by Luigi Pagano
My life changed the day I gave up DIY.
It was not a hobby that I would have gone in for, given the choice. To be honest it was not even a hobby for me, more like forced labour brought about by necessity.
We had just moved to an old cottage which was, in the estate agents’ parlance, in need of some attention although dilapidated would have been a more accurate description. It was what we could afford at the time and we had to accept the reality.
I made an inventory of the most urgent jobs to be tackled: dripping taps in the kitchen and in the bathroom which had to have new washers or be replaced; sash windows, caked in many layers of thick glossy paint and stuck in their grooves, to be loosened so that fresh air could be allowed into the rooms to ventilate the stuffy atmosphere that pervaded the cottage; and a host of minor defects to be rectified. It meant that the tool box had to come out of retirement.
Had it been my decision, that is where it would have stayed. What forced my hand was that there was not a plumber, nor a joiner, to be had this side of Christmas. They were solidly booked months in advance.
‘And think of the exorbitant prices they charge’, said my wife who, knowing my reluctance to part with money unnecessarily, was, as ever, ready to play the psychological card. So I knuckled down, albeit reluctantly, to what I judged to be the duty of a considerate husband.
I must confess here and now that I am not a very skilled craftsman and even when the little tasks I undertook turned out to be functional, they did not have the polished professional look.
Even so they were, in my opinion adequate for the purpose. My wife, normally very punctilious, did not seem to find any faults either.
That is until we got an invitation to a barbecue from Molly Purbright, whom Deborah, my better half, had met in the local supermarket and befriended.
It was a friendly get-together and informal with most of the guests dressed in jeans and casual shirts. The gathering was well attended; it looked as if all the inhabitants of the village had been asked to the jamboree. The reason was to become clear later in the day.
It was the perfect weather for a barbecue; the sun shining and not a cloud in sight. People, holding a glass of wine, wandered round the lush garden and mingled in small groups engaged in inconsequential conversation; nostrils twitched with anticipation as they detected the aroma wafting from the steaks sizzling on the grill.
Molly introduced us to her husband Richard who, it transpired, was an absolute genius at Do-it-yourself. In fact this mise en scène was the prelude to a grand finale yet to be revealed.
He was in his mid-forties with hair beginning to grey at the temples. He had a good physique, with bulging biceps showing through his tight T-shirt. He was aware of the furtive, admiring glances cast in his direction by a group of giggling girls. He pretended not to notice but was secretly flattered by their attention. He clearly saw himself as a ladies man. By contrast Molly was rather unassuming; dressed soberly, hair tied in a bun and glasses which gave her an austere look.
Towards the end of the afternoon the boisterous and jovial atmosphere subsided and a sort of reverential hush descended on the assembled crowd. The veterans in our midst knew all about the well rehearsed routine but to newcomers like us it proved to be a journey of discovery.
We were taken on a guided tour of the house and shown Richard’s latest masterpiece: a newly refurbished bathroom with a sunken bath. There was no denying that it was a perfectly executed job, though a bit too glitzy for my taste. A turquoise bath in the shape of an oyster shell was surrounded by an array of ceramic tiles with a representation of green and blue dolphins; gold taps; a shower curtain with a green algae motif and coloured rugs to match the decor. A series of marbled steps led gradually down to the lower level.
‘Real marble, old boy,’ said Richard turning towards me with undisguised pride, ‘all the way from Carrara. You won’t find its equal anywhere else in the world.’
After that spectacular display, everything else was bound to be an anticlimax but that did not deter Richard from extolling the virtues of his other achievements. The walnut refectory table; the Victorian conservatory erected all on his own – actually he had to employ glaziers to install the huge glass panes, he admitted with a pang of regret – and line upon line of highly polished bookshelves affixed to the wall with ornate brass fittings.
He nudged me in the ribs and confided: ‘Look how straight those shelves are. I didn’t need any spirit level to put them up. They don’t call me dead-eyed Dick for nothing, you know.’
