Donnez-moi de l’eau,
Donnez-moi de l’eau,
Donnez-moi de l’eau
dans mes deux seaux.

(Paul will know what I mean.)

My gardener David and his brother Danny are rebuilding my neighbor’s shed using the Grandfather’s Ax method: “this is my grandfather’s ax; my father gave it a new blade, and I gave it a new handle.” Rather than pull down the old shed they are leaving it in place and replacing the doors, roof and so on bit by bit.

It is ninety-six degrees out there. (It’s dropped off a degree since midafternoon.)

I know the sketchiest bits about David and Danny’s family background. David has the lidless, batrachian gaze of someone who has seen the Lord or the bottom of too many beer bottles, and so far as I understand it both inferences are true. The Lord got the upper hand but he still has the leathery, shrink-wrapped countenance you see on homeless people. Danny could give a crap about the Lord, though I gather he is less indifferent to beer bottles. Oddly, of the two, he does better work.

About twenty minutes ago he knocked on my front door and asked if I was busy, and when I said no, asked if I would fill a couple of inadequate-looking Deer Park water bottles that they had brought to the job, the kind of favor I reminded David just last weekend that I would always do.

He is looking a little rough, is Danny. He may have been back in the booze again and I think there is another tooth missing, though his smile is contagious nonetheless, not as strained as his brother’s, lacking that need to check back in with the Lord and all. He reminded me of science-fiction movies where someone’s aging process fast-forwards and a Tithonus-like husk is found collapsed in a young man’s chair or foyer.

I quick-marched to the kitchen, filled the bottles from my water-filter pitcher and emptied two ice trays and the rest of the pitcher into one of those beer-keg-shaped tap barrels designed for outdoor work, neon orange and thickly insulated.

“Just tell David put it on the back porch here when he’s done,” I said. Drops of sweat were forming on the prominences of Danny’s face. I have been listening to him pilot a circular saw or pound a hammer all afternoon. You could get heat stroke out there, or die, without realizing you just weren’t keeping up with your water loss.

I have no clue about the upbringing that deposited these two guys, with the barest inklings of a formal education and the various depletions incurred by their respective alcohol habits, into the midst of their sixth decade with just a couple of nickels to rub together. They live in a world where health insurance, credit cards and mobile phones are legends from far away. I don’t know how Danny gets around. David and his wife own a decent car, which only she can drive; I imagine some old string of DUIs or maybe a verdict of vehicular manslaughter. In his reborn life he is finicky about his habits, worried about what processed food or the unfiltered city water might do to whatever’s left of his liver.

“I’m gonna put a hurtin’ on that,” said Danny, looking at the chiller keg, and loped off.

Occasionally my clients come in brandishing one of those Deer Park bottles and talking about how they are embarking on a program to drink more water. Half the time they forget the bottle.

It reframes luxury when you think of it as water that’s actually iced, instead of tasting rubbery, from the hose. I am an old sap and, for some reason, found myself drying my eyes with my dish towel.


6 thoughts on “Water

    • I’ll have to look into that since I have two hose bibs. More to the point I think David, at least, might actually try to hold out until he could get water that was bottled or filtered, with possibly disastrous results; he’s mulish that way. The local stuff does have a pong of hot and cold running Clorox.

    • The whole matter reinforces my appreciation of engineering. And so far as war, think how many clean water sources could be secured for the cost of some obsolete-design fighter jet.

  1. Wonderful account of an all too common reality. People like Danny are all around us if we choose to see them.

    • They always have been, and in less fragmented times they had what I sense was a more solid niche: they would have a shack on the edge of town or a rented room over some bar, and everyone would know where to find them when there was extra work to be done. Probably some less disintegrated members of their family would be part of the community. Someone would notice if they didn’t show up, or got sick. We haven’t evolved anything to replace that equilibrium, yet.

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