The front door bell rang so he ambled to the door, “Sir, are you saved, have you wrapped yourself and given your soul to the almighty god,” a middle aged man and woman stood there holding their bibles.
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“Sorry but I am Muslim and Allah is my savior, have a good evening,” he said with a smile and closed the door. As he walked back to the small kitchen he remembered Jesus who had done their yard out West, the little man had seven children, they lived in a small house but everyone worked and all seven had graduated and when he left five of them had advanced degrees. Jesus told him, “Maria and I have a large family, we have our health and I enjoy my work and since I am very good at it, I get premium pay where my wife Maria caters posh parties and really enjoys it. We take a month each winter, go down to the old country and visit relatives, then come home and enjoy our California home.” Andy had been instrumental in getting three of Jesus’ children scholarships for advanced degrees and they were key workers in the company.
He got some pretzels and another can of Foster’s then went out on the patio and watched the moon for an hour or so before he went to bed. No writing tonight. He thought about his idea of taking $500 and starting a lawn service, which was no more than a few drinks and a nice dinner at a five star restaurant.
“Mrs. Skidmore, you home,” he called as he opened the back door.
“Come in, come on in, I want you to see this,” Pat yelled from her den/Office/computer room. Andy wiped his feet and followed the sound. “Look at this, look at this Applet, isn’t that pretty, watch it change colors, I am making a website.” Andy looked, chatted for two minutes then went downstairs taking his equipment with him. He opened the basement windows and placed small exhaust fans in them to draw sawdust out as he began to work. First he took the particle board, cut it into two foot strips, then using Ape glue and dry wall screws attached three stiffeners to the bottom of each shelf. Then he built the frame and installed the shelves. It was 8:10 when he called, “Mrs. Skidmore would you come down here please.”
Pat had been sitting and waiting so she was soon standing in the basement, “Oh my, they are so neat, oh what a good job you did Andy.” She rubbed her hand across the shelves. “Should they be painted?”
“Do not put anything on them for at least 24 hours so the glue has set.” He paused then added, “No, I think paint ruins them, just plain wood, but they are yours.”
“They would look much better and brighten up this corner, but yes, I guess you are right.”
He smiled at her. “If they meet your approval, I will clean up the mess and be gone.” She nodded and went back upstairs as he brought his shop vacuum down and cleaned up, then removed all the trash and tools. He turned out the light and went upstairs. “Mrs. Skidmore, day after tomorrow I will set the shelves to the heights you wish and help you load them, if you wish.”
“Oh thank you Andy, three hours at what is your hourly rate?” Pat had her check book. “First would you like a beer or a drink, it would be nice if you had a drink with me.” She felt a pang of relief as she had said it, asked a tradesman to have a drink with her.
He seemed to ignore superfluous things she said. He paused and looked at her with a smile on his face. “Maybe.”
“What is the going rate for work like this, to be honest this is my first job,” he replied, ignoring her request for a drink. He grinned, “I have done this type stuff all my life at home but never for pay from someone else, minimum wage, whatever you feel is fair. I spent 2 1/4 hours on the job; do you want the leftover materials?”
Pat remembered she had two men come and take down and carry off a tree that had died and they had charged her $25 per hour each, plus a hauling charge. “Is twenty five an hour enough,” she asked.
“No, that is too much, fifteen is ample, how about $37.50?’ he asked.
She wrote the check for fifty dollars and handed it to him, “a tip for cleaning up, now will you have a beer or a drink, pretty please,” she said with that voice that usually got what she wanted.
“Sure, I will have one if it is not putting you out,” he replied. He had looked closely at the house and determine she had been a school teacher and was divorced or a widow of a few years.
“What would you like, she went into the dining room where there was a large assortment of crystal decanters and a whole shelf of bottles beneath. “Would you make me the same, I drink a little wine and am not much of a drinker,” she said.
“G & T, do you have any lemon?” Andy asked as he took two large glasses, walked into the kitchen, opened the freezer and put ice in both, then opened the fridge and found a half lemon. He cut two thin slices and put in the glasses then went back and poured a dollop of gin and opened a Schweppes bottle and topped them off. He wrapped the glass in a napkin and handed it to her, “Here you are Mrs. Skidmore,” he said then he lifted his glass, “Here is to your new storage shelves.” She touched his glass, took a sip as he said, “Shall we go out and look at the moon, it should be full tonight.”
