Home Improvements

by Jay Cox

It was their third trip to The Home Warehouse that Saturday.

Marjean's job was to hold the 12' long cedar plank next to the truck over her window because 'they' had forgotten the bungee cords on this trip. She had to sit against the door and stick her arm up and out of the window. She had also forgotten her work gloves, and could feel the tiny splinters working their way into the cracks between her fingers and palm. Dale blamed her for forgetting the bungees, and it seemed to her that they could have waited the extra twenty minutes to get the wood cut to order, but after their day of putting up the fence on the back of the lot, she had long since stopped talking to Dale.

"Did you tie the bandanna on?" Dale waited for a response, then checked the mirror, and saw the red flag for himself, dancing in the wind. He shifted in his seat, pushed in a ZZ Top tape, and fell silent again. They would just have time to measure and cut the board, and nail it up before sundown. Why hadn't he remembered to figure for the overlap and the gate opening? But there it was--a gap just the width of two planks. Marjean had already lost patience with him over the nail gun. How was he supposed to know the Home Warehouse had given him the wrong nails? Was it his fault? Marjean sure thought it was.

"Why didn't you check it there?" she had demanded, just before the silent treatment had begun. "Seems to me like you could have just as easily have gotten the right nails instead of wasting a trip. And why do you need me here anyway?" He tried to tell her, if she didn't like the gate hardware, he would have to bring it back and exchange it. At the cash register display, Marjean had spotted the perfect light fixture for over the dining room table.

"Dale, it's only $59.95 and has cut-crystal panels. Buying this will make the trip count."

"O.K. O.K. I can put it up tomorrow." Marjean almost smiled on that second trip.

Peeling a thigh off the vinyl truck seat, Marjean absently fingered the indentation on her thigh where the seat piping had been. She didn't dare tell Dale to change the tape. She was really tired of ZZ Top. All their songs sounded the same. Her favorite Anita Baker tape had been eaten by his tape player about a month ago. Marjean sighed.

The day had started off fine. She was going to give Dale a hand with the fence for a couple of hours, then get back to grading papers. If she got through both stacks, she would have all day Sunday to finish sewing the rompers for her sister's baby. When Dale asked her to go to the Home Warehouse, she thought she could shop around for lights while Dale got the wood loaded. Meanwhile, Dale's brother had left a message, saying he was too hungover to help. Marjean had unloaded wood, and knew as soon as that damn nail gun nearly exploded in Dale's hand, that her day, maybe even her weekend, was lost.

She sure did hate these damn black vinyl seats in Dale's truck. He thought they were racy.

The shadows were getting longer, and the asphalt driveway they put in last month had liquified a little in the humid afternoon sunshine. They swung down the driveway and bumped around the back of the house to the almost finished fence. The box with the light fixture in it slid into the dashboard as Dale braked next to the radial saw on its special portable table. Marjean's gloves and the bungees lay on the ground next to it.


After a silent supper of leftover macaroni and cheese, salad, and banana pudding, Marjean opened up the box and took out her light fixture. One of the cut-crystal panels had a crack in it. She just put it back in the box, and went up the stairs. She undressed and left on the light on Dale's side of the bed, hoping for sleep before he was through doing whatever in the garage.

"What are you doing tomorrow, honey?" Dale's voice cut through her doze and she blinked over her shoulder. He was pulling on the sweats he slept in. They were worn and clean, and smelled like the laundry products she used to make their clothes soft. She noticed the dark curling hair showing through the hole on his right thigh.

"I'm going to sew and grade papers." She held her breath. "Why?"

"Oh, I just wondered if you'd want to go to The Home Warehouse with me in the morning."

Marjean flopped around in the bed to face him, fully awake. "What in the hell for? I'd think you'd have had enough of that place!" She was pretty tired and pretty mad.

"Honey, I want to put up that light for you in the dining room, and I need some long ceiling screws. One of those glass panels is busted too, so we need to exchange the light while we're there." As he talked, Dale was noticing that Marjean's nose was rosy and freckled from the sun, and her eyes looked very blue. His wife was very pretty.

Jay Ann Cox (PhD) has been writing books since she was 6. The first was about her dog, Suzy. Her writing over the years has included a dissertation on Mexican food and authenticity, the lives of famous native American women, the cattle drives of Texas, and her fiction, which focuses on the very small, essential moments in life.

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© Copyright 1997 - Jay Cox. All rights reserved.