The excavators started one street over, blocking the street with “ROAD CLOSED” signs and orange cones that kids upended with their bikes.
“I suppose we’re in for this all summer,” Davy said. He pulled the curtain back and peered out. His dimples showed when he smirked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Ginny said. “They sort-of said that in that notice.”
Ginny dug through the mail on the side table. She found a ripped open envelope imprinted with a city seal, and pulled out the tri-folded letter. Four paragraphs of dense type filled the page. At the bottom was tight signature stacked on a name, title and web address.
“Yeah. It sounds like they’ll be doing our street soon,” she said. “Like replacing the old sewer and water lines.”
Davy let go of the curtain and took two long steps.
“Lemme see that.” He snatched the letter from her and held it at arm’s length. His eyes moved rapidly before he tossed the letter aside with a “humpf.”
“What a crock,” he said. “Can’t they just write in plain English what the hell they’re doing?”
The digging didn’t start until 8 a.m. on weekdays and ended right at 5 p.m. If she woke up early, Ginny could watch trucks roll by, some stopping to put down cones or mark easements with short triangular flags.
“Glad to see they get right at it,” Davy said. “We better not have to pay those clowns overtime.”
Davy ate the last of his cereal, then lifted the bowl to drink the milk. He left his dishes in the sink and grabbed his sack lunch from the refrigerator.
“Better go before they block the drive,” he said. “I wouldn’t put it passed them.”
Ginny took a shower after Davy left for work. The letter had said to run the water for a minute, so she did, noticing a bit of rust. When the water ran clear, she pulled the lever for the shower and stepped onto the rubber bathmat. Water streamed over her shoulders and back before she lathered her hair with the last of the shampoo.
Closing her eyes, Ginny held her hands flat beneath her chin so water bounced onto her face. She thought about a movie poster she had seen with a man and a woman standing in the rain. Their clothes were soaked and stuck to their skin, and the woman held the man’s face as she leaned into his kiss. Parting her lips, Ginny let warm water fill her mouth before she spit it out.
Ginny showered for 20 minutes before she shut off the water using her foot. Thick steam formed a gauze in the morning sunlight, and the mirror squeaked when she wiped it with the palm of her hand. When it steamed back up, she drew a heart around her face, then wiped the mirror clean again. Even with the windows closed, she could hear the thumps and grinds of giant shovels breaking pavement.
Three to six weeks the letter had said. Infrastructure improvements. City crew on-site to answer questions.
Ginny wrapped herself in a towel and walked to the bedroom. Davy had left the curtain half-open, and she could see the front ends of trucks near the bend in the road.
Knotting the towel between her breasts, Ginny grabbed the cord to release the metal blinds. The bottom slats slapped the windowsill and hung lopsided. She leaned down to try to even them out, but the more she tugged, the worse they got.
“Jesus,” she muttered. “Davy. Davy. Davy.”
Grabbing her clothes, Ginny dressed in the hallway and out-of-view of the window. A truck rumbled by and she felt the floor vibrate. The dog barked across the street and she heard the neighbor shout, screaming after the truck to slow down.
“How’s the wonderful construction going?”
Davy didn’t say hello when he stepped in. Ginny barely heard him over the rattle of the garage door and didn’t answer.
“I guess you lost your hearing.” Davy set down the polyester lunch bag he had gotten as a giveaway. “Did all the noise make you deaf?”
Ginny looked up from her computer. She was sitting at the set table and ate a potato chip from the ceramic bowl next to the ketchup and mustard and dill relish.
“Sorry,” she said. “Things aren’t all that bad. They just stopped.”
Davy sat down and pulled off his casual dress shoes. A clump of mud fell from the shallow treads. He took a napkin and wiped it up, leaving a dark streak on the hardwood.
“What a mess,” he said. “Maybe you can sweep off the sidewalk and garage when you take a break from Facebook.”
Davy jiggled one leg as he ate and talked with his mouth full. Ketchup covered his fingers and he wiped his mouth with the edge of his sleeve.
“Lots of BS at work,” he said. “Those guys in the warehouse can’t get it together.”
Ginny chewed and swallowed.
“Burger OK?” she asked. “Sometimes it’s hard to cook them all the way through on the stove.”
Davy grabbed a handful of chips.
“They’re OK,” he said. “They’re better on the grill.”
“It’s hard to cook out there right now with all the dust and noise,” she said. “But they’ll be done soon.”
