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The Handyman’s Tale
Petra Whiteley


Mary walked into the room and found David standing by the window. He was drawing or writing something in the condensation on the glass. He didn’t hear her enter the near emptied, echoing room and she stood there quietly observing him in this childish occupation. The din from the screeching cars outside and the booming, deep voice, reporting news from the black plastic box of the radio on the sill - all of that noise had drowned the sound of her footsteps approaching him. She stopped mid-way trying to see what it was that he was doing, but his body, although skinny-framed, obscured her view.

The lounge had a smell of strange banana milk shake in words of the exuberant description of the fresh paint’s aroma by their young son, who was presently staying with his grandmother. It wasn’t school holidays, but Mary thought it better if Marcel wasn’t around to spoil the redecorations with his clumsy, spirited playfulness.

The brand new pastel green was drying on the walls. Their furniture placed under sheets huddled together like a monument to change.

The change that she envisioned and he executed to announce proudly the stylish credibility of her tastes to the wide circle of their friends and acquaintances. They would certainly outdo the house renovations their peers had done recently and moreover, Mary hoped for the triumph because her friend’s husbands, regrettably, earned more than hers and this success would surely show them up.

"Shouldn’t you be fixing those lights, David?” she said after a while of watching him idle. If he was surprised that she was there, he didn’t let it be known. David turned only very slightly towards her and quietly replied, "It’s been a long day." He put the small binoculars, not unlike opera glasses, into his pocket so she couldn’t notice.

"And?” I want it finished before it gets dark, stop wasting time.", Mary was now next to him and her hand enclosed his shoulder and gripped it hard, he felt her sharp nails sinking through his flesh and her heavy perfume, that he never liked and never let it be known either, made him swallow the rising, mute anger he felt. He wiped his creations fast before the critical gaze of her deep set eyes could decipher it and bring on the silent, contemptuous treatment to be endured for weeks on weeks with the derisive remarks shot in rapier releases on his account in company of others.

David freed himself from her with slow caution, trying to make it appear as a purposeful move rather than recoiling and retorted, "Ok, ok, ok. I’ll get back to it." As he grabbed the tools from the box on the floor, he tried to ignore the fact that she bent down and turned the radiator off. When she stomped out of the room, he heard her complaining about him not just wasting time but heat too.

It was the middle of a bitterly cold January. The icy rain started to drum harder and faster against the window panes. When Mary had gone, David glanced out, but it was too hard to see through the body of water pouring wildly out of the leaden sky. He couldn’t even see the opposite house and discern if the young woman was still there. He didn’t even try to get his binoculars out to see what she had written in response. David didn’t know her name, in his mind he called her Viola because it was the instrument she played. He played violin, although his days in the orchestra were over, he longed to feel its bow and the slim neck, the electricity of music he felt when the bow touched and caressed the strings, the smell of the wood…

"Damn it!", David let out the curse in exasperation, and immediately regretted the unguarded exclamation as Mary called from the hall that she heard him and told him in no uncertain way to shut up and get on with it, moaning about the lazy sod that he was.

He took in deep, fast breaths into his lungs, clenched his fingers into a tight fist and fought his need to smash everything in sight. He closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind of everything. After several minutes of this short meditating technique, he gained control of himself and got on with his jobs.

Next morning found him in a bad state, he had such a headache it felt as if he could have had broken glass behind his eyes. With a sigh he forced himself to get out of bed. It was Monday morning, the house was empty; Mary had already left for work.

In the kitchen he found a long list of what to do before he could turn his computer on and start his own work, but first he had to have a strong cup of coffee. As he waited for the kettle to boil, currents of pain shot up and down his spine, it bent him double and his legs were affected by agonising spasms. Cringing with agony, he shuffled towards the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and took out several capsules of strong painkillers. It had to do the trick. He couldn’t afford to rest this out - so much left to do - and he knew the uproar in store if it wasn’t done.

After he had the coffee and the painkillers eased him to a degree with which he could cope, he set on getting the things from the task list done, without verve or motivation, it was slow-going. Impatiently he eyed his watch from time to time.

When David fixed the new light fittings downstairs, he took more painkillers, went upstairs and retrieved his violin case from the attic. The living room was yet another thing he had to sort out today, but he walked into it with a different agenda altogether.

It was cloudy outside; chill still hung to the air, but was steadily losing its grip with the growing hours. He opened the window, sat on the sill, looked at the watch again, and tuned his instrument. After a short while, he saw a silhouette and a faint smile crossed his face. He played the notes they had scribbled in the condensation on the windows yesterday. The piece they were composing in this secrecy together awoke a part of him that he thought had died; the life he now led was a prolonged funeral to what was once ambition, his love of music the dirge in the distance.

