By Norbert Kovacs
Trisha Tidwell offered to make her husband Joe his favorite lunch, scrambled eggs with onions, so they might sit at the kitchen table and have a conversation. The two had spoken less and less since Joe worked his long hours at the quarry where he was a supervisor and Trisha managed part-time at the department store. When together, Joe seemed more interested in watching a medley of sports and news on TV or building a new shelf at his work bench in the garage than in talking. Trisha had disliked the lack of communication and meant to get them to be more personable. She felt disappointed, then, that Sunday morning when Joe said no to lunch.
“I can’t,” he said firmly. “I promised to help Hank build his new deck. I’ll be going to his place for most of the rest of the day.”
Trisha sighed inwardly. Joe was a hard, plain, to-the-purpose man. He would pursue with relish the physical labor of building with his friend and forget about home, she knew. Trisha went to wash the breakfast dishes at the sink without pressing him further.
Once Joe had changed into his clothes to go, he passed down the hall and said goodbye without stepping into the kitchen to face her. Trisha turned and saw her husband descend the stairs, his tall, thin form with its angular, jutting elbows and knees taking the steps easily, his head held high. His solid blue T-shirt, gray denims, and strong bottomed boots made the right outfit for his project at Hank’s. He went outside, clanging shut the door; in due order, he started his truck in the driveway and pulled away. Trisha was left alone in the house.
When done in the kitchen, Trisha went downstairs and tidied the spare room where she brought friends whenever Joe had claimed the living room to watch his TV. Despite her heavy form, she moved about cleaning the space like a woman with a much leaner body. She finished soon, her smooth face and large eyes shining, and returned with a kind of pride to the short corridor that led to the stairs and the garage door. Coming by there, Trisha considered it had been weeks since she had gone into the garage where Joe had his woodworking station, both their cars being parked in the driveway. With the energy she felt from cleaning, she went inside to see what her husband had been building. If she liked it, she thought she would raise the topic with him.
Opening the door, Trisha discovered Joe’s woodworking station much as she had remembered. There stood the table with the vertical saw in the center, nearby several, long planks piled on the floor. A wood treating table lay close beside these. At the wall appeared the short row of racks with clear, plastic drawers filled with small tools. The cabinet on a high stand behind the sawing table was Joe’s current project. Joe had made this object of about the size of a kitchen oven from pine panels. He had not adorned these in any fashion. All the sides but the front, where the doors were to go, were complete. As she studied the piece, Trisha imagined how Joe might finish the cabinet with the doors it needed. He could cut the last panel to create them, she thought. Perhaps add a neat design to their front, then install the pair with handsome hinges and knobs. He would feel proud to have done it.
Pleased with this idea, Trisha stepped toward the cabinet. As she considered its pine sides and nail work, she decided it might not take too long to complete the doors. I might try it myself, she thought. Joe’s never believed I have the least interest in his woodwork. I could surprise him. Maybe the work would not be that hard either. Make two simple, neat doors. Attach them with hinges and I’d be done. A complete piece. The cabinet would give us something to talk about. This notion excited Trisha and she decided, with sudden confidence, to make the doors.
Trisha went to the sawing table. She had never worked an electric saw or with wood; to get a first feel for it, she decided to cut one of the long, thin beams lying on the floor by the work station. She pressed the red square button at the edge of the table and the vertical saw in the center spun, whirring. The fine-toothed blade shone. Trisha picked up a narrow beam of pine from the cement floor, set its head on the table top, and pushed toward the saw. The beam went in at an angle rather than straight and its head burst against the turning blade. Chips and splinters flew in every direction. Several struck Trish on the arms and face; she turned quickly from the table to avoid them. She let go of the long beam and it fell clunking by her feet. When the splinters no longer flew, she edged toward the table and pressed the red button to power off the saw. I must be more careful, she thought as the blade whirred down to silence. She checked around the work station and discovered a pair of goggles and cloth gloves lying on the back table. Joe has to wear these when working here, she thought. She went over to the table with the items and put them on. The goggles were a hard, clear plastic equipped with tiny air holes on the brow. Their green, elastic strap hung loose on her when she donned the pair, so she adjusted it to hold to the back of her head. The gloves were a thick, orange cotton, dirtied with long use, their inside moist from her husband wearing them long. She clenched and opened her hands in the gloves to feel the pair work.
