I come into your house and I cut through your floors and walls and ceilings. I take a roto-hammer and I blast holes through your foundation. I swing a heavy steel pipe and bash out parts of your flooring. I cut chunks out of massive, load bearing beams with a powersaw, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. Every part of your house, I invade and penetrate, and you realize that youíve made a mistake, but itís too late now, because you invited me here, and this is my job.

First I tear out your old furnace. It is rusted and filthy, an ancient electric relic. It is installed by outdated safety codes and uses inferior materials. It is worthless, and I will take it outside and set it on your lawn, and I will stomp on it to flatten it down, to make it fit in my van so I can take it to the dump. Its filters contain decades of your life.

After I dispose of your furnace, I will rip down your old ductwork. It is wrapped in fiberglass insulation that is yellow and tattered and stained like infected bandages. There will be insect nests woven into it. I will tear these ducts down, and dust will be everywhere. This dust is flakes of your skin and hair, and the skin and hair of all your children. This is what your life creates. It will explode out of the ducts like poison gas.

Why do you produce waste like this? What is wrong with you and your family, that you should produce waste like this?

I will have to cut new holes for everything. Everything you have been living with for the past ten years is inadequate. Too small. Not enough airflow, not enough BTUs for you. It used to be enough, but not anymore. You have multiplied. You have children, your children have children, and your grandchildren have dogs and friends and girlfriends and boyfriends. You have added a new wing, and a deck, and new bedrooms. You have expanded.

I will saw through your floors. Your pets will eye me uneasily, and run in terror when I press the trigger and the room fills with that rasping scream. The stench and vapors from your carpets will make my eyes water and my nose run. This will stay with me. I will be miserable long after I leave.

 You will watch in disbelief as I slice through your lush carpet with a crude box-cutter knife. You will cringe as my powersaw grinds and shudders against your oak floors. My saw becomes so hot it would melt your skin.

You called me from an ad in the classifieds. I came to your house and inspected it briefly, then handed you an estimate. You and your husband approved, and I smiled and shook your hand. Did you wonder where I got the scar on my forehead? Three vague lines, dark red and ugly. Did you know that my own house does not even have heat? I do not pay my gas bill. I wear sweaters.

~

Now I climb under your house, into your crawl space. The floor is stony bare earth, the ceiling is insect nests and insulation. It is barely two feet high. I crawl on my belly, shielding my face against thick curtains of cobwebs and dangling fiberglass. I inch forward, dragging a heavy box of tools in one hand, a massive roto-hammer in the other. Rocks dig into my ribs, and I hate you for this.

Bracing myself on one elbow, I start the roto-hammer and press it into the concrete of your foundation. The noise is deafening, and rock chips pepper my face. Occasionally the bit will catch, and the tool will spin violently in my hands and strike me across the face like a tire iron. My teeth have been pushed through my lips this way, and my blood has soaked the dirt under dozens of houses.

You will witness me cutting myself many times in many ways before this job is done, slicing my fingers open on the sharp edges of ductwork over and over again. Your garage floor will be permanently stained red. You may think this is how, but this is not how I got the scar on my forehead. My work injuries always heal clean. My body recognizes an honest wound, and erases it. Other wounds remain.

After penetrating a dozen small holes in your foundation, I will collapse in the dirt, exhausted. Now, in the shocking silence, I can hear you. I am directly under your bedroom, and I can hear you on the phone, discussing a highly personal matter. Because you can not see me you think I am not here, but I am, and I take a break from my labors to listen to you describe marital infidelities to a trusted confidant. You sound ashamed and speak in hushed tones, but your descriptions go into lurid detail. You talk size and shape, you talk positions. Your syllables drip. I can hear your girlfriend cackling on the other line.

When I arrived at your doorstep, did you suspect that I had been divorced three times? Did you shake my hand and consider asking if I had children? Did you wonder about me? Did you look into my professionally smiling eyes and wonder what I do when I go home? Is my life similar, or vastly dissimilar to yours?

~

In the darkness of the crawl-space, my hand crunches into an old dead rat, and I curse under my breath. Above me, your conversation hesitates, so I brace myself again, and launch the roto-hammer into the concrete of your foundation. The noise is like a shuttle launch. I should be wearing ear cups, but I donít, even though, or maybe because, it hurts.

