Posted: Thursday December 27, 2018
‘Tis the season! We have a tradition here at Talon to release a seasonally appropriate M.A.C. Farrant short story every year around this time. This story, “Happy New Year,” will appear in M.A.C.‘s forthcoming book, The Great Happiness, which will be available in Spring 2019.
Happy New Year
The Christian roofer had been phoning us for six years. He had some hope, it seemed, that we would ask him to replace our roof. He phoned every three or four months. One year he phoned on New Year’s Eve.
“Hello,” he said in the slight eastern European accent we’d become accustomed to. “George here. Would you be thinking of replacing your roof in the coming year?”
It was 10:30 p.m. The Rocky Horror Picture Show video had ended and we were hanging around the kitchen, counting down the minutes to midnight. We’d watched the kettle boil and were sharing a tea bag: two cups, one bag.
“Not right now,” my husband said. “I’m sorry, but we don’t need a new roof.”
We were pleasant to George because he was always pleasant to us. “Did he say Happy New Year?” I asked with some anxiety. It had been a lonely New Year’s Eve: the video, the tea bag. No, he hadn’t.
The way we discovered that George was a Christian happened during a call in which my husband, as usual, had turned him down. Then George tried a new tactic, suggesting that we call him when we needed a new roof. “But don’t call on a Tuesday evening,” he said, “that’s Bible study night.”
The fact that George was a Christian interested us: we wondered how far his faith in one day replacing our roof would go. And because we’re not Christians per se, preferring as much as possible to dwell in transience, we wondered what effect his faith might have on us over time. Would the three of us grow old together while our roof grew over with moss? Would we continue to gently tell him, “No, thank you, not this year”?
George’s idea of us contacting him about the roof was short-lived. Before long, his intermittent calls resumed. “What is it,” we asked each other, “that causes George to believe so surely that he will one day replace our roof? And how did we acquire this random person in our lives so that now his calls have become like calls from a long-ago friend, both dreaded and desired?”
Then, after six years, a new thought startled us. The reason that George was phoning about our roof all the time was because this was his job in life – he is a roofer – and to get jobs he calls people up. He didn’t have a personal relationship with us at all, and he wasn’t calling to felicitate meditations on the nature of our lives or, even, to imbue us with Christian beliefs.
When we thought this thought we felt bad. Bad for having so blithely and self-centredly missed the obvious. Bad that for six years we may have strung along an honest, hard-working man. A decent person. We felt especially mean to have done this. Further, we felt that such meanness of spirit may have contributed to our succession of lonely New Year’s Eves, and to our transient existence being, we had to admit, a state less than fulsome.
So on a Saturday morning in late November, and after six years, my husband called him up. “Now is the time, George,” he said.
George didn’t sound surprised or overjoyed to hear from us. He merely said in his usual calm way that he’d arrive at our house that afternoon between the hours of two and four.
When we saw him in person we felt cheered. He looked exactly as we’d imagined he would: small, fair-skinned, mid-sixties, wearing beige work clothes and a baseball cap. His truck was new and very clean, as we knew it would be.
George nodded to us as he climbed his aluminum ladder to the roof to look things over. From the driveway below we watched him poking at the shingles. A while later we heard him whistling “Rock of Ages.”
When we asked him how he was getting on he called down, shaking his head sadly. “You’ll need a complete roof replacement.” He stood on our roof in quiet triumph. “There’s moss on the shingles,” he told us. “There’s terrible rot within.”
By then we couldn’t agree more. For the first time in six years we felt as if a load was about to be lifted from our shoulders. The terrible rot within was about to be removed.
It was a bright day and the sun glinted off George’s glasses as he descended each rung of the ladder. Right there in the driveway, as George drove away with the promise of a new roof before Christmas, we began planning a crowded New Year’s Eve party – loud, boozy, sinful.
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