Dallas Revels is too old to be hanging shingles on a roof with this steep a pitch. He is every couple minutes staggering back and having to lunge forward to keep from going off.
“We’ll have a funeral Sunday if you don’t stop,” his wife Janelle calls up, shading her eyes to the white sun. “You ain’t so young anymore, Dallas.”
He sweats so badly he mops his eyes and they cannot see till a full count to ten. His thumb is bleeding from under its nail.
“Hush up, Nelle,” he blows, standing to a slant, teetering, like he’s at sea in a storm.
Come evening it rains and leaks right on the supper table. She moves the roast and the biscuits to the edge.
“Let’s finish up,” she says, “afore it ain’t fit to eat. Then I’m calling Bruce.”
Bruce Wiggins is doing repairs all over the county since the storm. He is a jack of all trades come up from Georgia. Stone Mountain. Already he has patched too roofs on Hoggard’s Lane.
“All right,” Dallas says and stops eating to take a long look at the thumbnail. “Call him.”
Thunder stumbles out across the summer pastures, wet in the dark on the backs of healthy Herefords. Gives and takes away, Janelle tells herself. Then she goes into her smock pocket and pulls out a folded scrap of pink paper, pushes it across the table to him.
“Here,” she says kindly. “You call him, Dallas. He might be that type of fella.”
He unfolds the paper, smoothes it on his cloth napkin beside his empty plate. She still writes young. Tall and elegant. Her sevens with that tilted line like a spear through the middle.
He gets voicemail and finds himself saying Bruce with extra bark, like it is a challenge. This message is for Bruce Wiggins! She has lain wedges of pound cake on the table and removed the smeared dinner plates, set them in the sink.
He sits and looks up to the ceiling where a brown stain is already showing through the tiles. The stain makes an image of a horse. Or a rabbit. Dallas sighs and smiles at her when she lays a clean fork on his napkin.
“We’ve lived here forever,” he says, digging in.
“We have that,” she says. Janelle takes a little time to get back in her chair.
Bruce Wiggins shows up right on time. He is a tall thin man, maybe thirty, with dirty long hair to his shoulders that he keeps pulled behind his jug-handle ears. (Janelle titters from behind the plate-glass window when he is walking all around the house, squinting at the eaves and gutters, working out the pitch and square-footage.)
“I work by myself,” he tells Dallas when they are shaking hands on the cool shady front porch. “That keeps it reasonable for my customers. My cost is manageable.”
Dallas tells Janelle he has to help to anything and he is knocking dollars off the bill.
“Good business sense is one thing,” he gruffs. “Cheap is another.”
The roofer peels off his faded hoodie and he has inky scribbles of tattoos all up his lean arms.
“You got kids?” Dallas asks smartly, hands in his pockets.
“Oh. I thought little’uns had been drawing on you.”
“Nossir. These is professional tats.”
“You say? Looks like a kid’s work to me.”
Wiggins goes up the ladder like a cat and starts knocking all around with a hammer the size of a pickaxe.
“Lord,” Janelle sighs in the kitchen. “That’s a racket.”
Wiggins goes up and down the ladder with stacks of shingles he says are creosote dipped and will last a lifetime.
“Whose lifetime?” Dallas sniffs. “Mine or yours?”
The sun lifts high with a growing heat and Janelle tells her husband to wear his sunglasses when he goes out to spy on the roofer. Doctor’s orders, she says.
Wiggins thumps and rips on the roof, slips down the metal ladder like he is a fireman on a pole, shoots up with a motion that gives the idea he made of strong rubber.
“Looky that,” Janelle chuckles at the sink, leaning back from the window and turning to her husband who is at the table frowning at his checkbook. “He’s ripped his pants.”
“So? I ain’t buying his pants. Or not yet I ain’t.”
She closes the windows and turns on the air-conditioner and Wiggins’ stomping and banging drops a notch. He says come over here to the table and look at this. He stabs a trembling knotty finger at the balance he’s come up with.
“You’re gonna have to bury me in a old pine box,” Dallas grumbles, “if things keep on like this.”
She finishes wiping her hands in a dish towel and then stares down at him, sees how thin and white his hair is getting. There are dark blobs all over. Like the ceiling after it leaks.
“I could just lay you out back and let the buzzards take care of it,” she teases. He snaps the checkbook shut and wipes a hand across his face.
“Do that then,” he snaps, “if that’s what it comes to.”
