Jack’s Not Well
Jack says the dug well in front of the house will do just fine. Jewel says it will not.
Jewel asks what they do if it’s a very dry summer, the well fails, and they have no water. Adding, the deed doesn’t state when the well was dug or who dug it. Then she stares at him. A thing she does well. Stares. Jewel does. At him.
Jack says he heard it is a very well dug dug well. People say it gave satisfactory service for 50 years. It was only disconnected in favor of town water 15 years ago. It gave good service all those years before. Year round. And then he does what he often does. Throws in something more. Not better. Just more. Tells her it could even have been a roadside well. Used by land owners. Before even there was a town. Or the house they live in.
Jewel scowls her famous scowl. Where both beautifully plucked and shaped dark eyebrows come together at the bridge of her very strong, beaked nose. First, she says, it is a cottage, not a house, going on to say they can’t depend on hearsay, not with a dug well that old. No one, she states, knows how deep it is and it might go dry, disappear altogether what with all the new construction and housing developments going up all around them. Anyway, why, she asks, were the last three owners on town water? There must be a reason. And not to forget that they have no idea what is the source of the water.
That’s a new argument, the water source. A good one. So’s the bit about all the new construction. As to reasons for previous owners being on town water, they’ll never know. All old when they moved in and dead when they moved out. Known reasons dead along with them. So that’s moot.
Jack says all right, city water, and they’ll just accept the burden of annual rates. Jewel says no because god alone knows what is being pumped into or added to the water. Fluorides, for sure and she is not cooking with or drinking unknown chemicals, thank you very much.
Jack asks so what should they do. Jewel says an artesian well. Jack says it’ll cost them more than 50 years of town water rates. Jewel says that’s nonsense, a huge and unlikely exaggeration and, anyway, artesian well water will be clean and should never run out.
Jack sighs. A lot. But calls around for comparative estimates and in the end they settle on Little John & Sons, Artesian Well Drillers. When Little John, father and owner of the business, meets with them, he tells them their property is a natural. It sits mostly on rock - they know this - Jewel wanted flower gardens, she’s got rock gardens - and the water source is Long Creek Springs, which sits right atop the hills in back of their house. Pure spring water, he emphasizes. Natural aquifer, he assures them.
Jewel, who eats facts like dark chocolate, asks about every little detail, including terms of the contract, necessary surveys and permits, if Little John & Sons can coordinate with their contractor, Tom T. Piperson, on all necessary hookups, and generally goes over and over the paperwork -- Jack tunes out and waits. Finally, with Jewel’s blessing, and with a quote of $5,500-$7,000, the contract is drawn up and signed and Little John pencils in for work to begin next week, actual job to take no more than 2 days.
That night Jewel and Jack talk about what a luxury it will be to take showers in their own home, have hot and cold running water available, and be able to cook with and drink water straight from the tap. But a phone call at 6:30 AM the next morning informs them that Little John & Sons won’t be starting until the week after next. A large commercial contract they had a bid on has just been awarded to them, paying big bucks, starting the day after tomorrow, and it’s no contest where Little John & Sons will be on that day.
For Jack and Jewel it’s a disaster. They’ve been in the cottage 3 months, living with contractors in and out, drinking and cooking with bottled water and taking turn and turn about, showering at a friendly neighbor’s summer house. Jewel in particular is crushed. Jack, unable to bear her disappointment, calls Little John & Sons back, pleading for a temporary solution. The wife, he says, is really upset.
It happens that it’s Big John, the oldest son who answers, and he quickly says sure, anything for Jill, er, Jewel. -- Jack shrugs at the phone. It’s a common slip. -- Big John goes on to tell Jack that right up a straight line from the cottage on the first flat of that hillside back there there once was an old farmhouse that burned down years ago, but that the dug well is still there and has good water, drawn right off Long Creek Springs. Covered, the well, of course. Just pry that off, get some pails, and lug their water for a couple of weeks. Forget the bottled stuff. Get used to tasting good spring water. Tell Jill she’ll like it, he says. And is gone. Just a click in place of his voice.
Jack looks at the phone and shrugs. He knows people call Jewel “Jill.” Friends, strangers, family on both sides. It’s their names together does it. Jack and Jewel sounds wrong. Jack and Jill is, well, a natural. But never in Jewel’s hearing. Not more than once. Jewel has as biting a tongue as she has a strong beaked nose. Not that Jewel permits the word beaked. Aquiline is Jewel’s word. Just as zaftig is Jewel’s word for what Jack calls her pleasingly plump curvaceousness. Jewel is her name. Aquiline is her nose. Zaftig is her body.
Before he leaves for his appointment, Jack tells Jewel what Big John told him, saying he’d rather lug water down from a dug well than hump all that expensive bottled water. Asking rhetorically how hard could it be and saying it’d be an adventure to share. Surprisingly, Jewel says yes.
To Jack’s further surprise, the next day there’s Big John with a truck that has a big old cast iron tub in its bed. Two other Little brothers hop out, help take the tub off the truck, strap it onto a dolly and disappear around back with it.
