A Building JobbyCromagnonman©
It was one of those jobs that a young tradie like me dreamed of when he first started his own business, a renovation of an old family home in an affluent suburb. I knew the house and its owner because I'd worked there before when my old boss did the maintenance on it before he retired.
The Sampson family had lived here since the current owner's great-grandfather built it some hundred years ago, its federation styled gable ends either side of the veranda that lead to the heavy wooden front door with diamond lead lined windows either side. A paved agapanthus lined driveway led from the wrought-iron front gates to the garage set just behind the rear corner of the house. There was a covered walkway linking the two buildings. The garage was the focus of this job, a victim of the ever-widening vehicles of today. It was a tight squeeze getting the car into the garage let alone that once inside the doors wouldn't open far enough for the driver or passengers to get out of it, so the old garage was coming down and in its place a new one in the same style as the old one, but wider.
Roland Sampson occupied this house with his second decorative wife, his first decorative having grown tired of doing not a lot in the leafy serenity of this affluent suburb, having found herself not accepted by the 'old money' ladies whose tennis days, bridge afternoons and morning teas occupied their time fully. The fact that she was young, decorative and not from an 'old money' family was against her from the very beginning, the general rule being that one is not advised to marry outside one's class. The current and decorative Juliette Sampson had not been around long enough to become ostracized, but she was getting there.
There was only one car in the driveway, her Mazda MX5, so I parked my truck out front and walked to the front door. The Westminster chimes echoed through the house on my pushing the button and eventually the image of a wavy figured became visible through the diamond glass. The door opened revealing the robe clad figure of the lady of the house. "Oh it's you, I wasn't expecting you for hours."
"It's going to be a hot one today so I thought that I'd get an early start." The Weather Bureau had predicted forty degrees with a hot northerly wind, it was going to be uncomfortable.
"Oh," she grabbed her car keys from the hall stand and handed them to me, "could you move it for me, I can't be seen outside dressed in my robe, what would the neighbours think?" I detected a note of cynicism in her voice. It felt strange sitting in her little sports car after driving my truck. I parked it out front and reversed my truck up the driveway before returning her keys.
My first task was to remove the timber double doors and they stubbornly refused to co-operate. There were several coats of paint covering the heads of the screws holding the hinges and it took several minutes to clear this out before I could unscrew them and even this was a problem, the screws had lived in the timber for a long time and my reversing electric drill wouldn't even start to move them so it was back to the old methods and this was to prove to be the rule rather than the exception so it was after lunch before the roof was off and the brick walls and the skeletal roof frame were all that was left.
I was sitting in the shade, my back against a large tree munching on my brought from home sandwich when she came out the back door carrying a jug of cold drink and a couple of glasses. "Do you mind if I join you? It looks pleasant out here in the shade."
"Sure, pull up a tree." I didn't expect her to, there being an outdoor setting a couple of metres away but she did, and she sat next to me her shoulder touching mine. I heard the sound of her pouring a glass of drink from the jug and her hand moved across as she handed it to me. "Thank you, I need something like this, I was starting to think about water from the tap."
"I couldn't allow that to happen. How long will you be here today?"
"A couple of hours, all I have to do is to knock down the frame and then I can load the timber onto my truck and take it to the recycle yard on my way home."
"Would you like some help?" Wow! This was a bolt from the blue, I would never expect someone in her position to offer to help, the most that I would have expected, given past experience, was the offer of a cup of tea for smoko. (That is what the mid-morning break is called in Australia)
"Thanks for the offer but I couldn't allow you, I wouldn't like to see you hurt." I had visions of her trying to explain to her husband the blistered hands or the splinters that are common when people who aren't used to this work attempt it.
"I've done this sort of thing before, do you have a spare hard hat?"
"I have to insist that you can't do this."
"And I have to insist that I want to help." What could I say, I grabbed a spare hard hat and tossed it to her, and she surprised me by deftly catching it by the chinstrap and putting it on. "How do I look?" She said, striking a pose.