Another evening comes with a cooling northwesterly and a bank of bruised clouds thick with rain. Wiggins is busy caulking and water-proofing what he has done till Janelle is about got supper on the table. Dallas says he must smell it though the windows is shut.
“Where does he stay?” she asks as she begins to load the table with their meal.
“Motel I guess,” he says coming to the table, dropping the suspenders off his shoulders, a rub of the belly.
“Go ask him, Dallas,” she scolds. She says she won’t put the meat to the table till he does the Christian thing.
“You might as well plate that side a the table,” he says with a hard wave behind as he limps for the door. “I ain’t seen him stop to eat all day, so you know.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“Go ahead and set it!” he hollers and slams the door. It is a swirling hot damp air outside, fragrant with her camellias and hibiscus. “Wiggins! Hey, Wiggins! Come on in for supper with us.”
The roofer is coming down, slowly, tired, smeared head to toe with dirt and grit. He smiles.
“I thought so,” Dallas grumbles and smacks his own thigh so hard he makes a face.
Wiggins says there are some Revels where he is from. They are indians who come from here in North Carolina. They have a hard time with life and he does not think it is fair to them. Dallas says neither he nor his wife have indian blood. They get serious into the fried chicken and creamed potatoes when Janelle remarks how old this crockery is. On its fourth generation, a good eighty years.
“I wouldn’t have known unless you’d tolt me,” Wiggins nods and gulps some iced tea with a lemon slice.
“It was new when she was a baby,” Dallas says, his eyes going from Janelle to Wiggins. “Her old Granny Tart used a put the gruel for the babies in it.”
“She did not!” Janelle pops his hand lightly, knowing how he bruises lately. Wiggins grins, looks around the kitchen and stops overhead where the stains have finally stopped spreading.
“I can paint that with a Kilz,” he says, “and you won’t be able to see it. Might be a hair whiter than the rest, but you won’t have that.” (he points with his glass) “Them marks.”
Dallas moves around in his chair and looks at his wife. Before he can get his mouth open wide enough to speak the roofer says it won’t cost extra because of this fine supper.
“See?” Janelle smiles at Dallas, her glass to her lips.
“So where do you stay at?” Dallas cuts in, getting his turn.
The old man winks at his wife and brings his napkin to the corner of his mouth to say he is done.
“So, you follow behind storms to do repairs?” Janelle asks. Wiggins nods and pushes the long hair more firmly behind his left ear, which holds a cross stud. Silver.
“It’s a odd way to make a living,” Dallas sniffs, nudging his plate away about three inches. He looks to see if she has noticed. This means he wants pound cake. Or pie. Whatever she has in the box.
Wiggins shrugs, wipes his mouth, smiles at his hostess and again says how good it all is. Without looking at Dallas he says it would be odd for most any other.
“I am on a sojourn,” he says softly. There is a blue light briefly in the windows, then a rumble. “A newspaper in Tennessee wrote a story about it. About me.”
“Whadda you know,” Dallas says and whistles low. He gives her another wink but she frowns at him. A series of white flashes flickers the overhead light briefly. Thunder is like a giant hungry stomach and Janelle turns her head to the windows.
“Storm’s gonna test my work, ain’t it?” Wiggins smiles at him and he shrugs. “I’m not a jack-leg, Mr. Revels. Not a wandering con man, either. Let me tell you a story …”
Rainwater comes off the porch roof in shiny stringed beads as Wiggins backs out to the road. His old truck sputters as he waits for a slow car to pass on by. The Skinners, who have already flashed hi-beams at him.
Janelle dabs at her eyes, glasses hanging from her neck. Old Dallas restores his suspenders to his shoulders and on the sly wipes a rough finger to the corner of his cheek.
“My heart is just broke,” she says hoarsely. She shakes her head and fingers her glasses frames. The Skinners whoosh by in their rain-shiny sedan and Bruce Wiggins slowly angles his truck to the center of the road, cuts back the wheel, throws out his hand so they can see it. He blows twice gently. Dallas throws up his arm and waves.
“So long, pardner,” he whispers.
Janelle puts her hands in her smock and leans against her old love. He pushes softly to her and wraps an arm around her bony shoulder, squeezing.
They watch the truck’s twin red taillights diminish down the road, till Wiggins turns the curve.
“Bow your head and let’s pray, Nelle,” he whispers, still holding her tight. She lays her head to his shoulder and sniffles.
“Let’s wait a minute, hon. Let’s just stand here silent and count our blessings a second or two.”
Causes Sean Jackson Supports
PFLAG, Amnesty International, AA, Catholic Social Services