Kimberly Moen

May 31, 2000

Daisy's Construction

"Those damned nails didn't hammer themselves in, you know! I have spent the last three months remodeling this bathroom. Do you appreciate any of the work I've done…DONE ALL FOR YOU, DAISY?" Wayne's voice raised as the dogs started barking, "ARH, ARH, ARH, ARH, ARH, ARH, ARHARH, ARH, ARHARH…"

As the two labs continued barking, he stopped talking. The paint brush in his hand began to drip paint while he silently went through the list of reasons he never wanted the dogs in the first place: they chewed the cabinets; they chewed the vertical blinds; they scratched the doors; they tracked in mud; they shed; they barked incessantly; they stunk. He looked up to the ceiling with his head angled as if he were looking straight ahead, but his eyes tried hard to reach the newly installed drywall above him, its joint compound baring the scars of hard sanding. He let the paintbrush fall onto the drop cloth, threw both his hands up in the air and walked away.

Daisy stood in the once hollowed-out bathroom. It had rotted from water seeping through the tiled wall in the shower. The decay had grown across the southeast corner of the house as, through the years, the water crept down the wall's interior, infecting the house's infrastructure. The exterior had also required extensive reconstruction. But in that room, as many others, the dilapidated foundation had been repaired. The new tiles were laid; the shiny fixtures all in place, but its furnishing failed to stunt the echo that allowed the argument to resonate even after he left the room. She watched him as he marched away, using the same rigid stride she'd seen a hundred times at Fort Lee when he leads a troops of recruits. His familiar words resounded in her head:
I AM SARGEANT LOUDER, AND YOU ARE NOTHING. YOU WILL SPEAK ONLY WHEN SPOKEN TO. YOU WILL …

His height of only five feet two inches seemed inconsequential when he spoke. Wayne came from a long line of military men. His grandfather was killed in action, and his father was a gunner. Although Wayne hadn't had the privilege of serving in battle, he was prepared; he could do whatever it took. His son would be a service man too… if he had a son.

Years ago, they'd talked about having children. They'd decided to buy a big house so they'd have plenty of room for three, maybe four, kids. They were young and in love then. Wayne, a strong, handsome man with skin tanned and rugged was always helping people. If a stranger were stranded on the side of the road, he would stop and help. Daisy marveled at his ease around people. Small and thin with stringy hair down her back, Daisy never spoke to those strangers, but she loved Wayne more because he did; she loved his strength, but she envied it too. She knew he'd always be strong enough to take care of her.

Daisy walked down the steps to start dinner. It was 6:05 p.m., and dinner was late. She reached under the counter and pulled three potatoes out of a wire bin and began to wash them. One by one, she twisted the knife into the skin to remove the imperfections, and then she laid each on the cutting board. She let the pits fall into the drain, forgetting the new disposal hadn't been installed yet. She stuck her hand down into the old disposal to retrieve them, then decided to leave them. She looked at the potatoes, naked and scarred, and threw them into the trashcan. She turned toward the stairs and then back to the trashcan, pulling them back out and washing them again. She began to prepare the same meal she made last Wednesday night, and the one before. Cutting the potatoes and skinning the chicken, pieces of the past blasted into her mind.

* * *

"I…want…to…I want to get…a dog, Wayne."
"Now Daisy…you know…that I don't want…any stinking dogs…in this house!" he paused, "It's too fuckin' early… in the morning…for this shit." His words pounded in between the squeals of a crowbar as Wayne leveraged his weight on the tool, its mouth jammed between the bathroom header and a support beam. "Just let me get this damned beam out of here before you start in." Daisy relaxed her shoulders, let out a deep breath, and walked quietly out of the bathroom to get ready for work, brushing against the yellowed insulation exposed in the wall's cavity.

* * *

"ARH, ARH, ARHARH," Ricki's high-pitched barks ripped Daisy from her distant thoughts. From the family room, they could watch her. The kitchen was two feet, three inches higher than the family room and had an old wrought-iron railing separating them, except at the three-foot wide opening where the steps connected the two rooms. Wayne had put a baby-gate there so he could keep the dogs out of the rest of the house. They lay on the bare family room floor with their jaws resting on the first step up to the kitchen, their heads positioned so they could see between the mesh openings of the baby-gate. The barks began again as Daisy stood still, looking into space. She looked toward them and then toward the upstairs. "Come on you guys; let's go out for a walk and give Daddy some peace." Their tails wagged so hard they stung Daisy's leg as she struggled to attach the double leash first to Hank's, then to Ricki's collar.

