WEDNESDAY: Women at Work

BY CONNIE LYNN COOK & HOLLIE COOK

Copyright is held by the author.

ONE CAN never underestimate the undercurrents, the hidden competition, the unspoken thoughts, when a group of women come together. Especially when it involves women working in the construction trade industry. Forget the whole aspect of “instant bonding”; that unique, style most people would expect from females working in a male dominated profession. It doesn’t always play out that way, and no one knew that better than Diana.

While the Contractor Charity Build had been an annual event for over 15 years, the lack of coordination between the different trades was sometimes disastrous. A normal construction site is organized chaos at best, but with a location full of volunteer contractors and workers, tension reverberated through the air. Raised voices, shouted orders and finger pointing were the norm.

It was a solid charitable organization. This home needed to be built, would house a much needed women’s shelter. It wasn’t Diana’s first foray into volunteering for this agency and as a licensed HVAC person she was confident with her skills. She’d assisted on the last five builds and knew the schedule was always down to the wire. The building site and quickly evolving structure crawled with workers. An aerial perspective would have made the scene appear to be ants scurrying from one place to the next with no consideration to others around them. Diana strapped on her hard hat, and headed into the fray.

A screech of air brakes signaled the arrival of the latest delivery truck. She knew many of the materials had been donated from local companies, and like the workers themselves, the deliveries were erratic.  This was a full load on a 53 foot transport truck. It was all hands on deck to get everything unloaded, and fast.

“Hey, you!” The arrogant voice turned more than a few heads. It came from a middle-aged gentleman wearing a neon yellow vest and a nametag that read Jack Graff, Project Manager. His gaze was directed to a young woman heading over toward the big rig. “If you’re looking for the site office, it’s the mobile unit across the road.”

Diana knew the man to be the project manager for this job. She also recognized the young lady she’d met yesterday, an apprentice electrician who’d been running wires for temporary lights and plugs. Even though it was only a temporary installation, Diana had noticed the pride in Cathy’s work. She did the job, was efficient, cleaned up after herself and seemed willing to lend a hand wherever it was needed.  She took in Cathy’s well-worn Carharts and steel toe boots and let out a chuckle. It was clearly evident, Mr. Jack Graff was not observant. After almost 20 years of the HVAC trade, Diana was more than accustomed to blowhards jumping to conclusions about women on a construction site.

Cathy met the man’s gaze and with a hint of a smirk and a tinge of humor in her voice responded, “Do I look like I belong in an office?” The supervisor looked over his shoulder at the abundance of material to move, and back at Cathy. He seemed to think better of answering the question and with a shrug and a ‘humph’ went on his way.

Diana felt little pity for the man. This was his first go at running a Contractor Charity Build, while Diana had been a part of them for years. If this is how he wants to be, he’s got another thing coming.

Cathy was just setting down a bundle of pipe and headed back to the transport trailer when she saw a girl, who barely looked out of high school, elbowing her way through the crowd to get to the truck. She moved like a bat out of hell, without a passing thought as to who she might run over in the process. A flurry of raised eyebrows, indignancies and more than a few profanities grew in her wake. “Oh, oh, here we go,” Cathy thought. She’d been aware of Rachel from the moment she’d stepped onto the job, but then again, who hadn’t been? This young plumbing apprentice had made it known she thought herself the Queen Bee amongst all the men. Sure, she was attractive, even wore lipstick on the job. But it wasn’t all men now, was it?

“Hey Mark, what do we need to grab?” Rachel had caught up to her coworker. They were inside the transport trailer, which had the first 8 feet or so now unloaded.

“Well, uh, it’s all gotta come off, so whatever’s fine.” Rachel let out a sigh, put her hands on her hips and surveyed the scene. PVC pipe was for the electricians, so she wasn’t responsible for that. There was a skid of prefabricated vents and duct work, which was for the HVAC people, so she wasn’t touching that.

“Grab and go,” Diana had had enough of waiting, and prompted the arms akimbo figure in front of her to get a move on.

“Um, excuse me? What was that?” Rachel spun around to find a woman, maybe mid-forty wearing pants with scruffy knees, boots with worn toe caps, and a shirt that could have passed for a rag, about 20 washes ago. The woman looked at her with a sense of impatience. Rachel met the stare and raised an eyebrow in question. Who in hell was this broad, and why was she giving orders? There was a moment of silence, kind of an awkward dominance, like two cats facing off and wondering who would strike first, oblivious to the flood of men coming and going.

