The Wee Handymen



Benny had shared the cottage with them for two years now, yet he had never seen their faces. At first he believed they were all in his mind. His heart medicine did that sometimes– made him see and hear things that weren’t there. But then things in the cottage changed, and that was when he knew they were real.

He called them the wee handymen, because they fixed things. He would waken in the morning to discover the broken latch on the back door had been repaired. Or the front picture window that had been cracked in a hail storm would suddenly be new. Or a loose stair leading down into the basement would be tight and freshly painted.

The cottage had been in poor shape when they first arrived. Benny had lived alone for years by now; his wife had died, and his children had long moved on and seemed to have forgotten him. He managed to care for the cottage the best he could– pretty well, if you’d asked him– but then old age, to which he always believed himself immune, crept up on him. After that, both he and the cottage started a slow painful decline. Things fall apart, he’d tell himself, and things wear out– in people and houses alike. Whenever he went through his photo albums–which was more often, the older he got– he would pause at pictures of the cottage when looked newly built, and he experienced the same wistful feeling he had when he saw his likenesses of himself when he was fresh out of high school. And if he’d see a shingle lying in the yard after a heavy storm he thought repairing the roof every bit as unlikely as the doctors repairing his heart.

After they had come, though, everything changed– not just with the cottage. His hope rose to see the cottage again as it once was, and started to believe there might be hope for him, too. What they were doing was sort of a miracle. He’d never bought paint, and there was none around the house, yet the rooms had been painted one by one, drab shades green and tan replaced by bright yellows and soft, soothing blues the color of a cloudless spring afternoon. The outside of the cottage had been re-stucco-ed and painted white. The original woodwork had been stripped, stained, and varnished. New carpets had appeared one morning. So from where had all the material come? It was not all in his mind. He had even asked the mailman to come in one day to confirm that the worn old linoleum in his front hall had been replaced by shiny Italian marble tiles. It had to be a kind of magic they worked, and if they worked it on a house, couldn’t they work it on him?

Each day, when he wakened, he’d said good morning to them, certain that they were always near. He’d shuffle through the cottage in his ancient slippers, searching for any new work that might have been completed during the night. If he found something– that the kitchen cabinets had been replaced, say, or that there was a new medicine cabinet in the bathroom– he praised the workmanship, saying encouraging things, like, “It’s a fine job you boys did last night. Keep up the good work.” If he couldn’t find anything– which wasn’t often– he’d walk about the house fretting, saying, “Boys, boys, don’t tell me you left me now. A day’s work of a day’s pay, you know. You keep this up and I’ll have to lay you off.”

One day Berny looked around the house and saw that no more needed to be done. That was the moment he feared the most– when they had no more to do. Would they leave him then, leave him all alone? The thought was unbearable, he had grown so used to knowing they were around. Even if they never did show themselves or talk to him, it was comforting to know that when he spoke someone might be listening.

He went to the kitchen to make himself a breakfast of scrambled eggs and dry toast. When he sat at the table he had a sudden stabbing pain in his left side. He had had them before, sure, but this was the worst. It would get no better, either; the doctors had warned him his heart was simply wearing out– it was only a matter of time.

He endured the pain until it passed, and then finished his meal.

“Boys, I’ve been wishing there was something you could do for me,” he said, and then listened. He heard nothing, though, not the slightest whisper of footsteps he sometimes heard when he woke in the middle of the night. “Now, boys, I know you can do miracles. I’ve seen what you’ve done with this house. It hasn’t looked so good since Martha– rest her soul– and I first moved in. I’m sure you can do something for this old heart of mine.” He waited, but there no response– not a sound. “Well, I know you can hear me. I’ll just let the matter rest with you. If you see fit to help me, fine– if not, I’ll bear no ill wishes on you.”

Nothing happened after that. Each morning he awoke, he felt the same tire heart beating in his chest. He would sigh heavily, and then put on his robe and slippers and set about his daily routine. Every inch of the cottage looked beautiful and new, but that hardly seemed to matter because he was still old and dying.

“You went and abandoned me, boys, haven’t you?” he would say now, sure that he was alone. “Everybody leaves, I suppose. First the kids grow up and move away, and then Martha… Somebody always gets left behind. That’s natural– like things wearing out and falling apart. Well, I guess, I have the comfort of knowing that once I’m gone, somebody else will get a beautiful house. Whoever it may be, I hope they have kids, kids with good memories.”

About a week later, while retrieving the mail out front, he noticed that the garden had been planted with flowers and that the old plastic garden borders had been replaced by new brick ones. He was again filled with joy and hope. Of course, he thought, how could I have been so stupid. They’ve finished on the house, sure, but still there is the yard. He shambled down the stairs and around the house. He hardly every went outside, except to get the mail and throw out the trash, and he was amazed at the improvements that had been made. The cracked and chipping walkways had been replaced or repaired. All the gardens had been tilled and planted, including the large vegetable garden in the back yard, where he and Martha always grew tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and radishes. His eyes began to well at the sight of the green breaking through the soil and the little white markers that named which vegetable was going where– just the way Martha and I used to do it, he realized. He saw, too, that the grass was cut and all the edgings done perfectly. The many trees around the house, which shades the cottage well, had all been trimmed. Everything was green and budding under the bright spring sun.

“Boys, boys, you’ve outdone yourselves,” he said, walking about and looking at everything in wonder. If any of his neighbors had heard him, they would surely have thought him crazy– wandering around the yard in his bathrobe and slippers, and talking to somebody who wasn’t there.

