Cement Men

Colin Winnette

2013 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose Honorable Mention, selected by Robert Coover

We quit our jobs as cement men. We were out of touch with love. We're not cement men anymore we reminded one another, walking hand in hand. We rented a cabin to focus on love. We made lists of what love could be like and should be like and was. There were stars outside and conifers with dark birds picking at them. We were making no headway with the list so we wrote those things down as placeholders. Love could be like all of these stars and those dark birds picking at the conifers. In the morning, we wrote love should be like bacon and eggs cooked in the bacon grease. In the afternoon, we wrote love is like all of this silence and not knowing what to do. Suddenly, we'd made our list. And people were starting to notice. We got a little attention from the media. They were interested in the autobiographical aspects. Instead of calling it love, we started calling it us. And everyone was suddenly obsessed with us. We were living pretty well, after all of that. A life that included stars and birds and bacon and silence. And money. We talk about if we should have ever been cement men, and there is no real answer to that question. It left us strong and ready for a fight. But most people do not want to fight. They want something like stars and birds and bacon and silence. Or so our publicist says. Her nails are immaculate. She's got this soft-looking kind of blonde hair. She's put together in exactly the way you'd want her to be. She says you guys nailed it. You pinned it right to the wall. And we're good for even more we tell her we are strong and ready to fight. So she rings a bell and puts the fight in motion. We match each other, hit for hit, until the audience grows bored and files out and we're alone. Still swinging. Landing hit after hit and sweating and bleeding. There's no need for a list because we've achieved perfect symmetry. No one is watching or asking us about the autobiographical aspects. We're just hitting and hitting until the heart in one of us gives out.