Right next to my trailer is the
nicest house you ever saw. I built it and lived inside it for a week. This was
back when I thought that bliss, like a foal, would grow if you gave it shelter
I had been working as a carpenter
in Nevada. Sweaty days out in the desert, Vegas glimmering in the distance.
After work, cold beers and bleached-blond women who liked my tan and didn't
want to know my name. One of those big developers was paying me good money to
put together Tinker-Toy homes out of cheap pressed wood and particle board.
Retirees loved them, and they usually died before the framing fell apart. But I
didn't consider that building. It was manufacturing. Finally I got tired of
filling the desert with crap, and I drove around until I got here. Woodland
Park, CO. Altitude and population both seven thousand.
I saw her at the County Market,
buying goat cheese with her crinkly hair swept back, the highlights glowing red
and gold like autumn leaves. I could tell from her hands that she'd never
handled a tool or piece of lumber in her life. But she seemed like the kind of
woman who would appreciate the way a dovetail joins two pieces of wood to look
I walked on to the deli counter,
smiling as I thought about her. With women, Iâ€™m like that. Just the idea of
them, sometimes, is enough to make me happy.
Out in the parking lot she wrestled
with one of those eighty-pound bags of yuppie dog food, trying to throw it into
the back of her Mazda Miata.
She looked over at me and I
grinned. I hoisted the bag for her and she thanked me. â€œNevada,â€ she said,
looking at my license plates.
I told her Iâ€™d just moved here,
realizing only when I opened my mouth that this was true.
â€œWhere are you staying?â€ I kind of
shrugged. She mentioned a cabin on her motherâ€™s property outside of town. â€œItâ€™s
a little rough, butâ€¦â€
â€œI donâ€™t mind,â€ I said. â€œBeats the
bed of my truck.â€
Her name was Courtney. I followed
her down a gravel fire road to a dilapidated old cabin. Considering how much of
a dump the place was, I thought about just turning around. But that would mean
driving away from her, too. As it turned out, there was a trailer behind the
cabin. Since her mother had died, the cabin was often vandalized.
â€œI need someone to stay out here
and keep an eye on things,â€ Courtney said.
I moved in that night. The trailer
was small and noisy when it rained. The sound of water bouncing on the tin roof
and echoing in the empty spaces kept me up at night. My German Shepherd pound
dog, Boxer, slept outside. The next day I got a job running trail rides for the
Winnebago crowd from Texas. I'd never spent time with horses, but figured it
couldn't be too different from framing. If you had patience and calm hands, you
could make wood do exactly what you wanted. After a few weeks, the horses were
the same way.
I didn't see Courtney again until
the last day of summer, when I ran into her at Home Depot down in the Springs.
The noise in the trailer was driving me nuts and I'd gone to see about
insulation. She was looking for some wood glue. One of the legs on her kitchen
table kept coming loose.
Before I knew it, I'd told her not
to bother with glue. â€œI'll build you something,â€ I said. â€œA good kitchen table
is the key to a home.â€
She walked beside me as I looked
for the right insulation but didn't find it. We went out to the parking lot
together. I'd draw up a design, I said, and come back later to get the wood.
â€œShould be done in a couple weeks.â€
â€œYou're very nice,â€ Courtney said,
reaching out to squeeze my hand.
At Home Depot on my next shopping
trip, the guy in the tools department remembered my name. I guess I've got that
look about me: This man will buy every last scrap of building material in
the store if you convince him he needs it.
Not that I needed that much
convincing. I like tools. The heft of them in my hand, the tiny little
vibrations that kick in when you turn on something powerful. The job goes so
much easier when you've got the right tool.
I know people who say Home Depot is
squeezing the neighborhood hardware store, the place you see in the Norman
Rockwell painting, the two old coots sitting outside next to an old Studebaker,
chewing tobacco. One of them keeps a stockpile of old washers in a box in back,
and knows just the one to fix your runny toilet.
But I don't think it's like that.
If Phil didn't keep a box of old washers in the back, I was betting he had a
new tool in front that would work even better. A power screwdriver, a router
with just the right bit for carving tongue-in-groove fittings for a new table.
I needed all of those things. The
week before I left Vegas, someone had smashed the window on my truck topper and
stolen all my tools. Three thousand dollars down the drain.
