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  • The Heirloom
  • Megan Mayhew Bergman (bio)

Keenan pushed open the door to the underground bunker, a cloud of sickeningly hot Arizona air following him. His white T-shirt was streaked with red dust, and grease coated his fingers. He’d been fixing the excavator before the next round of guests arrived at the ranch.

“Close the door,” Regan said, grimacing from where she was sitting cross-legged on the bed, enjoying the subterranean cool. It was dark inside, and simply furnished with a desk, kitchenette, a table, and chairs. Her mother’s art — made of stark white bones — was the only decoration. The white walls brought light. There were a few rooms in the above-ground portion of the Earth House, but they were hot, and better in winter.

“They’re ready for you,” Keenan said. “A van full of hedge fund guys.” [End Page 610]

Regan nodded. In truth, the hedge funders were her favorite customers. They were clueless about how to operate a bucket loader, and her authority became absolute in minutes. It was delicious to feel the power dynamics turn when she buckled men into the bright orange heavy machinery and turned them loose on their childhood fantasies.

Keenan cleaned his glasses with the bottom of his shirt. He was tall and wiry, and he came closer to the bed and stood over her.

“Are you heading into town?” she asked, closing her computer. She’d been fumbling through the quarter’s accounting, wondering if she’d been withholding enough for taxes. She hadn’t.

“Thought I’d close my eyes for a few,” he said. He kicked off his boots and flopped onto the bed next to her.

She cringed, thinking of how dirty he was. She wanted him to shower, but they had to watch their water usage. Water was trucked onto the ranch once a week. Regan had a solar shower installed behind the barn, a small sack of spare water you could use to rinse yourself clean.

“As long as you get the new cars by tonight.”

“I’ll get the cars.” Keenan was already fading. In a final act, he pulled his visor free from his curly auburn hair and threw it to the floor. His breathing slowed.

Must be nice, she thought. To sleep so easily, so soundly.

Every week, Keenan was in charge of selecting eight cars from the DUI crash lot and getting them back to the ranch. Regan didn’t like fooling with the men at the lot, so she sent Keenan, who was getting better at picking out cars that still had some life left. Cars that felt satisfying to crunch with an excavator.

She patted Keenan’s leg — a year before she might have kissed him or rolled on top of him momentarily — pulled her hair up into a quick bun, ran a sunscreen stick over her cheeks and nose, and left the bunker. [End Page 611]

As soon as she stepped outside, the heat bore down on her. She’d installed a shade system — a network of triangular cuts of sail-cloth artfully pulled over the path between the Earth House and the Big Dig Arena — but sailcloth was no match for the 110-degree day.

She waved to the hedge fund team, four men in crisp shorts (who ironed shorts?) with their arms folded over their chests, expectant in their power poses. She liked when they started this way, confident and put out. It gave her something to work with. Something to break down.

The men stood in a line, gazing in awe at the circular, fenced-in arena where five large machines were parked in various stations. There were piles of dirt, stacks of giant tires, and obstacle courses set up.

“Grab a Gatorade from the cooler,” Regan barked. “Water won’t cut it out here in the sun.”

The men turned and crouched to fish through the tin cooler.

When Regan had first started the business on the ranch, she realized she was too nice. She felt as though the men didn’t listen to her, and everyone was at risk using heavy equipment when they didn’t listen. She’d...