Dial H for Handy

basement03.jpg picture by pemerytx


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?”







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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.


16 responses to “Dial H for Handy

  1. Nothing scarier than a therapist moving on to his next job, eh? As Count Floyd would say, “Oooooh, SCARY, boys and girls!!!” I’m a little concerned about the lack of supervision Mac received in his residency (or perhaps that diploma mill didn’t require a clinical practicum!), and I’m mostly concerned about the source of that “high” recommendation. In the old days, we called that a “hostile referral.” Yikes.

    Since I know you’re burning the midnight oil these days, I’m wondering if this piece dovetailed with a class assignment as well, and just what that prompt might have been.

    I just noticed Mac’s denial at play: “I’m a psychiatrist.” Not “I was a psychiatrist.”

    This might have been just the right time for one of Ms A’s old classic dispensing finishes. He’s already in the basement; bound to be a shovel down there somewhere…early on, I kind of thought that was why Mrs. Randall was so upset in the beginning: she’d already marked Mr. Duberger out as her next…

    “Scary” as an Eastertide prompt from the SS girls was kind of queasy in itself.

  2. THOMG
    Hey Thommy G! Glad you stopped by. I’ve been missing you!


    Thank you for saying, Quin : )


    Hey, TW! Been goin’ through a tough time, writing-wise, and your gracious comment is majorly appreciated : )


    Well, you would know ; ) You moved on, and from a distance your moving on sounds ultimately lovely, after a bit of tumultuous jockeying around, that is. Poor Mac, though, he didn’t get to go to Harvard like you. But he coulda, if he hadn’t had a boat load of V-8, three tacos and dangerous levels of tequila roiling around in his gut when the Harvard rep came by early one morning. So, after a subsequent drinking binge and an all-time low, he rose up, took a few online courses and finally got one of those fake diplomas. There’s ways to get things done in the shadows. Need I say more? Well, we all know what happened to Mac the lowlife now. This was no dovetailed thing. And your high ed-and-IQ did not serve you wrong, because you called it straight the whole way—someone for sure shoulda died the callous missalister way, but there was no way in my condition. This writing course has me locked up, thinking too hard ‘bout the mechanics, the every-intricate-little-clock-working-gear of fiction. This piece here was an act of desperation, proof I could even get out there again. Now that is scary. Scarier than “#158 – Scary” on resurrection weekend!


    Welcome, almighty Mink Lady! Gosh I loved that piece!
    Thanks so much for stopping by here : )

  3. Callous missalis-ter: a lovely bit of rhyming. And yes, I spent some time staring at a few basement walls before the landscape turned lovely again…Peace, hermana.

    Well you know I like it when you like anything, but I was hoping you’d say somethin’ ‘bout the V-8 an’ tacos even though we was outta vodka. And I know you did some time at the bottom of a waterless swimming pool, but basement walls? During your archiving days, maybe? Or just all those hot hell walls in general before Winston? Alright, well, if you got any more of those sister peas, how about you pass them down here? : )

  5. Fixers of any type, with their tendency to diagnose whatever they think they might possibly repair, terrify me. Mrs. Randall’s firm handling seems like the best approach. I note, however, that Mac is not yet out of the basement, made me wonder if you had plans for a heavy piece of lead pipe to make an appearance…

  6. My sweet sister, I am sorry that I did not stay to play with them tacos and that high-octaned V-8. Truth be told, though, a roiling breakfast like that should have greased the wheels to Cambridge for Mac, rather than denying the poor boy. Yale Junior College at least, don’t you think, though further truth be told, online psych is probably just as good as in the flesh. I hate the thought of you locked up, but I know you have a hankering for this, so go on ye must, and take what you need. The Alister Readership will ever be in the wings rooting for you, already having crowned you the Muchness Duchess. Say the word, though, when it’s time again for virtual enchiladas michoacan at Las Manitas. Plenty of sister peas to go around, mija. Chow.

  7. I can smell that old Yankee basement. That handy one-cent fusebox fix left my hair standing! Probably number one on a fire inspectors list, well, where an old house like that is concerned. I love the intricate detail you weave into the character descriptions. And I wasn’t sure which way to teeter at the end, but Mac’s blank stare at the wall sure was creepy. Nicely done! I’m a little late to the dance. It’s been a busy week. Cheers!