I'd gone outside just before
sunrise to search through the glove box for the spare condom I kept there. From
the front step I could see the pebbles of broken safety glass scattered around
the back wheels. Instead of rooting through the glove box I stood at the
tailgate and examined the empty metal bed. The thief had taken everything but a
single leather work glove and the chuck to my DeWalt cordless drill.
I must have stood there for a long
time, because when I turned around the woman I'd left in bed was at the front
door, looking on in bemusement, or scorn,
Unexpectedly, I felt myself
shattering. Even now I don't know what it was. The heat, the break-in, the
bimbo who probably would have lifted my tools herself if she'd known how much
they were worth. I cussed, and then cussed louder. Finally I bellowed: â€œFuck.â€
And I drew back my foot and slammed the toe of my boot into the rear quarter
The woman -- I'd give her name if
I'd ever known it -- was on the sofa, wearing my only button-down shirt and
watching â€œGood Morning Americaâ€ when I came back inside. â€œDid you find the
condom?â€ she said, giving me a seductive leer.
That was it for me. She had no idea
what I was about and didnâ€™t care. Neither did anyone I worked or drank with, or
come to think of it, anyone Iâ€™d known since I got out of the SeaBees six years
before. Four days later I was on the interstate with my clothes and the dog in
back of the truck. Heading out of town when I passed one of those billboards
lit up like a house afire: â€œQuick N' Easy: Marriages and Divorces.â€
I was thirty-seven and had never
been in need of either. But if I was going to get married, I figured, Las Vegas
wasn't the place. Staking your claim in the desert sand was a good way to lose
it the first time a stiff breeze came through.
Phil showed me a radial arm saw, a
power drill, a sander. â€œThis one will give you a finish like glass,â€ he said,
caressing it the same way I sometimes patted the horses at work.
The lumber yard was a mess. Snow
coated the waterlogged timbers and a guy on a forklift tooled around the stacks
like he was cutting corners at the Indy 500. The yard hands worked in dungarees
and tank tops. LL Cool J blared from a boom box on the loading dock.
â€œA man doesn't choose a woman. A
woman chooses a man. I'm the best, bust to my master plan.â€
Or something. I hate rap
We sidestepped the forklift and
found the perfect piece of mahogany. Five feet long, four feet wide, a grain
pattern like the striated cloud layers that stacked behind the Front Range in
the late afternoon.
Back inside, I started thinking
about bookshelves, too. I'd never been much of a reader. Mostly I just looked
at the newspaper, or thumbed through Stub's copy of Rodeo
magazine after he was done with it. But Courtney was
a reporter for the local newspaper, and loved books. In her apartment, she'd
stacked them across one entire side of the bedroom. On the day I'd been over
to measure for the new table, I noticed they blocked the view of Pikes Peak
from her window.
She'd mentioned New York, New
Orleans, Los Angeles, her voice rich with certainty that there was a place --
dozens of places -- better than this. Was it possible, I wondered, to darken
the present so the future would look brighter?
I pushed my cart down Aisle 14 --
lumber, stakes and moldings. I bought two-by-fours, dowels, a half-dozen pieces
of fancy molding to dress up the front.
That Sunday I started on the table.
Courtney didn't know about the shelves yet, so I hid the wood for them around
back when she came over to watch. We made coffee on my tiny propane stove and then
went out to the yard. I smoked, cut lumber, sanded and figured angles. She
liked sawdust, the smell of fresh-cut wood. She pushed the mahogany shavings
across the hard dirt with her toe, bending to pick them up and bring them to
her face, letting them slip through her fingers and twirl back to the floor
like a kind of subdued confetti.
It took me a little longer than I'd
figured to finish both pieces. In early October, the Texans showed up in one
big herd, all wanting to ride up into the hills and look at the foliage. The
trail boss, Stub, had me working fourteen hours a day. Finally, though, I put
the shelves out in the yard to let the varnish dry. Courtney's roommate, Nancy
-- the one I didn't like -- answered the phone when I called to see if I could
bring them over.
â€œShe's out of town,â€ Nancy said.
â€œArthur took her up to Vail to see the foliage.â€
Arthur was the city editor at the
paper. He'd been to New Orleans before, spent a year working for a paper near
Los Angeles. Courtney listened raptly every time he talked, as if his voice
carried music from some faraway city.
