The Handyman

Driving along the lonely road, he considered the conversation earlier in the cafe.

Daisy- the waitress working the breakfast shift mentioned- as she does almost every day- that their eggs were the freshest in town. He hated eggs, they came out of the butts of chickens, like calcified turds.

He shared this opinion with her.

“They don’t come out of their butts you silly! Hens lay eggs from their ladyparts, like women having babies.”

“Is that supposed to make me want to indulge in egg eating more?” The whole concept made him a bit queasy. “is it too early for a beer?”

“You want a beer with your danish?” She made an icky face.

“Naw, I suppose not, it’ll cancel out the coffee.” The icky face vanished, she turned as if relieved to be back in her comfort zone and lifted the coffee pot from its cradle, topping up his cup.

“Where ya headed today?”

“Oh, Maggie Winchell’s new washer/dryer is blowing the fuse when she tries to use it. The dopes that delivered it didn’t bother to check that she had enough juice in her carport to run the thing.” (They were happy to sell the over-priced appliance to her sure enough)

“What can you do to help her out now?”

“Should be able to run new wiring, replace the circuit breaker to accommodate.” (That’s if there’s enough juice supplied to her unit as it is. These mobile home parks can be stingy with electricity)

“Aww, you’re her white knight for sure!”

“Yeah, knight in shining armor…” He glanced out at his somewhat rusty, mostly reliable truck with his logo on the door: Need it done? DOUG DOES IT Handyman Service.

He would get an hour or so worth of work but couldn’t charge her for the almost two hour round trip so this job barely pays for gas and supplies. If he didn’t score a real gig soon things would get dicey with the bills. Everything was already trimmed to the bone- pack lunches, dinners at home, he even stopped smoking cigs. Well, stopped buying them anyway, he’d never turn down a smoke if someone offered. (Although the offers kinda stopped of late as folks noticed he never pulled out a pack of his own to reciprocate. Oh well) He liked a cig best when he was out drinking and he didn’t do much of that lately either. He knew that drinking led to more drinking then all kinds of horseshit he didn’t need in his life right now. With Ramona finally out of the picture there was time to figure it out and get his life back of track, starting with finances.

“I better get rolling, what do I owe you.” He knew what he owed her, just signaling it was check time. He slid a five from his mangy wallet and – crimping it to stay flat he set it on the counter. He would take the coins back but leave the dollar. Money was tight but he would never be thought of as a cheapskate, not to her anyway. He liked when she smiled at him.

With a last sip of coffee, he bid Daisy a nice day and headed out to meet the sunny morning, grabbing a local trader from the newspaper rack on the way out. (Something to read while he ate his lunch). Really he grabbed the new issue every week to see his handyman ad and make sure everything was right with it, and whether there were any new competitors in the area. That would truly suck. He’d seen how these big outfits could take over with their shiny new vans and uniforms. That’s why he ended up driving almost half a day for one small job. He couldn’t afford to say no to work.

He resisted the feeling coming over him- the ‘doom and gloom’ he called it. The SOON-I’LL-BE-LIVING-IN-A-GODDAMNED-TENT feeling. Today was bright and full of promise. He had coffee, breakfast of sorts and a chat with a pretty girl. Things could be worse, much worse. He climbed into his truck, tossing the paper onto the growing mess on the passenger seat, and started the engine.

Margaret (Maggie) Winchell lived in a mobile home park on the other side of town. It wasn’t a trashy one, however. (You had to have some dough to live here) Mostly seniors and older couples who downsized once the kids were grown. At first glance it looked like any suburban cul de sac full of small ranch homes. The only difference was these houses weren’t built here, they were hauled in on wheels.

He pulled up behind Maggie’s car- a Crown Vic that her late husband left behind. It was a “Police Special” she told him once. “If I wanted to, I could outrun the cops!” This made her smile, and he believed she smiled because the car was a powerful connection to her husband. She felt safe in it, as if still embraced by him. He hoped the car would last her a long time, long enough anyway.

The side door opened and Maggie waved to him. He got out, went to the back and grabbed his toolbox. She was already standing in front of the new appliance as he walked up.

“I’m so glad you could make it out here to help me. The salesman told me this would work just fine in my unit.” She was shaking her head while she said it.

“It WILL work fine once we get the wiring upgraded, that’s what I’m here for.” He smiled to let her know everything would be alright. Something about an old woman on her own in a world full of hucksters and bullshit artists really annoyed him.

If he could do this one thing to help her out and make her feel better it was worth the trip.

He already knew what the problem was – her old washer and dryer were gas units and didn’t require the electrical power of these new ones. She came out and smelled gas leaking last week and it scared her so much she had the old appliances hauled away by a neighbor and shut the propane off at the tank.

She had told him the story at least twice and was about to tell him a third time. “I bought these to replace some horrible gas powered ones, I was afraid they were going to blow the place up…”

“I understand” he gently interceded. “All we need to do is change out your circuit breaker and run some new wires to the outlet. Then you’ll be good to go.”

Her face softened. “Oh thank you, I just didn’t know what I was going to do when the fuse kept tripping! I’m tired of resetting all the clocks.” She stood there with one hand on her hip and the other palm up. Like a teapot he thought.

“I’ll have to cut the juice for a few minutes, so one more round of clock setting I’m afraid.”

She nodded, relieved to be nearing the end of this disruption to her normal life.

Turning back toward his truck, “I’ll let you know when I have to cut the power, won’t be for a bit.”