“Yeah right,” he said. “Tom down the street says they got a bunch of Mexicans doing the work. That’ll slow it down.”
Ginny sipped her milk.
“That’s not true,” she said. “Why would he say that?”
Davy swished his stocking feet beneath the table.
“Because that’s how it is,” he said. “Christ. I don’t know why the city don’t hire regular people.”
Ginny got up and put her dishes in the sink. She drizzled dish soap on the pan, watching the water turn brown from the crusted remains of fried meat.
“They do,” she said. “I mean, what’s ‘regular people’ anyway?”
Davy shoved his plate aside. He walked to the side table by the door and grabbed the letter from the city. He snapped it open and held it like a scroll.
“Looky here,” he said. “Ba-O NA-goo-En, Project Manager. First name spelled B-A-O. Last name some bullshit like N-G-U-Y-E-N. What kind of name is that if it ain’t some illegal alien?”
Ginny took a walk the next morning to see the progress. Muddy pebbles and clods of dirty rolled from giant mounds to form a gritty carpet on the street. Men in hard hats worked in trenches. Some crawled out using rope ladders, others used a pick to scale the clay sides. Men above ground lashed chains and giant steel rings to 10-foot pipes. Raising their hands, they signaled to a crane to hook, lift and lower the pipes into place.
“Don’t get too close.”
A man in a yellow vest and steel-toed boots walked up behind her. He was holding a clipboard and a pen and a Sharpie stuck out from his breast pocket.
“Oh sorry,” she said. “Thanks.”
Sunlight dappled his blue-black hair. A round of keys jangled on his belt.
“No need to apologize,” he said. “I’m the project supervisor. Do you live close by?”
Ginny saw a city logo imprinted on the man’s vest and a name tag that said “BAO.” She pointed toward her house.
“Right there,” she said. “I was just curious what was going on.”
Men shouted as tips of their gloves poked like stems from the crevice in the earth. The man planted his feet and motioned toward a crane swinging a pipe into place. Throwing back his shoulders, he gave a thumbs up then made a few notes on the clipboard.
“Sorry about the noise,” he said. “We’re working hard to get done.”
Ginny wetter her lips. A truck rolled by and stirred up dust, making her sneeze.
“Need a Kleenex?”
The man pulled a travel pack of tissues from his front pocket and held it out along with a business card.
“Name’s Bao,” he said. “Call this number if you have questions.”
Ginny watched Bao through the window the rest of the day. She liked how he could switch from planting his feet and making commands to standing relaxed and smiling with men who jumped down from giant yellow tractors. She didn’t mention him to Davy, even though she wanted to tell him how Bao spoke clearly without an accent.
“They’re doing a good job,” she said to Davy when he got home. “And the supervisor keeps things on track.”
Davy pulled a beer from the refrigerator and shut the door with his shoulder. He flipped the bottle cap onto the cupboard and gulped down half a beer.
“Well good deal,” Davy said. “Glad to see they’re not lazy.”
That night after Davy fell asleep, Ginny flipped back the blankets to stand in the nightlight. She slipped two fingers through the metal blinds and peeked between the slats. Weak light from a streetlamp dribbled over the dirt and spilled onto the sidewalk. Vacant yellow trucks lined the curb, their shovels nudged against busted concrete and displaced field stones.
“What you doing?”
Davy lifted his head from the pillow. She could tell he was half asleep.
“Nothing,” she said. “Just thought I heard something.”
Davy rolled over, and she waited for him to start snorting again. Looking back out, she counted the row of flags she had seen Bao insert into the ground. She wondered if she would see him tomorrow, his creased pants lightly etched with mud, his shirt sleeves rolled over his firm caramel-colored forearms.
Ginny got up as Davy was leaving for work. She stood by the door and touched his shoulder, wishing him a good day.
“I think they’ll start digging in front of the house,” she said as he stepped onto the porch. “I saw Bao putting in those yellow flags.”
The door shut and Davy spoke through the screen.
“Since when are you on a first-name basis?” he said. “Sounds like that Mexican’s moving fast.”
Davy hopped in his truck and drove away. The sun was rising and she stood for a while as the clouds melted from rose to pink and dissolved into a thin purple. She got a cup of coffee and went out to sit on the porch. A truck rolled by and parked behind the yellow shovels and cranes. Doors creaked and men uncurled, hiking up their belts and stretching on the sidewalk. Leveling their hard hats, a few tipped back their heads to drain the last sips of coffee from Styrofoam cups.
