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In the early days of singlehood, when I was rearranging furniture because I couldn’t sleep, I remembered I had always wanted a reading lamp for my end of the couch.
I had never said this out loud, because my then-husband would have rooted around in the back of his truck until he found a paint-encrusted trouble light he could hook over the valance using something left over from raising timber frame walls at the cottage.
A 12-foot yellow outdoor extension cord would then have been pressed into service – temporarily – to solve the power issue.
But now that the man was providing temporary solutions for someone else, I realized there was nothing to stop me getting what I wanted.
I parked at the big-box store with a sense of anticipation entirely out of proportion to the task at hand. Up and down the wide aisles I drifted, assessing options: pot lights, table lamps, chandeliers, wall sconces; sleek, silly, elegant and proletarian. I flicked switches, rocked bases, peered under shades and kept returning to one I pegged as weird.
It was a floor model made of an iron-like substance. Not black, but brownish ochre. The surface was pitted and rough. Near the top, just under the shade, the iron twisted into a Greek key design of four wings that were perpendicular to the floor, like geese coming in to land on a lake. I set the lamp in the centre of the aisle and walked its perimeter. A fellow in an orange apron was stocking shelves one aisle over.
“Excuse me,” I said through the chandeliers. “Will this lamp fit in my car?”
“What kind of car?”
“Sure, no problem. Do you want that one?”
“Yes, I think I do.”
I was revelling in the heady aftermath of solo decision-making and paying no attention to what the nice young man was doing until he appeared beside me clutching a box that would challenge the rear end of a Hummer. I glanced from the box to my bizarre but intact floor lamp and remembered why men love Home Depot. Damnation: assembly required.
The damp patches under my arms brought on by manhandling that box from my parking spot on P3 to my suite on the ninth floor were almost dry by the time I had the lamp’s workings catalogued and sorted on the living-room floor. Everything was laid out on a grid matching the diagram on page 2 of the instructions titled “This Box Contains.”
I had hoped to find tools. Didn’t things sometimes come with tools?
I filled a squat glass with ice and Crown Royal and scrounged through the junk drawer. Toothpicks, batteries, nails, picture hooks, string, half a clothespin, WD-40, tacks, a box cutter, two brown rubber door stops and a Bic lighter that didn’t fire. There was a rusty vise grip that looked like it had been used to pull fingernails, but no screw driver.
I moved to the laundry room, where I recalled having seen a toolbox tucked into the gap behind the washing machine. It weighed about 40 pounds and contained a roll of black electrician’s tape with bits of lint stuck to it, another can of WD-40, some used nuts and bolts, more vise grips, and one grungy screwdriver with the little square end I needed.
On my third highball, I was sitting victorious in a loose lotus position in the middle of the living-room floor with the base of the lamp clamped inside the circle of my legs and all four Greek key wings securely attached to the hollow, central pole. The lamp’s electrical nerve centre squirted out the top and flopped to one side like a limp piece of licorice.
The beat of classic eighties rock was thumping in the background and little pyramids of Cheetos crunchy cheesies anchored the top two corners of the instruction sheet.
I was delivering a soliloquy.
“If he was doing this, he’d be welding a new base to make sure it didn’t tip over. He’d replace these cute little ochre-coloured screws with shiny silver ones that were stronger, but hideous-looking, and then he’d rewire the whole thing, using the guts from something rescued from the recycling depot. And there’d be pieces left over.”
There were always pieces left over. I stretched out a leg and hooked a fat cheesie with the toes of my right foot, but even with two arms helping, I couldn’t get it close to my mouth; yoga was new in my life.
I untangled my legs and stood.
Attach the lamp shade by first pushing the light bulb protection ring onto the light bulb connector, followed by the lampshade protection ring and the lampshade holder ring … Almost there … Insert a light bulb into the light bulb connector.
I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a lamp, but it felt bigger. My therapist called it taking back my power. With exaggerated care, I pushed the plug into an outlet and flicked the switch. Instant light. No explosion. Still smiling, I turned in a wide circle and surveyed my kingdom: the nude wall begging for pictures, the scarred cherry coffee table, the cupboard door hanging from one hinge.
“One of those nice young men in an apron will help me,” I decided, pitching the screwdriver, duct tape and vise grips into the garbage. “I need tools.”
Karen J Lee lives in Vancouver.
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