A scorching day in August, Cal’s father rouses him from hangover sleep and lures him into the vast open pit of Corson’s Limestone Quarry. His father rarely descends into the deep pit. He’s a company salesman with his own tiny office in a trailer by the rim. Cal is reluctant to go until his father talks about the endless supply of dolomite crystals, diamond-like, faceted, some as big as his pinky, scattered by the latest blast.
“You can make your girlfriend earrings. I’ll make mom a necklace,” he says. “Now get your no-good ass out of bed.” While Cal struggles into his jeans and a tee shirt, his father fills a canteen with cold water and grabs the 20-ounce pick and the crack-hammer. Cal is slow-moving, so his father catches his sleeve and drags him to the car. He’s on a mission.
The quarry is a ten-minute drive and completely abandoned for the entire month. It’s simply too dangerously hot to work. Even hotter down on the mine floor, with only a few shafts of shade from the looming power shovels and almost none at midday from the dump trucks, which look like matchbox toys from the surface. Both Cal and his father are both oily with sweat before they begin the steep descent.
They circle down the incline in Cal’s father’s Bonneville, clinging as close as possible to the quarry wall, scraping against it a few times. Once they reach the bottom, his father drives across the floor, clanging and scraping over rocks and swerving around boulders the size of basketballs. “Get out here,” he instructs Cal, “I’ll park.” He tosses the canteen and pick through the open window and swirls the car around, splattering gravel in all directions. Cal is still not fully awake and slumps to the ground, not knowing what to do. He pulls his shirt to cover his head to get some relief from the head-splitting sun. He’s never been in the quarry before, though he used to beg his father to take him down when he was younger. He’s so disoriented he forgets about the dolomite crystals—or the way his girlfriend will reward him once he hands her the earrings.
Seconds later, his father swings the Bonneville around and pulls up close. “You asshole,” he yells. “You go out with your peacenik friends and get soused. Smoke your dope, too, just two days after your brother gets killed. How could you do that? How could you do that to your mother? We go to Mass and you throw a keg party.” He rolls up the window as Cal pushes himself up from the ground.
“Huh,” he says, as he tries to gather his thoughts. He wants to say he’s just as broken up as anyone, but words will not form. The sun has baked him silent.
“Maybe this will teach you what it means to love your country,” his father shouts, beads of sweat launching off his chin as he jerks his head away from Cal.
Cal watches silently as his father spins the Bonneville across the quarry floor. He’s dumbfounded when the car grinds to a halt and lurches into reverse gear. For a moment it’s going both forward and backward. His world unspools as his father zigzags in reverse up the same incline, slowly spiraling up the steep, narrow road. All the way to the rim. To Cal, still in a fevered daze, it’s almost funny seeing his world rewind. He opens his mouth to laugh and his lungs fill with billowing, greenish-white, pulverized limestone.