The kitchen lamp

When Kay first saw the house, it was charming. It was either proof of her love-at-first-sight for the house or, conversely of her complete naivety. She had come to view it at one o’clock and by four, she had made a verbal offer that was binding, with no weasel clauses nor subjects to be removed.. She didn’t know where she was going to find financing nor whether she could even get it. She would have to hasten to sell her little apartment in Richmond or she would be crushed by the weight of her mortgage. She had been a little hasty and she had taken the word of the former owner verbatim for the truth on its condition. Only time would tell.

When first Kay possessed the house, she began her guided tours for friends and relatives who were curious to see the charming house that Kay had bought. When ever she went through the bathroom upstairs, she said, “That light fixture has to go. I can live with the rest.”

It emanated from high on the ceiling right up against the wall with the mirror. It had two large hanging globes capped with faux-bronze fittings. A large-linked chain half hid the electrical cord that swung out a foot away from the wall. There was much to be done in the bathroom – painting, the installation of a curtain rod and caulking of the tile work. The tile work was a little bit busy looking with a posy of colourful flowers in blue and red on a beige background that was a curious failure in representing faux rock or faux marble. Either way it wasn’t convincing. It reminded Kay of the desert lands where large lakes dried up and cracked apart. much like  the Vaseline advertisements for cracked and dried skin. In the ensemble though, the close up view could be ignored and the over all effect was reasonable. She could live with it.

When Kay traipsed the troops of visitors through the kitchen, she would remark, every time, “And this lamp has to go, too.” This lamp also swung out from the wall, to swing,  suspended mid breakfast nook, but this fixture had only a lamp shade in creamy white. It was designed with a very curious fringe, also in white, that looked like shocked, short hair standing on end through the effects of static electricity. It also looked, by original design, as if threads had been pulled, not in a single location but all over! It was far too fussy and cheap looking.

A year had passed. Friends no longer wanted to see through the house. They’d all had the tour. The minor improvements that Kay had been able to make when she wasn’t working at her other duties no longer interested her friends. Day by day, though, Kay was annoyed by this suspended lamp that had been awarded the “Ugliest Lamp of the Decade” designation. It irked. It riled. It offended her aesthetic principles. It was not an acceptable lighting fixture for Kay.

One recent grey Saturday morning while Kay was entertaining Whistler to distract him from his medical troubles, Kay embarked on a Garage Sale hunt. The first sale was designated an Estate sale at a tiny, one bedroom, pioneer’s house. It was slated for destruction. Despite its tawdry, unkempt look, Kay insisted on taking a look. The garden had not been tended for at least two years. A woman stood under a temporary shelter made with an orange tarp strung between two fruit trees and a tumbledown shed that threatened to collapse. Indeed, it was missing many boards. Garden tools and ancient mowers were strewn beneath the tarp.

“Is this it?” asked Kay.

“No, there’s everything in the house,” replied the woman.

The house had lost most of its paint. The rickety stairs had perhaps never seen any. Kay let thoughts of Louisiana poor white trash flit through her brain, but she went, nevertheless to broach the steps to the back door. In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought with mounting distaste.

Inside, she changed her mind. An elderly person had lived here, alone and unable to cope. As her powers had diminished, she had gravitated to the large, overstuffed, threadbare couch and knitted, crocheted and rug-hooked her way up to heaven.The exterior had been let go. The remains of her endeavours was an enormous cache of yarns waiting to be claimed.  Kay found enough yarn to make an afghan. It was brand new or rather, had never been used, never been started. For five small dollars, she walked away from that house with two big cardboard boxes of yarn.

The next address they were seeking was at the far end of the business district, up in Academy Hills. The grocery store was midway between where they were and where they were headed, so they picked up vegetables, milk and eggs on the way. Next they found 232th Street and the cross road, turned in and started to look for 119 Avenue at 237th. The road wound through large estates – acreage with paddocks and horses. This was all new to Kay and she enjoyed the rural feel of it, the large green fields, the paddock fences in well maintained white, all nestled between huge second growth firs and cedars. Hobby farms, she thought to herself.

In the Academy Hills district, the roads were often dead ends and cul de sacs that went nowhere. One nineteenth street didn’t go through. They backtracked, They got out the map, but many of the  roads had been installed after the map had been made. Kay and Whistler were ready to give up until they saw two pedestrians dressed in jodhpurs strolling with their dogs. Kay stopped to ask.

“Just go up to 117th, turn left, turn back in at 237th, go right, watch your numbers. You’ll be there in seconds. It’s not far away,” said the horsey looking lady and her companion.

Whistler navigated, Kay drove at a racy 30 klicks per hour and finally the Garage Sale house was found.

The house was large and the paddocks stretched far back to the end of the property. A large mastiff lounged in a garden chair and did not stir at our approach. It was neat as a pin with the exception of the attached, one-car garage that contained tools for sale and  unattached five-car garage at the end of the driveway  which was overwhelmed with detritus of a life lived in a relatively remote location. Despite this, everything was clean. There were lots of books and Whistler, bored silly with his confinement while waiting for medical tests, found solace looking through the boxes of books. There were spy novels and thrillers, war novels and history books that would provide him with some inexpensive reading materials. At twenty five cents a book, he could afford to bring some books back home.

Kay, too, found books, and a rotary lawn mower, but it was while she was doing a final check on the other offerings that she found her kitchen lamp. It was made in a stylized shape of a flower in a simple Art Deco style. There were four glass moulded plates of a creamy iridescent and mottled white with brass connecting them together. It vaguely looked like a snow drop before it opened up its petals.

