But don’t leave the toilet seat up when you finish, she said. He hesitated on his way to the bathroom, following the pointed direction of her finger to a hallway. Tradesmen never put down the toilet seat after they pee, she continued. I hate it when men do that, and I forget to check before I sit down.
He smiled, turned around and walked out the front door, glancing at the progress he had made in the room where he had been working. The job was a small one, framing for a gas fireplace, but in this economy where no one was building new homes and few people were remodeling, no job was too small. And no client was too irascible.
Where did you go? she asked when he returned.
I went outside to pee, he said. You probably should insulate that room and replace the windows. It’s really a porch.
I like the view, she said, of the lake. You didn’t have to go outside. Maybe I’ll have it winterized.
When the weather warms up, he said. I’m forgetful. I always leave the seat up. And I enjoy peeing outside.
Men are like that, she said, like dogs. And I’m sorry I spoke sharply to you. You seem to work quickly. On the fireplace.
Yeah, he said. It’s a pretty straightforward job. As I said before, I should be finished by the end of the day.
My husband left me, she said. This Christmas. Actually, the day before Christmas, the twenty-third. I am sixty-four and we had been married forty-two years. He left me for a younger woman. I get to keep this, the summer place, and he takes the house in Chicago. She shrugged. I’ll do okay. I have my teacher’s retirement – I was a high school English teacher – and he is supposed to pay me alimony. But it is hard for me. Especially as it’s all so goddamned trite, a plotline so hackneyed it would never make it as an Oprah pick.
I’m, I’m sorry, he said, looking at her as she fought tears, moving his fingers as if he were eager to pick up a hammer or grab a fistful of 16 penny nails. He looked at her critically as a husband might, and thought she looked good for sixty-four. She was slight, her short hair a silvery gray, and her face surprisingly young looking. He walked hesitantly toward her, tentatively reached for her, and then closed his eyes and put his arms around her.
She let him embrace her, let him gently pin her arms to her side, and even rested her head against his chest. I’m not going to sleep with you, she said.
He laughed and stepped back from the hug. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, he said, but maybe I don’t want to sleep with you.
She laughed. You are good looking, she said. That means you must be gay.
He laughed again. I’ll just consider your first remark and say thank you. I majored in philosophy, a useless degree, except I became an existentialist, a useful way of looking at life.
No offense, she said, but it’s my experience that the ordinary men are married and the handsome men are gay. I notice you are not wearing a wedding ring. You’d look better without the beard, though, and with a haircut.
My winter coat, he said. The whiskers and long hair help to keep me warm when I’m working outside. I shave and get a haircut when spring finally comes.
Do you dye your hair? she asked. It’s still brown. Maybe I should have dyed my hair.
No, he said. It’s in my genes, I guess, and good clean living.
In your jeans, she laughed, giving him the critical appraisal of someone in the mating market.
I need to get back to work, he said, or I won’t finish by five.
The house was small, he thought while he worked, but because of the location on Lake Michigan it was probably worth well over a half million. Property values were inflated on the Door Peninsula. This cottage would no doubt go for no more than a hundred and fifty grand if it were on a little lake in northern Wisconsin. It couldn’t have more than two bedrooms, and it appeared that the rooms were small. It had obviously been built as a summer home. Maybe some winterizing had been done over the years, but it must cost a fortune to heat. She’d need to do some work on it, some serious work. The gas fireplace was a luxury. She needed to take the outside walls down to studs and insulate, replace all of the windows with energy efficient glass, stuff the attic with nine-inch bats of insulation.
His place was snug. He’d gotten a good deal on an inland Needs Work and had rehabbed it himself. It would never make a house and garden tour, but it was comfortable for a man who lived by himself. Who lived simply.
He hadn’t always lived simply. He had learned to put toilet seats down, to shave every day, to praise good cooking, to notice new hairstyles and clothing purchases. But now there was no longer a need, and he had forgotten. He lived a simple life.
Can you stay for supper? she asked.
He blinked his eyes in surprise, considered, and said, Why, yes, I guess I can. It was four-thirty and he was using drywall screws and his cordless drill motor to attach the pieces of plasterboard he had cut in the garage. Then he would be finished, until the firebox had been installed and he’d come back to tape and plaster seams.
It’s a simple meal, she said, a casserole. You can wash up in the bathroom. She smiled at him. You know where it is. Don’t worry about the toilet seat.
When he walked into the dining room he saw lit candles on the table and an arrangement of red dogwood twigs. There was a bottle of wine, a wooden bowl of salad greens, and a loaf.
I hope you like seafood, she said. This is a seafood casserole, shrimp and scallops and crab. She was wearing a silky robe, an intricate pattern in dusky colors.
A simple meal! he said. I thought you said this was a simple meal.
It is, she said. I just threw this together.
Come and eat with me some time, he laughed. I’ll show you a simple meal.
Could you pour us some wine? she asked, spooning him a serving of the casserole. And maybe you’d cut us some bread. Would you like some salad?
Gary Jones is a writer and teacher who lives in Northern Door.