“Do you have a r____, Mary Ann?” As I stood in the garage, I couldn’t hear the last word my husband Bob said over the churning of the washing machine and the pinging of buttons and snaps against the inside of the dryer. I stopped folding towels and turned to look at my middle-aged, sandy-haired husband in his red sweatshirt, jeans, workman’s boots and low-slung tool belt.
“Do I have a what?”
“A rope. Do you have a rope? I’ve looked everywhere in the house for one.”
“No, sorry, I don’t have a rope,” I said. Bob had taken time off from his advertising job to remodel the attic. He’d been working at it for a week, running up and down the stairs between his workbench in the garage and the fourth floor.
Bob had never been what you’d call handy. We had recently moved to Westport from NYC, where he had called the super for the most minor home maintenance—a leaky faucet, floor molding that had come loose, even setting the Christmas tree in its stand.
But five years and two children later, we said goodbye to New York, and, regrettably, the super. We learned the hard way how to be homeowners. Like the time we ran out of heating oil one frigid January night and called an emergency repairman. Who knew when the heat went out in the middle of that night it was actually because we had failed to order more heating oil. Wasn’t heat just automatic, like continuous electricity and water? But we learned, and Bob started doing more and more repairs and little DIY jobs himself—fixing broken shudders, replacing splintered boards on the deck, installing a garbage disposal under the sink.
Then he got cocky.
“I’m going to build a tree house for the kids,” he said. I imagined my children, Michael 5, and Jessica 8, falling through an improperly secured tree house floor, dropping through branches and leaves to an uncertain fate in the brush below. But he did it. In fact, he spent so much time at Home Depot asking questions and reading books that he actually built the tree house to code. The town’s code for housing, the kind people live in, not the kind in trees.
Next he tried his hand at remodeling the garage. He boxed in every pipe, every water hose, and every supporting beam with knotty pine. He even boxed in the massive 1950’s furnace that loyally chugged away, keeping our house and garage warm as long as we filled it with oil. We probably had the only garage in Connecticut that resembled a Swiss Chalet more than a place to park cars and store bicycles. It was not the look I was after, but still, I had to admit it was well done. Who knew he had these latent skills.
Still, I was trying to keep Bob and his saw out of the house, but he was itching for a new remodeling job, his affinity for the smell of sawdust growing stronger with each new project. With some reluctance, I suggested the attic, a cavernous raw space with high ceilings and a window at either end, which is how we wound up discussing rope on this April morning.
“You’re sure you don’t have any rope?” he asked again.
I continued doing laundry as Bob streaked by me again and again. I’d catch flashes of him as he grabbed tools from the workbench, marched out the garage door, then back into the garage through the house, a kind of round robin.
As I was folding sheets, I thought I heard my name, a distant, muffled “Maarry Aannn.” The washer stopped; there it was again, Bob calling from, I guessed, the attic. I ran up the stairs, checked the sawdust-covered worksite, but he wasn’t there. He kept calling; I searched the whole house. No Bob. I walked out the front door and scanned the front yard, which backed up to thick woods. Could he be in the tree house? No, what would he be doing there? I looked down our long tree-lined driveway until it curved and disappeared from view before it reached the street. Still no Bob.
“Maarrry Aannn. Up here.” I looked up and couldn’t believe what I saw—Bob straddling our sharply peaked roof and clinging to the chimney.
“Bob! Oh my God,” what are you doing up there?” I shouted, cupping my hands around my mouth to form a megaphone. The house was built into a hill and four stories high in front. In his red sweatshirt, he looked to be about the size of a large woodpecker.
“Come around to the back deck.” he shouted.
“Come around to the back deck.”
Because of the hill, he was only two stories up in the back of the house. I climbed the stairs to the deck. I could see him more clearly now, desperately gripping the chimney, but more embarrassed then afraid. A ladder stood abandoned against the side of the house.
“What are you doing up there?”
“I wanted to see where I could cut a hole for a skylight. I got up here without a problem, but every time I try to take a step down I slide. Do you have a rope?”
“No, I still don’t have a rope.”
Then I did what any wife would do charged with getting her husband off the roof. I laughed—uncontrollably. No matter how hard I tried to suppress it, the laughter kept bubbling up. I turned my back to him; I didn’t want to get him laughing. He might lose his grip on the chimney, but my shoulders betrayed me, bouncing up and down as I convulsed.
When I composed myself, I turned to face Bob again.
“I know you aren’t going to like this, I said. “But I have to call the fire department.”
“No, no firemen!” he shouted.
“Have any other ideas?” I asked. He was quiet.
“Okay, go ahead, call them.”
I dialed 911.
“I wonder if you could help me? My husband’s stuck on the roof. Yes, that’s right, my husband. Okay, thank you, and would it be possible not to sound the sirens on your way here?”
I waited outside with Bob until we saw two burly firemen walking up our driveway, looking up at Bob, their heads cocked back like Pez dispensers. I waved them up to the back deck.
“Where’s your truck?” I asked.
“We couldn’t get it passed the trees lining the driveway without breaking the branches.” They gazed up at Bob, then the taller of the two looked at me and asked,
“Do you have a rope?”
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