It snowed that afternoon and I sat
outside on the rickety front step of the trailer, wearing a chamois shirt. The
flakes clung to my arms and dissolved into the thick fabric. The snow covered
the bookshelves, leaving harsh water marks that ran deeper than the grain of
At first I thought I was done. Done
with the table and shelves, done with her. I went by when nobody was home the
next day and dropped both pieces in the garage. But two weeks later she called.
Her roommates-- they were young, early twenties, not the type to invest in
coasters -- had friends over and left a cold six-pack on the table.
â€œIt was so beautiful,â€ she said. â€œI
thought of you every time I had breakfast. And now it's all scuffed up.â€
That table turned into a
never-ending project, like trying to corral heifers in a fenceless yard. I'd
give it a final coat of lacquer. It would gleam. Courtney would take it back,
and kiss me. Days or weeks would go by, and then I would take it home wrapped
in a blanket, strip it down, refinish it, bring it back.
The last time this happened, she
grabbed my hand as I got up from the table I'd just re-installed in the
kitchen. â€œVictor, let's do something this weekend. Nothing to do with
furniture. I want to go on a trail ride. I'll make a picnic.â€
Stub set it up so we could have the
two best horses. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and Courtney brought
cheese, fresh-baked bread and a bottle of wine. I took her up to the Crags,
which was a terrible ride in the summer because of all the tourists. Now it was
deserted. About two hundred yards below the top, we had to tie up the horses
and walk because of the rocks. Atop the pinnacle we could see for miles, out to
Colorado Springs and toward Denver.
â€œLook, there's my house.â€ I pointed
to a spot shadowed by Pikes Peak.
â€œIt looks like a shack, even from
here,â€ she said. â€œWhy don't you fix up the cabin and move in?â€
Off to the west, a wildfire burned.
Thick smoke billowed from an iris of orange. It looked to be about an acre
wide. â€œOut of season,â€ she said. During the summer, sometimes it didn't make
any sense coming up here. The smoke from so many fires in the canyon made it
impossible to see anything. But this was just the one, burning away on a cold fall
â€œI hate to think of all that wood
burning,â€ she said.
â€œStub told me it's actually good.
Takes the woods back to where they started, so they can build up stronger.â€
â€œI still don't like it. Is it
moving toward us?â€
The fire stayed where it was, for
the most part. When we got down into the valley, I could taste the smoke in the
air that separated my lips from hers. Then I kissed her.
â€œI think I love you,â€ I said.
Courtney acted like she didn't hear me, like the smoke was thick cotton in her
Home Depot was closed on
Thanksgiving, so I went the day after. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, so
I walked the aisles, thinking about board feet, fasteners, varnishes, tools.
â€œBig project, Victor?â€
It was Phil, sliding out from
behind the key-making booth. â€œNot sure,â€ I said. â€œMaybe a wood stove.â€ I'd
been through the cabin the other day, and found that the only serious problem
was a broken propane furnace.
We walked. â€œStoves,â€ he said,
kneeling in front of a squat iron model.
â€œIt's got to have exactly the right
kind of heat. Make you feel like you've just come in from a day of hunting and
you're warming your socks by it.â€
Phil showed me modern, gleaming
contraptions that burned pellets. I wanted a stove that took real wood. I liked
everything about wood. I could see myself outside on a cool day honing the axe.
Stroking back and forth to get a glistening edge. Sharp sounds of metal on
metal would carry over the hills. Courtney would be inside cooking dinner. I
would split one piece after another, until a cold sweat came between me and my
shirt. Inside, she would touch her warm hands to my face.
â€œMy grandfather's got one like
that,â€ Phil said. â€œIt's just sitting out back in his shed. He'd probably let
you have it for cheap.â€
That's what I like about Phil. He's
out to make sure I get what I want, even if it means I don't buy a spiffy new
stove. â€œLet's call him up.â€
We went to the back room and he
pulled the phone off a desk crammed with invoices, tool company calendars and
half-opened boxes of faucet assemblies that had been returned. He dialed up to
Cripple Creek, where his grandfather was a rancher and justice of the peace.
â€œYou still got that woodstove?â€
He did, and wouldn't mind parting
with it. All I had to do was come get it.
