“Carlyle, go down into the bow,” Leonard tells me. “It’ll keep you out of trouble.”
“The bow?” I’ve heard Jimmy complain it’s a tight spot.
“Yeah, the bow. We need to seal up the boat. Only you and Jimmy can fit.”
I gather my torch, chipping hammer, 1017 rods, and wire lamp for when I get in there. I climb into the boat and walk across to the corner. I lower myself down the steel ladder, one rung at a time. I peek in. Pitch black. “All right,” I say to myself. “Jimmy does it. You can do it.”
It’s a tight black space. I inch along, moving at an angle as my shoulders touch the wall. It’s stuffy in here. It’s dark in here, but I keep moving. I come to an even smaller space. I realize I have to crouch down, I realize I have to lie on my stomach and just inch along. “Oh boy,” I think. “Leonard can’t say I’m not earning my money today. In fact, we should get extra for this.” It’s not a long way, but the darkness crawls through with me. I stop for a minute to breathe. I smell soot. I give a little cough. The tightness of the space is a womb about to explode.
I crouch down, put a rod in the holder, put my helmet on, flip down the hood, and strike an arc. Fire comes through, light comes through, the white-hot intensity comes through. I weld bead after bead, crouching low. I’m buzzing with the sound of the electricity in this space. It’s overhead welding and vertical. I have to hold my hand in place with the other hand. Weld after weld, molten pool after molten pool. I realize I can’t stop for a break, come up for air. It would take too long, it would hurt too much to crawl out and back again, so I keep on welding. I keep on finishing a rod, putting up my helmet in the dark, and starting over again. Crouching in a corner in the dark. Crouching inside, holding the torch and making a bead across the metal plate—another part of me returns, the part of me that crawled underground.
I hear the whistle blow—the lunch whistle. I put down my torch and again inch my way out of the dark underground. When I come out, I hear Leonard say to Jimmy, “Go down and see how her overhead looks.” Why is Leonard checking up on me? He knows I can do it. Jimmy comes out. He says something to Leonard I can’t hear over the whirr of the crane. Leonard comes over to me, “Not bad, Carlyle, not bad. Okay, go back and finish up after lunch.