    BTW, loved your Old Man and the Sea inference. My soul never smelled sweeter!

  8. ANNO
    No, that nut job is not out of the basement and there’s no telling what two or five more pages of words could have done! Here’s an Insider’s Nightmare for you: I tell you it took me forever to weasle my way down into that basement ‘cause I didn’t know what I’d do once I got there. I had Mrs. Randall worry herself on up the stairs in case I had the magical combination of brain power, word count and patience working for me to make Mac snap and go after her. Turns out I didn’t ; )


    Well, now you surely did make up for blowing off the roiling breakfast with this here paragraph! What a fun mash of howling there was in it. The locked up part though… Geezus, I wish I could step outside and look back in. It’s all dark and serious down in here, past the point, and I need a blast of fresh outlook. I need to see if I can fix my mouth to say, It just doesn’t matter!” I feel better already. How ‘bout you and I have those vitural enchiladas michoacan, say, Friday. Does that work for you?


    Yeah, well I loved your comment here : ) Had me grinning down in the broken-up cement, in the dirt, dank and musty with burnt oil and mildew, just waitin’ for the whole place to blow. Sorry about the teetering, man. I would’ve liked to have shoved you hard in one direction or the other, and if I left you teetering, I’d have liked it to be on purpose ; ) Been trying to “learn how to write,” really write, you see, and now I figure I need to lessen the harsh edge of that sound by talking myself into believing I’m “learning the art of storytelling.” Just a flick of a word, like a late spin ‘round the dance floor, makes all the difference. Thanks for that, MichaelO, and I hope to see you around and around : )

  9. I see how you left off by what you said to ANNO. And there’s nothing wrong with a teetering ending. Especially if it was intended : ) I’m not a “writer” but like readin’ what you written. So methinks I’ll read some more. Here’s hoping it’s not the last dance. I’ll be adding you to my blog list awaiting latest number.

    Oh yes, yes, of course it was intended…now that think, really think, and trace all the mysterious crumb-covered neurons back to their original synaptic source ;-)
    So glad you’re getting some kicks over here. My ego loves you already. Pffft! It’s so easy. I, on the other hand… Who am I kidding? I’m already a long distance JMike Inferno groupie.
    Left you a note on the fridge over at your place. Jay needs to cap those sardines more tightly if he’s not gonna finish the whole can in one sitting. And you’ll need to stock up on light bulbs since the music’s never over at your place. And also, I hope your boots were made for dancin’ : )

  11. Wow, I’m red faced and honored! That was quite a summary. Makes me want to shut up and play my guitar. What is long distance in cyber space? The fridge is better closed given the open can of sardines in there. Besides, it’s easier to read the ego candy you pasted on the door! Thank you, ’tis sweet.

    I hear you on the couplets. I had for a while gotten away from rhyming conventions. Which I too like, as it opens the door to the right words to fall into place. Take the rhymes when it’s convenient and better still if they ride the choruses. But I was feeling a little self conscious with all of these poet laureates in the blogosphere. I don’t consider myself a poet. Songwriter, wordsmith, troubadour (though I don’t travel as well these days), sonic alchemist, maybe.

    I was a Texan for a few years. I have a closet full o’ boots! : )

    Yes, quite right! Distance ain’t nothin’ in cyberspace. I don’t know what I was thinking. It’s just like receiving an unburdening revelation that we can’t choose to be enlightened because our egos are in the way so just relax and enjoy the ride and if it happens it happens, and then forgetting that whole knowing the next day and going back to fighting tooth and nail for fame and fortune! LOL! And for the same reason, we can say BAH! to these so-called poet laureates, and if we’re lucky we’ll remember to take the rhymes when it’s time, and when they decide to ride the choruses like SRV licks on steroids, we’ll burn the house down to the ever-lovin’ ground. Then we’ll wheel around and ask ‘em, “Can you beat eighteen years in Texas and at least half as many pairs of cowboy boots?” ; )

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