As she left the house and walked across the yard, an easy breeze blew the hair off her face; she breathed in deeply. They maneuvered their way around the trash in the yard: an old countertop, a cast-iron bathtub, three pieces of knotty pine wall paneling, and a stack of unmarked boxes. Out on the lawn, there weren't any sounds of hammers pounding--nothing then but the flapping of a cardboard lip and the crackling of summer-dried sticks as the dogs ran them. With the free space around her, she tried again to understand why or how she'd become so distant from Wayne.

* * *

"Wayne, the house is almost forty years old. A dog can't do much damage to this old place. It'll be half grown and finished teething before you ever finish the upstairs' projects."
Wayne continued dipping a small round sponge into a bottle of flux and smeared it onto the pipe-ends that protruded from under the whirlpool tub.
"With a little training, it could be a good watchdog. Please think about it." Her head tilted slightly as she waited for his response.
He looked up at her and glared for what seemed like an eternity. "Daisy, I swear to God, if you get a dog, I'll kill it." His eyes pierced hers; she couldn't turn away. The force of his stare and her inability to move caused a sting in her eyes and the beginning of a tear, but she fought it with quick, hard blinks. Wayne looked back down to the pipes. He began soldering the copper tubes to the elbow joints. The pungent smell of molding bread seeped up as the heat from the torch fled down the pipes where old bread lay to absorb residual water. "I won't have any stinking dogs in this house Daisy; I've worked too hard for too long fixing this place up to let a dog rip it apart."

* * *

A humid breeze cooled her and brought the distant flavor of charbroiled hamburgers and laughter. The hot greasy smell surrounded Daisy and the dogs. The scent drew her back to the present; she saw Hank and Ricki roaming too far away. "Hank, here NOW!" Daisy's index finger pointed hard to the ground in front of her. She saw the roughness of her fingernails as her eyes lowered to the ground from Hank's position twenty feet away. Her baggy jeans and sweatshirt began to stick to her skin as she perspired. She pulled the shirt up and over her head, revealing a thin tank top and shoulders frail and narrow.

Hank stopped biting Ricki's leash when he heard Daisy, obediently running back to her. "I'm sorry boy; I'm not upset with you--just a little edgy." His eyes were wide and brown, and they always looked straight into Daisy's when she talked, listening to every word. Daisy stared into them and rubbed his soft white coat as a few run-away hairs floated toward the sky as if they had no responsibility; their job of keeping Hank warm was over, and he didn't notice them leave. Hank licked Daisy's face as she lovingly apologized for yelling at him. His velvety tongue covered her cheek as he accepted. Ricki leapt toward them, and her head rammed into Hank's belly as she landed. He let out a gasp of air. Ricki fell, but she quickly regained footing and galloped toward the familiar house, looking back only to confirm that Hank followed. His eyes were still trying to discern his master's words.

"Hank, it won't be this way much longer. Soon, we'll have more freedom, once everything is… done. You won't have to stay in your kennel so much; there won't be any tools or trash lying around to get you in trouble." Daisy looked toward the house and held her head high as she started running back.

The strong odor of paint permeated the house as they entered the long hallway from their run. Daisy headed toward the dogs' kennels with long, fast strides, still breathing heavily. Hesitating, the labs stepped into their cages, unable to resist the rawhides in the back that Daisy affectionately calls ickies.

The daily runs made them all stronger. She ran harder and faster everyday with the dogs. The muscles in her legs began to make her jeans look tighter, but she didn't notice.
Wayne heard them downstairs. "Daisy, grab me a beer and come up here."
"Okay, just give me a minute," Daisy replied. She put the leashes away and grabbed a Michelob from the frig and walked upstairs.
"Here." She held the beer out toward Wayne. Watching him work, she drifted away into thought again, searching for a sign or something-anything that could help her find her way back to that life she had, when she thought she was happy.

