113. Desert Dust

SOMETIMES HE DISAPPEARS FOR days at a time. When he returns, the pickup is covered in desert dust, and his wallet is bulging with cash. He doesn't say a word about where he's been. Instead he retreats into the bunker he built in the basement, and locks the door behind him. I'm not allowed in the bunker - no one is, save for him and his brother. One time he took his father down there, but they must have had a fight while they were down there, because his father came stomping out, muttering, It just ain't right, under his breath. Most of the time, he's down there, working away on something mysterious he doesn't tell me anything about. He makes plenty of noise down there, hammering and drilling and occasionally the scream of cut metal. But the neighbours leave us well alone. He doesn't sleep much anymore, and when he does, he sleeps restlessly, noisily, on his back. He stays up until all hours watching late-night television, smoking one cigarette after another. He comes to bed hours after I do, quietly, not wanting to wake me. I pretend to sleep through it. He wakes up close to noon sometimes. He doesn't have a job. He's not even looking for a job. He hasn't had one since Ed Calper fired him. He is constantly talking about Ed Calper, Ed Calper this and Ed Calper that - what he means to do with Ed Calper one of these days. I let him talk. As long as he leaves me alone he can say what he wants. When I ask him what he's doing down there he tells me he's making something, something special, only he can't tell me, it's a surprise. It's a unique idea, he says, and if I tell you you'll tell everyone. Who?, I say, we have no friends. Everyone on the internet, he says, everyone on Facebook. Other times he tells me he's going into business for himself, and when I ask him what kind of business he intends to go into he tells me the privacy business. Privacy, he says, pretty soon everyone's gonna realise they don't have any, and then they're all gonna want what I'm making. He says one day what he's working on in the bunker could make us famous, maybe even rich, and that's why he's got to keep it a secret, that's why he's got to lock the bunker door. I pressed him once or twice but he got so angry I don't dare ask him anymore. Instead I say nothing, and just let him talk. Sometimes I find him pacing up and down in the kitchen, lost in thought. He'll see me and snap out of it. The day is coming, he'll declare with an index finger raised to the sky, the day is coming! But he never says what day, or what will happen on that day. Still, I don't mind so much. When he's talking that way, his face changes. It brightens and softens. He becomes like a boy who knows a secret he's dying to tell you, a boy I once knew at high school, the same boy who married me one day and joined the army the next - nothing like the the man who came home to stay years later. I know it's dumb, but sometimes I wish he could be that boy again.