The Construction Foreman

This day on an apartment building construction site began like any other. Farrell the foreman and the workers arrived early to get as much work done as possible before the heat of the midsummer day pressed down on them. The project was still in its early stages; the crew used heavy machinery to dig the foundation and move tons of dirt to another location on the property where it could be used to fill in the ground behind a retaining wall. The ground around the excavation sloped upward such that the plans called for the west side of the basement to have doors and windows opening to the ground, but for the main floor on the east end to also open to ground level.

Farrell reviewed plans and his standards of job excellence with the crew members, and then he watched the digging for a time. Kerry, who had been on the crew for about a year, was assigned to the nearest dump truck. Declan operated one excavator and efficiently scooped earth into the waiting truck. Farrell and Declan had worked together on numerous jobs over many years and had become close friends. He was like family—in fact, Farrell tended to look at all of his coworkers as family and sincerely would try to do anything to help any or all of them.

Kerry watched from a slight distance so he could see when the dump body had been filled and could make his run to move the dirt. Soon, he waved to Declan, who lowered the bucket of the excavator. Kerry jogged to the truck and climbed in. The engine started, and with a roar, the truck rolled forward. Farrell started walking in the direction Kerry would take up the slope. He scanned the work site and looked at Kerry’s truck by turns.

His brow furrowed as the dump truck rumbled slowly forward. Kerry was taking an angle up the slope that, if he continued it, the uneven ground would result in the driver-side wheels being much lower than the opposite wheels. Then Farrell noticed the long shadow stretching directly behind the truck. The sun was shining in Kerry’s eyes—he hadn’t been wearing sunglasses—and he probably didn’t realize the danger of the route he’d chosen.

If he continued that direction, the truck would tip—and the results for Kerry would possibly be fatal.

Sudden fear and urgency driving his body, Farrell sprang into a run. He pumped his arms and legs as hard as he could, trying to ignore the protests of his hamstrings. Calling Kerry’s name and waving his arms, Farrell ran in a line that should put him in line of sight of Kerry’s side mirror. But the truck kept on.

Farrell yelled louder and ran harder. He came even with the back of the truck. If it had been a pickup, he would have banged on the outside of the bed to get the driver’s attention. But the tires stood nearly as tall as Farrell did, so he could do nothing but keep shouting, waving, and running.

The truck lurched, and Kerry, perhaps seeing the danger he was in, tried to correct. Farrell scrambled to one side but raced on. The truck started to lean dangerously, and Kerry hauled on the wheel again. He continued trying to correct his course rather than stop. With a surge fueled by desperation, Farrell leaped onto the steps to the driver’s side door and yanked it open.

His stomach dropped as the truck tipped. He saw Kerry’s eyes go wide. A glance told Farrell that Kerry didn’t have his seat belt on. He hauled Kerry out of the cab and with all his strength flung him clear. Kerry tumbled away.

But Farrell had no time to leap to safety himself before the truck came down.

* * * *

Declan saw Farrell running and shouting toward Kerry’s truck. What’s going on? he thought. Then he saw the way the dump truck leaned as it trundled up the hill. What on earth was Kerry doing? He needed to correct his direction before …

The foreman disappeared, and the truck lurched. Seconds later, it tipped. Declan’s breath caught in his throat. It was going to roll!

He threw himself out of the excavator and ran as fast as he could toward the dump truck. “Call the paramedics!” he screamed at another crew member. “Call them NOW!” He didn’t get far before Kerry’s dump truck toppled onto its side with a crash, sending tons of dirt cascading outward.

Declan kept running to the driver’s side where he had last seen Farrell and scrambled through the dust cloud. He nearly tripped on a body near the truck. He coughed, waving away the choking dirt. Was it Farrell? The body stirred. Kerry. Somehow he’d been thrown clear … but his position relative to the truck made no sense.

Kerry saw Declan. “He saved my life,” Kerry gasped. “Farrell …” He looked over his shoulder at the truck.

Declan’s mouth went dry, and his ears filled with the pounding of his heart. No!

