By Andrea Rothman
The man walks into my house. Tall and absurdly young, he has come to inspect my roof, and possibly fix it. My roof is over eighty years old and likely to be the only flat roof in Seattle. For over a decade now it has been leaking. When it rains, water invariably finds its way in, and it rains often here. Winters especially, I live surrounded by buckets; my living room and kitchen recalling in some distant way a children’s art project. I thought I had made peace with it, but the roofer’s presence in my house means I probably haven’t.
“Flat roofs are a problem,” the young man says, stating the obvious, yet something about his smile and large gruff hands hanging open at either side of him, suggesting a willingness to help, gives me hope.
He goes back outside the house and pulls out an extension ladder from his van and leans it against the side of the porch. Before I inhale his jeans vanish from view, and the thought of this young stranger falling to his death scorches my imagination, as things often do.
“You should be in school,” I hoarsely say, from the foot of the ladder. Fifty years of yelling at elementary school children to be quiet has nearly done away with my voice.
“Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty,” the young man sings back at me.
I gaze at a passing cloud and wonder where he learned to quote Mark Twain. “How old are you anyway?”
“Old enough to have driven here, mam.”
A while later, we’re back inside the house, discussing repairs. The problem is more complicated than I’d thought: not connected to the wasted gravel of the roof as much as it is to rotting gutters.
“They need replacing,” the young man offers, brushing a sun-bleached lock of hair from his face.
My hand goes up to my chin, as it frequently does in moments of desperation. To survive, I rely on a modest pension. One that doesn’t consider the play of time on cast iron. “Give me an estimate,” I say.
The young man shrugs. “Estimate?”
“The gutter repair job.”
“May I trouble you for some water?”
I lead him inside the kitchen and pour cold water from a jug in the fridge into a clear glass. At my feet a red bucket stands in wait of the next rainfall. “So?”
“So?” His sky blue eyes scrutinize the flaking ceiling above our heads.
“The estimate,” I kindly remind him.
The young man consumes his water in one gulp. He stands his empty glass inside the sink and studies me carefully, as if he knew me from somewhere. “The job is on me,” he says.
A stubborn little boy with blue eyes just like his appears before me, mollifying my heart along the way. “Are you Bruce?” I ask him. “From my fifth grade class.”
He shakes his head at the floor and smiles at me. “No mam. It’s just me, your roofer.”