I’d come home early from work, saddled with a splitting migraine and a queasy stomach. I barely noticed the bright blue tarps hanging from the eaves or the pick-up truck blocking our drive.
It wasn’t until I was in my bed, curtains pulled tight and covers over my head, that it started.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
I pulled the covers down from my eyes.
I threw back the covers and pulled on my pink satin robe, barely able to open my eyes against the throbbing pain of my headache. I stumbled downstairs where I found my roommate sitting on the living room couch, staring dejectedly out the window, outside of which a ladder stood inexplicably propped.
“What’s going on?” I called weakly, struggling to be heard over the din.
“Roofers,” he said dully, without looking up.
“What was wrong with our old roof?” I cried, trying to imagine what could possess someone to order a new roof in the dead of a Wisconsin winter.
“I think Richard got a deal,” he explained, as if reading my mind.
And the banging continued. I awoke each morning to a muddled string of Spanish and English, dirty words shouted from inches outside my third floor window. And each afternoon, I came home to a yard littered with debris.
The first Saturday came as a relief. Thank god for unions, I thought as I poured my morning coffee, relishing the quiet on this day of rest. When suddenly–
My roommate’s expressionist self-portrait fell from the wall with a clatter. I groaned and dumped my coffee in the sink. Another day at a coffee shop.
Sunday was no better. Our windows rattled in their frames, threatening to shatter, and there were times the pounding was so insistent I thought my ceiling might split in two. Rusty nails and rotten shingles were sent hurtling from our roof like sheets of hail, casting frightening shadows across our floors before crashing to the ground below.
Recording music was impossible and, for that matter, so was hearing myself think.
Nights were the worst. Our roof was stripped bare, leaving only a thin layer of wood between my ceiling and the cold February sky. I barely slept for days, piling every item of clothing I owned on top of the next and curling myself into a ball beneath my paper-thin comforter. My teeth chattered as the cold burrowed itself inside me like a parasite.
This went on for weeks.
Yesterday was the kind of day that rubbed me wrong from the moment it started, scratching with every move like a new wool sweater. I dressed myself early, at least, making it out the door before the banging had built to its cacophonous crescendo.
But my walk was tiresome. The day was unseasonably temperate, but Saturday’s puddles were Sunday’s ice rink and I nearly cracked my skull on three separate occasions.
I spent the morning in the sunny front room of a coffee shop, trying to write and failing, trying to find jobs and failing. Trying to convince myself I wasn’t doomed for a life of poverty and unfulfillment. And failing.
Before long, my headache was back and so was my longing for institutionally-prepared vegetable medleys. When I found myself looking up one-way plane tickets to my hometown, I decided it was probably time for a nap.
The house was still as I dragged myself up the second set of stairs to my room. I flopped into bed, tense and tearful like a preschooler who’d skipped her nap time, and pulled the covers tight over my head, blocking out the midday sun. After a good half hour of tossing and turning, I finally slipped into blissful slumber.
I awoke with a start. I turned to see a man’s workpant-clad legs outside my window, teetering on a too-tall ladder. The roofers. I’d forgotten.
I stomped downstairs irritably to make some tea, hoping it would calm my shattered nerves. The sound was hardly better a floor down. The banging was so loud it sounded like it was coming from inside the house. It surrounded us, rattling our walls and deafening our ears.
“This is Week Three,” I called over the racket, setting the kettle on the stove with one hand while trying unsuccessfully to cover my ears with the other. “How long does this take?”
My roommate shook her head as she scrubbed out a stockpot. “I ran into one of them when I took out the trash,” she said, wincing as a particularly strong blow rattled the pans hanging from the wall above the stove. “I asked him when he thought they’d be done.”
She turned back to me with raised eyebrows. “He said they don’t have a lot of other jobs right now, so they’re taking their time.”
My eyes widened. “WHAT?” I cried, outraged. I jumped in surprise as a wayward hammer soared past the window next to me.
“I know,” she said. She turned back to the sink and shook her head. “I think Richard’s getting a deal.”