They walked out on the small patio and looked at the bright moon, which was being hidden by fast moving clouds, “It is playing hide and seek with us, you like the outdoors don’t you,” Pat asked, breaking the silence. “We used to hike and take moonlit walks and the children grew up spending all their time out of doors,” Pat added.
“Yes I grew up that way but for all of my working life I was inside, rarely did we ever even have a window,” he replied.
“Oh and what type work was that Andy?” Pat asked.
“Manufacturing,” he replied, not wishing to pursue the topic.
“You do not strike me as the typical yardman or day laborer, you hiding from the IRS or debtors,” Pat asked with a laugh.
“Yep, don’t squeal on me or I will call Jimmy Cagney and squash you, you dirty rat,” he replied in a Cagneyesque voice. “No, I worked indoors and had no time for life or what I enjoyed until about six months ago. Now I am just Andy Dray, yardman.” He finished his drink. “I had better go, I do not wish to keep you from what you were doing. Thanks for the drink and thanks for the tip,” he said as he walked back inside, put the glass on the counter next to the sink and departed. He drove down to the river and took a nice long stroll along the shimmering water, thinking about life and how his success had nearly robbed him of everything.
And so the summer went, Andy doing yard work and Pat finding all sorts of little jobs to have him do, little make work projects. He enjoyed her company and she had begun to feel affection for this yardman. Three or four times she had asked him to come over to do something, had forgotten the time and when she returned had found him sitting under the large maple writing. Once she had gotten close enough to see he was writing poetry.
Pat’s son who was a big time Attorney in San Francisco had sent her twenty-five lottery tickets for her birthday, she had won nearly twenty two thousand dollars; she had an idea. She wanted to ask him over for dinner or to go to a movie, or something, she wanted a date that was it. But she could not bring herself to ask him. She had learned that his phone was plugged in only from six until noon, then he unplugged it, so when she called she had to make sure it was between those hours. “Andy, Pat here, could I impose to get you to come over and wash my kitchen windows, they are so dirty and I cannot see the magnificent colors on that maple,” she asked, feeling like a dunce with that ploy. What she wanted was him to take some pictures of her in her new fall outfit so that she could send them to her children, children of whom all five lived over a thousand miles away. Children she did not seem to visit too often for they were all tied up with their careers and their own families.
“Mrs. Skidmore, I can do it now, for early in the morning I have to go to California for a few days, I should be back Friday night or Saturday, depends on how things go.”
“Oh I don’t want to impose, but this afternoon would be fine, where are you going in California if I may be so bold to ask?”
“Uh . . .Santa Monica,” he replied.
“Oh I have a son there, need a traveling companion,” she blurted out. Then realizing her mistake laughed, “Sorry, just being silly, but I do have a son there. I will see you when you come over.”
About an hour later the little blue Datsun drove up. Andy quickly did the kitchen windows, inside and out, then took the pictures, showing Pat how to use the time delay on her camera. “May I have one with you, please,” she asked. He took it and as they stood close together she got goose bumps feeling his body close to hers. Then she had him rearrange some boxes in the basement and get down two boxes off her bedroom closet shelf. They went into the kitchen and she began to cloud up, little tears came to her eyes.
“What is wrong Mrs. Skidmore, did I do something, what is wrong?”
“Andy, today is my birthday and I am all alone, will you eat supper with me? I will pay you, it is just that I am so alone.”
He wrapped his arm around her, “I understand Mrs. Skidmore, I fully understand.” Then he stepped back, “How about a Manhattan and I will offer you two propositions.” She smiled, he got the glasses and quickly made two large drinks, handing her one. “Would you allow me to take you to dinner, or would you like to come to my house and eat chili and drink beer or would you like me to cook you dinner here?”
Pat took a large sip of her drink, it made her shudder down to her toes, “Chili at your house, oh yes, I love chili, but can I have milk with mine?” She was smiling and wiping tears as she took another large drink. She thought, “I am not that much older than he, is this right, am I being too pushy?”
“Get your jacket,” he said as he finished off his drink, pushed hers to her lips, then took her glass, rinsed them and put them away.
“I am a mess, I am not dressed,” Pat said,
“Just get your jacket Mrs. Skidmore, you are fine, look at me, I am normal and dressed for dinner.” She went into her bedroom, where she started to fix herself up, then she thought, “What the heck,” got a jacket and came back. “Want me to follow you in my car?”