Later, when the foundation is carved out large enough for an eighteen-inch duct, I will return to your level of the house, and you will be aware of me. I will take my large, straight, framerís hammer, and while you watch in horror, I will slam a hole through your wall. This is for the new thermostat wire, but I wonít tell you this, Iíll just pound the hole and walk away. In the background, I hear your husband saying he thinks he is going to stay home from work tomorrow. There is of course no reason for this. I would work faster and more efficiently if none of you were ever around, but I can feel your eyes on me. You watch me as I disappear into your bedroom. Do you wonder what Iím doing? Do you, man of the house, long to follow me around and watch over my shoulder, commenting on my tools and pretending to know the difference between R4 and R8 flex-duct? Do you know that when I kneel down to nail the duct terminations into your floor, I look under your bed and see the babysitterís panties?

I can smell your dinner as I stand on a wobbly ladder to cut a 2x2 hole in your ceiling for the return-air duct. I comment on how good it smells and it feels like you should offer me some, but you donít. You just laugh nervously.

I will go home today without eating anything but a peanut butter sandwich on white bread. Not peanut butter and jelly. Just peanut butter. I will go home and find my shrewish fourth wife hunched over her craft table, scrap-booking. She will spend two days creating a family photo album that looks exactly like one that can be purchased at a department store for eight dollars. The album will feature mostly photos of her friends and relatives. There will be a few that include me, mostly taken around the holidays, and the occasional dull shot of our son. My son. Result of marriage number three. He is twenty-five, and lives in a shack he built deep in the woods behind our house. He is pale and pasty, overweight, unequipped for life, perhaps mildly disabled. He attends the Burning Man festival every year, and dreams of being a DJ. His dreams will not come true. I can see this easily. He will not move from point A to point B. His life will end exactly where it began.

Now I am in your attic, pushing my way through mounds of fluffy gray insulation. The clouds of dust and fiberglass are so dense that my flimsy dust mask blackens. The pollution collects in my pores and seeps under my eyelids. Itís the middle of July, and the temperature in the attic is nearly double what it is outside. I am drenched with sweat. I can barely breath. I wrestle with a twenty-inch wide, fifty-foot long tube of flexible duct, like a giant black serpent, flipping and coiling in the cramped, nail-spiked confines of the attic. Sometimes I want to scream out, but I stifle it. I want to appear professional. Sometimes I can not stifle it, and I scream, and down below you cringe, thinking, My GodÖ

I have to move your storage boxes to make room for the duct. Here are all your family mementos, laid out before me. There are no scrapbooks, just photos and memorabilia. I browse through your Christmas photos. You, lady of the house, look tense. You, man of the house, look scared. Even on Christmas morning, you look tense and scared. Who is this girl in these older photos? I have not seen any photos of her downstairs. A dead daughter, perhaps? But why would you hide her away if she were safely dead?

~

Finding the right location for another heat register, I stab my hand-held sheet-rock saw down through the ceiling, without warning. I hear a strangled yelp from below. I imagine the white dust raining down into your black hair as you look up, knowing that this is necessary but somehow feeling that you should never have called me. You never expectedÖall this.

My son has a pair of turn-tables. He has no power in his shack, so he uses them in my basement. He plays two records, one with a drum beat, one with music, trying to make the sounds line up in some remotely meaningful way, and he believes this to be composition on par with Beethoven. Or maybe he doesnít. He sees the club DJ with the blue sunglasses holding one earphone to his ear and bobbing his head while the music plays, and he wants to be this man, but he wonít be. He is short and fat, and speaks with a stutter. He has made several weak attempts at suicide in the last few years. He sees many counselors and therapists, who give him many brightly colored pills. None of this will help. My shrewish wife and I just shake our heads. I go to work and she scrapbooks.

When you sit down for dinner, I will decide to start nailing registers in your dining room. I will politely ask you to move your chair aside so I can reach the one under your table. You will look at each other in surprise as I insert myself into you dining experience and begin hammering. You will wonder why I havenít called it a day and gone home yet, but you have never been to my home. You imagine it to be warm like yours, but you are wrong.

When I finally decide to leave, I will ask if I can leave my tools in your garage. On my way out, I will pause in your hallway to look at the photos hanging there. You will feel like I linger a little too long on your sons, with their white teeth and graduate caps.