Bao greeted her through the window of a white city truck as he pulled up curbside. She waved and set down her coffee. He got out and straightened his yellow vest, inserting a pair of folded gloves into crisp work pants.
“Just thought I’d let you know,” he said. “We’ll be digging in front of your house today.”
Bao held his clipboard flat and took out a pen.
“You’re Ginny, right? And your husband’s Davy?”
“How’d you know that?”
Bao flipped a sheet of paper and checked a box.
“City records.” Bao clicked his pen and grinned. “I also met him the other morning when he yelled something at my crew. He’s quite the guy.”
Ginny hugged her knees. The stretched out sleeve of her pajama top fell over her shoulder, and she eased it back up.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I hope he wasn’t too rude.”
Bao shifted his weight.
“Not any more than anyone else,” he said. “I’m not sure who people think we are frankly.”
The sleeve slipped off her shoulder again, and her coffee spilled when she tried to hike her shirt back in place.
“Yeah,” she said “My husband. He thinks you guys are from Mexico.”
Bao pursed his lips and sighed. She felt dizzy and looked passed him to the sky that had turned bright blue.
“Well,” he said. “I’m from here. My crew—they’re city workers, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Ginny said. “I mean, for them.”
Bao tapped his hard hat and handed her a folded slip of paper.
“This is an update on the project,” he said. “Tell your husband he can call me if he has a problem.”
Bao took two steps backward and feigned a salute.
“My parents are from South Vietnam, by the way,” he said. “My dad was a solider and became a citizen after that war. You know. That one you all protested.”
Ginny lingered on the porch after Bao left. She watched him go from house-to-house and slip folded letters into doors. He looked back at her once or twice, and she thought she saw him smile. A pair of crows flapped overhead and settled on a tree branch. When they cawed and the machines started up, she went back inside.
As the morning went on, the cranes and diggers rumbled closer, making the house shake. Ginny closed the windows to dull the noise. Moving from room to room, she watched from different windows, standing to the side so the men wouldn’t see her. Bao was there, walking up and down the sidewalk, scribbling things on his clipboard or taking pictures with his phone. Sometimes she thought she saw him looking toward her house, but realized he was watching shovels cover giant white pipes with dirt.
She heard a knock on the door shortly after lunch. Wiping her hands on the dish towel, she looked through the narrow window on her front door and saw Bao, combing his sleek hair with his fingers.
Ginny opened the door as he stood with his hard hat propped against his belt.
“Hello Ginny,” he said. “I just wanted to check back. To be sure things were OK.”
Ginny played with the door handle. Her bare feet stuck to the dirty floor.
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s all fine.”
Bao bit his bottom lip, leaving a tiny ridge.
“That’s good,” he said. “I guess, well, I was like a little too blunt earlier.”
She stood quietly as his eyes glinted behind a crescent of lashes.
“Would you like a pop or something?”
Ginny turned sideways and motioned for him to come in.
“No, that’s OK,” he said. “But a glass of water would be nice.”
Ginny went to fill two plastic tumblers with ice she picked from half empty trays. The water was warm coming out of the faucet and made the ice crack. Using a wadded dish towel, she wiped the tumblers dry, trying to erase Davy’s sticky fingerprints.
“Here you go.”
She pushed the screen door open with her hip. Bao reached out to help her.
“Thank you,” he said. “You didn’t have to go to any trouble.”
Bao faced her for a second then turned to stand beside her. His Adam’s apple rose up and down as he emptied the tumbler. A trickle ran down his cheek and he stopped, wiping his face with the tips of his empty gloves.
“I guess I was thirstier than I thought.” Bao tapped his dirty nails on the glass. He licked his cracked lips. “This was good.”
A few dry leaves scattered across the walk. Ginny took a sip.
“I’m glad,” Ginny said. “Would you like something else?”
Bao looked down the street through the swirls of dust.
“No,” he said. “But thanks.”
A breeze tossed her hair, and she felt the tug on her scalp as he brushed away the strands that had stuck to his cheek.
“Nguyen,” he whispered. “Remember my name’s Vietnamese. Not Mexican.”
“I know,” she whispered back. “I’ll remember.”
Bao crouched and set the tumbler on the step. Rising, his silhouette blocked the small sun that set over ragged mounds of dirt.
“My dad, he remembers the war, too,” he said. “He wakes up screaming at night, just like a lot of Americans these days.”