Jack was staring out the window first, then trying to yank on jeans and get out the front door, but ends up arriving at the back only to see Jewel, apparently totally unsurprised, overseeing the placement of the tub near the cabana end of their new deep and wide deck. Jewel keeps shushing his attempts at whispered questioning, so he ends up hanging about, gawking first here and then there, while Jewel deals with it all, right up to waving Big John et al off the property and on their way. Jack still in a state of gawk.
It had been Jewel’s single demand before agreeing to purchase that they have a deck, complete with cabana, built across the entire back of the cottage. Once they moved in, she has furnished it with comfortable chairs and small tables, adding a gas fired grill and a small bar. She’s hung dramatically colored curtain-drapes on 3 sides of the cabana with a split one on the front. For privacy, she says, with her widest smile, tugging playfully at Jack’s ear.
To him this is part and parcel of how Jewel always has made a home out of any place they’ve lived. He loves her extravagances, which she bargain hunts mercilessly and only purchases at rock bottom price. Her flair is those special touches that always recall to him how much he admires her and cause him to feel gratitude because she graces his home. Jack loves Jewel very very much. And this love is not without a strong, integral, mutual and cooperative and highly enjoyable lust quotient. Jewel never speaks directly of this. Actions speak louder than words. Jewel is magnificent in her lack of words, her actions doing it all. This happens to be a thing of great satisfaction to them both.
So when Jewel suggests Jack fire up the outdoor grill, on which, she says, she is sure her three largest kettles can easily be fitted, he transfers his state of gawk to her. She adds, patting him gently on the arm, that they will need to heat the water they’re going to haul down the hill so they can each have a magnificent bath, which they’ll need after all that work. And then they will have a magnificent meal, which she has planned and prepared. And then they will give each other magnificent massages and whatever other magnificences occur - will - well - occur naturally.
Gently she shushes his questions, reminds him of how many hours he was gone yesterday, tells him she’s got it all in hand, to trust her, only to first go get the pails from in front of the house and then get into his grubbies, which she herself is going to do right now. Jack does indeed find a towering pile of galvanized pails with strong wooden handles piled beside the front walk, dumped by one of Little John’s sons must be, and dutifully lugs them around back before getting into grubbies.
It is hot under the late spring sun. The struggle up the hill is nothing compared to the struggle to carry two full pails of water back down over the long rough ground on a damnable slope and to do it without sloshing most of it out on the way The pails have a nearly 2 gallon capacity, which is 8 pounds of water when filled. That Jewel can lift a single full bucket let alone get it down the hill is nothing short of a miracle. Jack, who’s been lugging the 40 pound 5 gallon jugs of bottled water every day for three months and is relatively muscled up. Even so, after only one round trip, his legs are wonky, his head is pounding and Jewel won’t -- shut -- up.
The sheer hard labor of it all is not being made better for Jack by Jewel’s ongoing tale of just how accommodating Big John, oldest and handsomest son of Little John & Sons, had been, working with her all day yesterday to aid in the find-the-well-uncover-the-well task. Including, apparently, a great deal of showing off. There evidently is a whole I’ve-got-a-bucket-all-fitted-up-just-watch-me coda. Seems Big John checked things out before his meeting with Jewel to climb the hill and “explore the situation.”
Explore, Jack thought blackly. What exactly? Not Jewel’s aquiline nose. He’ll place his bet on Jewel’s zaftig body. Little John, it seems, had scurried up there after his phone call to set up a real show and tell for Jewel. Seems his coda is more than a cadence, it’s a complete section. Jack is suddenly far from feeling like a happy pail toter. And the more he hears, the less happy he feels.
Seems Little John had dug that overgrown almost welded down cover off all by himself. Had lowered a pail he just happened to have with him, on a rope that ditto, to check out the quality of the water. And then he’d put the cover back on, and prepared a whole bag of tricks for Jewel. All of which Jack is painfully learning, one banged shin, one sloshed wet shoe, one finger cramped hand at a time, one near pratfall at a time.
Well, Jewel rattles on about how, when they got up there -- and he’s forced to listen because he and Jewel are presently hauling together on a rope to bring a full well bucket of water up, then to be sloshed into their empty buckets, and they have to do this over and over and over again. Jewel continues to rattle along. It seems when they got up there, Little John led Jewel right to the well to show her about the lid and all and then he led her over to a sturdy Maple tree that is close by the well, where he’d stashed a rope with a bucket already clamped to its handle at one end. “To secure it,” Jewel said, as if it weren’t pretty obvious. But she was in full flush of owning new facts and isn’t to be stopped.
She’d shifted her pail away from Jack who was trying to fill it, and Jack jerked it back, but it doesn’t stop her. She’s still going on with how the clamp is so that the pail will never be lost. “Down the well,” she finishes, triumphantly. Jack can’t wait to start back down the hill. Escape some of her words. Jewel and her facts and her words.
But he can’t really, you can only go so far so fast. So now it’s on to how Big John had the other end of the rope securely tied to the tree and secured with another heavy metal clamp, “So it won’t...”
“Slip,” Jack finished for her. He didn’t think he could stand much more of this praise for someone else while he was sweating his...
But she gushes on. ‘No. So it will never let go.”