He planned to have everything laid out so he only needed to quickly shut off the electricity, install the new wiring, and attach the breaker. Then he’d be finished in under an hour. Sure, he could milk the job for two or three hours but why take advantage of an old widow? One of the few things he had left was pride in his work and integrity. He didn’t screw people over for profit like it seemed everyone did nowadays. He thought that’s probably why he wasn’t further ahead in life.

He heard the screen door click shut behind him as he went to gather what he needed. The television was on inside – a woman bitching about her man, audience cheering and applauding. He imagined Margaret’s life: Pot of coffee and daytime tv. Make some dinner and evening tv. That box was most likely her only companion now. Is that what he had in store? As much as he hoped, the thought of a woman coming into his life seemed less likely every year. Not one that would last anyway.

Ramona seemed a keeper. But who was he kidding, deep down he knew that wasn’t sustainable; thinking with his dick as usual. Sure the sex was good but she needed a bottle of wine or two before she was in the mood. He was more than happy to supply, but that investment yielded diminishing returns for the both of them. In the end the drinking won.

Oh well good riddance to bad rubbish, as his mother used to say.

Now he was free to concentrate on his work and his life i.e. getting it together. Sure, for the thousandth time but what the hell else was he gonna do? Pick up the pieces and try to put ’em back together so they work for a change.

After switching off the circuit breaker leading to the appliance outlet and making sure there was no current he removed the outlet and disconnected the inadequate wiring. After that, unrolling the new wiring until he had a length that would reach from the service panel to the outlet with a little to spare. Nothing worse than ending up an inch short and having to cut another length from his dwindling roll of cable. He wanted to make a little money from this job, not lose it.

This was the best part, just doing the work alone. Working for someone else just didn’t sit with him outside of the steady paycheck. However, getting up at the asscrack of dawn and rushing to this or that jobsite to keep ahead of the contractor’s insane timeline – all for an hourly wage that got taxed to shit, then get laid off while the builder walked away with a fat check and a bonus for finishing ahead of schedule – forget it.

He didn’t begrudge anyone for running a business and making money, it’s just that he hadn’t ever cracked the code for making a profitable go at it. Couple of jobs he had hired on help – young guys from town – but shit, it was like running a daycare. Showing up late, leaving early and doing half-ass work while they were there. Always seemed he was staying to finish their job and clean up after them anyways so what was the point? He shook his head thinking about it.

At that same moment Margaret was at her screen door peeking from the kitchen, wondering if she needed to move anything out of the way for him – seeing him shake his head as if in answer made her smile.

She liked Doug, trusted him. Ever since Roger died… (“passed” Why do folks insist on saying passed when they mean died for heaven’s sake? Was that supposed to fool her? Spare her feelings in some way? Oh it’s alright – he didn’t have a massive coronary and die in our bed – turning purple and choking on his last breath while I held him and screamed his name – he just passed)

She shuddered at the recollection.

…Ever since he died, she felt so alone and vulnerable. (She always had someone to turn to, she really never considered life without him. Not that it would’ve done any good, the considering. One day everything is rosy, you go about your business like normal… Normal, normal, normal! She had come to detest that word. Normal would be her and Roger, forever, taking that trip they talked about so often to the Greek islands. Normal would be her clucking her tongue at his coffee mug in the sink not rinsed out like she asked him a million times. Normal was her lying awake in bed again, wishing he would stop snoring and touch her, just touch her for once. Now she wished, every single night with all her heart that she could go to bed and hear him snore again. That would be normal.)

Doug was someone she could count on. It seemed men these days like to prey on old women, they all wanted to sell her something for Pete’s sakes! He struck her as an honest man. Always returned her calls, charged a fair price for the work he did. She was glad when she had a job for him, he seemed a bit of a lost soul. No family that she knew of, obviously no career besides handyman. She wondered if it was something in his character that kept him so alone or something in the world that made him keep his distance from it. He seemed to be fine out there in the carport, working away.

She turned back to her kitchen, her little television and her busy but aimless life. What WAS she going to do with herself? Roger had been gone almost six months and she still hadn’t figured out how to move on, or even what that meant. She no longer had to clean up after him, slowly realizing that had become the core of their relationship together. How had things become so mundane between them? It was just last year that they discussed taking a roadtrip to the coast- stay in a bed & breakfast, sip coffee on the veranda to the music of a crashing surf…She realized suddenly that discussion had occurred soon after his retirement some ten years ago. Her breath left her, her legs went weak, she had to grip the counter to steady herself then sat down hard in her chair.

WHAT HAPPENED TO TIME? How could TEN years have passed just like that? She clutched her coffee cup with both hands shaking and took a distracted sip, her eyes trying inwardly to focus on a past that seemed to have run by her like a speeding train. What was she to do now? What was left besides memories fading to blackness behind her? The children were grown and living out of state with their families. They were too busy to care much for her outside of the holidays (and her gifts).

Good Lord – how many Christmases did she have left? How many birthdays? Ten? Five?

All of a sudden the very concept of living any longer seemed meaningless. She was a hollow empty thing, having her strings jerked in a useless semblance of what she used to be. She fought tears.

“Knock knock!” The voice startled her from her thoughts and for a precious fleeting moment she thought it was Roger, come back for her, back to escort her into eternity by his side…

But no, it was Doug. “Yes dear?” She didn’t rise from her chair, she was afraid her legs weren’t ready to support her, besides that her eyes were red and wet with tears.

“I have to cut the power for a few minutes to finish hooking everything up. Just wanted to let you know in case you were in the middle of anything.”

“Oh that’s fine. Just sitting here with my coffee.” She slowly got up to turn off the television.

There wasn’t anything good on anyway.

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