“This baby can do real damage if you don’t handle it correctly,” the tiny man on Em’s phone said. He was holding a circular saw the size of a toaster and was going over where to put your hands and how to lift the safety guard.
Em looked between the man on the screen and the circular saw in front of us.
The man turned on the saw. The blade whirred to invisible, and Em paused the video.
“That seems pretty easy,” she said.
“Pretty easy to cut your leg off.”
She smiled, her mouth spreading wide and her eyebrows coming in close like her face was turning into a fan. It was a smile I’d learned to be cautious of.
“Hold the wood steady, okay?” she said. “I want to get the floors done today.”
Minutes, and I mean literal minutes, before, our bus had been towed to her parents’ house where we’d be working on it until it went into storage in just three weeks. In those three weeks, we had to put in flooring and walls and build a bed, couch, desk, table and full kitchen unit.
I looked between the frozen man on the YouTube video and the saw in front of us, and I tried to remind myself that the man in the video was a person just like Em and I were people.
Still, there was an earwig of an idea pincering its way through the back of my brain.
While Em and I had watched at least 50 YouTube videos of people turning buses and vans into tiny homes, in the few videos that actually had women in them, the women always seemed to be painting and making curtains.
It didn’t make sense that men would somehow be better at building, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that most of the men in the videos had an advantage.
While my parents always told me I could do anything I wanted, if a tree needed to be cut or a fence needed to be fixed, my dad would go to one of my brothers for help over me. Now, I’d been alive for 29 years, and my power tool experience was isolated to seeing them used for unspeakable means in the trailers of horror movies. Yes, trailers, because I’m too scared to watch the actual movies.
I looked at the collection of rented power tools Em and I had assembled in the garage, and every single one seemed too loud and too heavy, equipped with a whirring death blade and eager to turn the ground into a Jackson Pollock painting.
“Now?” I asked. “You…you want to cut the wood now?”
“What did you think we were going to do today?”
“I thought we’d have more practice or something.”
“This is practice. If we get the floor wrong, we’ll cover it with furniture, so no one will see.”
“And if we cut our fingers off, we’ll cover them with gloves, so no one will see.”
“Exactly,” Em said. She rewound the video to watched it again with this look on her face that scared me as much as it excited me. It was a look that said every single one of her bones was hollow like a bird’s, and any second now, wings would burst from her back and she’d fly into an infinity more beautiful than anything I could ever imagine.
I knew we didn’t really have time for me to be nervous, but that had become my role in our relationship. I had become the rock Em tethered herself to, her flapping us from one big idea to the next while I made sure we didn’t starve, or get lost, or accidentally chop our fingers off.
Em pulled her gloves on and used two hands to lift the saw. Her skinny arms bowed under the weight, and she almost stumbled as she lined up the blade with the pencil line we’d drawn on a piece of plywood.
“Get into position,” she said.
“Maybe we shouldn’t do this,” I told her even as I made my way towards the wood.
We’d clamped the sheet of plywood to a folding table set up on the gravel driveway. The clamps bent the plastic of the table, and the whole contraption was so rickety that the only way to hold the wood still was for me to lie across the table and hope the whole thing didn’t break under my weight
“Hear ya later,” Em said. She snapped on a pair of ear protectors, and I did the same.
The saw roared on, and a tablespoon of sawdust flew straight into my mouth. I choked but held tight, blinking back more sawdust, and hearing nothing but the deafening gnaw of saw on wood.
Em was slow and precise, leaving a line of cut wood behind her and she moved along the plywood. There was sweat on her forehead and her arms were shaking under the weight of the saw. She was about half the size of the man we’d watched on the YouTube video, but by her own will and the rule of the universe that said that she was a mythical creature as much as she was a human being, it was working.
The saw slid across the wood, and when Em turned it off a minute later, the line we’d drawn in pencil on the plywood had been cut. It was a little wonky, but not too bad.
Em put the saw on the ground, unclamped the plywood and reclamped it so that the next pencil line we’d drawn was ready to be cut.
And then she nodded to me.
“Your turn,” she said.
I bit my lip and tasted blood, but I knew she was right.