All the nails Harry drove into the post were bent. As Rose stood above him watching, he bashed another one in, crooked again. His head pounded so much when she was near you’d think he was a nail and she the hammer.
“How many times this month have you fixed this section of fence, Harry?”
“Three, I believe. Yes, three. That’s all. I’m improving, eh Rose?” His smile matched the nail.
“Wouldn’t you rather be planting herbs or tending the lily beds?” she asked.
Rose proposed a solution. Hire her boyfriend Derrick who had many talents -including pounding nails.
A boyfriend? Harry pulled at his bumptious eyebrow hairs, hating the boy instantly. Harry’s imagination bent and followed the curves of the twisted nails thinking about Rose and her lover.
The next morning, Rose brought the boyfriend to the llama farm, home of the yarn business Twist of Fate, where Harry had him mend another broken piece of the fence – just to test his skills. Derrick brought along his tool kit, the weight of it dragging his shoulder down so that he looked like a lopsided chimpanzee. He was a scrawny 5’7” with long fingers and pistachio shell nails that reminded Harry of knitting needles, and a sing-song choir boy voice. Harry would describe him to Vee, the brains in their business, as delicate and simian. The appeal of this ground-mist- wisp- of- a- kid to Rose befuddled him.
Derrick suspected Harry was doing this for Rose. As he righted the lopsided posts and reattached rails, he watched Harry straighten up near his girlfriend, suck in his gut, tuck in his shirt, and smooth down the spikes of hair that popped up from his crown. “Whatever works” he thought.
Harry would do anything to please Rose but how to get Vee’s approval? Vee’s domain was inside the barn that doubled as a shop and product showcase, and Harry’s was outside. But ever since the flaming scalp incident in which the weedy Seyton Robb had flicked a smoldering roach into Vee’s hair, male workers were forbidden from the premises. Hiring a boy, even a chimpy one who could bang a hammer and wield a drill, would be a problem.
“Let’s make you look harmless.” Harry said. “Put your hair in one of those man-buns. Do you like bright colours?”
“Fuchsia’s my favourite.”
The flower reference didn’t go unnoticed by Harry. Later Derrick would stop by The Goodwill Store and pick up a few shirts in summertime shades of strawberry and blueberry. He’d show up looking like shortcake.
Harry approached Vee in the afternoon. “Darling, I’ve found the most remarkable person to help me around the farm. Knows the way around a tool-box like a secretary in a hosiery department. Skinny as a model but strong as Hercules.”
Vee set her knitting in her lap and stared at Harry. A woman handyman? Ever the sweetheart, knowing how she felt about men in her realm, her dear old Harry had found a woman to do a man’s job. Oh how she adored him! He must have found her through the local community college’s “Breaking Barriers” program. But Vee was perturbed. The village clishmaclaver around Harry’s taste in young women bombinated in her head like bluebottle flies around skunk cabbage. She’d have to meet the girl.
Harry’s knees nearly let him down when Vee said “Bring her around tomorrow. Ask Rose to come, too. Let’s all sit down and have a cup of tea and sort out the girl’s job. It’s important we all get along, Harry.”
Harry’s nostrils flared and his eyebrows twitched making him look like a nervous angora rabbit. An interview? She thinks he’s a she. Well then. Derrick’s cream cheese complexion could be an advantage.
If the irksome Fair Isle pattern in Vee’s lap hadn’t distracted her, she’d have noticed Harry’s spastic eyebrows. The Christmas hat quota for the shop was falling behind schedule and she couldn’t keep up with the special orders that kept coming in. Although the llamas didn’t generate much wool, they produced just enough to make hats – one-of-a-kind soft head-nests that she sold at 300% above cost. God knows the island’s lamentable winter climate demanded something warm to tamp down the damp and llama wool toques did the job.
Harry’s esophagus fluttered and his voice came out like a castrato. “Splendid idea, darling,” said Harry.
Two “darlings” in one short conversation. The extra butter in his voice went unnoticed as she read the pattern chart, fussing about the colours she’d chosen for this hat. They were as muddy as the llama corral in December. It needed more colour.
“She thinks you’re a woman,” Harry told Derrick. If you want the job, I’m afraid you’ll have to ….”
Derrick wasn’t comfortable lying. Ten years in an orphanage run by Christian Brothers’ had beaten it out of him. He told Harry who shrugged like a Parisian waiter.
“Don’t be such a wuss. Think of the fun we can have in the barn on our breaks. I’ll teach you to spin,” Rose said.
“Wear something in fuchsia,” Harry suggested.
“Does my face count?” thought Derrick.
The next day, Vee looked him over as he approached thinking “This girl must have grown up with brothers.” Her wide-legged gait had a nutcracker quality but the best thing about her was her flat chest. With nothing to nuzzle, Vee knew she wasn’t Harry’s type.
“Have a seat, my dear. Harry tells me you’re a carpenter.”
“Yes, Miss Vee.”
“That’s an interesting accent you have… what did you say your name is?”
Harry interrupted. “Vee, this is Dee, originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland.”
“Let the girl speak for herself.”
Rose said, “Dee and I met at the club.”
Oh, Lord. Vee looked at Harry. This propensity to hire ex-strippers was turning the business into a rescue shelter. “And what was your act, dear? Dropping your screwdrivers one at a time?”
“Well, no. I was the bouncer” Derrick replied.
“A female bouncer?”
“I’m not a girl.”
“But Harry said….”
“No I didn’t! I said I found someone…”
“Well, I’m afraid this won’t work.”
Rose intervened. “Dee knits, Vee. You should see the berets he made for the girls down at the club. He can’t mend fences all day. Maybe he can help us get all the hat orders done for Christmas.”
“What’s your name, son?”
“Derrick but some people call me Dee.”
“Well, Dee, purple suits you. Harry and I could use an extra hand or two around here so we’ll give you a try. Do you smoke? No? Excellent. I’d like to show you this hat I’ve been working on. What do you think?”
“I think it’s ugly as sin, Miz Vee. But a bit of rose would make all the difference.”
Harry left the shop talk and went outside to visit Elvis, the big black llama who spat in everyone’s face but not Harry’s. Together they wandered over to the newly repaired fence. Elvis nudged the rail and it toppled. He and Harry stepped through the gap and into the December fog.
Llama photo credit: https://hovergirl.wordpress.com/