"Like a contestant in one of those reality TV shows where they get rank amateurs and get them to carry out a renovation project for our amusement."
She threw the hard hat at me and headed indoors to return minutes later in an old pair of jeans and tee shirt, pulling on a pair of gloves as she strode across the lawn. She grabbed the hard hat, adjusted it to fit her head and plonked it on. "Okay boss, where do we start?"
"For the moment just stand back, I'm going to knock the rafters from the top plate and with a bit of luck the whole lot will collapse in a heap inside the garage and the nails will be rusty enough that the timber will separate and make it easy for us." I climbed the ladder I had placed against the outside wall and began to prize the rafters free. As I worked my way along the wall, the roof rafters, without the joists to keep them together, began to sag in the middle until with a crash the whole lot collapsed in a cloud of dust into the garage. Juliette emerged from the dust cloud coughing and spluttering and trying to wipe the grime from her face. "Don't rub your eyes."
"But I can't see."
"If you rub them you'll make them worse, come with me." I led her to the hose tap. I turned it on and ran the water until the heated water in the hose had cooled down. "Now try to keep your eyes open." I ran water into them to flush out the dust. "How does that feel?"
"Better thank you." I took a clean handkerchief from my pocket and passed it to her, she dried her face and smiled at me. "Apart from the dust that was fun."
"Just wait until we get to knock down the brick walls, now that'll be fun." I realized after I had said this that I had included her.
"I can't wait!" She looked down at her soaked tee shirt, it was fairly obvious that she wasn't wearing a bra because her nipples were standing out and there was no sign of any means of support. "Oops," she caught me looking at them, "I didn't mean for that to happen." She made no attempt to cover up.
"Do you want to change?"
"No, it'll dry out soon enough. Now what do we do?"
"We pick up this timber and load it onto the truck so I can drop it off on my way home and if there's time I want to make a start on the brick walls, they should come down easy enough. I want to clean the bricks and re-use them for the new garage and I can pick up some second hand clinkers to match so that the new garage will look like the old one and blend in with the house." (Clinker bricks are clay bricks that were closest to the walls of the kiln so they were over-baked and very hard, dark in colour with an almost glazed appearance with some irregularities that gave them character)
I began picking up the roof timbers and pulling any nails out of them and stacking them ready to load. Juliette was picking up timbers and bringing them to me to save me gathering them myself and in about half an hour we were ready to load. I showed her how to lift one end of the timber onto the tray of the truck and then pick up the other end and slide it in. By the time we had finished loading and tying the load down we were both sweaty and covered in dust. I picked up the hose and turned it on pouring water over my head and over my shoulders, it felt good and cooling. "Okay stud, when you've finished showing off your six pack I'm sweaty and dirty too." I turned the hose on her expecting her to squeal and turn away but she stood there as I hosed her hair and shirt until she was clean.
I turned the hose off and while I was coiling it up I felt her hand on my shoulder. I stood to face her not knowing what to expect but I guess I was hoping for. . . . "I'm going to get us a drink so that we can cool down, I don't know about you but I was getting a little hot there, not that it bothered me." She touched my face with a hand and reached up to kiss me. Now that's what I was hoping for. When she returned it wasn't with the expected soft drink, she had a stubby (375ml bottle) of beer in each hand and was still wearing her wet tee shirt. Hell man what's happening here, I'm doing this job for her husband who I know from previous jobs and here's his new wife coming on to me big time. I took the bottle from her and poured a generous amount of amber down my parched throat. "You like beer do you?"
"Not all the time but at a time like this beer is as good as anything. When's Roland due home?"
"Not for hours, he plays squash on the way home Mondays so I won't see him until late, I'll probably be in bed asleep when he gets in after today's effort, I haven't worked this hard for a long time, not since high school when I helped my father when he was busy."
"Your father's a builder?"
"No, he was a plumber but he died in an accident, someone hadn't slung a load properly and it dropped about twenty metres onto him, he wouldn't have felt anything."
