I always enjoy seeing another gal working there. Secretaries don’t count—most of the time, I can’t even get a key to the ladies’ porta-potty out of them. But now and again, there’s another woman getting her hands dirty, although rarely as dirty as mine. Usually, they’re inspectors or heavy equipment drivers, although I worked alongside an electrician once.
We exchange relieved nods as we pass. It’s a very small sisterhood.
There are times when I have to have to work both harder and smarter to gain the respect of the men around me. On top of that, there’s dealing with the expressions of other women, those who have jobs where they stay clean. I know I look bad when I see a gal check her appearance in a mirror or window and give herself a satisfied nod.
Mostly, our company waterproofs, but now and again my husband takes a job that requires acid and pressure washing. These are usually historical restoration gigs, returning brick, marble, and tile to their original pristine glory. Completing one of these is incredibly satisfying. We start with an old, unloved building, and by the time we’re finished, it’s something special again.
The other reason I’m glad to be done is because pressure washing is one of the dirtiest things we do. When you spray water onto a hard surface at thousands of pounds per square inch, it doesn’t just trickle down the sides. It bounces back all over you—along with all the dirt, moss, and other unnamed substances it’s best not to think about too much. By the end of the day, I feel like a slime monster.
The courthouse in Chico was restoration as usual. I had cleaned my way to the upper balcony, and those were always extra work. But when I climbed over the stone railing, this time there were two pigeons huddled in a corner. One was mixed brown and gray, the other was mostly white. They crouched next to the dirty brick wall, awaiting whatever fate I saw fit to dish out.
What if they’d gotten nailed by the acid overspray? Hydrofluoric acid stings, even diluted. I didn’t even want to think about what it could do to their eyes.
I climbed down the scaffolding to get a bottle of water. But even after I doused them both, they still wouldn’t fly. They just shrank up next to each other, silent.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “What happened to your voices? Come on, coo. Like this. Coo-oo. Coo-oo.”
They were either unimpressed with my cooing or traumatized. And if any guy caught me cooing to pigeons, my jobsite credibility would be toast.
I stood there, thinking. We needed to get the balcony done today. The pigeons wouldn’t or couldn’t fly, and there was no way I could squirt them with acid. Maybe I could carry them out of harm’s way. There had been some empty boxes in the bare entryway—the debris of supply delivery. They’d come in handy now.
I got the birds in the box and made it down the scaffolding again with it—which is more difficult than it sounds—when my husband Tom reappeared.
“What’s in the box?” he asked.
“What? Tell me you’re kidding.”
“I think they’re too young to fly.”
He folded his arms. “What are we going to do with them? Drop them at the park?”
“Tom, we can’t. A cat will get them. For now, they can stay in the cab of the truck.”
He sighed. “If they get pigeon crap all over, you get to clean it up.”
Great—something to look forward to. “Well, in that case, I’ll get them something at the bakery across the street. Maybe that’ll convince them to stay in the box. I’ll try to find a rescue place that takes pigeons at lunch.”
I got them a blueberry scone and found a styrofoam bowl for water. Then I checked around. No one was watching.
“Don’t worry—I’ll look after you.” I cooed at them in farewell.
My husband, God’s gift to pressure washers (he really is that good), was waiting when I made it back to the scaffolding. “We can’t put them back here tomorrow, either,” he said. “We won’t finish this side of the building today.”
“There has to be someone who looks after these things. Remember the rescue group that actually checked roadkill possums for babies? How hard can it be to find a pigeon rescue? It’s not like pigeons are uncommon.”
But when I called around, it appeared that was the problem. Pigeons are everywhere. Nobody was particularly interested in saving them. That left me.
At least nobody had found out about it yet except Tom. And he hadn’t ratted me out to anyone else.
I broke the news to my husband as we were coiling up hoses for the night. He seemed dubious about the whole thing. “I suppose they can stay in the cargo space in back.”
“No! It’ll be dark, and Frick and Frack will get scared.”
He broke into a huge grin. “Frick and Frack?”
“Okay, so I named them.”
John, one of our employees, joined us to talk about the day’s progress. I nervously listened for sounds of pigeons from the truck, but they were silent through the end-of-day chit chat.
We drove the few blocks to our motel, and Tom’s eyes narrowed as I reached for the box. “What are you doing?”
“They’ve had a terrible day, and I’m worried about them. I haven’t heard them coo at all.”
“You seriously want to bring those pigeons into our room?”
I stroked Frick’s gray back with a tentative finger. “Yes. Deal with it.”
“Then I should definitely get laid tonight.”
“Fine, but wait until Frick and Frack are asleep.” If I was going to be a pigeon mother, I would at least try to be a good one.
“They better go to sleep soon. I don’t think the motel will be very understanding about pigeons in the room.”
A point. Still, I was going to chance it. I’d taken their home—they could share mine for now.
The pigeons didn’t coo, and incredibly, they stayed in the box all night. “See, they’re working out just fine,” I told my husband smugly the next morning. He just shook his head.
The spring day was no more than warm, but I left the windows down for Frick and Frack anyway. I checked on them every time I came down to terra firma. They didn’t seem terrified—they moved around their box freely—and they’d nibbled their scone. I was willing to call it provisional success.
But before the end of the day my unusual activity was noted. “Why are you going to the truck so often, Cathleen?” John asked.
Tom started laughing and I sighed. Wait for it.
“She’s got a couple pigeons she found in that front balcony. She thinks they’ll get eaten if she doesn’t look after them.”
John’s expression was incredulous. “Pigeons? That’s like taking care of rats.”
I shook my head. “No, pigeons are much nicer. We had a couple pet rats once, and they didn’t care about each other at all.” I scurried across the street to get them another scone to the sound of male laughter.
Ah, well. My slime monster makeover and acid-laden working conditions at least meant I wasn’t pestered with general conversation while I was working. Breaks were another story.
“How are the pigeons doing?”
I turned. I barely knew this smirking guy—word had gotten out fast. “Just fine,” I said, aiming for a lofty tone.
“Now we know what’s all over you.”
I looked up for strength, although with my luck I’d find another wayward pigeon. He laughed as I stalked away. Grrr.
We smuggled them into the room again that night, and I stashed them in the corner and gave them the rest of their scone. “Don’t worry,” I murmured, stroking their smooth backs. “Tomorrow I’ll put you back home again. It’ll be nice and clean, and you’ll have a safe place to live until you learn how to fly. Everything’s going to be okay. Come on. Coo.”
But Frick and Frack merely gazed up at me. Probably just as well. The last thing I needed was issues with the motel. This job still had another week to run.
The next day at noon, I climbed back up the scaffolding with my precious cargo. I scooped them out of their box and set them up with a fresh scone and bowl of water. “There you go, just like I said. See? Everything’s back to normal.”
Frick led the way, head bobbing as he explored the fabulous restored masonry. Frack followed, although she was far more interested in the scone than her surroundings. I stroked their backs in farewell and hopped over the railing to climb down again.
As I took the first rung, I heard the sound of pigeons cooing.