The following story is by guest contributor Kyle van der Laan. You can find more of Kyle’s work at blackcatprose.com.
Take the Taconic Parkway and drive south, toward Poughkeepsie, Woodstock, White Plains. Turn left at the Claverach exit toward Hillsdale on Route 23. Pass the Extra Mart– a good place to get chips, soda, and slowly revolving hot dogs– and turn right after the grungy motel. Take County Route 7 south till it ends, past twilight deer grazing by the road, then right on Route 27. Go about a quarter mile and you’ll see the big, white church that you will be helping to take apart and put back together as a retreat for New York City artists. This project will never be finished, at least not by you or the general contractor– a friend of a friend– who hired you to drive 300 miles away from where you live to roof an abandoned old church in the middle of nowhere. The housing and mortgage-backed security bubbles will burst, the markets will crash, and the art dealer who owns this building will stop writing checks because there is no money in his bank account. The whole thing was kind of a dumb idea to begin with, you’ll think.
But don’t worry about that now. Just drive there in your rusty Chevy S-10, and don’t forget to bring the things you’ll need. Take your roofing gun, your circular saw, your air-compressor and hoses, your tear-off shovel and pry bars, your hammer, square, utility knife, tin snips, chalk box, tool belt. Bring boxes of plastic cap nails, and inch and a quarter coil roofing nails, and hand-drive aluminum roofing nails, and galvanized 16s. Bring rolls of felt and ice and water shield to apply beneath the shingles. The shingles themselves will come later on a boom truck from Williams Hardware, along with sheets of ½ inch CDX plywood and D-style drip edge. Bring extra shirts and underwear and socks.
You will get to the church at dusk and unload your tools and materials. You will find a key hanging from a tree branch. The inside of the building will be an empty shell, no interior walls, pews, hymnals, pulpit– just piles of lumber and tools.
After everything is safely locked inside, drive back to the motel you passed, even grungier than you imagined, and get a room for the night. You will try to watch TV, but there will be nothing on. You will try to call home, but there will be no cell service, and besides, she probably won’t want to talk to you– the two of you will not have been getting along. Out of boredom, you will flip through the phone book, and faded tourist brochures, and the Gideon’s Bible in the drawer. You will randomly read Psalm 121, and you’ll admire its strong, simple language and the sense of comfort it offers. You will try to sleep but the sheets are coarse and itchy, the bed creaks and shudders, and you will lie awake much of the night.
In the morning you’ll drive back to the jobsite and begin the tear-off of the old roof. It will be Sunday morning, so you will be alone at the site, and alone in the little river valley that drains toward the nearby Hudson. As always, you’ll work quickly, methodically, efficiently. Your tear-off shovel will rip up whole courses of old shingles at once, which will slide down the roof, fall two stories and land on the blue plastic tarps below. The roof is only a 6/12 pitch, not particularly steep, and your foot will not slip. You will work up a sweat, even in the cool of the morning. Your back will get sore, but you will feel capable and productive.
From up on the roof you will see the fog slowly lift from the valley. The rolling hills will begin to take shape; the quiet farmlands and hardwood forests that make up this part of the world will emerge. You’ll look up at the tall steeple that points straight toward heaven and think, “That’s going to be a bitch to roof.” You’ll briefly try to imagine the people who once came here on other Sunday mornings, decades, centuries ago, to sing songs and worship God. You will spend a little time thinking about God– the word, the concept, the associated feelings and doubts. You will lift your eyes up to the mountains and wonder who your help might come from, who will keep you from harm. Then you will go back to work.