“This truck isn’t going to unload by its self,” said Diana. “So don’t stand in the way. Like your guy said, it’s all coming off anyways. Take whatever is next in the truck and go.”

Surely this girl could figure that much out for herself? Diana thought. God help us all if she’s representing our younger woman generation of trade’s people.  Diana watched as the girl grabbed a box of PVC fittings and accessories, turned on her heel and stomped out of the trailer, down the ramp and out of sight. Giving her head a shake, Diana motioned to some of the guys to give her a hand with the skid of sheet metal parts. It was a light load, and with a bit of cooperation and teamwork was off the truck in one go.

A scowl had formed across Rachel’s face. Cathy couldn’t figure what might have happened between Rachel going in and out of the truck. It was as if she bore a chip on her shoulder, one that weighed more than the box she carried. Cathy could all but feel the attitude radiating from Rachel.  Cathy started to make a move to get out of the warpath Rachel was on when she noticed the large lettering on the box Rachel carried. “PVC FITTINGS” and an electrical brands logo printed on all sides. Well, now’s as good as a time as any to try to make nice with the devil.

“Hi, I’m Cathy, you’re Rachel right?” Rachel stopped in her tracks, as though caught off guard that someone would stop to make small talk. Giving a slight bob of the head in wordless acknowledgement, she made to keep walking when Cathy interjected.

“I see that’s some electrical PVC parts right?” Cathy nodded towards the box. “I can take that from you.”

“I can carry it just fine.” The snarky tone could not be missed.

“Well, who pissed in your coffee this morning?” Then gently added, “I know where it needs to go, that’s all.”

Cathy wasn’t one for unnecessary confrontation. And this was definitely unnecessary. Rachel thought for a second, promptly dropped the box and headed back towards the truck. She took three steps, turned as though to come back to Cathy, then changed her mind again and headed off in a new direction, towards the Port-a-John’s behind the mobile site office. She used the facilities and took a moment to herself. ‘What was with these chicks?’ Rachel wasn’t used to having other women on a jobsite. She had grown accustomed to it being just her and the guys, and she liked it that way. With these other women around, she felt like a greenhorn again, fresh on the job and needing to assert herself. The little mirror in the portable toilet showed a young, clean face, hair pulled neatly back and the slightest evidence of just the swipe of mascara to beat the blonde lashes that otherwise looked non-existent. With a pout of the lips to boost the confidence, Rachel was out the door and headed back to work.

“Diana!” Jack Graff, P.M. hollered from the open doorway to the site office. Rachel paused and turned. She’d seen this asshole now and again the last couple days she’d been on the job. It didn’t take long to figure out he liked to come in, stir the pot and walk away. The guys just kept their mouth shut to let him say his peace and move on to the next unsuspecting group.

“Actually, it’s Rachel, Diana is the older…”

“Ahh, whatever, women, I need all the women in for a meet-and-greet.” Jack ducked back inside without a second glance. Rachel was frozen, dumbfounded at what she just heard. “Seriously!?” she said, to no one. Wow, was all that came to mind, she’d known early on that this guy was a piece of work, but, wow. ‘Guess that means the corralling of the women is up to me.’ Rachel set off across the road on her new task.

Diana was the first to come into view. Rachel approached her, awkwardly put her hands in her pockets, and cleared her throat to get Diana’s attention. Diana looked up, eyebrows raised, and seeing Rachel, paused.

“PM needs us in the site office ASAP.” Rachel stuck her chin out as though daring to be challenged on the order.

“Sure thing, I’ll be on my way.” And after handing off the material she’d been moving to an empty-handed bypasser, made her way to the office.

Rachel glanced around, looking for Cathy, caught her eye only to realize that Cathy had been watching the two of them. Rachel nodded at Cathy, tilted her head towards the site office, and with that, Cathy was moving.

The three women joined up outside the office, as though readying for battle before going in.

“Hey, what’s up?” Cathy queried. Rachel crossed her arms.

“Something about a meet and greet. That’s all he said.”

“Meet and greet with who?” Diana asked.

“Meet. And. Greet. That’s all he said.” Rachel addressed Diana’s question. Diana sighed, nodded and the three went in together.

Jack Graff, P.M. sat behind a moderately sized desk, sporting a laptop, wireless cell phone charging station, a mass of papers and coffee mug stained blueprints. Cathy eyeballed the mess. How anyone could accomplish things without some sort of organization was beyond her.

