First you go to Home Depot with your boyfriend and buy those funny little felt masks that he says you’ll need, and you cuddle and pinch and lean against each other in the aisles to the point where you make out in the car in the dark parking lot before driving to his apartment to do it again. That weekend you make your first crawl into the wreckage of a house he’s bought in the city—a shell, he calls it—in shorts and tee shirt and sandals and mask, digging in mud and god knows what as he bangs and pounds and walls collapse. The masks have to be exchanged twice and you’re dirtier than you’ve ever been when, back at his place, the shower washes over both of you in rivulets of watery muck as you do it in the shower, hotly and desperately, before relaxing with a gin and tonic and dry roasted peanuts, studying his sketches of your new house together.
Next time you wear your hiking boots and tie a kerchief on your hair to haul boards and bags of debris to the dumpster out front on the cobblestones, and dust settles in layers over all your exposed skin except for your lips, which he wipes with a wet rag and then kisses, thrusting his tongue hungrily, and you find you can do it standing up, too, and don’t even have to be clean or have any walls other than the exterior one, like a stage set.
You learn to tile and grout, too, knees sore and reddened, and smiling at him, on all fours next to you, the two of you crawling together, pulling off shorts, and he mounts you that way, still holding the trowels that clatter together like cymbals. Then the painting begins, nipple pink he calls the apricot color you chose for the library; his choice is bronco brown for the master bedroom—my bedroom, he calls it—and you pretend not to notice the pronoun, the paint smells mingling with sex. When the carpeting is laid, so are you, on each floor, rough pile against bare bottom, floor by floor, the green indistinguishable from the blue, from the beige.
His things soon fill up the closets, and you think he’ll shift later, pulling on your bra and your jeans and heading down highways to the suburbs, your own place, the teenage children in it.
What you do not learn about building a house is this: that it was not yours to build to begin with, and building becomes built. So when tables and sofas and the real bed arrive, you’re a guest in a gentrified house attractive to new dolls, and you have nothing to show for your year of labor except some fucking good times.