My 71-year-old husband built me a downstairs office. From a musty dugout basement lined with concrete he created white walls and a safe ceiling (no asbestos) plus a floor made of durable earth-friendly wood and windows that let in all the light a basement can get. He used bright-white materials so the light would be stronger.
He left the central wall’s original brickwork, even though he didn’t like it much, because he knows I think brickwork is cool and funky. He removed all the spiders he found because he has seen me run, shrieking in terror, from Daddy Long Legs.
It took him three months and something well above a thousand dollars, and he did it all himself—except when he had to determine which wires were live, which dead, running over the copper water pipes. For that he called in our friend X, a covert plumber here in town masquerading as a mine safety engineer. (X must not be outed; there aren’t many plumbers around here and his golf weekends would be crushed.)
Jack sealed cracks and underpinned flooring and shaved off door edges and cut special angles to cover protruding pipes. My husband did all that for me, because he wanted me to have a cozy space that I could call my own. Upstairs on the second floor, our private home is full of mind-grabbing, endless chores, while the bookstore is replete with people and noise and sales and inventory–not that we don’t like those things. They are the heartbeat of the bookstore.
But downstairs, with a comfy chair from a thrift store and a mantelpiece donated by a friend and an electric fire Jack hunted down on clearance, there’s a different kind of heartbeat. A quiet one. A steady one. An enduring one.
Jack said, out of the blue the other day as we doctored our respective morning coffees, “I built that space for you as comfortably and as carefully as I could, so you would have it forever.”
“I know,” I said, and kissed him on the cheek.
There are things couples don’t say, and then there are things couples don’t use words to say. When I sit downstairs in the white space that my husband’s hands created for me, I know, and he knows I know, that I’m sitting inside his heart. Cozy and warm, underpinning everything, letting the light in.