Trisha went next to the wood-treating table. From the floor, she hoisted the panel for the cabinet doors that sat leaning by the table’s legs. Very heavy stuff, she thought as she set the piece with a thud on the tabletop. She next took a pencil and steel ruler lying on the table, marked the midpoints on the top and bottom of the panel, and drew a line to connect them. She would cut through this to create the two cabinet doors, so made it straight as she could. She carried the panel to the sawing table and positioned it, the penciled mid-line two inches from the saw blade. She turned on the saw and the hard disc whirred. She grasped the panel at its bottom and pushed forward gently. The saw blade cut into the thick wood and sent powder and small bits up in a cloud. Trisha could not tell too easily how the cut went for all the powder flying. She thought that she might swipe some of it away to be able to see. However, she feared being cut bringing her hand near it. She did not believe either that she should stop the saw as she worked to remove the dust: she would risk damaging its engine. As the blade whirred, she decided it best to go on slowly. I’m sure I’m following the midline, she thought. I ought to trust I am doing this right when I stationed it so. She pushed forward the panel. Her hands held onto it firmly to prevent it from rumbling with the saw’s motion. The blade cut slowly through the thick wood. Her arms held tight as she fed the piece forward. At last, the blade cut through to the end. She powered it off, swept away the sweet smelling dust, and inspected the wood. She had followed the midline well, cutting the panel right in half. She removed a glove, swept a finger along the edge where she had sawed and found it smooth. A real woodworker’s cut, she thought.
Trisha brought the two halves of the panel back to the wood treating table. She went next to the corner of the garage where Joe kept his books on woodworking and found one with stenciling patterns. She leafed through the pages, seeking a pattern to cut onto the front of the new doors. She considered one of two triangles drawn with tips meeting at a point. Their sides were jagged, each ten square steps as might be seen on a set of stairs. Trisha shook her head. I’d have to turn the wood, router, and myself a hundred ways to cut this, she thought. Something simpler. Friendlier. She flipped pages and came across a design of two interlocked circles. The circles stood one above the other, their thick borders creating a pinched eye shape in the middle. I like this one more, she thought. It is simpler. But if this design were on each of the doors, the pattern on one would not seem connected to the pattern on the other. They would not make a clear whole. She leafed elsewhere. After several pages, she stopped at a design near the back of the book. The pattern modeled the left half of an hour glass. The outline of the glass’s bulging top and bottom, its narrow neck made the heart of the image; a few inches leftward, a second line modeled the first except that it pulled in less at the neck and curved more on the ends. So did the next three or four lines, each more relaxed than the prior one. Trisha imagined putting the pattern on the left door and its mirror image on the right: the halves of the hour glass would meet on the edge between the two. This pattern will make the two doors seem more of a pair, she realized. She went with the design.
She took the pattern book along with a large sheet of copy paper and a pair of scissors that she gathered from the back to the wood-treating table. She set the paper over the wood piece that would make the left door and penciled on it the half glass pattern, her hand moving carefully. When done, she cut the pattern from the paper, so that she had three dovetailing stencils. She traced these onto the wood and stood back when done. Well-marked, she thought. I hugged the line. She traced the pattern in mirror form on the other door, moving from left to right. She traced it more easily than she had the first door.
Trisha set aside the penciled panel halves and seized the router lying nearby and a large piece of scrap wood from the floor. She thought to practice routing this before she attempted the door, which she meant to be intelligently done. She marked the scrap piece with a large V and routed the figure. When done, she turned off and set the router aside. The machine had cut two neat trenches a quarter inch deep through the wood. She swept her gloved finger through these. Smooth as someone’s cheek, she thought. She put the scrap wood back on the floor and brought forward the wood for the left door of the cabinet. She sighted the router over the marked line and powered the machine. She cut around the half glass figure, turning herself and the wood to cut along the different parts of the pattern. She liked having to shift, she found. I’m engaged with this, she thought: it’s fun. A routed trench emerged as she worked. She re-positioned over the next lines on the pattern and followed them, moving along their curve. When she had done with the door, she routed the second as she had this first.
