SHIFT THREE May 14th
I hate this.
Caroline is consistently planting more trees than me. Neither of us have made more than two hundred and fifty dollars in a day thus far. We are inhibited by long commutes, short hours, small blocks, and quality standards that feel unjust and neurotic.
I have lost confidence in my trees. When Kayla comes into my land to throw plots and check my quality I feel dread and anxiety. I am paranoid about every tree I plant, afraid to walk away from them.
Kayla is not efficient on the block. We wait for trees. We switch pieces several times a day. She is new to the job and still learning - Caroline, who is a friend of Kayla’s from previous seasons, asked me to give Kayla the benefit of the doubt and says she will get better with experience. I told Caroline that if things continued like this I would not have enough money to move back to New York.
‘What is your girlfriend like?’ she said.
‘What does she do?’
‘She works at a fashion brand. She is a designer of menswear,’ I said.
‘Did she go to school for that?’ said Caroline.
‘Yes, Parsons School of Design. The school from Project Runway,’ I said.
‘What is she like?’
‘She is quiet.’
‘How long have you been together?’
‘One year and a half.’
‘How did you meet?’
‘And she is okay with you coming out here to do this?’
‘I’m not sure,’ I said. ‘I would rather not be here, and she knows that.’
I explained to Caroline how I lost my visa.
‘It must be hard to be apart,’ she said.
‘I don’t know. I don’t mind it that much.’
I asked Caroline if she has a boyfriend. She doesn’t.
There is a girl in camp who looks something like Lauren, only she is taller. I have inferred that her tent is somewhere near mine, as I see her walking past in the mornings and evenings. Eric says she is 27 years old, from Montreal, that she had an office job and decided to leave the office job and do this, for whatever reason.
She plants with a large staff shovel, and seems not of this place. Her manners are more refined. She is polite and smiles and doesn’t talk much as far as I can see. She eats slowly. I wonder what kind of job she was doing, and why she had to get away.
I find myself looking for her whenever I am in camp, trying to arrange some kind of casual meeting or conversation. I don’t know.
In the evenings I have seen her out walking, alone, across a small creek and over a hill toward the highway. The way she walks, over the slight incline on the dead, ankle-length grass - her head remains stable, almost floating, as if counterbalanced by a weight, like a steadicam. Her footsteps are careful and delicate.
I dreamed that I had followed her over this hill, into an open landscape dotted by what appeared to be enormous cauliflower. I approached her across the field, stepping over the soft white caps. I felt my boots were coming loose and bent over to re-tie them, painfully, handling the hard wax laces with hands that were unwieldy, cold and stiff. The sky was beige.
On our day off I was in the hot tub with several planters from the stronger crew, and I saw her emerge from the women’s locker room in a black one-piece swimsuit, the neoprene seam of it beautifully aligned with the bones of her narrow hips, which pressed gently forward against her pale, olive toned skin.
She walked (that walk!) toward the hot tub and gracefully slipped into the water. One of the men from the other crew, a brash and friendly guy, the same one I worked with on my first day, got out of the hot tub, walked to the pool, and performed a backflip off the high-diving board. His friend addressed the girl.
‘So are you on Tanner’s crew?’ he said.
The dozen or so other planters in the hot tub stopped talking to hear her response.
She said, ‘Yeah,’ and smiled, and for a moment her smile was the only thing in the hot tub, the room, the building. No one said anything. She looked towards the window self-consciously.
‘I’m Caroline,’ said Caroline, who was sitting beside me.
The other planter gestured to where his friend was climbing out of the pool.
He said, ‘We’re on Sheldon’s crew.’
‘Nice to meet you, Caroline,’ she said.
As the planters resumed their talking, I got out of the hot tub and walked to the men’s locker room