Thursday, March 9, 1989
On the phone she says, "My name is Ellen and we own an old cabin way back in the hills and since you live way back in the hills would you be willing to fix a few things? One of the - uh - tenants installed some new plumbing and it needs a few finishing touches."
The cabin is in the shadow of a hill at the end of a dirt road. It's cold up there. The "finishing touches" involve some water pipes that have burst because of amateur soldering. Also, the hot and cold water pipes are reversed on a faucet, the toilet flushes into a two inch drainpipe, and the outlet of a sink trap is higher than the sink.
A young woman wearing wool ski pants and a down jacket with the hood up is sitting in front of an easel, working on a watercolor. Her fingers are long, slender. The brush trembles. An electric space heater rumbles, making pitiful heat. "It's hard," she says, "when the paint keeps freezing."
"I hope you aren't paying a whole lot of rent."
"None. My mother owns the place."
"Who did the plumbing?"
"Kevin. My boyfriend. Is it awful?"
"Please - please - don't tell my father. They don't get along."
In the evening I call Ellen. "Everything's working," I say. "The finish is now, uh, touched."
"Did you see my daughter? Is she all right?"
"She seems fine."
"Does she need anything?"
Suddenly she's defensive. "I can't go. I'm disabled. My husband doesn't know she's living there. But she knows I care about her."
"I mean, she needs heat."
"Oh. Well, Kevin could install a furnace."
"No! Not him."
"Oh." A long pause. "I see."
"I could install a propane wall furnace."
"I think we'll just wait." Another pause. "Yes. We'll just wait on that."