He raced to the truck, which lay on its side. No sign of Farrell. Declan quickly moved around the cab, eyes searching. The driver’s side door lay flattened against the ground, open too far, its hinge mechanism broken. Declan looked through the dirty windshield. He glimpsed clothing, a boot, a hand—he beat his hand against the glass. “Farrell! FARRELL!”

Inside, there was no movement.

“Someone get over here and help me!”

* * * *

Vital sign monitors beeped up and down the hallway that led from the emergency room; the voices of physicians and techs drifted between. Declan stood nearby while Farrell’s wife, Orla, talked with one of the doctors who attended Farrell. More than a day had passed since the accident. Farrell had gone back to the job site today, but he couldn’t keep the images from flashing through his mind—ambulance lights, glass shattering, Farrell unmoving with a gash across his forehead. Not safe to work construction when you can’t focus. Declan had followed the ambulance to the hospital yesterday and told the doctors what he knew. They said Farrell’s chances didn’t look good, and they didn’t know when he’d wake up. Orla may have to make some difficult decisions. Today, Declan left work early and came to stay close to Farrell’s family—the closest thing to a family he had in this city.

He walked over to Farrell’s kids, put his arms around two of them, and squeezed a little. He tried to manage a smile but couldn’t.

Farrell couldn’t really be gone, could he? Declan tried to imagine life without his friend, but just like the smile, it didn’t come together. The foreman always had such high standards that sometimes even Declan had a hard time meeting them, but it always made him better, more professional. He wasn’t sure what he’d do without Farrell pushing him.

* * * *

Early Sunday morning, Declan’s phone rang. It was Orla.

“He woke up! Farrell’s awake!”

Declan pulled on street clothes, ran from his house, jumped in his pickup, and drove as fast as he dared to the hospital.

Farrell greeted him with a smile as Orla and their children stood around the bed. His head was bandaged, and the monitors seemed to indicate things were okay, but … Declan took his hand, but he didn’t grip it. It somehow felt frail. Farrell’s fingers hardly moved.

“I’m glad you came. I don’t have long,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Declan replied, holding back a scoff. “You’re awake. No one expected even that much. Nothing can stop you now.”

“I wish I could stay, but that’s not going to be possible. I want to thank you, Declan, for being such a good friend. It’s been wonderful working with you. I’ve valued our friendship. Carry on our standard of excellence. And …” He glanced at Orla and the kids. “Keep an eye on my family for me.”

“You have my word.”

Farrell nodded. Then his eyes shifted toward the door. Declan turned.

Kerry stood in the doorway. His swollen eyes glistened in a reddened face.

Declan stepped aside. He had almost forgotten about Kerry, who had been absent from the job site yesterday. Preoccupied with his own thoughts as he was, he had spared hardly a thought for the man whose costly error was the reason for Farrell’s condition now.

In two strides, Kerry reached the side of the bed and took Farrell’s proffered hand. He pressed the hand to his forehead for a moment. Then, as he looked up at Farrell, he began to sob. “I’m so sorry,” he said through his tears. “You saved my life, Farrell. And this is what happened! I feel so awful! This is horrible! How can I ever fix this? I’ll do anything. I owe you my life.”

“You don’t have to fix it,” Farrell said softly. Kerry’s crying quieted. “But I do ask you to do better. Please do everything you can to follow the standards of our work and keep others safe.” His gaze become more direct for a moment. “I forgive you. We all do.” Orla and the kids nodded.

Farrell looked at Declan, and so did Kerry. Declan swallowed, his face suddenly burning. Kerry had messed up and Farrell was paying the price … but if Farrell could forgive Kerry, then how could Declan not? He stepped forward and put his hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “I forgive you as well.”

Kerry smiled weakly, and Declan helped him stand.

“I love you all,” Farrell whispered.

Then his eyes closed. Moments later, his heart monitor flatlined, and Declan knew his friend was gone.

Everyone in the room embraced, even Kerry, who wept harder than anyone else. Declan, who usually prided himself on being tough, couldn’t hold back the tears. But as he held Orla, the kids, and Kerry, Declan thought both of Farrell’s charge and of forgiveness.

And he felt at peace.


Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com


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