Sometimes, my husband just plain pisses me off. Other times, I’d follow him to the ends of the earth. It’s called marriage. Like the 120 degree June Saturday afternoon we spent under the house; actually, a mobile home. We bought one when we settled in Arizona after Dan, my husband, retired a few years ago. They’re not the tin cans from the 60’s anymore. Ours has ceramic tile in the bathrooms, carpet in the bedrooms, and French door out the back overlooking my pool. A real nice place sitting on one whole acre of desert in Indian Hills. I picked the spot.

We had a routine. Saturday mornings, I’d take the dogs to McDonald’s to get their sausage biscuit breakfast, excepting Albert, who doesn’t like to ride in the Durango anymore. Yeah, they’re spoiled. Before I could latch the gate, Albert escaped—more like loped—next door to sniff and pee on the Prescotts’ palo verde tree.

Traipsing around in my saggy sweats in 90 degree temps—yes, Arizona really does get that hot at nine o’clock in the morning—wasn’t what I wanted to do, but Albert is half-blind, arthritic, and has wanderlust, so I thought retrieving him before he crossed the street into the high desert would be a good idea.

Albert read my mind. He sashayed back, me following, weaving around our front yard xeriscape of prickly pears, well-placed rocks, and knee-high wild grass. One of the great things about living in Indian Hills is that no one has a lawn like we did in the Midwest. None of that troublesome watering, weeding, trimming, or clipping. No noisy mowers. On Saturday mornings, we hear only quiet, except for the cackling cactus wrens.

Then I heard the hiss. I know what you’re thinking: desert. Cactus. Creepy crawlies. You watched those movies with the slithery things on the plane attacking passengers. Or if you don’t have satellite TV, you watched PBS documentaries with camera close-ups of fangs and flicking tongues.

That wasn’t the hiss. Diamondbacks don’t hiss. They rattle. Some people say they sound like dry leaves being crushed together, or small maracas being shaken. You know, those things that the singer Carmen Miranda played in the 1930’s movies with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Those things.

I heard a rattler once. To me, it sounded like the seed pod of a spiny red yucca after the seeds had dried inside. Krrsshhh. I jumped every time I brushed against one.

I bent over next to the house, hands on my knees, butt sticking into the air like one of those comic cutouts painted to show a woman’s frilly white bloomers, my head cocked sideways listening. The hiss wasn’t a snake. It was worse.

Anyone who’s ever hooked up the hose in spring after it’s been sitting all winter—or who’s opened up a cabin on Memorial Day Weekend—knows that sound. A water leak. Not just a leak, a spray.

By this time, Dan had opened the front door and let Albert inside.

“I hear something,” I told him.


“I hear a leak.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“You don’t hear anything, anyway.” He cranks the TV volume up whenever he can, then I grab the remote and turn it down to a decibel level less than a Metallica concert.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Check it out.”

“Can it at least wait until I feed the dogs?” he volleyed.

“I’ll feed the dogs, you check the house,” I scored.

Dan pulled on his denim work overalls, the kind that didn’t need a belt, his paint-splattered long sleeve work shirt, then his threadbare Redwing work shoes. He didn’t say a word. See what I mean? Pissed goes both ways. Who wants to go under the house on a Saturday when golf’s on ESPN?

I ran—really, I did—to pull on an old turtleneck and the hiking boots I use for dog walking.

I told him, “I’m coming with you.”


“With you.”

He looked at me for a count of one-Mississippi. “You’re going to need something to cover your hair.” He handed me his cloth skullcap, the one he wears when working to keep the sweat out of his eyes, the one with the tiny dancing skeletons. What’s this thing motorcycle riders have with skeletons? And flames. He grabbed another skullcap from the cabinet. You guessed it: a skeleton with flames.

Mobile homes have to have some kind of access to get to the guts underneath; to heat ducts, wiring, plumbing, stuff like that. Ours was a two by two-foot metal grate at one end, the end furthest away from—you got it—where I heard the leak.

“I’ll go first and shoo the black widow out of the way.”

We have one; she lives under our house. I pulled my turtleneck up to my chin and pulled my sleeves down to my leather gloves. Dan knows I’m terrified of spiders. I don’t care where she lives, so long as I don’t see her and she doesn’t bother me.

Dan folded his 245 pounds underneath the house. I watched him disappear, then scrunched and followed. I’m smaller, so I could indeed crawl in the crawlspace, until I got to a low-hanging beam. I followed my husband’s lead and lay on my belly, then pulled myself up by my elbows while pushing off with my boots. We were like any army movie you’ve ever seen. Seriously, that scene in The Great Escape when Charles Bronson digs his way out of a prisoner-of-war camp, that was us.

The dogs stayed behind, outside, waiting, probably for treats they believed I’d hidden down there. Albert sunned himself on the back porch. I wanted to be with him.

I thought under the house would be stocked with cobwebs and other Halloween-type stuff, but the crawlspace wasn’t as horror-filled as I imagined. A few desiccated lizards, one mummified baby bunny—poor thing—and plenty of dark. Dan had the flashlight. Luckily for me, the few ventilation grates around the perimeter let enough sunlight through for me to see any ghosts, zombies, or that jagged piece of concrete I had to creep around.

We struggled around jack posts supporting iron I-beams running the length of the house, then inched along the edge. I heard hissing before Dan shined the light on a puddle, swelling at the back corner and slowly spreading towards us.

A silvery corrugated conduit stuck out of the dirt then curved and joined with a long, straight, copper pipe. A metal snake. The bright green crusty abscess at the connection meant water trouble. I felt vindicated. Told ya! What’d you think now, Mr. I Don’t Hear Anything? Nana-nana-na-na.

