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Tim Dowling: Mark the builder is still fixing the house. Does he really need to make the bed, too?

<span>Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian</span>
Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian

The bathroom is finished. But Mark the builder still turns up every day, because there is always something new to be done. The roof leaks. The garden wall is still falling down. Even on the days he cannot come to work, Mark drops by to say so.

“I thought I’d tell you in person,” he says, standing by the front door. “I’ll be round first thing tomorrow.”

When Mark is here all the jobs I was supposed to do suddenly get done: heavy furniture is moved, curtains are hung, a loo roll holder is installed. It’s convenient, but a little emasculating. And I have nothing to complain about, which leaves me at a bit of a loss.

“Mark made the bed,” my wife says, passing me on the stairs on Tuesday.

“What?” I say, turning back.

“I said: Mark made the bed!” she shouts. “What part of that don’t you understand?”

“All of it,” I say. “I really don’t think that’s his role.”

“Have you gone mad?” she says.

“I thought we agreed it was down to whoever got up last,” I say.

“What are you talking about?” she says.

“Anyway, I’m certain I made the bed,” I say.

“MARK. MADE. THE. BED,” she says. A long silence follows, and it dawns on me that she means Mark has reassembled a bed he took to pieces a week ago in order to carry it up to our former bedroom. Putting the bed back together had been on my list of chores. Now it turns out I can cross it off.

I let the silence stretch for almost a full minute while I compose a face-saving reply.

“Oh, that bed,” I say finally.

“Something is wrong with you,” my wife says. “I’m going to have you tested.”

“I know you’re aware of the alternative, and altogether more common, meaning of the phrase ‘make the bed’,” I say.

On Wednesday morning my wife is already downstairs when I wake up. It is the day Mark is scheduled to climb on to the leaking roof to assess the situation. I dress quickly and dash down to the kitchen. Halfway there I stop and think for a minute. Then I go back upstairs to make the bed.

I went up there the other day, but I couldn’t see anything wrong, I say. By the other day, I mean last year

By the time I get downstairs Mark has arrived, and my wife is showing him a brand new leak at the far corner of the kitchen ceiling.

“This is happening again,” she says.

“Yeah, I can take a look at that tomorrow, no problem,” Mark says.

“I went up there the other day, but I couldn’t see anything wrong,” I say. By the other day, I mean last year.

“We’ll get the big roof sorted first,” says Mark.

“Of course,” I say.

I go out to my office shed. From time to time I look out the window to see Mark’s head over the lip of the roof. His expression is unreadable.

It’s after dark when my wife gets home. I am watching television.

“How did it go?” she says.

“Yeah, fine,” I say.

“What was the problem with the roof?” she says.

“He explained it to me,” I say. “But I didn’t really take it in.”

“Because you didn’t understand,” she says.

“I didn’t want to prolong the conversation,” I say, “because I was ironing at the time.”

“But it’s fixed,” she says.

“It’s fixed,” I say. “Tomorrow he can tackle the kitchen leak, and then start on the garden wall.”

“Marvellous,” my wife says.

Next morning we’re in the kitchen when Mark arrives. We examine the leak from the inside again.

“I think water might be getting up behind the flashing,” I say, rashly.

“Possibly,” Mark says. “Or sometimes what can happen is the roof starts to de-laminate.”

“Yes,” I say.

“He doesn’t know what you’re talking about,” my wife says.

“Right,” Mark says. “I’ll get up there and have a look.”

Mark is on the low flat roof above the kitchen for about half an hour, while I pretend to work in my office. Eventually, he comes to the door.

“So, the roof itself is fine,” he says, showing me a video he took on his phone. “No leaks.”

“That’s what I thought,” I say, rashly.

“But I did find this,” he says, holding up a small sphere, half black, half yellow. “A tennis ball, perfectly wedged in your downspout.”

I think: I’ve made my bed. Perhaps I’ll go and lie in it.