He reached the back of the yard, where, in the shade of an ancient oak tree, four beams rose about four feet from the ground. The beams were set in new concrete, and he walked around them, scratching his head.

“Now, what have you got going on here?” he wondered, for he couldn’t imagine what they had in mind. They had never before built anything new– just repaired what had been there. The beams were not spaced far enough for it to be a garage, and besides, berny didn’t own a car– he gave up driving years ago. Maybe a tool shed, but that didn’t make any sense either, since he had to tools to store. “Well, whatever it is,” he said, “you just go on building. You’ve done a damned fine job of sinking the posts.” And he headed back to the cottage to make breakfast.

That night he slept fitfully. At two in the morning he rose to go to the bathroom for the third time, wondering whether his kidneys were starting to go out now. He stopped in the kitchen and paused to look out the window at the dark back yard. He was still puzzling over what they were building out there, and finally he could not resist his curiosity. He went through the back door, and out into the night. The air outside was chilly, and the sky was clear and a-shimmer with stars. The full moon cast an eerie light on everything. As he near the old oak tree, he could see more work had been done. The four posts now held up a rectangular platform that was about eight feet by six feet. What the heck is that supposed to be? he wondered. Maybe a deck?– a deck for me to sit on under the shade of the tree? It seem plausible, although it would be an awfully strange place to build a deck. Certainly a deck seemed more appropriate built onto the back of the house, with a new sliding glass door opening onto the kitchen.

“Well, I suppose you have something in mind,” he murmured as he walked away. “I do hope you’re still considering my request,” he added in a grumble. “One day I’ll not be waking up to find all the fine work you’re doing.” He stopped briefly to see if there would be some response, but there was none, and he went back to bed.

The following morning, he discovered that stairs had been added to the construction. Although he delighted in the craftsmanship of the wooden steps, he was no more enlightened as to what the little fellows were erecting. In ways it did indeed look like a deck, but it was entirely in the wrong place, and also a bit too high. When he climbed onto the deck, he found that one of the thick limbs of the tree was situated directly overhead; if he were to sit on a lawn chair on the deck, he would surely hit his head on the limb every time he stood.

“Nonsense,” she snarled in frustration. “You boys are disappointing me now. You give me a new heart and I’ll show you how to build a deck. Why, look here, it’s why too high, and besides that, it looks like you pieced in the deck itself. Why would you do a thing like that? They should all be long solid boards, the same as you used on the back porch. You just make me young again, and I’ll show you how it‘s done,” he swore, and waited for a reply that never came.

That night he rolled back and forth in bed as he slept, until finally he went to far and fell to the floor, hitting his head on the nightstand leg. He used the edge of the bed to push himself up to his feet, swearing in the darkness. He felt the wetness on his forehead, and knew he was bleeding, and so he swore some more. He swore at being old, at losing his wife, at children who never visited or even called. He swore at being alone. He swore about many things, but mostly he swore at the wee handymen, who, he was convinced, could fix his heart but instead were building some silly thing in the yard.

When he flipped the light switched, he discovered the power was out– and that caused a new spate of curses. He felt his way into the living room, and tripped over something in the dark. He started to fall, his body tensing as he anticipate hitting the floor hard. But then something caught him. It was, in fact, a bunch of somethings: hands, little hands, grabbed him and pushed him back up to his feet. They are real, raced through his mind, as the tiny hands helped him stand.

“Thank you, boys,” he said, when he was again balanced. “I might have hurt myself there– maybe pretty bad.” He turned about to see if he could catch a glimpse of them, but it was too dark.

The little hands, which had remained on him, now began to push. They pushed him forward inexplicably.

“Hey, hey, watch it,” Benny complained. “What do you think you’re doing.”

But he felt the hands, on the backs of his legs and buttocks, shove harder, driving him slowly into the kitchen and toward the back door.

“Hey, cut it out,” Benny cried. “I’m not dressed to go outside. I’ll catch my death, you know?”

But the hands pushed so hard he went crashing through the back door. He was free for a moment, just long enough to trip and tumble down the back stairs and out onto the newly laid patio. The wind was knocked out of him and he could barely breathe.

“What are you doing?” he asked weakly, when he could finally speak at all. He struggled to his feet, and stood there wobbly waiting for an answer that never came. “I don’t get you now. You fix my house for me– fix it like new– and now this…. What?– do you mean to kick me out and kept the place for yourselves? Was that the plan from the start? Well, you can’t do that; I own this house.” He waited for an answer, but there was only the sounds of crickets. “Or did I ask too much of you?” he considered.

The back door opened a bit, but, squinting hard, he could see nothing.

“Was that it?” he asked. “It was too much to expect you to fix my heart? Is it a crime for the dying to wish to live?”

As if in answer, he felt the little hands on him again, grabbing, pushing, stronger than he could imagine. They pushed him toward the back of the yard, and soon his feet were off the ground, and he was being carried as he wailed in protest. All he could see was the black sky filled with stars, and then, as they approached the old oak tree, he saw against the full moon, the shadow of a noose hanging from the limb that hung over what he’d thought was a deck.


One Response to “The Wee Handymen”

  1. Holy Jesus, that was a hell of a ride. Your writing is gripping and terrifying. Where do you get your ideas, they’re amazing!

    Best wishes,


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