* * *

"Daisy, I want you to start looking for another job. You've been with Midtown for almost five years, and you're only making fifty-six; Jack's wife is in real estate, and she rakes in ninety--easy." He raised his brows and looked at her briefly, then turned away and continued bending the conduit to fit around the drainpipe.
"Wayne, I don't know anything about real estate, except what I learned when we bought this house. I'm just a caterer."
"Well, if you're not going to have kids, then now's a good time for a change-while you're still young."
"It's not that I don't want to have children; We just haven't…I don't think…we're ready." She looked down at the floor, noticing the naked plywood; each piece neatly butting against the next, forming a large puzzle.
Wayne grabbed a Phillips-head screwdriver. He jerked his head around and drove the tool into the 2x4 beside Daisy. Her knees buckled slightly, but she caught herself against the studded wall. Her eyes widened, and her face froze. Wayne laughed and started to pull the screwdriver out of the wood. As her senses returned, she heard the metal break through the yielding wood. She breathed in deeply the scent of an autumn forest being robbed of its foliage. She gazed at the assaulted wood, and, for an instant, felt pity for it.
"You're the one who's not ready Daisy, and a damned dog is not going to take the place of a real family!" Wayne stood steady with the screwdriver at his side as he watched her process his words.

* * *

Wayne grabbed the beer from Daisy, thrusting her back to the present. The phone rang, and Daisy walked toward the study to answer it, mumbling as she left, "I guess you'll be leaving soon. If I don't make it back before you leave, just leave a message tonight; I may not be here when you call." She picks up the receiver, "Hello?"
"Daisy, honey, would you mind bringing your wok over? I'm having the bridge club over later, and Omelda's going to cook something native for us before the game." Her mother's words were fast and almost contiguous as they flew through the receiver.
"Sure Mom. I'll be there in about half-an-hour. Need anything else?" She paused then hung up the receiver and grabbed her keys; she said nothing as she went downstairs. After rummaging through the pantry, she found the wok and its lid, then headed toward the garage.
Standing in the familiar scent of freshly baked cookies-the aroma that had overtaken Nellie's kitchen for the last thirty-five years-Daisy stares at the wok on the counter. "Mom, I don't know what to do. I… I'm just not…well, did you ever think of Dad as… I need to know if what I'm feeling is normal. My life…I mean…I feel like I don't have any control; I've never been strong enough to stand up to anyone, really."
Daisy's mother turned away and clasped her hands together, stealing a moment for thought. "Daisy, I think your father was…perhaps…a little too domineering when you were young. But I came from a time where the wife's job was to take care of her family, and the husband made all the decisions. I was happy he did that; I had my hands full with you and Timmy. Maybe I should have been a stronger role model for you, but things are just so different today with women's lib and all."
"No Mom, I'm not blaming you for my …" her words stopped as she looked down at her lap and picked her left thumbnail. "I feel like it's time to stop letting other people make decisions for me; I need to take charge of my life. I'm just not sure how to do that."
"Oh, but you are already doing that dear. Didn't you just get those two puppies; what are their names again? I mean, I know that Wayne said you couldn't have any dogs, and your father never would have allowed that. So, you see-you have taken charge."
"Mother, we've been married for almost fifteen years, and it took me four years to work up the courage to get them. Ever since I brought them home, he's been acting strangely; he's not just mad about my getting them. I'm even scared for them; he threatened to kill them if I went through with it, but I thought he was bluffing. I'm really afraid that if they make a wrong move, he'll do something crazy, and I wonder about what he could do…to me." Her tone lowers, "I've never seen him like this. I feel like everything's falling apart."
"So, how's the bathroom coming together?" The doorbell rang, and Nellie started walking toward the family room. "Call me tonight, okay honey? Oh, and thanks for the wok." Daisy left through the back door to avoid facing her mother's friends, her reddened eyes surely would give her away.
As soon as she arrived back at the house, she ran upstairs and stopped in the bathroom on her way to the study. Wayne should have been gone by now; he had duty tonight on base. Everything was in place; there was only one thing left undone. Daisy had been trying to tell her mother, but there had been no time. Wayne continued painting the only bare wall left in the bathroom: dip, roll, roll, roll, dip, roll, roll, without acknowledging Daisy's presence in the doorway. She swallowed thick and hard when she saw him.
"I though you had duty tonight. Don't you have to leave soon?" Her voice cracking as she finishes.
"I already told you last week that my schedule was changed. Maybe I told your mom; she answered the phone when I called. Didn't she tell you?" Without notice, Daisy left for the study. She jerked some papers trapped under a stack of old bills that were held together in rubber bands, all packed tightly in the safe. She placed them in an empty manila folder. As she waited for the printer to finish, the clanking of metal muted the whining of her laser printer; Wayne was gathering the last of his tools from the bathroom. Daisy fumbled with the papers as she tried to arrange them in the folder. She paced the room as the printer continued.