Dan shimmied through the water, me holding the flashlight on the curved metal. He ran his hand over the pipe.

“That’s it!” Water spritzed out a pinhole at the joint, aiming directly at the grate where I first heard the hiss. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would’ve thought someone made this up. Albert’s stroll through the weeds, my expert hearing, and the water spritz aimed directly at the small vent. Call it divine intervention, angels, or wild coincidence. The leak could’ve turned into a majorly-expensive flood. We dodged a bullet.

“We’re lucky.” Dan told me after we reconned our way back to daylight. Fine Arizona dust covered my front, muddy snot came out of my nose, and I stunk from the sweat accumulated under the hot house for half an hour. Dan looked like a mud monster hugged him, and smelled worse.

“You found that just in time, honey.” Yeah, he’s sweet on me now.

He rummaged through the handy tool kit he kept in the storeroom by the back door, a gray tray with screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, tape measures, and tons of dog hair because it sits on the floor.

“Come on, I’ll show you how to turn off the water.”

I wasn’t interested in learning this new skill, but had already committed to the fix, so I followed behind, since this whole adventure was my idea.

We fast-walked to an oblong concrete block covered by a heavy iron plate set into the ground at—of course—the far corner of our front yard.

Dan pulled off the cover and wrenched the dial. “If you have to turn off the water, that’s what you do. Just turn it a quarter turn.”

I nodded because, after all, what was there to say after turning off water to my own house? Besides, I’d forget those instructions in about a minute. Anyways, my husband wasn’t going anywhere I couldn’t track him down.

“Now what?”

“Ace.” We fast-walked to the Durango. “You want to come with me?”

“Do you want me to go?”

“You don’t have to.”

“I’ll go.” We were Holmes and Watson, Fred and Ginger, Harry and Sally, hopefully not Abbott and Costello.


“Phil here?”

“Just left. What you need, Dan?” With his stringy gray hair, bushy mustache, and stick-thin body, Royal looked more like someone holding a cardboard sign on the corner than an Ace Hardware expert. At least his red vest was clean.

One of the benefits of living in a small town was that everyone knew Dan. Retirement didn’t mean not working. Retirement meant I had my own personal handyman: a new toilet ring, hummingbird feeder, garbage disposal, folding stadium chair, potting soil, whatever. Dan explained our water problem to Royal, then they disappeared down the tubing aisle chattering about nothing I cared about.

Eventually, Dan found me wandering in the paint aisle, fantasizing about a shade of light green for our bedroom.

“Where are we going?” I knew when we turned left out of the Ace parking lot, but asked anyway. He babbled about sweat solder and compression fittings. I fulfilled my part of the conversation with um, ah, okay. Sometimes it’s not what you say or don’t say, it’s just that you’re there.

I’d follow my husband to the ends of the earth, but I drew the line at Home Depot and Lowe’s wearing crawling-under-the-house clothes. I sat in the air-conditioned Durango.

Dan completed his mission, then chattered our way home. “I have to get my tools. I only want to go down there once.”

“Get all your tools. You don’t want to keep coming up.”

Yeah, this is old married couples talking. At the wedding ceremony the pastor said, “Repeat after me…” We continued that for next 40 years of marriage.


Dan collected his tools, plastic Ace Hardware bag, Home Depot copper pipes, and Lowe’s fittings into a cardboard box which he pushed ahead of him on the dirt in the crawlspace. I followed. This time, I had my own flashlight.

He set to work. He used this C-clamp thingy to cut the pipes, then grunt-wrenched something onto each end. I call it “grunt-wrenching” because every time he twisted the wrench, he made a grunting sound because he wanted to get the thing as tight as possible. He also grunt-wrenched loosening something because it was on too tight to begin with.

There he was, lying on his belly, propped up on his elbow, boots digging into the mud, occasionally swatting sweat from his nose, babbling away to himself. “I have to get this off.” “Who put this on?” “It’s only a three-quarter pipe.” And so on and so on.

By this time—noonishy—the temperature outside pushed upwards towards the low setting on my toaster oven.  Under the house, we didn’t have the intense sun beating on us, only the roasting heat. I felt like a Pillsbury crescent roll, sitting cross-legged more hunched over than Quasimodo, waiting for the toaster timer to ding.

My job? Shining the flashlight on the copper pipe. My inner babbling? They should make crawlspaces bigger. Didn’t anyone inspect that thing? Why do sweatpants have to be so hot? Was that a spider? 

Did I tell you about the smell? If you’ve ever had a new driveway poured, or walked by a high-rise construction site, or driven behind a cement mixer with your windows open, you know the smell. Wet concrete. A musty mold, dank water, stone, and—oddly—something stale smell. Not wholly unpleasant, but concentrated enough that I didn’t regret missing lunch.

Finally, “That’s it, Honey.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. Let’s turn the water on and see what happens.”

We crawled out, me leading the way, turning left at the bunny.

I got the honors. I wrenched open the main water line, then ran into the house. Water spritzed out the kitchen faucet. I ran out the front door, bent over, cocked my head, listened. A repeat of this morning.

“Do you hear a leak?” Dan yelled, poised at the crawl opening, his magic wizard’s wrench in hand.


“We did it.”

“You did it.”

“We did it. You were there, too.” He hugged me, pressing his mud against my dirt. We’ve driven across town, spent hours squeezed into a three-foot high dingy, dirty, dark space under our house. The sun touched the tops of Indian Hills. Dan missed his TV golf game. I missed my pool time. We wouldn’t have traded that broiling Saturday afternoon for anything. We’re Scarlett and Rhett, Hepburn and Spencer, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, sometimes Marge and Homer.

Young couples ask what our secret is. There isn’t one. It’s called marriage.