â€œIt'll be a relief for him to get
rid of some of that crap he's got out back. He dies, it's going to take a bulldozer
to clean that place out. Either that, or light it all on fire. Most of it's
nothing but junk.â€
â€œHe ever do marriages?â€
â€œMarriages. You know how judges
sometimes do weddings?â€
Somehow I'd got it in my head that
Courtney and I would go up for the stove. The judge would get to telling us
about how he'd picked it out with his first wife, how it'd kept their baby warm
when he was little, how the soothing crackle would get him to sleep at night
when he was crying. And that the judge would marry us.
I got to thinking about the stove,
and I realized the living room was all wrong. The floor was wrong, the kitchen
was wrong, the cabinets were wrong.
â€œKitchen stuff,â€ I said.
â€œPots and pans are on Aisle 5.â€
â€œWhat about cabinets?â€
â€œWhat'd, the wife cut you off?â€ he
â€œNot entirely,â€ I said. â€œBut we're
expecting a baby, and I want to have the kitchen finished before he drops.â€ As
we walked, I tried to figure out why I'd lied.
Every time that Jimmy, my boss in
Vegas, had to fire someone heâ€™d listen to their story and shake his head. â€œI was
stuck in trafficâ€¦I didnâ€™t steal those toolsâ€¦Would never hit Hector on the
shoulder with a pry barâ€¦â€ Heâ€™d nod and say: â€œNot much difference between a lie
and a wish. Take care, now.â€
Phil was talking. â€œSounds like
you'll need a cart.â€
â€œYessir. This is maybe a two- or
â€œYou sure about doing this all at
once? Sometimes it's better to take on one project at a time.â€
I hesitated, but couldn't get the
idea out of my head. The perfect home. So perfect that it would glisten in her
mind like the lights of New York. Phil paused for a moment, as if surveying a
complicated map. â€œOkay. Here's what we'll do. Start at the east end. We'll work
our way back here. You got a list?â€
I didn't. The idea of doing this
had been in the back of my mind, I guess, but I didn't want to flesh it out on
paper. That would have only proven how foolish I was. Even so, I didn't want to
â€œHad one, but I left it at home. It
wasn't worth much,â€ I said. â€œYou ever try to plan a job and the first thing you
think of is the last thing you need? You think of the finish, and what you want
to start with is the foundation?â€
â€œThe first thing I ever built,â€
Phil said. â€œA treehouse. I had drawings all over the page, graph paper coming
out my ears, plans so big you'd of thought they were for a mansion. I did it on
the sly, saving money from selling hot dogs at the high school football games.
I didn't want my dad to know until it was done, then he could see it. See how
beautiful it was. I went out and bought all that stuff, took up everything I'd
saved. And it was too big for the tree.â€ He laughed.
â€œAfter that, I decided something that
actually worked was more fun than having an idea about building something even
We pushed the carts across the
floor, a two-man calvary rumbling into a battle. In my mind I pictured the
finished product. A house on a hill, a deck sweeping off to the side. Tight
wood inside, eaves tucked down over the log walls like a hand reaching down
from the sky, sheltering, protecting, holding in the warmth.
I thought ahead to our first dinner
there. Venison. Me outside, wearing a jacket because of the light snow, tending
the grill. Courtney inside, gently moving her torso in tiny circles to match
her wrist as she whisked a sauce.
I supposed I could have brought her
with me so she could say what kind of cabinets she liked. But I didn't want
her to see what I was doing any more than would take your kids with you to pick
out their Christmas presents.
Courtney liked natural wood,
butcher block and similar things. I favored a clean white Formica with glass
front. You could see what was in each cabinet without opening it, knowing what
was inside without having to wonder. I went with butcher block.
â€œWhat do you think I'll need to get
the cabinets in?â€ When I was in Nevada, the cabinets had come pre-assembled off
of a truck. I'd never done them by hand. There had to be some tools that went
along with the job.
â€œNot much,â€ said Phil. â€œHammer,
â€œThat's all? I mean.... It's a
complicated thing, cabinets.â€
He thought for a minute. â€œWell, I
suppose you could use a level.â€
We walked over to the tools. He
stopped at a phone when the loudspeaker called his name. â€œIt's her again,â€ said
the voice from overhead.
Phil picked up. â€œYeah.....