Trisha next went to the back area where Joe kept several cans of paint. She sought among these until she found a small can of navy blue. Navy is a good, conservative color, she thought. Just like him to have it. She took the can in hand along with a thin-headed brush and returned to the treating table. She opened the can and dabbled the brush in the paint, so that the blue coated the bristles like a skin. She brought this onto the wood and painted up and down the routed lines. Her hand and arm moved by sure strokes. She covered every bit of the lines in an even, dark blue, so that the figures stood from the wood. Trisha admired their color. The paint makes the outline more attractive than if it hadn’t stayed blue, she thought. She painted the second door quickly, pleased at how neatly it also evolved.
When done, she capped the paint can and returned it and her brush to the back area. She went next to a corner for the boxes of hinges. She found the boxes each held one large copper set. Joe had to have bought them for the cabinet doors, she was certain. When she checked in the boxes, she did not find screws she would need to attach the hinges. She looked for some in the small, plastic cabinet on the back table. The plastic cabinet held several drawers of sorted screws, nails, and small tools her husband had organized. She sifted in these while picturing the midsized screw with the flat head that ought to match the hinge. After an eager search, she found a few from one drawer, then more in another until she had the several needed. She put the screws with a screwdriver in her pocket. She brought the hinges then to the wood-treating table. She fetched some scrap wood from the floor and practiced using the screw drill on it. Once she got the screw to stand on its own with the screwdriver, she drilled down its tip snugly. The head secure, she set the scrap piece back on the floor and brought forward the wood for the left door.
The paint had dried by now to a firm hue. Trisha marked the back of the wood with her pencil at the planned joining spots, set on the hinge, and drilled in the screws. When she had done, she stroked the plate and felt it nice and even, the screw heads she had attached warm under her fingers. She fetched a second hinge from a box and attached it. She went at it easily. When finished, she stepped back and noted how the two hinges shone under the light over the work table. Both attractive, she thought. She drew to her the piece for the other door and worked it like the first. She felt glad at how her hands brought metal together with wood as she went through the steps of the work.
Trisha set the piece aside when finished and brought its complement along with the drill to the cabinet. She set the drill inside there with the screwdriver and the screws. She next lifted the new door onto her shoulder, aligned it to the cabinet’s left side, and pressed forward. The door was heavy and dug into her, but she held it level with her free hand. I have to stay firm now, Trisha thought and broke into a quick smile. She took two screws from her pocket and fitted them until they lodged part way in the wood behind the plate of the first hinge. With the drill then, she drilled down the screws. She relaxed her shoulder and felt that the secured plate held part of the door’s weight. The connection is good, she sensed. She seized another screw from her pocket and, with a sense of pride, fitted and drilled it through the unattached plate of the upper hinge; she followed this with a second screw. Both went in without a fuss. The screws now formed one part with the plates and the wood. She set the drill inside the cabinet and let the corner of the door off her shoulder. She took it by the free edge and turned it outward until its face met the cabinet, turned it forward until its interior touched the cabinet’s front. The door opened and closed as it should. With this thought to encourage her, she installed the second door. When she had secured the hinges, she stepped back and studied the pair of doors to the cabinet together. The hour glass pattern stood complete on them, outlined in the attractive navy. The gap between its two halves where the door touched hardly showed. It’s a complete whole, she thought. The double frame around the hour glass figure stood forth like one image.
Trisha next went and sought in the back amid some small packages until she discovered two cellophane fronted boxes that each held a metal door knob. The knobs were of one kind: small, round, and black, the type to pull rather than turn. She brought these to the cabinet, took her pencil, and marked two spots in the neck of the hour glass figure on the center of the doors where she would attach the knobs. She drilled the holes straight through the wood, the machine humming in her ears, the door vibrating comfortably under her hand. When done, she set drill in the cabinet, swept the dust from the drilling into a used styrofoam cup and threw it into a garbage bag. She next took the knob sets she had opened to the cabinet and attached them. She secured the screw for the knobs to the back of each door, her fingers turning them in easily through the wood. She closed and pulled open the door, feeling they held together. She finished as a happy energy welled in her. She stepped back and admired the cabinet. The two doors do make a handsome pair, she believed. Joe will like finding it. She left the work area as close to the condition as when she came and went upstairs to make dinner.