Wayne smiled big as he gazed onto the master bathroom. His eyes moved slowly from one end of the room to the other, and then back again. The corners of his mouth slowly turned upward as he shook his head up and down. Placing his hands on his hips, he gave the room the once-over, again. With a final nod, he picked up the last load of tools and started down to the basement.
He entered the musty, dark room and stumbled over a bag of mortar, invisible to him as he walked through the basement with his arms full. He dropped the armload of tools to catch himself from falling, but the contorted movement made him lose his balance, and he landed on his right knee and then fell sideways, catching himself with the ball of his right hand, hitting hard on the cold cement.
"God damn it Daisy! Can't you keep this place cleaned up? You don't do anything after you get home from work but cook. I come home from work, and I keep working. Maybe you could help with the construction a little." His tone diminished as he looked around the basement, completely alone, except for the make-shift table held together with two sawhorses, a ceramic tile-cutter surrounded by clay-colored dust and remnant water marks on the cement, and an apartment-style washer-dryer hiding in the far corner. They said nothing back to him.

He shook off the fall, noticing the dust from the floor now on him. He looked at all his tools, stacked neatly on the workbench and realized that this day was the culmination of all his work: the last of the upstairs' projects was over. Done. It had taken seven years to design, plan, pay for, and do all the work--without any subcontractors. Wayne put his hands on his hips, his chest inflated, and his shoulders moved back as he raised his chin. He stood for several minutes, shaking his head up and down, up and down.

He walked up the basement steps, slapped the dust off his arms, and closed the basement door behind him. "Well, Daisy, it's finally done…where are…" he stopped, and his head slowly moved upward, appearing to swell as his face turned red. "Daisy, get in here!" He yelled as he caught sight of something through the corner of his eye. He stood in the hallway, able to see out through the guest bedroom to the driveway, where he recognized the dogs' kennels in the back of the Durango.

"Damn it Daisy! You know good and well that those dogs are NEVER to be in that truck; they'll smell it up!" He began toward the garage, sweat starting to bead on his forehead. He scraped his arm across his face to remove the small droplets. He teetered on one leg, then the other, contemplating the fastest route to the garage.

At the other end of the old house, Daisy walked quickly down the steps toward the front door holding only a small bag and a manila folder. She heard Wayne at the back of the house; he was yelling, but she couldn't make it out. She gripped the folder tightly, creasing it as she fumbled for the stairs' railing. She has no choice; it's now or never. Her stomach jumped and ran, but she glided down the steps with innate movements, each foot knowing the six-inch risers between every step. At the landing, she grabbed for the doorknob and struggled to pull it open-it stuck. She dropped the bag and folder, using both hands to twist the old glass knob. She braced one foot on the doorframe and pulled the knob with both hands. Open.

She fell backwards onto the tiled entry; the door flew open. As she looked up, she saw Hank and Ricki in the back of the Durango; they knew they were going somewhere. The engine hummed smoothly while the dogs' bodies writhed with excitement.

She seized the bag and folder, pulled herself to her feet, and ran to the truck. She bolted herself up and into the driver's seat of the oversized vehicle and rammed the gear into reverse, her skirt hanging out the bottom of the closed door. As the truck landed on the street, she threw it into drive while still moving backward. A screech escaped from the wheels as they slide across the pavement. A wide line of rubber planted itself on the road in front of the house. The burning rubber invaded the cab of the truck, making her stomach turn even more. Daisy used the steering wheel to hold herself upright in the seat as the truck swerved. When the vehicle straightened itself at the end of the street, she let out a deep breath and peered into the rearview mirror; Wayne was standing in the driveway with his arms hanging loosely at his sides.

Miles down the road, far from the old house, Daisy's racing stomach begins to settle. "It's finally done!" she said, looking over her right shoulder to the back seat of the truck.
Hank and Ricki replied, "ARH, ARH, ARHARH, ARH, ARH, ARHARH…"

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