Sunday brought a morning off, which meant either being locked in or attending a Christian service filled with brimstone and the god of Abraham. It also brought the casket maker, Wurst.
“Anders Theodore Wurst, they call me the Best,” he said.
“And the Wurst,” Toliver replied, picking up on the name. Wurst laughed, and the two men began examining the wood in the yard. Both knew wood and began discussing strengths and grain and which would work best for certain techniques. Joad, who hovered about twenty feet away, could see that they had somehow created a club of two which he could never join. It angered him, but the casket maker was one of Sawyer’s best customer and it wouldn’t do to upset him.
Finally, the current order got completed and Toliver, and a man Wurst had brought with him, Axl, loaded the selections into Wurst’s lorry and secured it. Toliver stayed near the truck as Joad signed off on the bill of lading. Transaction complete, Wurst headed for the cab of his truck, with Joad beside him.
“That’s a sharp one,” Wurst said to Joad, his hand on the door to the truck. “I think I could train him.”
“I don’t think Mister Sawyer is going to part with him,” Joad answered.
“You never know,” Wurst said. “You never know.” With that he got behind the wheel and started the engine. Toliver, with Joad on his heels, approached the driver’s door. Wurst lowered the window.
“I just wanted to say, you’re the best,” Toliver told him.
“And the Wurst,” said Anders Theodore Wurst, chuckling as he drove away.
Joad rounded on Toliver. “What was that all about?”
“If you don’t know, I don’t think you ever will.” Joad lunged forward, inches from Toliver.
“Get the yard straightened up. You’ve a new load of finished boards and supports due in less than hour. And don’t think this little comedy will protect you in any way.”
Toliver fell into a routine, neither pleasant nor particularly trying. Each day passed like bolts of cloth, varied patterns, but in the end all the same. He shared his narrow bed with Janeannie a couple of times and they parted friends. Too tired for more than the sex, he missed his chance to really talk to her. He didn’t even know what he would have asked her. Perhaps they would have another turn together and Toliver would know what to say. He cared about what lay immediately under hand, especially the wood, but moved daily through the same steps, theme and variation.
Janeannie somehow still contrived to bring his lunch most days. He anticipated her brief visits, a ray of sun on a cloudy day. It became a chance to stop, rest, to see his time here as life, to smile, laugh, ponder and share. The time ended all too quickly. Then, Toliver would shutter himself from another day, hood his eyes and his thoughts and return to the selfless, soulless labor. His routine was enlivened one Friday when Willow and Rose accompanied Janeannie on her lunch rounds. Rose ran around the lumber yard, reveling in this short-term freedom. Willow, though still quiet and shy, smiled when Toliver complimented the long, blue dress she wore. She asked intelligent questions about the wood and its uses. He caught a glimpse from the corner of his eye of Joad watching and smiled. He went into much more detail about the wood than he might have otherwise. He knew he needed to be careful not to exceed Joad’s tolerance. That proved a fine line, but Toliver a gotten pretty good at determining when he was close. That’s how it started, and Toliver found himself looking forward to his Fridays and Sundays. He couldn’t quite decide which he anticipated more.