done, just as a favor to you. I’m just worried that I’m going to have to work to find some other things I can do for you.”

“There’ll be something. There always is around this place.”

“That’s good to know,” he told her. “I guess I’d better be getting the truck back to Sven. He said he was going to have me do a couple things for him tonight as a favor to him, but that’s not quite the same kind of favors.”

“God, I hope not,” she laughed. “I didn’t think you swung that way, anyway.”

After Frenchy got the truck back out to Sven’s, he wound up taking several hours helping Sven work on the dump truck, things that took more than two hands to accomplish. Afterward, they headed out to the Spearfish Lake Café for the late-night dinner special, the hot roast beef sandwich. That made it pretty close to worthwhile by itself, since Frenchy didn’t have to eat at home again and if he took his time he might get back after his father had gone to bed.

“Hey,” Sven said as they were eating. “I been thinkin’ about it. Ya said last week you were gonna take a look at gettin’ dat chauffeur’s license. Did ya get it?”

“Yeah, last week,” Frenchy said. “I know I don’t have a lot of time driving the big trucks, but I suppose I could fill in for Shank or Red if I have to.”

“Dat’s good,” Sven said. “Dat gives me somethin’ to think ’bout. I got to think ’bout it a little more an’ find out a couple of things. Maybe tomorrow I can see ’bout some of dem. I maybe got an idea dat make things go a little smoother dis summer.”

Sven didn’t elaborate on his plan, and they got to talking about the fact that it looked like they’d be getting back to work the first of the week. “Probably some spots in da woods we could work now, but we give it another couple a days, yaaah?” Sven said. “Besides, we got some things to do around da barn.”

The next morning Frenchy was down at the courthouse for another day of community service work. “I think we’ve screwed around with draining things on the sidewalks about as much as we can,” Porter announced. “I think until we get to mowing lawns we’d better get started picking up trash along the roads, even though the ditches are still pretty wet.”

They started out on the road that headed from town out to the dam that backed up Spearfish Lake. There wasn’t a lot of trash along the road, but they managed to fill several garbage bags. It was dull, and more work than standing around shooting the bull while someone worked with a snow shovel; besides, there was no end to the work that had to be done. This time Porter didn’t let them off early; they worked right through till three and quitting time. Lunch was, of course, road-kill venison SOS once again; most of the crew decided they’d rather go hungry first, and Frenchy was among them.

At least he was able to get Porter to drop him off at Monica’s, where he reported that the change in plans was going to further raise trouble with finishing off the room. He was hungry, and she treated him to a peanut butter sandwich before he headed up to see what he could do in the couple hours he had that he could work.

About all he could say was that he got a good start in the short time available. It was going to be trouble to cut all the pieces of composition board to fit with only the handsaw that Lonnie had left behind, but there was no other way to do it but get started. Even figuring out something to get the wood high enough to work on with the handsaw was a problem, but a couple old and broken wooden kitchen chairs from the basement along with a few milk crates that had accumulated gave him something to work with. That took long enough by itself, and Frenchy was only able to get one of the pieces cut to length in the time available, and he still needed to fit it to the uneven shape of the corner of the room when he had to go.

It was Friday, his father would want his fifty bucks no matter what, and Frenchy didn’t like to cadge food from Monica since she had so little to get by with, anyway. He even felt guilty about the peanut butter sandwich and figured he would make it up to her somehow.

Saturday was again a community service day, the last day before Frenchy had to head back to work on Monday. While he’d gained a lot of ground on the community service requirement, almost a third of it, there was still a lot to go. At least now he felt like he had a good chance to get it over with by the time his probation ran out in August. The work was dull and almost pointless, and it would feel good to get back to honest work that carried an honest paycheck with it. Once again, Porter kept them going until the regular quitting time, but this time Frenchy rode back downtown with the crew and stopped off by the Fiesta station to get a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to take to Monica.

It was again late before he got started, so he only got a little work done. He finished cutting the first piece to shape and started to nail it into place, then realized that he’d forgotten something: nails. There were only a few in the house, more leftovers from Lonnie, but they were enough to at least tack the section into place so he’d be able to work on the next section the next day.

Sunday was a good day; he managed to get three more sections of the wall board cut and tacked into place, all on an interior wall. The next wall was going to involve putting some insulation into place, plus more cutting, and he resolved to somehow get some insulation and nails on Monday.

