Assistance

Going back to her parents' small house was like entering a foreign force field, where the normal rules of transaction—logic and reason and predictability—seemed suspended.


WHEN the repairman arrived, Sam and Bess were back downstairs, now dressed. Bess was in the kitchen, in the rocker, and Sam was at his desk in the dining room, writing to the town. Adele opened the door for the repairman.

"Come in," she said. "Thank you for coming so quickly. The refrigerator's right here." The refrigerator was humming quietly. Inaudibly, really; it was hard to hear that it was on at all.

"It was making quite a lot of noise before," Adele said, embarrassed. "Could you hear it?"

The repairman was tall, with a pleasant round face and sunburned-looking pink cheeks. He wore a green shirt with JERRY embroidered on the pocket. He put down his toolbox in front of the refrigerator.

"Let's just see what the problem is here," he said, not answering Adele.

Bess leaned forward in the rocking chair. "We've had too much food in there, I know," she said apologetically. "It's because of my husband's hip operation."

Sam appeared in the doorway, a letter in his hand. "Well, I've finished this," he said. "I'd like to take this in to the post office to mail."

The repairman stepped in front of Sam to get at the back of the refrigerator. He wrestled it gently out from the wall.

"Why can't we just put it in the mailbox?" Adele asked. "I have a stamp. I'll take it out to the box for you, if you want."

"No, I want to mail it at the post office," Sam said. He wasn't yet able to drive again, so Bess had taken over. "You about ready?" he asked Bess. She had been watching the repairman, and not listening.

"I said, 'Are you about ready?'" Sam repeated, louder.

"Ready for what?" Bess asked in alarm.

"To take me to the post office to mail this letter," he said.

"Could it wait?" Bess said. "I just want to see about the refrigerator." The refrigerator shuffled farther out from the wall, toward the crammed table.

"What's the matter with the refrigerator?" Sam asked, turning to look at it.

"The noise," Adele said.

"Oh, yes," Sam said. He stood in the doorway for a moment, watching Jerry, and then he moved past the refrigerator and down to the other end of the table. He pulled out a chair. "I think I'll fix this telephone while I'm waiting," he said.

"What's wrong with the telephone?" Adele asked. "I just used it. It seemed fine."

Sam did not answer. He sat down at the table. The repairman emerged from behind the refrigerator and knelt on the floor in front of it with a screwdriver.

Sam picked up the phone and set it down. "It wobbles," he said accusingly. "When you set it down, it wobbles." He demonstrated, setting the phone down on the table again. The phone rocked slightly. He turned the phone upside down, and he and Adele stared at its bottom.

"It's missing a foot," Adele pointed out. "That's why it's uneven."

"I know that," Sam said. He righted the phone and stood up. "I'm going to get something to fix it." He went into the dining room.

"Are you having any luck?" Bess asked the repairman. He was peering into a mysterious opening he had created at the front of the refrigerator.

"Well, we haven't solved the problem yet," Jerry said.

"Got it," Sam said, reappearing in the doorway. He sat down and turned the telephone upside down again. He had a box of binder-hole reinforcers, small white gummed circles. He took one out, licked it, and stuck it carefully on the bottom of the telephone, on the site of the missing foot. He took out another one, licked it, and painstakingly stuck it on top of the first. Layer by layer he built up thickness. Each time he pressed a reinforcer onto the plastic underside, he banged the telephone against the table.

"Well, let's not keep thumping the phone around," Adele said. "I'll unplug it." She found the small square plug on the side and disconnected the cord from the phone.

"Here's the problem," Jerry said, backing away on his knees from the refrigerator.

"What is it?" Bess asked, smiling at him.

He held up a yellowed newspaper clipping. "SAM BOLTON HITS SEVENTY-FIVE, STILL A HIGH SCORER ON HIS HOCKEY TEAM" was the headline.

"Oh, my goodness," Bess said, holding out her hand. She shook her head. "I guess I wondered where that was. We had it up on the door, stuck on with a magnet. And that's what was making all that noise?"

"Yep," Jerry said. He was back inside the black hole again, replacing everything.

"Look at this, Sam," Bess said.

The telephone rang shrilly in the living room. Sam continued his licking and pasting.

"Excuse me, Daddy," Adele said. She tried to take the telephone from him to answer it, but Sam, who had not heard the ring, looked up at her in irritation and would not release it.

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