“How are the burgers coming, Babe?” The aroma was literally making her mouth water. She strolled out onto the deck, a cold martini in each hand. “Here you go, Babe.”
“Thanks sweetheart! They — are — ready! Bring your buns right over here!” Ted laughed at his own wit. Darla didn’t particularly find it funny, but what the hell. A beautiful, warm, late afternoon. Don’t spoil things over nothing, Darla she told herself.
Soon Darla and Ted downed — yes, that’s the right word — not, “sipped” — “downed” their icy cold martinis and began to chomp right in on their burgers. Darla smiled as a bit of blood dribbled down her chin. Ted motioned at his own chin and looked at her in just that way that each pair in a couple learns to read as: “Honey, you’ve got food on your face…right…here!”
She patted at the dribbled meat blood and tried to put her napkin on the wooden table, but her fingers stuck to the oil sticky napkin and it fell to the wooden deck. Darla bent to pick up her napkin and that’s when she noticed it.
Darla had one of those minds that is often impervious to things around her. She might not notice, for instance, that a particular picture is off-kilter for weeks, months, or years — not even if she walks by it every single day. But once she realizes that it is off-kilter, she will stop at nothing to straighten the painting immediately. Then she would feel pride as she said to herself, There you go, Darla, old girl. Fixable problem. Fixable problem. You did it. It was a useful phrase and a useful habit that she had picked up from her mother. Find and solve fixable problems.
So it was with the deck. It was July. They had been eating outside on this same deck five out of seven nights for many weeks. Yet, she had never before noticed how faded the staining was nor how splintery some of the boards had become.
Mid-burger, Darla pulled out her cellphone and called her aunt Helena who knew her own business like the back of her hand and everyone else’s even better. She smiled at Ted. “I just found a fixable problem,” she said. She got the name of a reliable contractor and the next morning scheduled work to start.
It was expensive — and they couldn’t use their deck for a few months. But Ted agreed that it had been worth it. The deck looked 1000% better. Totally worth it.
The only slight problem was that the lumber had been heavy which required a heavy truck to come down their driveway. Which had pretty well demolished the too-thin concrete. When, at last, the work was done and deck was redone, Darla noticed the serious unevenness and cracks. “Well, that’s a fixable problem,” Darla muttered to herself. Sure enough, with a few weeks, Darla had found a contractors to pour a new and stronger concrete driveway. The new driveway was unbroken, stronger, smoother, and — coincidentally — made a much effective barrier to the nearby tree roots. The new, unbroken concrete helped prevent water and air from reaching the roots of the tree.
At first, the tree, in her tree-like way, was terrified. She thought she might die of thirst. But her ancestors had been searching for water for tens of millions of years. She found a new source. Her roots found the teeniest of cracks in the sewer pipe and entered, grew strong with the nearby nutrients. The tree was relieved.
The tree had no idea, we imagine, that 22 days later, the toilets in the house would begin to back up. But they did. At first, Darla thought that their dog, Lauren, must have hidden a dead animal in the house. But no. The smell was much worse.
When they found no pet, Darla thought perhaps Ted was simply eating more red meat than usual and that it was his sweat that stunk up the house. But he denied it. At last, the source of the smell was visible as well as odiferous.
Luckily, it proved to be just another fixable problem. The plumbers fixed the sewer pipes. At least from the human perspective.
From the tree’s perspective, her roots were still denied access to water, air, and nutrients trapped near the surface. She kept searching, but eventually, it became clear to her that she would have to cut her losses so she concentrated on growing what she could. Half the tree weakened, sickened, and died.
The August storm was not unusually strong. But it was strong enough.
Strong enough to split the tree. Hundreds of pounds of pine tree dove onto the new deck, smashing it to smithereens.
When Ted and Darla later went to survey the damage, Darla picked up a toothpick sized smithereen. She turned it in her fingers and began, “Well, at least, it’s … “ But at that point she looked into Ted’s eyes and thought it wiser — much wiser — not to finish that particular sentence.