Oh how she is savoring all this new information. She beams, sloshing water all over his leg as she struggles along. The next big thing Little John achieved was that he “just slung that pail on the rope right up and over a branch on that tree! Pail and all! First shot. ” After a second she adds, “That’s to hold against the weight.” Oh she is proud of her knowledge.
Leverage, thinks Jack, water sloshing into his shoes and soaking the bottom of his chinos, he just bets leverage. Bets a lot of the leverage at play is Jewel’s zaftig figure. He lists a bit and bangs Jewels’ pail and more water slops out. It’s a wonder there’s any water in those pots heating on the grill. Now Jewel is talking on and on about how good that dug well water is. Adding that Big John is certainly skillful. Jack stops listening, lost in his own imaginings. He just bets Big John showed his skills to Jewel. All kinds of skills. Leading the way up this damned hill, helping Jewel over the rocks and around the rills, going right to the well. Wresting the over off, showing how strong and manly he is. He just bets Big John did that in one big muscle rippling yank.
Jewel, unaware of his frustration and mounting fury, is going into merciless detail about how Big John tested the whole rig for her. Bucket, rope, leverage. How he dropped the pail down and hauled it up (muscles gleaming in the sunlight, no doubt, Jack glowers), producing a dipper (oh but of course, John thinks. Jesus, he’s left nothing out), for her to sip from. God, Jack hates Big John. Little John. In fact he could even hate Jewel a teensy bit.
And that’s when he loses it. When Jewel tells him that the iron tub was Big John’s suggestion. That he’d said he knew where one was and was going to make a gift of it to her. A symbol, she is saying, of what he called his earnest intent.
Jack, picturing just what Old John’s earnest intent might be, missteps, loses his balance and goes careening down the slope, tumbling first and then sliding, like he used to slide into base as a kid, but this time jaw first. Until he hits a rock. And blacks out. Mercifully.
Jewel hurries to get to him but goes ass over water pail after stepping squarely, full weight augmented by a half-full pail of water, on Jack’s splayed left hand, sending her hurtling the rest of the way down, pail bashing all about her, fortunately creating little physical damage, but causing her to black out -- briefly.
On recovering consciousness she goes back to find that Jack is still knocked out, slides down the hill to home, calls Little John & Sons for help, and then calmly fills the claw foot tub with heated water from the kettles on the grill and treats herself to a long lingering bath, alone in the big claw foot tub. To soothe her nerves, she explains.
Why me? Jack wonders blackly when he learns he was transported to the ER on a fork lift. And, when he learns of Jewel’s restorative bath, taken right after her call to Little John & Sons, he refuses to ask himself what Big John might have seen, before and after hoisting Jack onto his fork lift. Or what in blazes Jewel was thinking. Instead he contemplates facts.
The facts (where are you, Jewel? I have some facts for you to nibble) are that he has a cracked jaw and can’t eat solid food for at least two weeks. That his new crown -- the reason he spent most of yesterday at the dentist -- is destroyed and now he is going to require an implant. That his left hand is broken and in a cast (he is -- of course he is! -- left-handed). And his ring finger was so swollen, in a separate break, naturally, that his wedding ring had to be cut off. And now, it follows, he must get a new one.
At this point in time he feels he has only one absolute certitude in his life and that is that he passionately, even devoutly, hates all wells and will drink only bottled water henceforth.
Jewel does sit by him every free minute, holds his (right) hand, purees fruits he likes with yogurt that she spoons into his crooked mouth and helps him sip Ensure from a straw. He could do these things for himself, but what the hell. He can stand a little babying.
The well is in, their tap water, she reports, has a wonderful taste - he’s sticking to bottled water, delivered now, Jewel’s arrangement, they don’t discuss it -- the hot showers he adores, Jewel wrapping his cast in a plastic bag which she keeps in place with careful use of elastics, or rubber bands as Jack calls them -- elastics is a Jewel word.
She deals with mail, pays the bills, plans her rock gardens, and every evening she plays scrabble or cribbage or both with him and is very patient with his use of only one hand (after all, it was she who broke the other), and tells him hourly how much she loves him. The visit to the dentist for the implant has to await the healing of his jaw. The purchase of a new wedding ring has to await the healing of his hand. Double jeopardy, that was. Well, so much of it was jeopardy, double and otherwise.
Two interesting facts.
One that Jewel has said little about. Little John & Sons seemed to feel in some way responsible for what happened. Their invoice only billed for $2,500. A gesture of good will from Big John, Little John told her when she had inquired. Jack refuses to rise to the bait.
The second, but Jewel doesn’t mind talking about this one as she seems to feel - well, that it is somehow fitting and proper. To everyone but Jack, she is now Jill. Friends, acquaintances, family on both sides -- they all call her that. Even to her face. Said with much affectionate admiration, sympathy and friendship. And Jewel has not argued it. As she says to Jack, her nose remains aquiline, her figure zaftig, she is still Jewel to him, so, if everyone else calls her Jill, well, that’s just kismet.
A new word of hers. Kismet. Jill. Zaftig. Aquiline. Jewel.
And Jack? He’s okay, thanks. But he’s not talking.
Jack’s Not Well