Screens

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There were few circumstances in which Maurice Diggersby regretted his size-thirteen feet. As a rule he found them to be an asset, a steady foundation for his large, sturdy frame, but in negotiating the narrow ledge across the front of the guesthouse, he could see the advantage of an ordinary size-ten. Three stories down at the base of the ladder sat Maurice's devoted dachshund, Samson, a small, stout sentinel with worried ears. His eyes were pinned to his master's precarious form, willing it back to solid ground. Maurice secured the screen with one last screw and edged his way across to the next window, the velvet scent of roses idling around his feet. Of all the duties that fell under his charge as handyman at Mad Tom Farm, those that required extension ladders were his least favorite. He reached through the open window and maneuvered the waiting screen up through the gap just as Lydia and Sallie, arms piled high with pillows and flowery sheets, advanced through the doorway into the small attic room.

"I don't trust her Lydia," the younger woman said, "she lurks."

"She's a good worker," replied Lydia.

"She is but -"

"I thought you wanted help!"

"I do," replied Sallie tersely. She shook her head and tossed the pillows from the bed into a soft, upholstered chair.

Maurice rattled the screen into place to alert them to his presence but neither woman looked his way. The conversation continued without acknowledgment of the large man standing outside the open, third-floor window. Maurice took stock. He was not a man inclined to eavesdropping, but, circumstances being what they were (balanced three stories up on a narrow ledge holding a large window screen), his options for discreet distance in this particular situation were limited. With vast determination, he continued his task, steadfastly not listening to the conversation on the other side of the screen.

"So what in the world are you fussing about?"

Sallie clenched her teeth at her mother-in-law and turned away, not knowing where to begin. It wasn't that the new maid was Mexican and very young. And it wasn't that she didn't do the job, in fact, she did it very well. It wasn't even that Lydia had hired a maid for the guesthouse without consulting Sallie, although she certainly would have appreciated a say in the matter.

No, at the heart of Sallie's fussing was simple frustration with Lydia's habit of bringing home strays and inflicting them upon the family. It was hard enough to live on a single property, cheek by jowl, with four generations of her husband's family, but to constantly cope with the havoc wreaked by Lydia's collection of needy people & animals was sometimes more than Sallie could bear. Again and again in the fourteen years she'd been married to Joe, she had watched the family deal with (among other things): a gardener who dug up the heirloom roses & left the weeds; various contractors who caused electrical fires, floods, insect infestations, and a natural gas leak; a decrepit caterer who broke the antique glassware; an overweight mule named Lady Gertrude, and herds of feral

cats - all because Lydia's large, motherly heart could not deny a creature in need.

"You always do this," Sallie said at last, grimly separating the sheets printed with bunches of violets from the ones strewn with buttercups. All of the rooms at the guesthouse were named after flowers and decorated to match, except the tiny one in the very back which was filled with maps and books. That one was known as The Garret and was generally occupied by single men.

"You bring home every lost soul you meet and give them a job, and the rest of us have to deal with them," Sallie yanked a fitted bottom sheet over the mattress.

"She's a very nice girl," Lydia replied, confused.

"She wouldn't even look at me this morning - she's hiding something."

Lydia raised her hands in exasperation, "You're looking for trouble."

The words drifted past Maurice. He agreed with Lydia. Sallie, it seemed, often found trouble in things that were

perfectly innocent when one refrained from poking at them. He caught himself and grunted. It was none of his business. He forced his attention back to the screen, positioned a second screw and gingerly reached for the screw gun. Humming might help he mused, if he were a humming sort of man. He wasn't, of course.

Sallie punched a pillow into its flowered case, "We don't know a thing about her Lydia. What if she sneaks into the guestrooms and steals jewelry? Besides, she's not modest. It bothers me."

This at least, mused Maurice, was true. The purpose of clothing was to cover those parts of the body that required protection or modest concealment. While technically covering the necessary anatomy, the new maid, a striking young woman named Teresa, wore clothing that seemed somehow to expose her most delicate parts instead. So many young women did these days. (Older ones too for that matter.) Like most men, Maurice appreciated the female form, but he didn't care to be distracted by it in public.

"And why in heaven's name did you invite her to live in your basement?"

Startled, Maurice peered in through the screen. The maid was living in Lydia's basement? Somehow he'd missed that particular shift in the living arrangements. He agreed with Sallie; it wasn't wise.

"My basement is very nice!"

Sallie sighed, defeated, and sat on the newly-made bed. "That's the problem," she said, "everything about you is very nice."

That was the problem concurred Maurice. Lydia was just too nice.

"I know!"cried Lydia, "We'll get uniforms."

"I am not wearing a uniform in my own house Lydia."

"Not you. The staff – Teresa and Maurice, maybe even Kate since she works out on the property where guests see her."

Uniforms? The screwgun shrieked and slipped catching Maurice on the thumb. He grunted in pain, wobbled on the ledge and clutched frantically at a shutter. The ground swayed in the distance.

"Maurice!" Sallie yelped, "What are you doing out there?"

"Putting in screens," Maurice explained patiently, clinging to the shutter and fighting for a foothold on the ledge.

"Oh good," said Sallie calming down, "I was wondering when you'd get to that."

"Don't fall!" added Lydia, concerned. She crossed to the window and looked out at him, "Don't you think uniforms would be nice Maurice?"

Still grasping the shutter but steady now, Maurice holstered the screw gun and caught his breath. The question was, he knew, one whose answer had already been decided; uniforms would be forthcoming regardless of his thoughts on the matter. It hovered awkwardly between them. He was an honest man which, in this instance, was likely to be a

complication.

"Hunh," he said, neutrally, hoping for the best.

Lydia turned to Sallie. "There!" she said, "Problem solved."

The big man on the window ledge and the young woman on the flowery bed locked eyes across the room in mutual defeat. Sandwiched between them Lydia stood, triumphant. There was nothing else to be said.

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