May 31, 2000
"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:
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 get
a dog, Wayne."
* * *
"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."
* * *
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.
* * *
"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 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?"
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 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