Igor Krensky stayed at our house for a while. He was our neighbor. His house had burned down from some sort of lab experiment he’d been working on, and he needed a place to live while it was being rebuilt.
Igor was a genius. He could fix anything, and he was always eager to please. That’s why we let him stay with us. Yeah, I guess you could say we were using him. We charged him $800 a month, room and board, and we let him fix anything he wanted to fix. And we had a lot of broken stuff. There were frozen computers, leaky faucets, a dead vacuum cleaner, and all kinds of other little unfinished fix-it jobs that left me feeling flummoxed and apprehensive about tackling.
I would wait for a strategic moment for Igor to be standing nearby, and then I would try to use the item in disrepair. Then I would point at the malfunctioning thing and cast a doleful glance at Igor. His face would light up into a big wide smile. He was always eager to please, and fixing things was the best way he knew, to make people happy. “Hmmgghh!” he would passionately exhort with a breathy exhalation. And then he’d get to work.
Igor mostly communicated through verbal, whispery breaths. Occasionally he would mumble something that sounded Romanian, Hungarian, or some other central European language. My wife and I were never quite sure where he was from, but we assumed Romania. He looked about 30 to 40 years old. He had blonde hair, deep-set eyes with bruisy shadows beneath them, a prominent nose, and sallow, hollow cheeks. He was tall and thin and rawboned.
He rarely looked at anyone straight-on. It was mostly gazes asquint, where he seemed to be sizing his subject up. He was a calm man most of the time, lost in the genius world of his reflective mind. Just the same, there were a few things that could annoy him and rouse him from his reverie, into a restive state of pique.
For one, you would never want to make a sudden loud noise around Igor. He would jump up from a sitting position, or rise about two feet into the air if he was standing. Then he would stretch his arms out like he was ready to tackle someone, and search the room with quick left and right twists of the neck, trying to identify the source of the commotion. In those moments he would make direct, full-frontal eye contact with you, if you were the source. And you never wanted that. His eye contact was scary.
Igor also had a lucky salt shaker. It was made out of thick glass–thank God for that–so it never broke when it fell on the floor. It was empty. The screw-on top was missing. It was just the glass portion of an empty salt shaker. He would always set it at the very edge of a table or counter top where he was working. And if it ever fell on the floor, Lord help him. Igor would transmigrate into another world.
He wouldn’t hurt anyone on these occasions. No, it was more of a deep inner turmoil that was harming Igor himself. He couldn’t function. He would stop what he was doing, rise from his seat, and glare mournfully at the fallen shaker. Deep, heavy growling sighs would rise from his chest. He would occasionally throw back his head and jab Romanian invectives into the air. He would pace back and forth, next to the salt shaker. He would cry like a puppy, pule like a baby, shake his head vigorously, and lose himself in hysterical bouts of sorrow.
But he would never pick the salt shaker up. Someone else would have to do that. And then his face would gleam with joy, and all would be well with Igor again. But if you set the salt shaker in a safer location, such as the middle of the table, he would quickly pick it up and balance it precariously right there on the edge. And then he’d get back to work, happily mumbling and breathily breathing, while tinkering away with his delightful little tools.
One day my wife and I were watching Igor fix our vacuum cleaner. It was a very expensive vacuum, and so we were intensely interested in this particular repair. We didn’t want to shell out the bucks to buy a new one. He had it up on the workbench in our garage. I sat next to him, and my wife stood opposite the workbench, directly across from me. I was so fascinated watching this mad genius, that I didn’t notice how close my elbow was to his salt shaker.
A reflexive nudge from my elbow, and I glanced over just in time to observe the empty glass shaker disappear over the edge. Thank God for that pile of rags it landed in! It made absolutely no noise. Nobody noticed this tragedy but me. But I couldn’t help but utter a sudden, throaty “Awp!” which I quickly stifled.
Igor startled a little and quickly swung his head at me, gazing directly into my eyes. I had to do something explanatory. But I couldn’t just reach down and pick up the salt shaker. I don’t take on accountability very well. And I didn’t want Igor to notice that his precious shaker was missing. And I especially didn’t want him to know that I was the one responsible for it being missing.
“Aww, ahhhhhhhh, aww, ahhh, ahhh!” I melodiously sang out, trying to convey to Igor that I was so happy I was breaking out into song. He furrowed his eyebrows disapprovingly. I stopped singing. He swung his head back and returned to work, grunting and mumbling something in Romanian.
My wife gave me a quizzical, wide-eyed look, like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I just sheepishly cast my eyes downward and began plotting how to return the salt shaker to its rightful position without anyone catching on.
But apparently Igor’s subconscious had detected something was wrong. He seemed distrait. He fumbled around with his tools, grunting breathy expressions of frustration. His hands shook nervously. He cast gazes about and began breathing and grunting louder and louder.
My wife was becoming visibly upset just watching him become visibly upset. Meanwhile, I sat stone-still, silent and mortified. My wife studied me. She knew by my frozen demeanor that I was somehow the perpetrator of this unhinging scene. Then she spotted the glass salt shaker in the pile of rags on the floor. She pointed it out to me. Igor caught sight of her pointing finger and spun on his seat, facing me down with laser eyes and beads of sweat on his brow.
I could dissimulate no longer. I just very quickly reached down, picked up the salt shaker, and set it back on the very edge of the workbench, where it had rested just a few minutes before. I gave a simpering, nervous, apologetic smile to Igor. Igor growled a long, deep, gutteral growl. He sounded like a jungle cat. He curled his lip and formed a distasteful message of complete contempt, with the scrunching lines of his face. Then he slowly turned back to the vacuum cleaner and tinkered quietly away.
There were no more happy, breathy grunts of pleasure from him. There was only an icicle silence, save the tiny scratchings and tappings coming from his little tools. Igor was pissed.
I had to be punished. It was the only way to get back into Igor’s good graces. That evening I stood in the living room with my shirt stripped from my chest and my hands tied behind my back. My wife approached me with a glass jar, and inside that jar was a dime-sized spider. Igor sat on the couch and watched with an amused interest in his eyes.
I’m deathly afraid of spiders. Whether they be big, medium, small, or tiny; hairy, bald, dull, or shiny, I cannot abide arachnids. My wife lunged at me with the jar. I jumped back in horror. Igor guffawed loudly. My wife lunged again, and began chasing me around the living room with the spider in the jar. I heard Igor utter something like, “Huh-ha, huh-ha, huh-ha!” My eyes were saucers of terror. Igor’s eyes were terpsichorean dancers. I squirmed. He slapped his knee. I squealed. He howled.
This went on for a good fifteen minutes. It was holy, shit-my-pants hell for me the whole time. My wife was a little uncomfortable with it, herself, but seemed to be getting into it toward the end. Meanwhile, Igor’s amusement reached a climactic plateau of pitched, hysterical laughter, then slowly subsided to intermittent convulsive chuckles. Finally he relaxed into a calm, smiling state of peaceful repose. He was back to himself again. Back to the old, eager-to-please Igor.
He slapped my bare back good-naturedly and headed off to his guest bedroom in the backyard, to retire for the night. My wife untied me, let the spider loose in the front yard, and then we both headed to bed. With Igor back in our good graces, all was well in our world. At last we could get a good night’s sleep.
And in the morning, who knows? Maybe I could get him to fix that light switch.