The old farmhouse was sided in pine. It leaned…just a bit…to the right. Six months ago when they’d first looked at this place, the real estate agent had said it was an eyesore, interfering with the beauty of the pretty little farmhouse at the top of the hill. Tish and Paul had ignored her and stepped inside, Paul making excited plans and sketching out blueprints in the dusty air.
“You know your father wanted to turn this into his workshop,” Tish says now, running a hand across the old boards, the wood weathered and grey.
Timmy nods and bites his lip. “You ready?”
“You sure you want to…?”
In response, Tish climbs the ladder and began working, worrying her crowbar beneath a piece of siding.
“Be careful, Mom.”
“I’m fine.” Tish snaps out the words like old nails breaking beneath her hand. She glances down at her son. His dark brown hair. His squinting eyes. “I’m OK, Timmy. I’m sorry.”
They work in silence, Tish removing a board and handing it down to her son who sets it neatly on the ground. “I didn’t think they’d be this heavy,” she says.
“Want me to take over?”
“No. I need to do this.” Her arms grow weary. She allows her tears to flow, to join the sweat trickling down her face. The work is exhausting, an anesthetic numbing her mind with the routine.
She pauses and looks down. Wipes her eyes on the back of her sleeve. She works to control her breathing. She promises herself she’ll get back in shape. “Yeah?”
“I need to do it, too.”
She doesn’t want to give it up, this mindless dismantling of the house.
“OK.” She nods.
They exchange places, she holding the ladder, Timmy holding the crowbar. His work is faster. She is both pleased and annoyed. “Your father will be proud of you.”
Timmy doesn’t respond. Timmy says little lately.
* * *
They load the lumber into the bed of Paul’s pickup and drive it to the pretty little farmhouse at the top of the hill. They’ve set up sawhorses inside the garage.
Paul has prepared them well, printing out plans from the internet. Tish lets Timmy take over: She has no head for numbers and designs. She watches him work, selecting a board and carefully sanding it, an extra step that’s at the same time necessary and unnecessary. Paul would laugh, seeing his son sanding. But Timmy…Timmy needs to do this. Tish understands.
He’s looking at her. The sanding has ceased. She smiles, embarrassed to have been caught dreaming. “Can you hold this?”
Paul and Timmy have agreed upon glue rather than screws. She nods and holds one board while Timmy joins the other to it. “It’s like you and Dad,” Timmy says, looking at the boards.
“What do you mean?” She is pleased that her son is talking.
“You’re two different people, but you’re…together. Two separate people bound together to make a greater whole.” He looks at her. “You guys have been great together.”
Tears fill her eyes. “Until death do us part.” She imagines the boards coming unglued, the way she feels lately. She spends her days walking around the house, picking up objects and setting them down, wondering what she will do now. She’s so used to being together she doesn’t know how to be apart.
“We’ll be OK, Mom.” Timmy takes her hand, squeezes.
They work for hours, mainly in silence, occasionally bringing up a memory. The day Paul lost his glasses in the lake. The time he won a prestigious architectural award and showed up at the ceremony with his sweater on inside out. His love for this place. His love for…life.
Finally, just after midnight, they are done.
They step inside. Timmy washes his hands in the kitchen sink. Tish starts a pot of coffee.
“Is it done?”
Tish turns and startles. Paul is sitting at the table. God he looks…shrunken. “Did the nurse give you your dinner?”
“Is it done?” He repeats.
He stands unsteadily. Timmy rushes to help.
The three of them return to the garage. Paul admires the work of his son, running a hand across the wood. “Beautiful,” he says, nodding.
Timmy begins to cry.
Tish returns Paul to the house, taking him to their bedroom, tucking a quilt around him, knowing that this very quilt will be the quilt she will bury with him in the casket their son has made. She returns to the kitchen, pours herself a cup of coffee. Caffeine is of no concern. Sleep no longer comes to her.
For nights, she has sat up, staring into the darkness, making her plans. After she finishes tearing down the tired old house of pine, Tish will sell the place. She walks down the hall to Timmy’s bedroom. Her son is sprawled across the bedspread, eyes closed. She snaps off the light.
“Hey, Mom?” Timmy says from the dark. His voice is edged in sleep.
“We can keep this place, you know. We can make it work.”
She shakes her head. She…
“We can rebuild that old farmhouse. Rent it out to someone.”
She smiles. “I think Dad would like that.”
She returns to the kitchen and stares into the night. Wonders if the two of them could make it work.
This was written for this week’s Studio 30 Plus prompt. The word was pine.