Cathy looked at Jack and then back at Rachel and Diana. Rachel was looking at Jack expectantly, but Diana’s attention was focused elsewhere.  Cathy followed the gaze to the end of the unit. A bright, youthful woman sat in one of the chairs lined up against the wall. A quiet smile played across her face as she eyed the three ladies who had swept into the small office, quickly filling its space. It wasn’t just the physical space, it was the energy they brought, the “don’t fuck with me attitude.” She was impressed. They were physical, smart, worked in male dominated professions. They looked like women she could look up to. They looked like the kind of woman she wanted to be. She wondered why they seemed to be at odds with each other.

“Ladies,” Jack interrupted the unknowing (at least to him) critical and immediate judgments that are formed the second the four women were put in a room together. “This is Brianna. She’s starting new with us today, and will be assisting throughout the job as needed, to whomever needs a hand.” He completed this statement as though this explained why the four of them got pulled into the office together.

“Okay, and?” Rachel blurted out, thinking about whom she was speaking to. What’s this all about?”

“Well, clearly, as you are the only three-now four, women on this job, I thought you should get to know each other and the three of you,” he said, indicating to Diana, Cathy and Rachel, “can get Brianna, here, accustomed to life amongst the men.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled, as if pleased for thinking up this plan.

“You’re kidding me.” Diana felt the back of her neck heat up and flush. “This is what the meet and greet is for?”

Jack’s grin grew, and he nodded enthusiastically. He opened his mouth as though to speak, but Diana wasn’t going to give him the chance.

“You pulled us in here, to introduce us, as though we couldn’t figure that out for ourselves, when we should be outside actually working?”

Jack’s grin faded a little and he sat forward in his chair, looking from one woman to the next. Diana continue in a mounting crescendo, “Let me ask you this, Mr. Jack Graff, P.M. if Brianna here was a new guy on the job, would you be hauling all the men in here for a special meet and greet so they can meet their fellow man?” Steam was all but pouring out of Diana’s ears. Rachel had been watching Diana as she spoke, watching the redness creep up her neck and into her face. This was getting her to her, Rachel was surprised.

Jack looked flabbergasted. This was not going to plan! He sensed Diana was a strong headed person, so he looked to Cathy, as if hoping for a softer reception. “I only thought it would be nice for you all, you know, to get along. Being the only women around, you might need to rely on each other, for things… and whatever special needs you might have.”

“Special needs? Oh, because we’re women we’re special needs?” Rachel interjected.

“Not at all, I was just referring to possible, gender specific requirements. Anyways, that was all I was looking to do, so now it’s done, and I’ll be setting Brianna up assisting in unloading the remainder of the delivery for starters.” Jack was doing his best to wrap this up. Brianna looked slightly appalled at the conversation. This is not what she was expecting on day one.

Diana allowed herself an internal laugh. Was this idiot really waffling on about us women need to meet in case one of us needs to borrow a tampon? Ever the diplomat, Cathy stepped in, “Well thanks Jack, for your consideration of our, uh, needs. I think we can take it from here.” Cathy gave knowing looks to the ladies in the office. Time to get out of here.

The four women convened just across the road from the office.

“What a fucking idiot!” Diana couldn’t help herself. Cathy let out a laugh.

“Hey Rachel, can I borrow a tampon for my lady special needs?” Cathy said jokingly.

Rachel gave her a weird look. “Oh, so like now we’re all friends?” She raised one eyebrow in indifference, before allowing a smile to cross her pouty lips. It was a simple gesture that changed the group dynamics in an instant. “C’mon Brianna, you’re with me for the rest of the day. Ladies, let’s get this job done and damn the men with their preconceptions!”

“Anybody got any spray paint?” Brianna asked. “Those yellow placard signs around the site that say Men at Work, are going to require some touchups. They’re missing the WO factor!

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8 comments

  1. Catherine Hendrix

    An excellent story! I liked the conflict you’ve created. The changes in pov were a little confusing.

  2. Mary Cudney

    I agree the pov was a little confusing but I figured it out and I think it was necessary to use this method to get the plot across. Excellent story. Loved it.

  3. robert

    Taking life and turning it into fiction is what we all do. Everyone who’s ever been an observer of the human condition has experienced this thru-line. Also to the POV police, fiction is a creative art, rules are meant to be broken.

  4. Dave Moores

    There are no rules, just things that mostly do or don’t work. Confusing your reader mostly doesn’t work, and agents, bless them, take POV switches as a sure sign of a rookie writer. Just sayin’.

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