In the early evening, Joe returned from his friend and Trisha greeted him with an extra warm hello. After he had a shower in the bathroom and put on a new set of clothes, Trisha served them her beef stew and potatoes. “What a day I had over at Hank’s!” he said as he set fork to food. “We did a lot building that deck.”
“I’d be interested to hear of it,” she said. Joe went into the account as Trisha ate and listened. She heard that he and Hank had sweltered with the work from the morning. “We kept side by side, the whole way, putting up the main supports then the under base,” he said proudly. He explained that the stairs from the deck to the lawn took the most work as each step had to be cut, nailed, and attached to the side support. “We got through it though,” he told Trisha. “And now Hank has a new deck.”
Trisha smiled as she realized Joe’s contentment. He likes the idea of building today, he felt studying him. This encouraged her and as they reached the end of dinner, she said, “Do you want to know what I did while you were out?”
“What did you do?” Joe smiled, full of the sense of his own story.
“I finished the cabinet you’d been making in the garage.”
Joe’s face went blank. He stared at Trisha. “You what?”
“I finished your cabinet in the garage. I made the doors that it needed and I attached them.”
“I don’t understand. Why did you? How did you?”
“Well, you do so much wood work I thought to learn what it’d be like trying it myself. I didn’t have a very difficult time either. I had to figure how to use the saw and the router, but once I got the hang of them, things went alright. I think my doors came out pretty well too.”
“I will need to see this.” Joe rose from his seat and went for the stairs. Trisha followed, a little smile playing on her lips. The two went down to the garage and Joe flipped on the light with a hard snap. He walked to the cabinet Trisha had finished on the shelf.
“Isn’t it like I said?” Trisha told him. “I did it all myself. I cut the panel with the saw to make the two pieces for the doors. I routed the pattern and painted it. Stuck on the hinges and the knobs. Try the doors: they open and close right.”
Joe stiffly opened and shut a door on the cabinet as she bid.
“So what do you think?” Trisha asked, cheerful as possible.
Joe shook his head. “You didn’t do it like it was supposed to be done,” he said. He swept his thumb down the edge between the two shut doors so that it squeaked along the wood surface. “This edge is not as straight as it might be.”
Trisha studied the edge between the doors. It seemed straight, she thought as an uneasy feeling crept into her.
“The hinges are set too high,” Joe continued, gesturing at them. “The door may not stay shut because of it. The knobs come in too close, also. They ought to have been here.” His forefinger pointed to spots an inch to either side of them.
Trisha studied the cabinet trying to grasp Joe’s point and did not. However, she made to agree, since he seemed that sure of himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Everything seemed alright when I fitted it. I tried to make it nice. Especially the pattern.”
“The pattern doesn’t belong on the doors either. Flowing lines do not work with this grain of wood.”
Trisha felt stung at the round rejection. “I am sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Here, I will have to do this over.” Joe stalked to the cabinet and grasped its sides as if to lift and move it onto the floor.
“No, don’t get rid of it!” Trisha cried suddenly. A pang of fear had struck her. “I’d like to keep it.”
“Were you listening to me?” Joe said as he turned to her. “The whole thing came out wrong.”
“I know you said, but I added these doors to the cabinet. I like them. I think we should have the cabinet if we can, at all, for the doors.”
“Well, we can’t. It will clutter my work station.”
“We can put it our bedroom, then. We have plenty of room there. For awhile, I’ve hoped for a new cabinet to store clothes I’ve meant to buy. This would do.”
“But our bedroom? To have it there, where we sleep?”
Joe studied the cabinet, his face hard. “I could bring it upstairs. And it’d be good enough for clothes. But–“
“Then let’s,” Trisha said firmly. “It’ll be in our room.” She would not give up on the doors she had made. She believed in why she had joined them with the pattern routed on their face, why she had fixed them to open on bright, new hinges. It had been for them to be a pair. The doors–as well as Joe and herself. She would appreciate the idea quietly as she hoped, in time, Joe would. He just may come to see, she thought, that there was something more behind these doors’ design than to finish a cabinet.