Up the ladder on the sunny side of the house, my work boots are heavy on the treads; scrapper in gloved hand I attack the old peeling paintwork; it looks as if it’s shedding a skin. ‘It only needs a lick of paint’, he said, months ago.
This was the last side.
But as we made our way around the house, completing a side at a time, his interested began to wane.
A few weeks ago a mate had introduced him to the surf-ski, ‘Like a canoe but for the ocean,’ it was explained. I could see the excitement in his eyes.
He was away more and more, usually finishing with a ‘quick drink’ at the Surf Club.
I didn’t mind, I quite enjoyed my time alone.
I even enjoyed getting stuck into scrapping the paint- this task seemed much less effort than fighting the ocean, paddling a canoe for hours at a time.
‘Bother,’ I said to myself, I meant to bring the electric sander up the ladder with me. I climbed back down and went to the work shed; it was pitch black inside after the suns reflection off the house.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust.
There was the sander where I’d left it, lying ready on the work bench.
In the corner there was empty space where he stored his surf ski to dry off between sessions. He’d insisted on buying the best of course- it was made of ‘this and that’ with ‘blah blah’ design, it was all gobble- dee- gook to me.
I didn’t mind him spending the money; he’d worked hard for us and we lived well.
Back up the ladder I began sanding the section ready to be painted.
I was thinking about the last few weeks, and how it had quickly slipped into months. We were living apart more than ever; separating, like the paint from the wood panels outside.
I’d also started to notice little imperfections in his honesty; not lies exactly but not revealing the whole story either. He would look away, avoiding eye contact, or leave the room quickly when I came in, and was that a whiff of perfume or the new deodorant I’d bought him?
I moved the ladder over and began scrapping away an untouched section of peeling paint; large pieces came away in long satisfying strips, revealing a nakedness beneath.
Minutes slipped by, maybe an hour; thoughts racing through my mind, I needed a break.
As I stepped off the last rung, I felt a little light headed so I bent forward with my hands on my knees and head hanging downwards to relieve the dizziness.
I heard his car rumble down the driveway. I slowly straightened up. ‘He’s home early for a Saturday. Something must have happened.’
I watched him get out of the car. As he walked towards me he looked me up and down; as if he hadn’t seen me before. ‘That was weird; he hasn’t looked that way for a very long time’.
There was something different about him too, I couldn’t quite pick what it was, but he looked calmer, maybe, more ‘here’.
He came and stood next to me, smiling, and holding my hand.
I looked at him too, something had cleared, we felt different. I felt my hand surrender into his.
I followed his gaze up at the side of the house where I’d been working.
Shielding our eyes from the sun’s reflecting sting, all the imperfections showed clearly; I’d missed a few spots, there were holes and dents in the wood panels, some were going to need replacing altogether. It looked like more work than we first thought.
‘It’s going to take both of us to work at it, love’, he said.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘But it’s worth it, don’t you think?’
I felt his smile as he squeezed my hand.