Yeah..... Look, you've got to stop calling me here..... I know you're
hungry.... Try some of the popsicles. They're in the fridge, under the
chicken.... I know a popsicle isn't ice cream, but it's frozen and it's
sweet.... I know, honey. I know. But I can't buy you any right now. I'll bring
He hung up. â€œShe's pregnant. Calls
me four, five times a day, just to say hi, she wants some ice cream. Worst
thing I ever did was put a phone in every room of the house.
â€œLevels,â€ he said. â€œDo we want
computerized or the old-fashioned bubble kind?â€
â€œWhat do you think?â€
â€œNot much of a difference.
Computerized one might be a bit more accurate. Forty-seven dollars worth of
accurate.â€ He already had the computerized one in the cart. Like I said, Phil
knows me. We moved on to tiles.
There were scores of them, grouted
into little floor patches hanging on the wall, piled loose in bins, like gems
for sale at a street bazaar. I dug my hands into one of the containers, felt
the cold ceramics, the clean edges, the clicking noise they made when they fell
one on top of the other. I imagined them under my feet, the pads of my toes
pressing against their smoothness, rubbing over the grout lines. You know
you're home when you feel that.
I chose a geometric pattern. The
color of rich mud alternating with a milk-laced coffee tone. She pours the milk
into her cup first, then adds the coffee until it looks just like that.
â€œYou have kids yet?â€ Phil wanted to
â€œAnything you can buy in brown,
you're doing yourself a favor.â€
Dirt. Our kids would track dirt
through the house. I knew that was a few years down the road. But it made sense
to buy with that in mind. We would have big, boisterous kids. She was tall.
They would have my big bones, Courtney's blue eyes.
Phil left to stack everything by
the back loading dock. I pulled around and met him there. He started figuring
with a calculator and handed me a slip. â€œYou ready for this? I think we might
need to whittle this down a little.â€
I examined the difference between
the bill and my wallet. â€œWhat about some more credit?â€
â€œWe could maybe do that. What're
you, the owner of those stables up there?â€
For a moment I almost told the
truth. But then I realized I'd have to give everything back. â€œIn business
twenty years,â€ I said. Outside, I backed the Suburu up to the dock, but Phil
had already sized up the load and the car.
â€œNot gonna happen,â€ he said.
He was right. â€œYou keep it all
here,â€ I said. â€œI'll rent a truck and come back.â€
By the time I got the new stove in,
it was April. Winter stuck around like the last few days of the flu. It was
gone, but you could tell it had just left. Tire ruts had cut into the mud and
frozen there, turning the yard was a miniature topography of hills and
valleys.. Walking across them at night was dangerous business, and it left dirt
turds on the new tile floor.
She liked a clean house, and spent
two hours on hands and knees, in jeans and a loose white T-shirt, scrubbing
the floor until my boot prints faded into the glowing brown ceramic. I watched,
wondering why Courtney cared so much, why it was so important to have no trace
of dust in the kitchen.
Stub once told me that dust is
mostly skin, the leavings of ourselves that coat the surface of a home. She
doesn't want any part of it. I thought this while sitting in a chair perched on
the doorjamb so as not to muddy the wet floor with its metal feet. I watched
her sway. She really moved with that brush. Back and forth, the muscles in her
arms clenching and relaxing until she was sweaty.
Courtney stopped, noticed me
watching, staring really, and she looked at me. I thought about taking her,
right there, on the clean kitchen floor. I could have just knelt down there
behind her, undone the snap on her jeans. I saw my hand over hers, getting her
to drop the brush in the pail.
â€œWhat are you looking at?â€ she
â€œYou missed a spot.â€
After the floor was done, the
cabinets went in with a small amount of cussing and sweating. With the
computerized level, straightening them off was no problem.
She marveled at their smooth wood
faces, then spent an afternoon scrubbing them inside, removing the dust and
grime, along with my dirty hand prints.
Finally, Courtney put down the rag
and leaned against the counter. She wiped her head and looked around.
â€œI never thought the place could
look this beautiful,â€ she said. â€œIt's a lot of work for you to stay here all
I nodded, trying to keep my face
straight. â€œI never quite thought of it that way,â€ I said.
With the cabinets in and little
else to fix, I fell into a low spell. Courtney was away for the weekend with
Hart, a music teacher at the community college. I watched TV late into the
night, slept until noon and didn't cook a thing in the new kitchen. On Monday I
blew off work, but Stub found me nonetheless.
â€œYou sick, or what?
â€œWhat,â€ I said.