Several passers-by looked up in a surprise, met his eyes and embarrassed, quickly looked away and fastened their steps. One of them braved a smile. He finished and patiently waited for the musical repartee. He didn’t have long to wait to hear it, he drunk it in keenly; although to follow up the last was difficult to imagine - the music that was emerging from the opposite window was exciting him. The second movement of the concerto between them was becoming even better than the first!

David also admired that she didn’t look for an easy way through the piece; the part she just played demanded technical virtuosity from her. His suspicion that she was not just an amateur she was pretending to be, but must have been a member of an orchestra, was surely spot on. Shame he did not find her in his time of playing, he wistfully continued in his reverie and he already meditated on what must come next and assured himself that he will reply to her at nearest opportunity afforded him. He thought how it will have to intone perfectly in the higher registers and immediately his mind went to linger over the lush tones he had just heard, the rich vibrato and her impressive ability of double-stopping.

They stood there for a while, just looking at each other. The wind was blowing, it tussled her long, curly black hair and shadowed half of her face, she pulled the hair away and he could see the beautiful high cheekbones and full mouth again and savoured them into his memory. She was slender and dressed in a flowing, old-fashioned dress that she seemed to favour.

Finally, he forced himself to wave goodbye to her, he smiled with warmth and enthusiasm, which lit up his eyes, as she closed her window and disappeared. He mirrored her and shut the windows reluctantly, noticing more embarrassed pedestrians below in the street.

David decided to delay sorting the living room out and sat by his computer. He was intoxicated and couldn’t care less about what onslaught would follow when Mary got back home and found the list uncompleted.

Later, as the late afternoon hours put distance between him and the musical interlude with its exhilaration, he became anxious, hurried his work along and made a start on getting the living room ready. His back protested having to tackle the heavy load of the furniture to place precisely and as fast as he could. After he had put two comfy armchairs back, David moved the heavy sofa, which bulk resisted being moved, and fell to the floor, for half an hour he just laid on the lacquered wood, exasperated, frustrated and cursing. The pain was excruciating now. Then the blackness came to claim him.

Mary found him sprawled in the darkened house, she took his hands and felt the wrist for the pulse, which brought him back to himself, but he was still half conscious and slurred incomprehensible words at her. She turned him onto his side into a position to stabilise him, calmly turned on a few lights, then she went to the bathroom and looked through the contents of the small cabinet. Mary went through the few boxes and bottles there; at last she found a box that she was looking for. When she brought it to the lounge, she pulled out the blister packs and counted the pills, then she walked into the hall and made a phone call.

Being moved into a different position and the lights piercing through his eyes meanwhile were anchoring him closer to reality, he heard her muffled voice rising up and down from the hall.

Part of the conversation drifted to him as he strained to hear. His mind was heavy and slowly turned the words over…."stopped taking them for at least three weeks now"…."yes…no"….."last time"…."sectioned?"…"don’t think so"……"he was complaining"….."thank you"…."soon"…

She came back to the room to find him glaring hatefully at her, "What have you done now?" he growled at her from the floor, trying to lift himself and stand. She reached her arms out to him, but he pushed her away, mustering all the strength that remained in him. "I had enough, do you get that, enough!" He went on, the rage surging in him, he held it in too long, far too long and now he felt unable to hold it in any longer and it was coming out faster than he could manage to articulate. She bent down and pleaded with him, but he cut her sharply after first word and screamed at her that this was it and he was going to leave.

David attempted to get up, tried to brush her aside and show her he meant it, he was sure that Viola would be pleased to stop playing games with him as if they were children and they would be…what? He couldn’t follow on. It seemed to him he heard waves from the distance, they washed over him, over and over, the iridescent jade enveloped him softly, but loud, and he could no more resist the soaring waves than he could think about what to do - and do it.

When the ambulance took him and Mary came back from the hospital, she took off her shoes and coat, she was going to shower and go to bed - she was exhausted and worn out. As she walked through the house, she passed the living room and decided to walk across the unfinished room to the window first, brushing the wet trails from her cheeks and forgetting her tiredness, she stared at the flashing lights of the ships in the distance. Why were they out so late? She thought to herself. The night was clear and the moon illuminated the sea. The sea they loved and always wanted to wake up with. The enigmatic pull it had on their imagination was always something they savoured... Mary thought of the many years they had spent working so they could have the house by the sea with such clear view….







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