Revenge

     Most of my heavy labor around the house consists of wrestling mouse carcasses away from the cats. A bit of cooking, fluffing the pillows – that sort of thing. I am more the artistic, intellectual type, so when I told Jane I could reshingle the garage roof she seemed a bit hesitant.
     Perhaps “dubious” would be a better word.
     All right, “alarmed.”
     “Are you sure, Robert?” she said.
     “Of course I’m sure,” I said. “Nothing to it.”
     “Where do you start, top or bottom?” Jane asked – testing me – as though my word were not gold, but one of the baser elements.
     “You start at the bottom,” I said, having read it somewhere.
     “How will you get the shingles up to the roof by yourself?”
     I gave her my sincere, no-expression face, blank as a banker’s conscience.
     “You fling them up there like Frisbees,” I said.
     Jane studied my face. There was nothing there.
     “Well,” she said, “OK.”
     So that’s why I spent last weekend incapacitating myself, scraping off old shingles, pounding nails, schlepping tarpaper up to the roof, twisting and turning and measuring, flinging shingles up there like Frisbees.
     Now my neighbors will think I’m a good guy. I mow the lawn – well, Jane mows it – and I shingled the roof. What more could you ask from a neighbor?
     You might sacrifice virgins to Moloch in the eerie quiet of the barn, but if you mow the lawn and shingle the roof, you’re a good neighbor.
     It’s in the rules.
     It’s not just the construction I like – it’s the destruction: scraping the old shingles off the roof and hurling them down. You can throw them anywhere.
     Perhaps you have arrived at a party on a rainy night, and removed your coat and hat, and your hostess said, “Just throw those things anywhere.”
     She did not mean you could throw those things anywhere.
     She meant any number of things. She meant, “I will show you the particular place in which I would like you to hang up those items, if you let me find a place to put my drink.”
     She meant to bid you welcome.
     She wanted to set a mood.
     She meant to indicate that she was relaxed and at ease to have you in the house and did not suspect you would steal too many of her jewels or minor appliances.
     She did not mean, “Just throw those things anywhere.”
     But shingles you can throw anywhere.
     When you’ve scraped down to the plywood, and pried off hundreds of old staples and nails, and swept off what’s left, and surveyed the cheap, but mercifully not rotted plywood, and lugged big rolls of tarpaper to the roof, you try to staple the tarpaper down. Then the sun switches over from burning hydrogen to burning heavier elements, and becomes several million degrees hotter, and the wind kicks up, and you curse.
     That is, you begin cursing.
     Much more is in store.
     You still have to cut the shingles to fit, and traipse up and down the ladder to get more shingles, and measure precisely, and pound nails while kneeling and twisting and turning, while your patellae and all their associated tendons crumble like crackers in a monsoon, and your entire body becomes covered with tar.
     It wasn’t the tarpits that killed the mastodons. I believe the mastodons’ knees went first. Then they fell into the tarpits.
     Well, the roof is shingled now, and I have about a week’s credit with Jane. I can drop things anywhere for a while. And probably will. I’ve been doing it for days.
     I did two other things up on the roof. I forgot the words to a lot of Beatles songs, and I got a good idea.
     It involves revenge.
     It seems like just yesterday but it must have been 50 years ago. I was a middle child, and from time to time I would try to beat up my little brother. When I did that, my older brother would whack the daylights out of me.
     “Pick on someone your own size,” he’d say. Then he’d whomp me again.
     Let the record reflect that I was not his own size.
     He was bigger than me.
     My older brother has lived in his house for about 30 years now.
     That house is due for a reshingling.
     This weekend, I shall call up my older brother.
     “How’s that roof of yours?” I’ll say. “About ready for reshingling, isn’t it? You should do it yourself some weekend.
     “It’s easy.”

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