â€œTell her about the strip in
â€œTell her about Vegas. She's never
been with a guy who hasn't come from somewhere else. She uses them like travel
guides, and on to the next one.â€
â€œShe wouldn't like Vegas. It's
â€œMake something up. Meantime, we
got work to do. Need you to go down to the Springs, pick up a trailer. Roger
backed into the hitch the other day and it's getting welded.â€
I went, mostly for the sake of
getting out of the house. At the welding shop I had to wait for a few minutes
while the mechanic checked the brake lights. The garage was hot and noisy. Over
the sound of electricity coursing through the arc welders, they had the stereo
â€œA man doesn't choose a woman, a
woman chooses a man.â€
You'd figure in Colorado that
people would listen to country music, but it's the other way around. The more
you get away from the mountains, the more people want to listen to Gene Autrey
signing about home on the range. When you're in the mountains, people want to
hear about hard brothers and dope fly gear and busting caps in his ass.
On the way back up to Woodland Park
I passed Home Depot. I almost didn't stop because I had the trailer. But the
lot was empty and there was no problem parking.
â€œShingles,â€ I told Phil.
â€œYou're doing shingles?â€
I saw myself up on the roof,
skillfully attaching cedar shake to the fresh roofing paper I'd laid. I would
keep her warm and dry. The sun would silhouette my sweaty body. I would look
like a cross on a church top.
â€œYou knew I was doing the roof.
I've told you about the roof all along.â€
â€œYou say so. Shingles are out
Do cedar shingles always smell like
cedar? I'd like it if they did. Out on the deck on the first summery night,
holding hands and quietly sipping beer, the scent of cedar would almost
substitute for the sound of words.
â€œThey do,â€ said Phil. â€œNot always
real strong. But they do. You're probably better off with something a little
I took the cedar. Over the next few
days, I found that roofing is good work for a frustrated man. With a steel claw
hammer, I ripped up the decaying shingles, one by one. I enjoyed the tearing
sound, the jerky motion. I chucked each one to the ground with more force than
Stub stopped by to watch. â€œYou ever
thought of just dropping them?â€ he said. â€œBe less dangerous for people walking
through the yard. You almost beaned me.â€
â€œSorry. Didn't know you were
â€œWhat's got your panties in a
bunch? You're up there throwing shingles like John fucking Elway.â€
â€œI'm not mad. I just like watching
â€œMmmm. Not mad.â€ He guffawed and
went inside to make himself coffee.
A week later, I finished. Cedar
wrapped the house in a waterproof embrace. I stood on the crown, shrouded in
the tang of fresh hardwood. Courtney climbed the ladder and joined me with two
beers. I drank mine in one gulp.
"God, it's beautiful up
She nodded, looking off to the
Rampart Range. "I think about leaving, but then I wonder if I'd just spend
all my time remembering how the mountains look."
â€œCome over next Friday. We'll cook.â€
Midweek I had a near-disaster. I'd
moved some of my stuff in, and was doing a load of laundry.
It was about nine in the morning,
and the drive-time disc jockeys were blabbing in between the latest Travis
Tritt and Mary Chapin Carpenter songs. At first I was annoyed, but then they
started talking about some lady down near Santa Fe who'd been making tortillas.
â€œSo she's there over the frying
pan,â€ the guy says. â€œShe's cookin' away, and you know how those tortillas get
the black-and-brown marks in 'em when you cook 'em up. She's watching it, flips
it over and about passes out. The face of Jesus, right there on a tortilla.â€
The woman framed the tortilla and
set up a shrine. â€œShe's offering the tourists communion,â€ the DJ said. His
partner chimed in: â€œDunno, Bob. I didn't come down with yesterday's rain. Some
folks will do anything for a buck. What a nut.â€
I was inclined to agree. But I
thought about that woman waiting for the tortilla to speak in parables. Waiting
for decades, probably. I put the wash in the dryer and decided that she was
only seeing what she wanted to see. The letdown would come when she gave up.
How much could it hurt to keep hoping? I considered a trip down to New Mexico
-- it'd be nice to drop a dollar in the jar and see the face of Jesus. About
halfway through planning out the route in my head, I heard a loud bang and the
house went dark.
The fuse box was in good order.