“If you wish not to ride in my truck.” He paused to see her facial raction, “I will bring you home,” he said as she smiled and closed the door. He drove in a direction she thought was wrong for he went into an older upscale area, pulling into the drive of a small single story house with a two car garage and a separate garage in the back. He opened the garage door, pulled in and closed it. She looked at the other car in the garage, not the typical yardman’s car.
They went inside where it was plain, neat and sparsely furnished. He took her jacket and lay it on a chair, then they went through to the kitchen which was small, neat and a large pot was sitting on the stove. Andy turned on the burner, then went to the fridge, “How about a Foster’s, nearly as good as Mickey’s big Mouths,” he said with a laugh, taking out two large cans. He popped the tops then opened a cupboard and handed Pat a Pilsner glass and the can of beer. He then went into the other room, asking, “You like Jazz,” and Pat soon heard the strains of Jazz. He returned, “Sit Mrs. Skidmore, want some corn chips to go with the beer, it will take a few minutes for it to heat.”
Pat tasted the beer, it was good, cold and good, she sipped it, knowing full well she had no tolerance for alcohol. She refilled her glass as Andy took two water glasses and placed them in the freezer. “When you pour the milk in it make little ice crystals and I like cold milk,” he said as he got two plates, two soup bowls, and peeled an onion. As he peeled it he sipped his beer and watched Pat who was watching him.
“Is this your place, do you rent, lease or what” Pat asked as she arose and wandered through the small house. Everything was neat, clean and there was no dust. She went into his bedroom and when she opened the closet she saw nine blue chambray shirts, nine pairs of Dockers and a pair of clodhoppers on the floors. The other end of the closet made her do a double take for there were four very expensive dark suits and two pairs of dress shoes. Who was this yardman? She came back into the kitchen where he was stirring the chili. “You have a cleaning lady?”
He laughed, “Yes maam, I do, for if I did not, the place would be knee deep in dust and dirt. Mrs. O’Hara comes twice a week, she cleans and does the laundry. What did you think?”
“Who are you, you are no yardman, those suits, they are top of the line, what is your deep dark secret?” Pat walked over to where he stood and kissed his cheek, then sat down.
“”My past life Mrs. Skidmore, my past life.” Then his face turned serious, “I do not ask you about your life, I accept you as who you repute yourself to be, so please ask not of my prior life, although I will tell you I am not a fugitive from the law or an alien from Pluto.” He took a little chili on the large spoon, walked over and offered it to her. She tasted, then he returned to the stove. “Another beer?” He put the spoon down, offered his hand, “Come let me show you my yard.” He took her hand as they walked and she liked the simplicity of his large yard, no blooming flowers, only bushes and manicured grass. Then she spotted the bird houses; she counted twelve different bird houses.
“You make these, this is your real secret, the maker of quality and very nice looking bird houses,” Pat said, as she was feeling a little tipsy. “And I will bet that each is designed for a specific type of bird?”
They wandered around until she had to go, so they walked back inside. “dinner in five minutes,” he said as she went down the hall.
They sat, ate chili, saltines and drank milk and beer, chatting, laughing and enjoying a quiet evening. When they were finished, he put the dishes in the sink then went to the freezer and brought her a fudgsicle. He left the room and when he returned he handed her an object that was covered in a white tee shirt. “Happy birthday Mrs. Skidmore, Happy birthday.”
She took it and removed the tee shirt to find a framed picture of her maple with a poem written in a very beautiful calligraphy. “You took the picture and you wrote the poem,” she asked, he nodded yes. Slowly she read the poem aloud, “Oh thank you, thank you so much.” She arose and kissed him, then sat down. “I had better go for you have a plane to catch tomorrow, what time?”
“OH, if you will excuse me a moment I need to alter those plans,” he said as he went into his office area. Pat sat quietly listening as she heard, “Yes, this is Andy, change the flight plan, pick up George and Sam, then pick me up last, that should make it about ten forty five instead of seven, I have a last minute conflict.” Then she heard him put the phone down and return to the kitchen. “Sorry about that, I just delayed my pick up time.”
“Obviously you are not flying commercial, charter,” Pat asked.
“Something like that, company plane.” He opened another beer and poured both their glasses full as the Jazz was getting good. “Care to dance?”