What went on inside the walls of a house had always been a mystery. Or something else, because Shawn had never really thought about it. The latest revelation came when Pancho told him to drill holes through some studs and tie three outlets to a single wire.
“Wait a minute! How many freakin’ things can you tie to a single wire?”
“One circuit, up to ten appliances. After that, you start getting ‘nuisance trips.’”
It seemed like something that should have been obvious – but in 24 years, Shawn had never wrapped his mind around this particular thought. Electricity suddenly seemed like an endless stream of power, with a mind-boggling capacity for interconnectivity.
His next assignment was to daisy-chain four can lights in what would eventually be the “piano room.” Like everything else that went inside walls and ceilings, the lights had knife-sharp metallic edges. Especially dangerous, given Pancho’s fetish for stuffing as many wires as possible through each drilled hole. Shawn was struggling to pull a third wire through a 7/8” opening. He had six inches through, but the two previous wires were binding together, keeping it from going any further.
Despite yesterday’s lessons – two finger-slices, one knuckle-gouge, Shawn was about to initiate a fatal combination. He wrapped the wire around his fingers for added leverage. He also changed the angle of attack, unwittingly freeing the wire from its previous bind. One mighty tug toward the can light six inches away and...
“Shit! Motherfucking son of a... FUCK!”
Pancho leaned in between the studs. “Something the matter?”
“This is the matter!” He showed the C-shaped cut across the back of his hand. “How much fucking blood do I have to donate to this fucking house before I stop doing fucking stupid SHIT like this?! You got a bandage?”
“I’ll check,” said Pancho. He reappeared with an old sock and a roll of duct tape.
“Blue-collar Band-Aid,” said Pancho. “Here.”
Shawn held the tape and stared at his wound, feeling pathetic. “God, Panch. I just feel so stupid when I do that.”
“’Salright, man. It’s not you – it’s your hands. They haven’t figured out how to do this yet. Believe me, I’ve donated a few pints myself. Here, wash it out with this bottle of water, then tape it up, but take a break, too. I don’t want you doing this stuff all frustrated and pissed-off.”
“Thanks, Pancho.” Shawn crossed the back lot to a low stone wall, where he ripped out a square of cloth, placed it over the cut, then wound the duct tape around his hand.
The house stood on a hill in Puyallup, overlooking the downtown, which was just then playing host to the Washington State Fair. Shawn watched the crowds oozing around the fairgrounds, the cars lined up at parking lots. In the foreground was an evil-looking contraption that whirled people around on either end of a hundred-foot pole. You could hear the screams all day long.
Interconnectivity, he thought. Why are people drawn to crowds of other people? And who the hell pays somebody to toss them around on a bucket 200 feet in the air? Is life such a dull, numb ache that you gotta volunteer for this shit?
He looked further on to the stripe of the Puyallup River, which was blue, brown or green, depending on your mood and where you caught it. It was the Puyallup Tribe that named the mountain. He read it on a plaque in Old Town Tacoma. They also ran the Emerald Queen Casino. They named the mountain Tacopid, which means, “She who brings us the waters.” The waters came down in a river named after the tribe, through a town named after the tribe, past a casino run by the tribe. The pain in his hand was now a dull, numb ache.
Tacoma left him.
“I’m going back to Pittsburgh. I need to be with my family, in familiar surroundings. I want to reconnect with my mom, and... I can’t help but associate Washington with my sickness.”
“Does that include me?” he asked. “This thing with Angie – was that part of it?”
“Love is stressful even when it’s good,” she said. “So yes, partly you – but I’ve been working too much, and that week I wasn’t eating enough. They all come together, and that’s how you get an episode.”
He said nothing.
“I hate to ask you this, honey, but... could you help me move?”
He spent the rest of the week in constant replays. He’d missed all the signs: the manic interview on the bird trail, the strange call the next morning (the onset of the delusional state). Even the sex – she was much more responsive than she should have been, if the meds were working. And then the trigger – his lie about Angie.
Still, he kept coming back to the odd phrase: lack of faith. She had apparently set him up as the state’s last chance to keep her. She had not fully invested herself. Then one transgression – Bam! Off to Pennsylvania.
But he didn’t have the luxury of blaming her. He could no longer subject her to the poison of an unstable life – his life, the life he wanted. If he changed his life to keep her, he would resent her, and that, too, would poison her.
So, a lack of faith, yes. But faith is a thing you either have or don’t have.
The following Saturday, he borrowed a company truck and moved her furniture to a storage space. When that was done, they carried a dozen boxes and bags to her car. Someone had smashed a jug of wine in the entryway, leaving a pungent, skid-row smell. He would remember that. He would remember little that they said, because they were both hesitant to say anything meaningful.
Under a cloud-rung twilight, he settled the last sack into its spot and closed the hatchback. They glanced around nervously.
“Thank you, Shawn. I know it’s... hard, but I didn’t know who else to call.”
“It’s okay. I’m good for... You’re welcome.”
She looked flustered for a second, then hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
“I do love you, Shawn.”
“I love you too.”
She turned for the entryway, walking quickly. He watched her, thinking, I have to remember this. She rounded the corner, a lock of hair, an elbow, a slice of shadow. He would spend the rest of his life missing her.
Photo by MJV