“God, how I despise Sundays.” Sam Sampson made the statement to no one in particular. His wife sat across the table from him on the deck at the Chartwell country club; but he wasn’t speaking to her. There was nothing to do on Sundays, nothing he enjoyed.
“Don’t forget, dear, we have the doubles tournament tonight at 4:00,” his wife said. “We should get down to the courts by 3:30 and warm up.”
He watched as she put a hand up to her blond hair as she was speaking. She’d had her hair cut the day before. It was a new, short, trendy cut that she thought he’d like. And she was trying to make him notice. He did notice. I don’t give a shit – dear. After 28 years of marriage you ought to know that. His lips dropped into the sneer that signaled he pitied her for being such a simpleton. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to head down to the courts.”
Her hand fluttered down from her hair and under the table like an injured bird. “It’s the last double’s tournament of the season. I’ve been practicing a lot. I want us to do well.”
“I may not feel like playing tennis this afternoon.” Sampson frowned down at the fingernails of his left hand as if he’d never noticed them before. “Four o’clock, you say?”
“Yes.” She answered, showing a sudden interest in her own nails.
“I’ll let you know.”
He stood up then and went to the edge of the deck to flip open his cell phone. “Woolsey,” he said into it. “Do you have the drawings in front of you? No. No! The ones for the interchange. I’ll wait.” Sampson didn’t mind waiting, not today. He already knew everything he needed to know about the interchange, every dimension, every angle. In his mind he could picture it would with cars racing on and off of the cloverleaf when he had it completed in 2012. “What? I didn’t call to ask you what goddamned day it is. I want you to look at those drawings.” He could hear a rustling and thumping on the phone. Sampson knew his office manager was desperate to find what he wanted. Must have caught him sleeping, or playing with himself, or whatever 25 year-olds do on a Sunday afternoon.
Sampson leaned over the rail and watched three golfers working their way up the fairway. “You got it? Zoom in on the cloverleaf section. The angle, is it 27 or 29 degrees?” He knew it was 27; but it felt good to make Woolsey sweat. One of the golfers hit a drive and the new, white ball plopped soundly onto the green beneath him. He watched, smiling as the ball rolled to within four feet of the cup and laid still, gleaming in the October sun. “Twenty-seven? Fine. I want you to stay where you are, Woolsey, with access to your computer and phone. I may need more information later.”
Samuel Ripley Sampson snapped down the top of his cell and sauntered back to the table where his wife waited. “I’m excited again, you know, since 1664 passed in the house. I’m going to build another interchange.” His wife winced as she tried to smile. She glanced down again at her watch. It was 3:35. But she knew she was going to listen to his story again, all of it.
“I was 21 when my father let me construct the big one outside of Norfolk.” He plopped back down hard into the wicker chair. His wife tilted her head and blinked her eyes at this point, because the ritual called for it. “It was summer. We were working on the beltway, up near Parkville.” He took a long sip of wine and settled back. “I was standing in the piss hole when he told me. Can you believe that?” She smiled a wan smile and shook her head, as ritual dictated. “He said to me: ‘We’re about to pour concrete down Virginia. Go down there and honcho it for me.’ That’s just how he said it.” Sampson’s left hand slipped down between his legs and felt the old, familiar hardness returning. The memories, combined with an awareness that he was about to do it all again, were potent.
“Those senior engineers and managers were livid. The hate in their faces whenever they looked at me! Me, I was in my first year of college, had barely made it through high school. But the old man knew I could build a road. And I could make those lazy hillbillies work. He knew I could.” Sam Sampson paused for a breath here, as he always did, and went on. “A month later, the rebar was down. We started pouring. Elkins, it was who had the concrete trucks. Twenty-two hundred tons a day . . . or maybe it was 2400 tons . . .”
Sampson watched his wife begin to twist the skin on her wrist as if she were trying to unscrew her left hand. She knew the longest and most tedious part of the recital was coming. But she knew too that it was acceptable to look away at this point. She stared out, down the hill to the Severn. She watched as two power boats went around a little sailboat that drifted down the current in the center of the river.
“And it rained that year. They tried to tell me not to pour the concrete – to wait. But I told them to kiss my ass . . .” His words became a verbal blur to her at that point. She could listen and yet tune them out, like an old song on the radio when she was driving. “And now, . . . I need to see Schnee. To see him tomorrow if possible.”
“Schnee? The State Senator, Schnee?”
“Yes,” he said, looking past the tiresome old woman to the red and gold maple trees on the hill, and imagining I-82 beyond the hill, and the way it merged, dream-like, with I-95. “Schnee owes me.”
He let a few silent seconds pass before he looked down at his own Rolex. “Oh my, it’s 4:02. We need to get down to the tennis court.