Late in the afternoon, Monica came upstairs and commented that the room was starting to look a lot better, even though there was still plenty of work to be done. “It really doesn’t look that good,” Frenchy protested. “You can sure see I’m no carpenter.”

“It looks a lot better than it did,” Monica told him. “You’ll get it done. Why don’t you knock off for a while, come down and rest, and maybe play with the kids for a few minutes so I can get some things done? I need to head down to the Super Market to get some food, and it would be a big help if you could look after them since you’re here.”

“Sure, I like playing with the kids,” he said, glad to be free of the frustrations of trying to get the wall board up with inadequate tools. He wound up spending the rest of the day with the kids, just playing simple games with them, and reading to them. Cindy wanted him to read Peter Rabbit to her again, and of course he did that, but she found some other books, a little harder, and insisted that he read them too. So Frenchy wound up with Cindy under one arm and Chad on his lap, reading some other books she had.

There were several things that struck Frenchy as he sat there on the couch reading to Chad and Cindy, and one of them was that Cindy was a lot better reader than she let on. Several times she was able to correct him when he mispronounced a word, helping him to sound out a word that he wasn’t familiar with. “You can read this stuff,” he said finally. “Why don’t you?”

“Oh, I do,” she smiled at him. “I just like having you read to me.”

“Well, that works,” he said. “I like reading to you.”

Though Frenchy thought he really ought to be getting back to work upstairs, reading to the kids, just having them close and paying attention to them was so enjoyable that he put the project from his mind. A couple hours passed; Chad, who was normally a tempestuous two-year-old, stayed very quiet and focused as Frenchy read one book after another to them. Frenchy usually didn’t care much for little kids, and had little experience with them, but these kids he liked, and not just because they were Monica’s. He found himself hoping that somehow the two of them could have a father who could really be a father to them, not like his own father had been for him. They deserved someone who could be friendly with them, not just tolerate them, or worse, someone to keep them from the kind of errors he had made when he was growing up.

To be honest, the odds of that happening didn’t seem all that good. Monica was a good mother from what he could see, trying to make the best she could from what she had, but it was obviously hard and was going to be harder as the kids grew older. How could she find someone who would give the kids the love and attention that they deserved?

The afternoon wore on. Eventually Monica returned, carrying a couple paper sacks of food. “I got some good deals,” she reported. “At least we’ll be able to eat something besides store brand peanut butter and cereal this week. Were the kids all right for you?”

“They were just fine,” Frenchy smiled. “I think I’ve told you before, but you’ve got some good kids here.”

“I think they are,” she said. “Frenchy, if you want you’re welcome to stay for supper. I’ve got a little extra so there’ll be something for you.”

“Monica,” he told her, “I don’t want to put you out if it’s something that would keep you from feeding the kids, even in a few days.”

“It’s not that bad a deal,” she said. “There’ll be something for you. It’s a cheap meal but it’s pretty good. Besides, you’ve put in a lot of work on only a peanut butter sandwich today.”

It took some talking, but she finally talked him into it. It didn’t take long; it proved to be a store brand Hamburger Helper knockoff, with some cheap hamburger and some extra filler thrown in, but it tasted good – better, at least, than anything he’d had at home recently. It wasn’t just because she had been the one who cooked it, either. He didn’t make a pig of himself, and there was enough left over that there would be something for lunch for Chad and her the next day.

“Well,” he said after dinner, “now that you’re back, I suppose I ought to head upstairs and get back to work.”

“Maybe you better not,” she said. “I need to get the kids to bed a little early. I have a friend coming over later on, and I owe him a favor.”

“I understand,” he said, feeling a little sorry at what she had to do to keep her kids fed and a roof over them. It was the way things were, no matter whether he liked it or not. “I’ll just go upstairs and sweep up a bit. I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to get done this week what with getting back to work, but I’ll try to chip away at it for an hour or two each night. At least it will keep me out of my parents’ house.”

“Sure, that’ll be fine,” she said. “You’ve really worked on that. I think I’m going to owe you a couple favors too.”

It was another hour or so before Frenchy started walking home in the gathering darkness, feeling pretty good. In spite of what Monica had to do, she was a warm and friendly person, and the cheap dinner he’d eaten with her and the kids was the closest he’d had to a real family dinner in years. It was an especially nice feeling, knowing that the best he could expect at home was that his folks were still out losing their money at the casino – at least that way, they wouldn’t be on his ass.

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To be continued . . .

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