Playing With Dolls
Lisa is a realtor. She's dark, intense. When I meet Lisa at the house, the new owners have changed the locks. Wearing a tight skirt, Lisa wiggles through the dog door and lets me in. "It's a job skill," she says, sucking deeply on a Marlboro, filling her pretty little chest with carcinogens.
I don't usually think of women as dolls, but Lisa is petite. With makeup her flesh is flawless, like plastic. There's a distance in her eyes, an untouchable quality about her, off-limits. Grown men shouldn't play with dolls.
Lisa's clients — two women named Judy and Janice buying their first home — want me to convert a wine cellar to a walk-in closet before they take possession. In addition, Judy and Janice want me to move a wall to accommodate a humongous bed. The floorspace will come at the expense of the other bedroom, which I will convert to another walk-in closet. Judy and Janice must have killer wardrobes. And an active, um, bed-life.
I've never met this couple, but I picture them in my mind as very young. Only the most active people with the most youthful knees would buy a house that should never have been built, a house on a steep hillside where you enter at street level and then descend two long flights of stairs to the living space. Nice view, though.
Some stoned painters arrive and start to spread drop cloths. I hear them talking about Lisa after she leaves. They, too, have noted her dolly quality. One says, "You think she's anatomically correct?"
The other painter chuckles. "She's cute," he says, "though she acts like she wouldn’t ever even kiss a guy. But I have to believe she’s lost, uh, you know, lost control of herself some time."
"She'd have to be on top," the first painter says, "or she'd suffocate."
"I'd never fuck a client," the second says. "It's unethical. At least, not until after she pays the bill."
Don the window washer arrives in the afternoon. I know Don from a previous job. He has a fresh scar on his forehead, a criminal record in his past, and when Lisa is gone he speculates in graphic and colorful detail about Lisa's body parts with particular attention to the scent and substance of body hair. "Short women taste different — like sauerkraut," he says. "And they have thicker hair." He claims to be an expert.
Then Don starts explaining his new scar, which involves a drunken bar fight: "He cut me, but I cut him worse. I needed fifteen stitches. Fifteen. I don't know how many he needed."
Don isn't the sort of person you'd want to leave alone in your house. Actually, come to think of it, maybe none of us are. And as it turns out, none of us pick up the clues about Lisa. We all made up our own little stories.
I install an aluminum threshold and stupidly bring my unguarded face close to the scroll saw so I can see the lines. A metal chip flies into my eye. Fucking shit. It hurts. I get it out but cry all evening, not sad, just making tears.
Lisa brings three telephone installers who do the work of one man. The senior of the three supervises while talking about the house he's building in Emerald Hills: "I'm making the kitchen twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet because I'm Italian, and Italians always gather in the kitchen." Then one of the installers staples his own finger to a baseboard, and the other installer pulls with needle-nose pliers while the supervisor swears in Italian. After they leave, Don the window washer in an uncharacteristic act of kindness wipes up the blood.
The wine cellar is of course at the bottom of the structure, down three flights of stairs. I calculate I've climbed those 60 steps at least 100 times, which is like climbing a 3000 foot mountain, and I've carried 500 pounds of drywall and dripped enough perspiration — plus a few tears, still flowing — to fill a 5-gallon bucket. I'm sure of that because in 3 days I drank over 5 gallons of water. I feel victorious — and dehydrated.
Lisa tells me that Janice wants me to repair a leaking shower and that one of the closet rods fell down. Suddenly it's just Janice. I'm embarrassed about the closet rod and curious about Judy.
"Don't worry," Lisa says, "Janice is the one with the money. It's her house. You'll still get paid."
"I wasn't thinking about money. I was wondering —"
"About lesbian love affairs? None of your business, Buster."
But it's not that. Not exactly. I'm simply curious. There's been drama, unknown: fights, a broken heart. I want the story.
On my final day of work, the moving company — Schmoover Movers — brings in a gigantic bed for which I've moved the wall. The bed frame they move in sections; the mattress they fold like a burrito to fit through the double doors.
I send a bill to Lisa. A few days later I receive a check in the mail signed by Janice, whom I've never met, who will be sleeping alone on a half-acre mattress in a house prepared by men — yes, in this case they're all male — who have bled their blood and dripped their sweat and echoed their voices within the bare walls — each with his own little comedies and tragedies — whom she's never met. It seems sad. Or maybe it's just the tears in my eyes.
A month later, I get a call from Lisa: "Remember that wine cellar you converted?"
"Oh no. Did another closet rod fall down?"
"Not that. More work. Janice wants to be sure I hire the same people because you left the house feeling so clean and pure. I didn't disillusion her. I know how you guys talk. I know what you probably said about her."
"Actually, honestly, I don't think anybody said anything about Janice. What does she need now?"
"We want you to convert half of that closet back into a wine cellar."
"Can you hear me blushing? I know it's sort of unethical to poach a client."
"Poaching? Is that what you call it?"
So now I know what happened to Judy.
"I'm a small person with a small wardrobe," Lisa says, "and I'm sort of a wine snob."