The tarp under our feet flaps in the southbound wind and loose asphalt shingles begin to fly off the roof faster than we can nail them down. Mateo jumps up from where he’s crouched and starts setting down hammers, drills, one-pound boxes of roofing nails atop anything that looks like it might fly off into the distance like a sand-textured kite. The wind dies down a bit and Jimmy complains about the music from Julio’s duct-taped-together radio—some Tejano corrido—and Felix, hammering sheets of shingles onto the roof, tells him to shut up because they haven’t been able to pick up any other stations. He says he’s glad something, anything, is playing loud enough that he can’t hear himself thinking about his daughter marrying that woman from Prichard this weekend in the same sweat-stained suit he’d swiped from a JC Penney for his third wedding. He claims he likes the woman, but his daughter could dress a little better for her own wedding, is all.
Jimmy lays down the back of his hand on a shingle and places a nail between two squat fingers. He’s got no more feeling in his knuckles, he says, so he hammers the wide head of a nail once, removes his hand and knocks the nail in the rest of the way with one fluid motion. When Mateo gets to doing this as many years as he has, Jimmy says, Mateo might also need just two swings of the hammer to drive in the nails.
Felix rolls his eyes, says Jimmy’s only been at this job a decade, says he’s been roofing since before Jimmy unlatched from his mom’s tit, and begins telling Jimmy about the woman he took home last Friday. With an ass like J-Lo, he says, to which Jimmy responds, pics or it didn’t happen.
The next corrido starts heavy with an accordion, and Jimmy walks over to the radio and tosses it off the roof into the empty grave of a swimming pool that’s been cut into the backyard. Julio stands up, makes a motion like he’s gonna shove Jimmy off the roof, then mutters in Spanish that it’s a good thing he has more duct tape before climbing down the ladder to go find his radio. His right foot slips on the last rung, and we can all hear the tendon in his ankle pop. He rotates the ankle, yells up to the rest of us that he doesn’t feel any pain—not that anybody asked—and walks around in a small circle to shake the injury off.
Jimmy cups his hands around his mouth and shouts down to Julio, calls him a fag for not being able to dismount a ladder properly, which earns a rebuke from Felix, who tells him not to say fag.
When Julio climbs back up, he turns the radio on, and Rob has us take turns gliding the knob back and forth until Jimmy finally catches an oldies country station with so much static, we can barely hear the guitar twangs. Rob’s a good boss but he doesn’t like to get involved when we bicker unless it looks like someone might get hurt. A Waylon Jennings song starts to play, so Mateo rolls his eyes and puts in a pair of earplugs.
Jimmy and Felix’s conversation fades away and we settle into a rhythm. The hammering is slow, methodical. There is a light pop from Mateo’s section of the roof. A louder bang from Julio’s. A quick pop-pop from Jimmy’s then a solid thump from Felix’s and the symphony begins again. It takes on the beat of the corrido and we feel like a machine, precise in our movements, intentional in our function. Then, Jimmy begins to chatter away about a fight he saw in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart by his apartment. He says some old guy—with biceps the size of Mateo’s head—in wraparound shades and a tight shirt just started pummeling some skinny dude who got too close to his truck. Some crazy shit, he says, the skinny dude’s nose was busted wide open and blood was dripping all the way down his button-up shirt.
Tim walks across the roof, bouncing over stacks of shingles. He’s the owner of the house, a chemical engineer in his forties who works somewhere in Mobile. He hired us because he met Mateo in a club downtown after an early spring storm tore up his roof. The way Tim tells it, he needed a few beers after the quote he got from one of the more upscale builders. Mateo, probably drunk off his ass because he’s only twenty-one and barely old enough to get into any club, told him we could fix the roof cheaper than anyone else in town—which is not entirely true—but the offer intrigued Tim. Felix says Tim was likely more intrigued by Mateo’s dick, and the way Tim stares at the droplets of sweat collecting on the sharp points of Mateo’s bare nipples whenever Mateo strips down in the heat of the roof. The rest of us are inclined to agree.
The toe of Tim’s boot catches the claw of a hammer that’s been tossed to the side. He stumbles a moment, then rights himself with his back foot, lets out a sigh through his teeth.
Felix laughs, narrates Tim nearly falling off the roof to Jimmy, who calls over to Tim, watch your step, fag, or we might start thinking you’re a safety hazard. Tim flips him a middle finger, yells at him to fuck off, and drops a heavy bundle of shingles still encased in plastic packaging on the roof next to Mateo, who has removed his shirt and exposed the slick gutters of his abs again. Felix tells Jimmy not to say fag.
Rob stands over Julio as he hammers in the last shingle about fifteen minutes after we’re supposed to get off work, lets out a sigh, and climbs down the ladder. Rob tells Tim he thinks we got it and asks if we could be paid in cash.
To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of Issue #18, which will be released in December 2023, or become a subscriber to the magazine.