Before He Finds Her coverThe road ended where the beach began. At first, still a block away, he saw water brilliantly alit with sunlight, the beginning of three thousand miles of shining sea. But as his eyes adjusted and he crossed Ocean Avenue, he was hit with the truth: plastic containers, crushed cans, overturned shopping carts and postal bins and waves of junk shoved ashore by the incoming tide. Worse this year than the last, worse than ever, and it wasn’t lost on Ramsey that he felt drawn to the place where all that trash ended up. Every damn year, he thought, was one earth’s revolution closer to the end of his life, and so far his life had amounted to a heap of garbage. There was no point to any of it. He was broke, friendless, estranged from the old man, unable to hold down a job, and his only reason for staying in this town was that moving would cost money. That, and the half-dozen consistent marijuana customers who gave him a fighting chance at paying whatever landlord had been too lazy to do something as simple as a proper credit check.

One of Ramsey’s customers had only one arm and wore a permanent smirk. He had the bad luck of being born a year earlier than Ramsey and got sent to Vietnam. Now he worked pest control, spraying other people’s homes with poison. Even that guy could keep it together. Ramsey stood on the boardwalk, looking down at the ruined beach and adding self-pity to his list of faults. He turned around and got irked by the guy who seemed to be looking at him.

He crossed Ocean Avenue again and approached the base of the telephone pole so the other man had to crane his neck and look straight down. “How’s that job?” Ramsey shouted up to the man, who looked too thick in the middle for a guy in that line of work.

“You yanking my chain?” The man looked at least a decade older than Ramsey, though that might’ve been because of his face, which was weathered from the sun like the faces of the men his father used to work with in the boat yard.

“Fuck you,” Ramsey said. “I’m just asking.”

“Then here’s your answer: It’s a better job than you’ll ever have.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Ramsey said.

“Oh, so now you want my pity?”

“Man, I don’t want your nothing. But if I ever wanted it, believe me I’d just take it and it would be mine.”

The man watched Ramsey for a second. “I don’t know what that means,” he said.

Neither did Ramsey.

To his amazement, they both laughed. Ramsey couldn’t remember the last time he let himself do that.

“Listen, man,” Ramsey said, working to rid his voice of aggression, “I’m asking is that good work, being up in those poles like that?”

“You need a job? Is that what you’re saying?”


“Then stop by the GSE office on 36. Ask for Dennis. Tell him Eric Pace sent you.”

“Why?” Ramsey asked.

Why? You just said you’re out of work.”

“No—I mean, why would you do that for me?”

Eric shook his head. “Man, I thought you didn’t want my pity. Make up your mind.”

“Yeah, okay,” Ramsey said. “Maybe I’ll go over there in the morning.”

“Or don’t—it’s all the same to me.” The man went back to screwing or unscrewing a metal box near the top of the pole.


But Ramsey did go. And the next thing he knew, he was an eager grunt at the start of a four-year apprenticeship to become a journeyman lineman. Training expenses and supplies would come out of his paycheck, but the pay was more than decent and for the first time he’d have medical benefits. He knew he’d been handed a gift he didn’t deserve, and he told himself not to fuck it up. During the classroom part of his training—daylong sessions on electrical theory and equipment and safety—he did his best not to squirm or fall asleep. He applied for his CDL permit, and the company started training him to drive a truck. At night, he studied hard so he would pass the motor vehicle exam on his first try.


Eric, the guy he’d met up on the pole, volunteered to be Ramsey’s first mentor. Other than being a Jesus nut—A.A. had done it to him some years earlier—Eric was a regular guy with uncommon generosity. It drove Ramsey a little mad that his training would literally be from the ground up and that out on the job site, his day-to-day was entirely earthbound: work site setup and breakdown, loading and unloading trucks, digging trenches for lines and holes for power poles. But he told himself to be patient for once.


He wasn’t someone who ordinarily quit things cold turkey, especially things he was good at like drinking and asshole-being, but because it all meant a lot to him—the job, his friendship with Eric—he found it not so hard, really, to keep those baser tendencies in check. And on the third Friday of his training, two very good things happened: he passed his CDL exam, and he picked up his first paycheck. Obviously, it was time to celebrate. He decided on Chuck’s Main Street Tavern, because it was only a few blocks from his apartment and a DUI would be a real screw right now.

When 2 a.m. rolled around and Chuck kicked out the last stragglers, Ramsey stepped out onto the sidewalk feeling happy, which almost never happened leaving a bar, and invincible, which always did. The storefronts on his street were all closed, the windows dark in most of the apartments above them. A few Christmas lights drooped under windows, a few wreaths hung on doorways. And though the night felt too warm and sticky for early December, the weather didn’t stop Ramsey, as he ambled along the sidewalk, from singing a booming, belch-punctuated rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

Across the street from his apartment building, he sized up a power pole that he’d never really noticed before—simple three-phase subtransmission pole (forty-five-footer, from the looks of it) with a streetlight attached and an extra line to the nearest building.

He thought: Yes. Yes, I will.

Because it was bullshit, when he really considered it, how after two weeks he hadn’t even been allowed near the practice poles behind the main office. As a kid, on nights when his father and mother put too much beer or vodka into themselves and got to screaming and hurling picture frames containing happier times, Ramsey would scurry up the black oak behind the apartment building, perch in a nook, and sway with the highest branches. Eighty feet up, his breathing eased. He’d sit up there for two or three hours before becoming so drowsy that he feared falling in his sleep or so butt-sore that he had no choice but to climb down again and face the loud and unkind earth.