I switched off the burner, my appetite lost. I trudged back upstairs, the banging louder and louder with every step of my ascent.
I took a hot shower by candlelight, hoping the rush of water would drown out the pounding. It didn’t. The banging seemed louder than ever, echoing in the tiny bath, and when the water suddenly switched from hot to cold, something in me… just… snapped.
I shut off the water and stomped onto the bathmat, nearly shaking with anger. I furiously wound a towel around my wet hair and pulled on a tattered pair of pajamas, pale blue and covered in smiling snowmen. I didn’t bother with boots, shoving my feet into a pair of fuzzy pink slippers and storming out the front door.
I was a woman on a mission.
When I first stepped outside, I couldn’t see them. They were on the back side of the house, our front walk blocked by a dump truck, the side yard littered with plywood and power tools.
Suddenly, I saw our landlord tottering up the sidewalk with a styrofoam box and a bottle-shaped paper bag.
“RICHARD!” I shouted.
Richard’s a grumpy old man, drunk more often than he’s sober, and absent-minded as a lobotomy patient who stopped his surgery halfway through. He takes months to cash our rent checks and his idea of “fixing” things tends to end with more broken than when we started. He caught sight of my wild eyes and bedraggled pajamas and shifted his eyes side to side, searching for an exit.
“Uh, hi,” he mumbled nervously, trying to squeeze past me on the sidewalk.
“What is going on with the roof?” I demanded, following him up the walk to his side entrance. “The roofers said they’re taking their time. Do you know how cold it is in our apartment?”
“It’s costing me fourteen thousand dollars,” he grumbled under his breath, fumbling for his key.
“I don’t care how much it’s costing you!” I shouted, infuriated. “It’s your roof! I have a migraine from all the banging and our house is freezing. Are you giving us a discount on rent?”
“A discount?” he scoffed as he squeezed past me into the entryway. “The damn roof’s costing me fourteen thousand dollars!” And before I could assemble a retort, he slammed the door.
I turned on my heel, fuming. It was twenty-five degrees outside and too cold for pajamas, but my anger served as central heating. I heard voices in the backyard and I stomped off the paved walk to make my way around the house.
I looked down to find my slippered foot sunk ankle-deep in mud. What I thought was solid earth was apparently not. It was itchy and squishy and oozing between my toes. I grumbled to myself irritably as I struggled to extract my foot from the ground.
I adjusted the towel on my head, ice crystals already forming on my wet hair, and pulled my pajama top tighter around me, hobbling on one unmuddied foot down the rocky path. I stopped at the edge of the house, yellow caution tape barring my path.
Our back yard is a lush expanse of green bordered by towering spruce trees. A path of stepping stones leads through a garden, crossing beneath a clothesline to crumbling stone steps that lead down to the lake. Bunnies hop through the grass and the air is filled with birdsong and the summersweet scent of violets.
That’s in the spring.
Right now? It’s a wash of snow and mud, dead branches breaking through the frost like zombie hands, and every bit of it was covered in plywood and power tools, a bed of nails ensuring we’d never walk barefoot in the grass again.
I couldn’t see anyone.
“JUST GIVE ME A DATE,” I shouted into the abyss, my voice undoubtedly carrying across the lake.
The hammering stopped.
A middle-aged Mexican man stepped back from the house and into my view. He had a kind face and dirty overalls and I immediately regretted shouting.
“Please,” I said, lowering my voice and steadying my breath. “Just give me. A date. That you will be done.”
“No se,” he said, holding up his hands and eyeing my get-up skeptically. He squinted up at the roof. “Two, maybe three days?”
“That’s it?” I asked, incredulously. “Just two or three days?”
He frowned. “Three or four,” he allowed, hesitantly. “Supposed to rain tomorrow.”
“Three or four days,” I repeated. “And the banging will stop?”
“Probably three or four days,” he agreed, heading back to work. I sighed in relief and turned to go. “Then– other side of the roof.”
Categories: my life in words