Men Come Here

Men come here like they own the place. Roll up the road, bump over the apron, and tear through the gravel, leaving dirt tracks. I hear them before I see them. Hear their pickups, dump trucks, vans. Music through cracked windows. Sometimes they idle before getting out. I hear their boots.

The divorcée who used to live here installed a security system. My husband and I debated disconnecting it, but he’s a true-crime reporter who covers murders, and I’m alone here during the day. A security technician came to fix the wiring. He walked from room to room, aligning each window sensor and commenting on photos. “Is that you?” he said, looking back and forth between me and a honeymoon shot. He stuck a red sign to the back door, letting one of the cats out. The cat let himself back in because he’s scared of bees and the outdoors.

The furnace repairman loves the cats. While fixing the motor, he welcomed them into the hot closet. On his second visit, to replace some pump or gauge, he didn’t go straight to the furnace, just stayed in the hall, talking and petting.

We used to live in Manhattan on the tenth floor of a Midtown building. Now we’re in a house, something I’ve always wanted. My husband trains to the city and I take care of our boys, our house and yard. The deal was, since my husband would be spending more hours out of the house, I would take up more of the chores. Garbage. Weeding. Scooping muck from gutters. But I was naïve. I didn’t know how many tasks I couldn’t do myself. How many men I would need. I work from home to pay bills for things like security and furnace repair. 

We live in a safe town, but I paid an electrician to install a motion sensor on the garage spotlight. He told me about his thing with numbers: “I like them to be even.” To the kitchen ceiling, he said, “Seven cable heads? I’d like to see eight.” The spotlight switch was up, but the bulb wasn’t on. The electrician hunted for a second switch, hoping to force the two to agree. “I need all the switches to be aligned,” he said. He found two more switches and chafed at the riddle.

The electrician ran out of time before he could rewire the shed’s coach light, so he sent his apprentice a week later. I watched from the dining room as he bolted from the shed, leapt over the stone wall, and crisscrossed the grass, screaming, “fuck! fuck!” When he calmed down, he told me through the screen, “Yellow jackets! They stung me like fifty times.” He pulled up his pant leg. Three red bumps swelled near his ankle.

“I’m sorry,” I said, followed by the only other thing I could think of: “If my kids were home, they would have been scared.”

He pushed his pant leg down and straightened. “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” I shut and latched the glass door.

Illustration by Anna Hall

So then a pest controller came for the yellow jackets. He slid over the retaining wall in his protective white suit, sprayed an old log, and left. Septic called ahead, cleaned out the tank, and curled a stamped yellow postcard in the door handle. Oil never enters the drive. Just leaves his rig on the road and drags the hose to the external fill point.

Our second fall in the house, stormwater cut through our lawn, bringing with it sticks and leaves, shards of Corona bottles, used Band-Aids. Water soaked the living room. I called a landscaper and led him down the new creek bed that now bisected our yard. He poked the mud with his Wolverines and asked me questions about my house, my background, my parents. I told him both my parents are dead. Before he left, he hugged me. He came back a few days later with an estimate. Again, a hug. He hugged me and said he was sorry about the recent death of my mom, about both my parents. He shook his head.

I texted my husband and two friends. “Is it weird that a landscaper hugged me?”

“Yes,” they said, “landscapers shouldn’t hug homeowners.”

“I don’t want him to come back,” I said.

“No,” they all agreed. “Tell him not to come back.”

I wrote an email. I made up a story, said that my mother-in-law knows a landscaper she trusts. We live in a safe town, and I’m a low-risk victim, but I made up the story rather than tell him to stop it with the hugging because I’m alone here during the day and he knows where I live.

Meanwhile, we still had water in the living room. I called a contractor. “What a beautiful spot,” he said. “You don’t even need to lock your doors!”

So many doors. Lock lock lock lock lock lock. So many windows. Eighteen on the ground floor alone. I didn’t realize, the whole first year we lived here, that one living room window wasn’t actually locked. Couldn’t lock, since the keeper was missing. At the hardware store, I tried to match the sliding sash lock exactly. But the new keeper didn’t fit. With a drill I widened the opening. It still didn’t line up. I drilled, drilled, drilled to force it. I slid the lock closed and pounded on the window with a rubber mallet until I couldn’t open it again. I told my husband, “I fixed the lock. Don’t ever try to open that window.”

We live in a safe town, and I pay men to check and fix and fill and empty things I can’t. Men sweep the chimney and insulate the well. One patched a crack in the foundation. Three dug a drainage easement. It took four men to cut down the dead yellow birch. Men come here to make the place safer, and I lock all the doors and windows, lock myself into this house I’ve always wanted.

About the Author

Suzanne Farrell Smith

is the author of The Memory Sessions, a memoir about searching for lost childhood memory, and The Writing Shop, a teaching guidebook. She is widely published, has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and won a Pushcart Prize for her Brevity essay, “If You Find a Mouse on a Glue Trap.”

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