"I'm sorry." I didn't know what else to say to her.
"It's alright now. I'm just about over it but I did miss him there for a long while, we were close, I was the nearest thing to the son he never had, and I probably would have gone into the trade if it hadn't been for his accident. How long have you been doing this?"
"I did my apprenticeship with the builder that did work here for years and a couple of years ago he decided to retire so I sort of inherited his customers."
"So you would have known my predecessor then?"
"I met her only once, just before she left your husband, she wasn't a happy little vegemite (this comes from the advertising slogan for a yeast spread beloved by Australians but nowhere else) ."
"I can understand that, the ladies of this district can be a little standoffish but it doesn't bother me, if they have a problem associating with a plumber's daughter that's their problem."
"Doesn't it bother your husband that you aren't accepted by the in crowd?"
"Nothing bothers him he's a world unto himself. I guess when you have as much money as he has people have to respect him."
"So money doesn't do it for you?" I was getting the feeling that she wasn't happy in her marriage.
"When we first met his buying me expensive gifts was fun but lately it seems that any time he does something wrong he has to buy me a present to make up for it, I don't know what he did and I don't care, but he must have done something pretty bad to buy me a new car."
"You're not interested in finding out?"
"I'm beyond caring."
"So why do you stay?"
"I suppose that I don't want to confirm the already held opinion that I only married him for his money."
"I'd better get going Mrs. Sampson," I had to try and re-establish the proper relationship between us before it goes too far. "I may be a bit later in the morning, I have to pick up a compressor and jack hammer to break up the floor slab."
"I'll make sure that my car is out of the way before you get here. See you in the morning Mister Spaulding." The emphasis she placed on my name showed me that she had recognized the discomfort that I felt at our familiarity and was trying to lighten the mood, but sarcasm didn't suit her.
I saved time by picking up the compressor on the way home instead of in the morning so I arrived on the job at the same time as yesterday. Juliette had just parked her car on the street and followed me as I reversed the truck and compressor up the driveway, she was wearing similar work clothes as yesterday, jeans and a tee shirt. I climbed out of the cab. "Good morning Mrs. Sampson."
"Please Mark, don't call me that, it's Juliette and yes, it is a good morning." How did she know my first name, she must have read it on the quotation that I gave her husband. "Where do we start today?"
"You wouldn't have a trumpet would you?"
"Trumpet?" Her look was quizzical. "Why would you want a trumpet?"
"I thought that we could march around the garage blowing a trumpet and the walls might fall down like they did in Jericho, it'd save a lot of effort on our part."
She smiled at this. "No I'm sorry I can't help you there, it'll have to be brute force."
"Ah well, plan B it is then, stand back." I pushed against the wall between the piers and a large section of it fell into the garage.
"Are you sure your name's not Sampson? That seemed so easy."
"Not really when you know how, the lime mortar they used when this was built has no real structural strength and without a load pushing down on it, it doesn't take a lot of effort to push it over." I attacked the remainder of the wall with a lump hammer and bolster lifting the bricks from their bed of mortar. The mortar fell away leaving the brick clean, these I stacked straight onto a pallet that I had brought with me.
Juliette took a brick from me. "You lift them off and I'll stack them." Her gloved hand touched mine as she took the brick from me sending an electric shock through my body and her eyes held mine for a second or two longer than was necessary. By smoko time and with two extra pallets we had the bricks stacked leaving a pile of powdery mortar in the middle of the garage floor. It had been dusty work so I made use of the hose to rinse the dust off my face and out of my hair. "May I?" She took the hose from me. "You missed a bit." She squirted my face while at the same time she brushed away the dirt with her fingers, the cool water running down my chest soaking my shirt. She then turned the hose on herself, ducking her head to allow the water to cascade around her face to the ground. Standing up she ran the stream of water over her face and it swept down her neck and the front of her shirt.
"You do realize the effect that this is having on me don't you? I think that we should take a step back and decide where this is going, if it's going anywhere."