Point being: Ramsey Miller was a climber. Always had been. He belonged in the air.

He removed his coat and laid it on the ground at the base of the pole. He didn’t have his spikes on him, of course (spikes that the company had already made him buy to the tune of ninety-five dollars), but by squeezing his legs around the pole, he was able to start creeping upward. In fact, climbing a utility pole, even without the spikes, wasn’t very hard at all—though he was pretty toasted, and by the time he was halfway up the pole he was sweating and sucking wind. His heart thudded. His hands felt raw and were cut with splinters. But he kept climbing—squeezing his legs, pulling with his arms—because he was on a mission. He belonged to that special class of climbers who felt more free up here than on the ground. It was total bullshit that he was only allowed to dig ditches and wash the fucking trucks.

He knew from his training and from common sense that you could get fried too close to the power lines, but the lines were still five or six feet above his head, which seemed far away until lightning slashed the sky and the lines above his head hissed in response. Seconds later another slash, closer this time (since when was there lightning in December?), and in his surprise Ramsey slipped an inch or two and felt a sharp pain in the meaty part of his left hand, where a larger splinter of wood must have gotten lodged. Shit, he thought. He looked up again at the wires, then down again, and got a little queasy. Bed-spins. He hated bed-spins even when he was in bed.

He eased the pressure between his legs so his weight would carry him down the pole a few inches, but his left hand was nearly useless, and he almost fell. His legs squeezed the pole again. More lightning crackled, and the power lines started humming and hissing again, and a thunderbolt rolled across the sky, and these facts came to mind: Linemen on the poles always wore rubber gloves and insulating gear. Apprentice linemen were forbidden from working on live-wire poles until after an entire year of training.

The insanity of what he was doing came into sharper focus.

“Help!” he called. “Help! Anyone!”

He was calling out to God and to the cats that roamed his street, because there sure didn’t seem to be any people around. Everyone was probably watching him from behind their darkened windows. He should just climb down. But the ground was spinning hard now, and his hand … shit. He didn’t like what the nosy neighbors were probably thinking about him right now, but he’d forgive every last one of them if only somebody would pick up the damn phone and call for help.

The wind howled, and every flash of lightning made him brace for a taste of those 765,000 volts. His legs trembled, and the sweat on his body had turned cold. Then the rain started in—hard—because of course it did.

When flashing lights finally rounded the corner and came his way, for the first time in his life Ramsey felt grateful for the sight of a patrol car. But when the officer approached the pole and shouted up to him about a bucket truck that’d arrive in short order courtesy of the electric company, Ramsey shouted “Fuck that!” and tried once more to scramble down on his own power. Damn, the hand hurt. But pain was only pain, and he gritted his teeth and lowered himself a foot, two, three. The hissing above him lessened, and he focused all his attention on this one thing, getting himself to the ground before the truck came.

Now his left leg was bleeding. What the hell? It only stung a little—what had he even cut it on? Probably a nail sticking out of the pole. The leg hurt less than his hand. But damn. Blood was definitely dripping down the one side. His pant leg was sticky. The worst part was, he couldn’t lower himself anymore. The cut leg didn’t allow it. If he were ten, twelve feet in the air, he’d have let go and taken his chances with a fall. But he was still close to thirty feet up.

“I cut my leg!” he shouted down to the officer. “I think it’s bad.” His whole body was shaking.

“Can you hang on? The truck will be here any second.”

“How about a fucking ladder?”

“Just hang on.” While they waited, the officer tried to keep Ramsey calm. “I’m Officer Ogden,” he said. “You’re going to be okay. We’ll just wait a—”

Bob Ogden?”

“Yes, sir,” the officer replied.

Bob Ogden was a year younger than Ramsey. They’d gone through school together, and now he was a cop with a cop’s uniform and a cop’s car, and Ramsey was trapped like a shivering cat in a tree, too stupid to know its own ass from third base.

Ramsey shouted, “You were a pussy in high school!”

“How about we just wait for the truck,” Officer Ogden said.

It was the only time Ramsey would ever stand in the bucket.

When he was finally on solid ground again and out of the bucket, his legs were shaking hard and he could barely stay upright. But that didn’t stop him, the second that Bob Ogden came over, from taking a swing at the officer. Ramsey ended up in the road, splayed on his back, with Officer Ogden standing over him and shaking his head—because he, being sober, already knew what was still hazy to Ramsey: that by the next morning, Ramsey would be facing a court date, no job, and a line of staples in his thigh.


KardosAuthorPhoto 1-2014MICHAEL KARDOS is the author of BEFORE HE FINDS HER, which launches February 3, 2015 from Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic. Previous books include the novel THE THREE-DAY AFFAIR, an Esquire best book of 2012, the story collection ONE LAST GOOD TIME,  which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award for fiction, and the textbook THE ART AND CRAFT OF FICTION: A WRITER’S GUIDE. His short stories have won a 2015 Pushcart Prize, and were cited several times as notable stories in Best American Short Stories. Michael grew up on the Jersey Shore, received a degree in music from Princeton University, and played the drums professionally for a number of years. He has an M.F.A. in fiction from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where he is an associate professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

Adapted from Before He Finds Her, by Michael Kardos, Copyright © 2015 by Michael Kardos. With the permission of the publisher, Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic.

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