“How much?” she asked, holding the lamp aloft, imagining it in her kitchen. Then, “Is it in working order, do you know?”At five dollars, there was little risk. But if she had to have it rewired, well….that would be something else. It looked brand new, but was it? It was old fashioned and suited the house, but the porcelaine socket didn’t look old.

The woman explained that her husband was an electrical contractor and many of the things for sale had never been used. Kay fished in her pocket for coin and bought the lamp.

Now a month later, the kitchen lamp with the fuzzy fringed shade still offended in the kitchen. The garage sale lamp, the Art Deco lamp, the snowdrop shaped lamp perched on the top edge of the linen drawers. If it didn’t get put in soon, reflected Kay, it was asking for an accident. An electrician, though, was expensive. On that score, she would just have to wait.

Whistler had been on the verge of moving on. He’d offered to install it if Kay would  turn off the main switch, but he hadn’t much experience in these things and Kay silently let his few days left pass. Electricity was too dangerous to be amateured with.

Kay pondered taking a course in electricity, but that too was not an option. If she waited on this, it would be an eon before it was installed. Her only hope was Ron, her nephew in construction. He’d done lots of work for Kay’s mother and nothing had exploded; there had been no fires; the lights did not flicker. Those were good recommendations for his work. The sad fact was, though, Ron never came to the house.

There was only two options left to Kay: Call in an electrician or find a seasoned home renovator amongst her friends and acquantances willing to tackle the the chore.

A month had gone by, but Kay had had few visitors. Time had passed quickly with all her many activities, but the lamp stayed perched atop the kitchen linen drawers. The white fringed lamp continued to reproach her, day by day.

Then Teeny wrote from Victoria. Teeny and her husband would be in Langley, just across the river, and they would be passing this way on Sunday. Could they come see her new home?

Kay. of course, said yes. She hadn’t seen Teeny and Keith for a dog’s age. Teeny was a former colleague from Kay’s business days. Teeny had been one of the first to proffer friendship to Kay when she had started work in the company twenty-three years ago. She had pulled Kay into a group of women professionals who had networked and supported each other all the length of their working careers. Now they all were fast friends.

Keith had worked for a subsiduary of Kay and Teeny’s company. It was as if they were all family.

Teeny had not seen the house before. It gave Kay the perfect opportunity to point out the eyesores that had to be changed – the bathroom lamp and the kitchen lamp, the kitchen ceiling, and the cosmetic tasks, like painting the dining room ceiling that was a strong peach colour.

I do not pretend that Kay is without wiles. In the back of her mind, she had a glimmer of hope that Keith might be kind enough to put in the lamp. It ought, she had been told, not to take more than ten minutes.

Kay pointed out her white fringed horror. She expressed her frustration at having to wait for nephew Ron to appear but refrained from explaining how hopeless this wait would be. She pointed out the new Art Deco style lamp in the studio space that had been installed by another visitor, in passing.  She feared that she had belaboured the point. She was tread a fine line. She hated to ask Keith to do it, outright, for fear that she would be imposing. But men hated sitting and visiting, didn’t they? Men liked to do things, to be active. Sitting and gossiping about shared acquaintances was anathema, wasn’t it? And yet, she would be horrified to put someone in a position where they felt they couldn’t refuse and yet really did not want to engage in a task. Maybe that person would never come again; would never bring Teeny again.  Kay could not bring herself to ask. He would have to offer on his own accord. All this waffling had turned Kay to silence.

She  hesitated.

Keith eyed the horror lamp. Kay observed his kindly face begin to calculate. Thoughts of Stuart MacLean’s Saturday radio stories of Dave and Marlene flashed momentarily through her mind. There was a body shift, and Keith looked back at Teeny and then at Kay. The brain wheels were turning. His head cocked as he assessed the task. The silence became expectant and uncomfortable for Kay.

Then slowly, he turned towards Kay. “Do you have a main switch? Can you turn it off? Do you have a screwdriver? Is the lamp complete? I could do this. It should take ten minutes.”

Kay, caught like a deer in headlights, took a moment to react. He had offered!

“Yes. Yes!” she said. “But are you sure? When do you have to catch the ferry, though?” Kay was now feeling slightly embarrassed. You can’t have it both ways, she chided herself silently. It was perverse. She had got what she had wanted and was trying to talk him back out of it!

She showed Keith the main switch. She found the tool box and brought it. She moved furniture out of his way so he could reach the fringed lamp where it connected to the wall. Teeny sat in a kitchen chair watching while Keith led and Kay assisted in the dismantling of the Ugly Award lamp – removed the plastic marettes,  untwisted the copper wires, removed the chain and cable from its hook and it was down.

Mounting the new one should have been simple, but the bar that screwed the fixture to the metal electrical box did not fit and a large washer was needed. Kay whipped down to the basement to see if there were any washers to be found. In luck, she found a plastic pill tube with assorted washers in it, left behind by the previous owner. Keith meanwhile was disassembling the old lamp to trade the bar from the one lamp to the other; and the chain and wire had to be untangled and re threaded.

“…when your having fun. Ha Ha! ” thought Kay. The ten minute task had stretched to forty five.

As Teeny and Keith gathered their belongings, ready to go, Kay was still thanking him. It had truly happened.  She had her prize lamp installed and she was happy. And as she waved them away as they backed their van out of the driveway onto the main road, Kay was  replaying his skills with the lamp – there were parts that didn’t fit but he knew what he needed to adjust them.   He was resourceful in solving problems and he was patient through setbacks. Kay could see that he had done this many times before.That was a man of experience.  Now, there was a keeper!


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