Vincent and Harry have come to install broadband. Zip has convinced me we need this more than we need new kitchen cabinets. Never mind that all the cupboard doors are sprung and that the only way to shut the cupboards is with rubber bands twisted three times. Both guys are short and have buzzed hair with a slash on one side.

“Gang Bangers,” I whisper to Zip.

“Doubt it,” he says. “They’re gainfully employed.”

Something is terribly wrong with Vincent’s right eye. The lid droops and there is a vivid scar that comes from the slash on the side of his head right to the eye’s edge. He’s very intense and spit collects at the corners of his mouth until he takes a break from talking and swallows. Harry is pudgy and has to sit down a lot. After six hours and a fairly large botched hole in the ceiling of the family room for the Ethernet cable, I hear Harry tell Vincent he needs food. He’s feeling weak. I’m feeling faint at the aerated ceiling, counting up in my head how many paychecks I’ll need to cover replastering and stippling. And who is going to repaint?

Zip says he will. Zip, whose real name is Alexander, and I have been married for three years. His talent for procrastination borders on unbelievable. I can imagine exactly when the ceiling is going to be repaired. Never comes to mind.

“No one looks at the ceiling anyway,” Zip says as if reading my mind. It freaks me out the way he does this…while the way we can finish each other’s  sentences reassures me.

“I look at the ceiling,” I say. “All the time.”

“That sounds like a habit you need to break.” Zip grabs two tomatoes out of the small wire basket on the counter, unwraps rubber bands from the dish cabinet and asks if I want a tomato sandwich.

“No, but Harry is feeling weak. He needs one.”

Harry doesn’t like tomatoes. He wants chips and a soda. Vincent, who is climbing the water heater in the garage to reach the ceiling, says he’s not hungry.

“Are you guys in a gang?” I ask Harry when we are alone.


“I thought so. What kind?” We’re sitting at the table Zip made out of a neighbor’s door that was left out on a trash night last fall. I’m kind of embarrassed about this. How can I invite them over and have them realize that we eat spaghetti on what used to be their front door?

“It’s a secret.”

“Do you hurt people?”


“A little? Or a lot?”

“That depends.” He’s rammed too many Cheetos in his mouth and is having trouble. He wants to say something more but has to chew and swallow, chew and swallow. Finally he asks, “Do you have more Sprite?” There are crumbs on the front of his T-shirt. I resist the urge to brush them away.

At five o’clock Vincent and Harry are still here. Zip isn’t quite as pleased. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” The next minute he says, “They’re doing it all wrong.”

“Why don’t you send them away? We don’t need broadband. I don’t mind how long it takes to sign on.”

“You’re someone who is happy looking at ceilings,” Zip reminds me. “You will love broadband. I will love broadband. It will bring us closer together.”

“Are we far apart?”

“Getting there.” I suspect he’s joking. But still I worry about that comment as I fix dinner. Mom didn’t notice the spaces in conversations, the pauses in her relationship with Dad. One day Dad moved out, taking her favorite cat with him. I also worry about Vincent and Harry bugging our place. The hole in the family room ceiling could now contain a microphone. Then months later when they know we’ve gone out they might rob us.

“Of what?” Zip says when I mention this. “That diamond tiara you’re wearing? Those sapphires in your ears? Our valuable table?”

He has a point.

Harry and Vincent say they’ll be back tomorrow.

Before bed I wind the rubber bands around the knobs of the cupboards and tape the bottoms of the cupboards with wide scotch tape–we’ve been having a rat problem. Last week Zip got this sound machine for the garage that only rats can hear. I said, “Only rats can hear? Somebody really took you.”

Well, the garage is now rat-free. The machine drove the rat through the dryer vent and into the house. I got a humane trap. Zip set it with peanut butter and two dog biscuits. The rat got the food and escaped. It took a while, but I’ve figured out the mechanism and have reset the trap. If the rat isn’t trapped soon, I’m going to Mom’s until Zip catches it, which will be never because without me to guide him, Zip will procrastinate into the next century. He wasn’t nicknamed Zip by his computer friends for nothing.

The bugged hole is going to be in that ceiling forever. And we might as well start setting four places on the neighbor’s door every noon because we’re going to have to adopt Vincent and Harry.

By six o’clock the next evening, after I’ve fed Harry two more times, Vincent comes into the kitchen and announces that broadband is up and working. They’re done. Zip follows Vincent into the den to double check that everything is to his liking. Harry comes over to the stove where I’m stirring noodles. “You did a great job with the Cheetos,” he says.


I feel almost tearful as I watch their van pull away–such a sweet guy.

“Hey, honey, do you mind checking the hole in the ceiling for recording devices?” Zip yells at me. “I’ve got to check my e-mails.”

So he had his doubts, too? I haul the ladder out of the garage and start feeling around inside the hole in the family room ceiling. My two fingers touch something that crinkles. Startled I let go. Beneath me the ladder shakes slightly. I force myself to reach back inside. I pull out a wadded up piece of paper, open it carefully. “BOO!” in giant letters is scribbled in Zip’s slanted scrawl.

From my desk in the bedroom, I send him an icon of large red lips delivering a kiss. Zip sends me an instant message telling me how happy he is with his new toy. “I love you!” he adds.

That we communicate best in quick flashes–a floor apart–I can accept. Now if only the rat will step into the trap tonight, all that will be left is to fix the ceiling.


  1. Larry Blumen on

    I like this story very much. The connections between the people in it seem tenuous, but they abide.

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