From the porch I could hear the well-pump churning in the pasture across the
way, and figured there hadn't been a power outage. I called Phil and told him
what had happened. He told me to pull a couple of the fuses from the box and
bring them to the store, along with the diagrams for the wiring I'd installed.
So I went back down to the Springs. The drive took me about forty minutes, but
I didn't mind. I had something I was working on. The conversation with Phil was
interesting. I'd never known it made a difference what kind of fuses you had,
what kind of lines running through your house.
â€œIf you've got the wrong box
powering the setup, you're in for a world of trouble,â€ said Phil. â€œYou'll want
to put in a new one.â€
We walked over to where they were
neatly installed on a display wall. â€œYou'll need some copper wiring, a plaster
knife to get into the wall, some spackle, maybe some anchor bolts to make sure
the thing doesn't fall out. Then you just slide the bitch in there and hook her
It looked like I was all set, but
when I started the job I found that I needed a tiny stepladder to get at some
of the closet wiring, and an electrician's probe to make sure I didn't fry
myself in the process. Another two hours on the road, another chat with Phil,
and I was good to go.
With the power back on, I wished
there was something else to be done. But there wasn't. I sat fidgeting,
outcrafted by my own thoroughness.
On Friday we got our first spring
thunderstorm, and my eyes roved toward the ceiling every few minutes, checking
for leaks. There weren't any. I waited for her to show. I sipped wine. Then I
gulped. The candles burned low. I picked up the phone. Put it down. Picked it
up again. Thought about calling her and cussing her out.
I grunted in frustration. Switched
from wine to whiskey. The dog and I watched â€œLove Boat.â€ The picture blurped
and bobbed and filled with snow that made Isaac's smarmy smile extend nearly
all the way across his face.
I drank some more. Down near the
end of the bottle. I cuffed the dog lightly across the snout and rubbed his
nose. â€œShe's not coming,â€ I said.
I sucked the last drop of whiskey
out of the bottle. Good and drunk, I thought. And alone. The house was filled
with the homey flicker of stove light and the light odor of smoke. The urge to
throw something struck me suddenly, like a wave of nausea. I winged the bottle
at the TV. It went, end over end, until it hit the candlestick sitting on top
of the set.
The bottle teetered and shattered
on the floor. Boxer leapt, trembling, and let out a weak howl. The curtains
enveloped the falling candle, darkening the room until a dusky orange bloomed
from their midst. I stood, swaying, and lurched into the kitchen, where I
filled a bucket of water from the sink.
Back in the living room, the noise
of the flames, the warmth, the smell of burning wood, halted me. Boxer rubbed
against my leg, wheezing from the smoke. Fire played up the wall toward the
In my mind I pictured fire leaping
toward the tool shed, tonguing the crest of the roof and then pulling it in. I
thought of my roof folding into the living room, sparks hanging in the smokey
air, twirling, buffeted by the wind. Some of them would carry for miles. But
even if Courtney saw them, she wouldn't care much. To her, the place would always
be her mother's run-down cabin.
With reluctance I heaved the water
at the fire and watched the flames fall like a curtain dropping. The room
filled with the acrid stench of wet, charred wood and cloth. I opened the
window to clear the smoke and surveyed the damage. Fixing it would bother me,
but I knew I'd do it anyway. No way I could bear seeing what I'd built
half-burned and covered with ash.
Once or twice a week now, some
realtor drives down the dirt road and asks me about the house. â€œIt's
beautiful,â€ he'll say. â€œAnd vacant.â€
I nod, tell him this is so.
â€œIt's in perfect condition. Quite
an opportunity if the property owner was interested.â€
No dice, I tell him. I guess
legally I've got no right to do this. She still owns the place, although she
left for New Orleans a while ago. I live in the trailer, close enough to the
house that I can see inside the kitchen window. Close enough so that, when the
wind blows right, the smell of cedar will sometimes drift though the trailer.
Boxer still sleeps outside, and the rain still drums on my sheet metal roof at
Stub thinks I'm an absolute moron.
He's been over once or twice to walk around the outside. I won't let him in,
because I don't want his boot prints on the floor.
â€œWhy don't you just move in?â€ he
says every time, like the answer will change. He doesn't understand that cities
can inspire love just from the way they look on the map, or that remembering a
dream you once had can make you feel like you're dreaming all over again.
So I say the same thing each time
â€œIt was never mine to begin with,â€
I tell him. But it sure is beautiful.