a short story by Jerry Zinn
“I’m getting that ‘Zah’ sensation.”
“We haven’t even gotten out of the car yet, Angie.”
“Don’t need to. It’s not something I control. It just is. This is the house.”
“Well let’s go inside and see the realtor. Just as an exercise in due diligence. What do you say? Want to make sure it’s right for the kids too. Not that I’m doubting your ‘Zah’ energy. Last time I did that it bit me in the ass.”
Harvey switched off the ignition and pleading innocence in the foul-call. Pollen season had just begun, so the air was thick with atomized yellow dust. When the breeze blew, clouds of the fine powder swept off roofs and trees with the delicate choreography of schools of fish.
“I think I might have done some work here. Years ago. Not for the current owners. Realtor said an addition was made in the last two years though, but that wasn’t me. My memory is all over the place these days.”
“I love the wrap around porch. And look,” Angie pointed to the ceiling as they walked up the stone stairs. “Oh my gosh, Harvey! Wood paneling with the ceiling fans? I’ve always wanted that. We could sit out here with lemonade in rocking chairs in the summer with the fans going. That would be just—“
“You don’t even like lemonade…”
“Hey! The Wingers!” The realtor wore a collection of bracelets, rings, and earrings. A chunky turquoise necklace lent an air of pre-colonial nobility. Her white vest had the collar popped, and her circular frames were an unnatural pink tortoise shell. She waved her hands down to her elbows.
“Liz, this is… well, I haven’t seen the inside yet except the pictures you sent, but I told Harvey—“
“Zah?” Liz offered.
“OK, that is fabulous. Let’s take a tour. What do you say? Harvey? Your general contractor is showing. Staring at the molding, looking for a wobbly paint line. You’re all the same!”
Harvey tilted his head to see the brush strokes beneath the trim against the light. “Yeah, well you know me Liz. I think I did some work on this house once. Is there a screened in deck out back?”
“Bingo! It’s beautiful. You feel like you’re in a tree house. Come on back, we can start there. Just ignore the renovated kitchen with its white granite countertops until after we swing through the forest.”
“Definitely. I put this in. Ages ago,” Harvey said, admiring his work with a studious frown and squinting eyes. “They painted it recently.”
Liz and Angie admired the view. Angie imagined herself there with a book and a mug, pouring a measure of cream and watching the white explode in a cloud. Liz led them back into the kitchen, where she fired up the gas-powered range. In the oven were cookies, a sweet-salty smell.
“So master is on the first floor, and then there are two bedrooms upstairs. So the twins could bunk in one, and you could use the other as a guest room. When they grow up maybe they get their own spaces. You know, a lot you can do there,” Liz said, leading them through the master bathroom with its large mirrors and ample closet space.
about ten years earlier…
“Are you concerned at all, about the pitch? You know the incline here? I just want to make sure its safe.”
“Dave, I wouldn’t take this job if I didn’t think it was safe,” Harvey assured him.
“Just use the best materials you can find. This is a terrible thing to say to a contractor, but the cost isn’t the most important aspect to me. It’s safety. Make this thing safe for my family.”
“You’ll be able to live out there if you want.”
Harvey pulled out his phone, its industrial case caked in dried mud. Where before had been a sloping mess of weeds and struggling grass, was now a geometric cross-section, awaiting concrete footers and a towering screened-in deck.
“Listen, George. The homeowner said money is no object. So, I’ll get the stuff that’ll get the job done, and in five years if he has issues I’ll come back, and that’ll be a fix-up job I can say was because the ground settled or something. You know how it is. He doesn’t need the best materials. Nothing’s going to happen to it. All that matters is peace of mind. And if he thinks I put the top of the line in, and he paid for it, then there’s no reason for him to worry. Besides, he’ll probably sell the place in a few years. So just quote me on the top shelf and quote me on the mid-tier. It’ll be reconciled. What do you say?”
Angie and Harvey moved quickly on the house. Liz told them there were prospective buyers lurking and willing to make higher offers. But she shielded them as a favor to the Wingers. They’d given her a great deal of business over the years. Harvey felt good about the move, especially the deck, because he trusted his own craftsmanship. Once he was established in the area, he stopped cutting corners and did top notch work. Getting to that point was difficult, but the ends justified the means. He’d all but rewritten the history of the early part of his career, so the means were victims of his unreliable memory.
Harvey stood at the corner of the wrap-around porch watching the street, away from the fan’s cool rush. Angie’s nose was in a paperback. She rocked rhythmically. Iced tea sat beside her, sweating.
“What were Hannah and Dallas doing when you came out?” He asked, straightening his arms and stretching his back on the rail.
“They were playing on the back deck. Building with those block things, the LEGO bricks. They aren’t LEGOs, but whatever they’re called. You know.”
“Gotta keep them away from the family bus—“ Ice ran up Harvey’s spine. A loud crack, like a Redwood snapping in half, reverberated through the house. Angie’s eyes were aflame with fear.
“What was that?” she asked, jumping to her feet, the book slapping the floor.
They hesitated and listened. A rumbling picked up, getting louder and louder. It was as if a wrecking ball were moving through the forest. Trees shook. There was a quick succession of cracks and pops followed by the screams of their children.
“The deck!” Harvey yelled, darting for the front door. There was no longer a lack of clarity. Harvey remembered the job as though he’d just cashed the check. Through the kitchen windows he saw the roof falling down, and the cost of his lapse in integrity shooting catastrophically up.