He was talking to me as if I was his lifetime friend but was obviously trying to impress somebody and I had my suspicions as to who that person might be.
I caught sight of Molly and could not help thinking what an unlikely couple they were. She seemed happy to remain in the background as much as Richard liked hogging the limelight.
The experience of that afternoon was indeed remarkable but the mere thought of all that slog had left me drained of energy. Deborah on the other hand had been fascinated by what she described as the finest workmanship she ever witnessed.
Needless to say, from that moment all my poor efforts fell short of the ideal standard she had mentally set. It was no use telling her that the kitchen shelves were in fact level and that the wall not being straight gave the optical illusion that they were crooked. Or that the wrought- iron plant holder had crashed to the ground because the plaster on the wall was weak and crumbly and could not support the weight of the flowerpot.
I was continually lectured on the types of plugs I should use – apparently there is a variety of them; some suitable for plaster boards, others for cavity walls. I would have liked to think that she had memorised a hardware catalogue but I knew that those words of wisdom had originated from the house of the master builder.
She was spending an inordinate amount of time at the Purbright’s residence ostensibly to have tea with Molly but I was sure the technical vocabulary she had acquired had not come from the lips of the dear lady. She also got into the irritating habit of affixing adhesive yellow stickers to whatever needed attention, with messages like: “James, will you do something about the cooker’s ignition. It won’t spark.”
No endearments, you’ll notice, just a stark, plain, instruction. I was getting cheesed off about her attitude and decided that the time had arrived to clear the air.
The final straw came when I entered the bedroom. Even my untrained eye could see that the wardrobe was listing to one side and one of the doors had come off its hinges. The inevitable ‘post-it’ sticker was attached to the handle. I was ready to blow my top when the first word on the message stopped me in my tracks. It said: “Dear…”
It was such an unusual opening that it took me a few moments to realise that this was not an ordinary request for a repair but something more serious.
“Dear James,” it said, “I am at the end of my tether. It has taken me a long time to realise that I am not cut out for a life of mediocrity and cannot stay any longer with someone whose inadequacy I have come to resent. I am looking forward to a more fulfilling future with Richard with whom I feel a greater affinity. Together we have decided to make a break with the past.”
The note stopped abruptly as if she was unsure how to end it. I was still dazed by the news when the doorbell rang.
I expected her to be distraught but she was calm and composed. ‘Hello, Molly,’ was all I managed to say.
‘You heard, then?’ she asked, then waving a bottle of wine added: ‘I thought that we should drown our sorrows.’
I don’t know whether it was the wine or her demeanour, but for the first time I was seeing Molly in a new light. Here was a lady who was sensitive, intelligent and witty. She had shed her plain-Jane appearance. With blue eyes which glinted behind her spectacles, her blonde hair – now loose – and a radiant smile, she was suddenly beautiful. We talked interminably and by the time we finished it was too late for her to return home. That night she slept in my bed.
I took the sofa.
We have just returned from a holiday in the south of France. Oh, didn’t I say? Molly and I are living together now. We are what they call ‘an item’. We were attracted to each other by our mutual dislike of DIY and swore that we would not touch a screw or a screwdriver ever again.
Now as we sit down to a candlelit dinner we gaze with satisfaction at our cottage completely refurbished, with new fixtures, and tastefully decorated. All done by professionals, of course.
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Luigi Pagano was born in Italy and lives in England. He has published three collections of poems, entitled ‘Idle Thoughts’, ‘Reflections’ and ‘Poetry On Tap’. He has appeared in several anthologies, including UKAuthors anthologies and ABCTales magazines. His work has also been featured in ‘Take Five Poets’ and ‘Kiss of the Sun’ (I*D Books), ‘Land of Stories‘ (BarNone books), ‘Aged To Perfection‘ (Gwanwyn). He is a regular contributor to the websites ABCtales.com, UKAuthors.com and he is a relatively newcomer to The Flash Fiction Press.