The doorbell rang. Mrs. Randall looked over at the clock. Ten. “Must be the handyman,” she thought. She smiled, dropped her sponge into the dishwater and dried her hands on her apron as she bustled from the kitchen to the front door. She breathlessly put one eye up to the peephole, scowled, and stepped back to think. That was not Mr. Duberger. She looked again.
A straw-haired, big lug of a guy was rocking back and forth, heel to toe, chewing gum and looking happily around, up the street, down the street, above the door, at the windows on either side of the door. A beat-up Ford Ranger with a cap and ladder racks was parked askew by the mailbox. There was no sign on the truck. Mrs. Randall stepped back from the peephole to think again.
She jumped a mile when the doorbell was rung a second time and clasped her hands to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Her heart pounded. She tiptoed quickly away from the door, went back into the kitchen and dialed Handy Hank’s. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard their cheery receptionist answer, “Handy Hank’s! This is Maybell. How can I help you?”
“Oh, hi, Maybell, this is Mrs. Randall,” she said warmly. “Say, I requested Mr. Duberger to come out around ten today to take a look at the fuse box and the basement wall. It’s ten and there’s a man I’ve never seen before at my door and I wondered if, perchance, you sent him. He’s a big guy, amiable-looking, blonde hair, Yankees cap, drives a Ford Ranger…”
“Oh, that’s Mac,” Maybell said. “Macdonald Jennison. I’m so sorry, Mrs. Randall! I should have called you earlier but we’ve been crazy busy this morning. Mr. Duberger’s expertise was required on an emergency job. Mac is new, but he came to us well recommended. Will you give him a try?”
“I guess,” Mrs. Randall said reluctantly.
“Thanks, Mrs. Randall. And you let us know how he does, alright?”
Mrs. Randall went back to the front door, irritated. She didn’t like it when things went differently than planned and she didn’t like the look of that big goof of a man. She peeked out the peephole again, just to make sure. Unfortunately, he was still there, still looking around happily. She opened the door and regarded him cautiously.
“Well, hi, there! Mrs. Randall, I presume?” Mac said over-enthusiastically. “I’m Mac Jennison, from Handy Hank’s!”
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Randall answered impatiently, and motioned for him to come in. She shut the door, motioned for him to follow her, and started down the hall toward the basement door.
“One fuse keeps blowing, Mr. Jennison,” Mrs. Randall said over her shoulder. “I finally figured out that plugging in the space heater in the bathroom causes it, so I don’t use it anymore and you know how cold the nights and mornings have been lately!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” Mac agreed heartily. “Colder than a well digger’s rear end!” he said and chuckled.
Mrs. Randall scowled and continued as if she hadn’t heard that last remark. “And water is coming in through the top of the basement wall,” she said. “My neighbor told me he thought there might be a problem with the eaves or the gutters or both, such that water’s going down the walls of the house and not getting directed away from it.”
“Well, let’s take a look,” Mac said as they descended the stairs to the dark, musty basement. “You know, nothing’s ever as hard to fix as it looks,” he said cheerfully and chuckled again.
Mrs. Randall led Mac to the fuse box and pointed out the problem fuse. Mac peered at the setup for quite awhile. “No problem,” he said, finally. “Mrs. Randall, I want you to go upstairs and while you’re doing that I’m going to make just a small adjustment here. You turn everything on in the bathroom and the heater, too, and come back down here. We’ll give it some time, but I’m willing to bet my fix will solve the problem.”
“Marvelous,” Mrs. Randall exclaimed and started for the stairs.
Mac unscrewed the fuse, pulled it out and fished around in his pocket. He found a penny and stuck it in the fuse holder and then screwed the fuse back in. Mrs. Randall came back downstairs soon after and said happily, “So far, so good!”
“It’s just like a client I had once,” Mac mused. He chuckled. “She told me she felt like she was going to snap. Her boss was increasing her responsibilities at work, her husband was an unreasonably demanding man, and she was a member of too many organizations because she didn’t know how to say no. She said she was having trouble concentrating, was constantly worried and agitated, felt overwhelmed and hopeless, like there was no point in going on. She thought maybe she should go on meds. I told her, ‘Nonsense! It’s simple. All you need to do is lighten your load! You quit those organizations, first off, then tell your boss and your husband to back off, and report back to me this time next week.’”
Mrs. Randall looked confused. “Clients?” she asked. “Surely the homeowners you did work for didn’t confide in you in that way!”
“Oh, no!” Mac laughed and said, “I’m a psychiatrist. I used to have a practice in Buffalo.”
“I see.” Mrs. Randall frowned. She thought it best not to facilitate this conversation but her curiosity got the best of her. “Well, Mr. Jennison, did your overloaded client experience success with your prescription?”
“I don’t know,” Mac said, staring vacantly at the fuse box. “She never showed up for her follow-up visit…she never…” He trailed off, stood staring at the fuse box.
“I see,” Mrs. Randall said warily. “Alrighty, well let’s take a look at the wall over here.” She touched Mac’s shoulder. He started. She motioned for him to follow. Mac shook his head to clear it and loped along behind her.
He stared at the wall much longer than he had the fuse box. Finally, he said, “This is an easy fix, too. To stop this water we just need to mix up some Durham’s Water Putty and pack it in where the wood of the house meets the cement basement wall.” Mac pointed to a roughly half-inch space all along the northernmost wall. “Right along here,” he said.
Then Mac’s eyes brightened and he added, excited, “Just like another woman who came to see me, another patient. She was running, running, all the time running, keeping busy, never stopping except to sleep. After the first session it was clear that she was running from herself. She never wanted to stop, because if she did, she’d have to face herself and she despised what she saw. So she was all about putting on this image, doing things at work and in the community that made her look good so no one would know she really saw herself as inadequate, inferior. I told her all this, what I’d observed. I told her, ‘It’s simple. There’s no other way but to just stop and face your demons. Take a sabbatical from all your activities for one year and see me two or three times per week to manage the repercussions and build self esteem.’”
Mrs. Randall cleared her throat. This was getting a little too scary for her taste. “Well, alright,” she said firmly. “Come on back upstairs, now, Mac.” She walked toward the stairs and motioned for Mac to follow. “I’d like you to bill me for the fuse box fix, if you would, and to submit your estimate for the basement wall repair to the Handy Hank’s office, and I’ll schedule a good time to do the job.”
Mac’s smile had faded. He stood, motionless, staring blankly at the basement wall.
Mrs. Randall was halfway up the stairs before she realized Mac wasn’t behind her. She hollered down, loudly “Mac! ”
“She never showed up for her next appointment,” Mac said, still staring at the wall. “And you’re never going to call me back, are you?”
Basement light from http://i.ehow.com/images/GlobalPhoto/Articles/2130616/BasementBulb-main_Full.jpg
Missalister’s “Dial H for Handy,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#158 – Scary.” Click here for more on prompt #158 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.