~

Sometimes, on the next day I will bring an employee or two. They will be dirty, uneducated men who I picked up hanging around the hardware store. They will be of an ethnicity that frightens you, but you will greet them politely and maybe offer them a diet soda. Their eyes will roam over every inch of your home and your body, inspecting, assessing, casing. When you are out of the house, they will sample your expensive liquor, your Remy Martin and your Chambord. I will see this, and my stomach will clench, but I will do nothing. I hope that I will not notice when they pocket your family heirlooms. I do not want to confront anyone.

During their lunch and ten minute breaks, they will drink large cans of high-gravity malt liquor. They will laugh and joke with each other, and sneer at me because I am not a drinker. I do not drink a drop of alcohol all year, except on three specific days. The days that I drink are my first three wedding anniversaries. On these days I drink until I almost die.

In your attic again, I overturn another storage box and discover more photos of the young girl. Your dead or disowned daughter. These are close-ups, school portraits. She is beautiful and appears healthy. I find myself wondering if you have any scars like mine, or even any minor discolorations from minor injuries sustained during minor moments of difficulty. Moments of excessive focus, overthinking. Do you suffer from such difficulties? You seem to have plenty of alcohol.

~

Near the end of the installation project I will go down into your crawlspace again, and insulate your ductwork. I will wrap your sheet metal with rolls of yellow fiberglass. It will shower me with fibrous particles. I will wear short sleeves and no gloves as I lunge across your ducts and embrace them, twisting an insulation roll around and around. It will collect in my clothing and embed in my skin and itch maniacally for days. I will shower for thirty minutes when I get home, but it will not help. I will lean against the shower wall and claw at my fore-arms while the water burns nearly to a boil, but my arms will just redden, and inflame, and keep itching. You will look at me and wonder why in Godís name I donít wear sleeves and gloves. You might even ask me aloud. I will have no answer. I will just grunt, and shrug, and go back to work.

There are some things about me you will not come to understand during our time together. You might offer me a cup of crystallized coffee when I arrive in the unholy dawn hours, and I will smile and drink it, and if there is something notable about the weather, I might mention it. But there are a few facets of my life that you will not see during these interactions, even when you offer me a light beer in the scorching noon hours, and I open my parched mouth and refuse it. You will not see the three days each year where I purchase a plastic gallon of discount vodka and sit in my house alone and just drink it. My wife stays with a friend on these days. We donít talk about this, we have never acknowledged it with words, but she knows, of course. She knows all about everything.

Last year, on my third anniversary, when she returned the next day and saw the blood, I told her that I had overdone it. I told her I had bumped into some equipment in my shop, and cut myself. There was blood on her kitchen floor, but she accepted this. She had no suspicions, and I donít think my son ever said anything. What would he say?

~

I have no idea where my other sons are. They are long gone, separated, disassociated, moved on, but this one remains. Heís using the shower and making himself breakfast. Heís sitting on the basement couch, aging.

My shrewish wife has done her best to embrace him. He was five when she and I married. She treated him like a son and made every effort. She took him out of school for two years and attempted to tutor him. There were a few years where I joined in, reading to him, taking him fishing, taking him to movies. But nothing happened. We sighed, and shook our heads. I sat in my office tallying paychecks for my employees, sometimes looking down at his closed bedroom door, listening to the bass thumps rattle the heating ducts.

Eventually, we stiffened. I stopped giving him money. I made him work for me. I sent him into the two-foot crawl spaces and hundred-degree attics. He complained of headaches and neck problems, but he was faking, I knew he was faking. I forced him awake before sunrise, and I could see the despair on his face, like a death mask. It enraged me. It beat down on my shoulders, slowly pushing me to the ground. It told me this was all futile.

I stopped making him work for me. Now he is sitting on the basement couch. He is borrowing my gas card and buying beer, renting movies, endless stacks of movies he doesnít even want to watch. My shrewish, asexual wife is cutting out a paper heart with special scissors that give its border decorative ridges. She is gluing it next to a photo of herself and two friends standing outside a gift shop, eating cupcakes. And I am in your house, leaning against your closet wall, surrounded by your dresses and negligees, closing my eyes, taking slow breaths, trying to stop thinking.