"Do you mean is this going to be a casual fling or is it going to be something more serious like a full blown affair?"
"Something like that?" I gulped.
"I haven't worked that out yet, there's so much to think about, like is there a good lady waiting for you at home who'll be upset if we decide to take this further?"
"No there's not one of those."
"So you're worried about the implications for my marriage is that it?"
"Yes, apart from me not wanting to hurt you there's another problem and that concerns my work around here, if word got out that I had been having an affair with you it might affect my reputation with other clients."
"I can put your mind at ease about both of those, you won't be hurting me because working with you yesterday and this morning have been the happiest time I have had for a long time, a very long time, it was like working beside you was what my life should be like. As for the other, for all of his money and status my husband is not well liked around here, it seems that he has incurred the wrath of several people who had been long-time friends over some business deal and losing a wife to you would make them happy."
"Are you saying that you want this to move ahead?"
"At last, the penny drops! I've been sending out vibes to that effect since yesterday morning with my wet tee shirt. Yes I want to make love to you, but not right now, what would you like to drink?"
The change of subject caught me by surprise. "A cup of tea would be fine thanks." Get a grip mate is that the best that you can do, here she is offering herself to you and all you can say is 'a cup of tea will be fine'.
We sat as we had yesterday with our backs to the tree sipping our tea and eating the cake that she had made especially for me. "When I said earlier that I wanted to make love to you I didn't mean that I will, it's just that I want more than anything to make love to you, but only when and if the situation is such that neither of us will get hurt. Roland I don't care about, he has changed so much since I became his trophy wife that he's not the same man that I married, I'm merely a decoration to show off to his friends to tell them that he can get any woman that he likes, and if he loses one he can always get another."
"He's really hurting you, isn't he?"
"You could say that, when I went to take his squash clothes out of his bag this morning to wash them I noticed that they hadn't been worn, he lied to me when he said that he was playing squash with his mates."
"So you're assuming that he's having an affair then?"
"What other explanation can there be?"
"I don't know, but what I do know is that it will be just my luck to fall in love with you only to find that he has had a perfectly innocent explanation for lying to you about not playing squash and you'll stay with him. What I also know is that the last day and a bit has been the best time for me and I would love to have you work with me permanently but only if we can sort out the mess that is our lives."
"I know how you feel and I appreciate your honesty, most men would have jumped in without any thought for the repercussions for me or anyone else." She rested her forehead on my shoulder for several seconds and then she kissed me on the lips and I was hooked.
Juliette picked up the cups and plates and carried them inside while I cranked up the compressor and got the jackhammer ready to demolish the garage floor. The old concrete broke up easily and it was only about an hour later that it was in chunks small enough for the loader that I had booked in the morning to clear out the rubble and level the ground ready for me to form up for the new slab. With Juliette's help I was running way ahead of schedule.
"That's it for today, I've got a loader coming in the morning to clear up and level out, a load of reo and some forming boards, and by lunch time we should be ready to pour the new slab. I'll order the concrete for just after lunch and we'll have it down by three with a little luck." I packed the jackhammer onto the truck.
"Can I come with you?"
"Do you think that's wise?" I wanted her to come but then I didn't want to complicate what was getting to be a messy situation.
"No but I want to just the same. I promise not to do anything, I just want to be with you, that's all." She tried hard to keep her promise but then I had to swerve to avoid some idiot who elected to change lanes on top of me. She put out her hand to steady herself and it just happened to end up on my thigh. It stayed there, probably because I placed my hand over hers. I was tempted to move her hand up and place it on my erection but that would have tempted fate too much. She looked at me and then at our hands then just above our hands, the question didn't need to be asked, and the answer remained unspoken, and our hands still didn't move. "Take me to where you live."
"Okay, I mean no. Much as I want to it will be too dangerous. Can we just take it a little slow for the time being."
"Please." Her hand moved closer and my hand did nothing to stop it.
"No. If I take you home we'll probably make love."