Hanging On by Bill Vernon

Fiction.

Mr. Jackson lets me take hold of the handles, turns it on, and electricity seems to shoot up my arms. My hands tingle and shake, my wrists and arms vibrate, my shoulders kind of jump as if someone snapped a big rubber band between them. Then the machine jumps like it has a mind of its own. My grip tightens. How can I guide it?

“Back and forth! Back and forth!” the man yells, reaching for the handles he can’t get because they’re jerking around so much and I’m in the way.

This thing is like an animal, like a big steer I’m trying to bulldog but can’t. I’m hung by my hands on its horns and afraid to let go. So for those seconds it does what it likes. Until my fingers and palms on the handles instruct me in how it is moving so I start to respond more like those dancers I see on TV, moving this way and that as if they’re on rollers. Now it’s my partner, I have to meet its embrace with my own.

“You got it! Like that!” I hear the boss yell, so close his breath hits my ear. “A little right, then left! There you go! Don’t press down or rush it! Nice and even and flowing!”

It looked easy when he did it, but going slow with the sander, making little arcs, which I told him I could do, is hard. My muscles tire so I have to rest them, not long, just a moment, and then I get a rhythm to that and I see how to do it and know for the first time I can.

About this time the work becomes fun, like sweeping the thing over the floor is a way of putting my hands flat on the wood, like my arms have grown four feet longer and my hands have gone rough enough to clear off the surface. The whirling head blows off the sawdust and slowly I see what I’m doing. The wood of the floor is as old as the hills, and I’m like a farmer harvesting something. The grain is exposed and the room collects what I’m reaping as if it’s a basket.

Like a time machine, it takes me two hundred years or so back so I see the axes, the saws running in mills, the hard hands of old-timers smoothing the boards, the home rising up like a natural part of the earth. This was a rich home for those times. I see children in gingham admiring it, glad for the moment just to be off the dirt, unable to imagine a boy like me some day in the future baring this beauty, the forest that their fathers and mothers brought inside to furnish this tiny bedroom.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, then studied English literature in Ohio and taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel Old Town in 2005.

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