~

If your timing is right, you might walk in on me in your garage and find me on the phone with my third wife. It will be near the end of the day, and I will be sitting on your car's hood, clutching the phone against my shoulder, wrapping duct tape around a deep gash in my hand. This will be my bandage, to prevent any further staining of your floor. You will be alarmed at the amount of blood, but I will not notice or care. If your timing is right, you will walk in on me, and it will be the night of my third anniversary, another suffocating hot day in July.

I will be speaking soft and low to my third wife, who lives in another state. I will be telling her about our son, and she will express her disinterest, and I will scream, I will hold the phone in front of my mouth and scream. My face will go red, and the blood in my hand will force its way through the duct tape.

  I will notice you standing there, then. I will stand up and apologize, offering unconvincing explanations for my outburst. You will nod, eyebrows knitted, and go back into the house. I will wrap more duct tape on my hand, tighter this time. I will call it a day and go home.

~

At home I will find the house empty. My wife will have gone to her friend's house, as per tradition. But something will be off. I will have neglected something. I will have stayed at your house, drilling holes in your closet, until 7:00, partially aware of what I'm doing, that the liquor store will be closed, not caring, pressing hard on the drill, hearing its motor strain. I will drive home and I will be sober, oh so sober.

My son will be lying on the couch, asleep. His pale gut will hang out from his shirt, rising and falling with each snorting breath. I will look at him, and my head will fill with thoughts. I will reminisce. I will think long and hard. About life, and time, and everything. His mother has red hair. Vivid red, almost crimson. His hair is a noncommittal shade of brownish, like mine. He is my height. Short and wide. He is me, not her. He is my skin cells, caught in a filter.

Slowly, I will reach out and stroke his hair. I will clamp my hand over his nose and mouth. I will press down with so much strength. You would not believe how much strength I have. Crawling in your crawl space is like doing a push-up for each and every step. I have been doing this job for so many years, you can not imagine. You can not imagine how long I have been doing this job. That is why you hired me, because you knew I had more experience than anyone else, and because I was licensed and bonded, and because I offered you a very reasonable bid. I am so good at my job. Even the major heating companies consider me a threat. I take home less profit than anyone in the business, but that is because I make sacrifices for you, the customer. I don't heat my house. I don't drink. I don't steal. I guarantee all my work.  I will service your equipment free of charge, for as long as you and I are alive. Your house will be warm. It will never leave the Comfort Zone set on your digital thermostat. My son will wake up, and struggle. He will not make any sound, he will just look up at me with eyes that are at first wide, then narrow. They will begin to fill with tears. Not fear, but rage. I will clamp down, allowing no air. He will reach up and grip my face in his hand. He will dig his fingers into my forehead, clawing three grooves in my furrowed brow. I will pull my hand off his mouth and collapse into the nearby easy chair, breathing heavily, blood trickling into my eyes. We will look at each other for several minutes, there in the living room, in the dark. Then my son will go back to sleep.

~

There are things you will not ask me during the week or two we are together. You will not ask me personal questions. You will ask me about the weather. Your husband will ask me about last night's sports game. Traffic. Taxes. Television. You will not ask me about my past marriages, choices I have made, or the scar on my forehead. It is not the kind of scar people ask about. Its shape and location are somehow ominous. They suggest the possibility of a story you do not want to hear.

~

Thirteen work days after our handshake, with your dead skin clogging my sinuses and my blood staining your floors, I will finish your job. I will connect the final wires, flip the breaker, and fire up the gas furnace. The smell of burning oil and chemicals will flood your house as the flames ignite the virgin components of the new furnace. Your halls and your bedrooms will fill with hazy blue smoke. The fire alarms will all trigger, screaming at unbearable volume in perfect, stereo unison, like trumpets at the end of time. You will cower in a corner, hands on your ears, or flee to the front yard and stare back into your home, horrified. I will assure you that all this is normal, but you will have doubts. You will have doubts about me, I will see it in your face, and I will smile.

When the smoke has cleared, and you have written out my check, I will finally leave you. We will exchange pleasantries and you will promise to recommend me to your friends. We will shake hands, and you will silently marvel at the number of calluses and small scars on my leathery palm. As I leave, I will pause in the front hallway. I will stare at the glowing portraits of your sons, with their white teeth and graduate caps. I will lift them off their hooks, and set them on the floor. Then from out of my tool-bag I will pull the pictures of your daughter, and I will hang them on your sons' hooks. I will carefully straighten these, I will stand back to admire the arrangement, and then I will drive away.

 

~

 

 

 

 

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