Saying nine over nine is always kind of fun because painters are usually the only people that know what it means. The nine panes over nine panes in a large antebellum-style window represent a true challenge for a good brush-man on any job site. But if that newbie idiot in there doesn’t stop saying it, or rather, singing it, then I’ll have to make him. Nine over nine’s like a switch in time . . . is that what he’s singing? Dumb little nursery rhyme fairy. He wishes he could hold a candle to my brushwork. I’ve just finished the sashes around pane number seven, all of it coated in clean, white paint, glistening, not a speck on the glass. And boy am I fast.

See, now he’s got me doing it. Skinny chump, in there rolling that bedroom out, trying to do it extra fast so Mark and the guys will think he’s a first-class painter. It’s Friday, only his third day and I’ll give him a week, tops. I don’t like pansy-men, walking around and singing on the job, that whole whistle-while-you-work attitude. And what the hell? Are those corduroys? Mark would never let us get away with something like that. Corduroys.

I pop a piece of Spearmint gum in my mouth, check my phone for any messages. Eleven dollars an hour isn’t nearly enough to work this hard, and I have no qualms in taking my time when the moment arises. Mark throws me a bone every now and again but he’s doing pretty good, I’d say, and we are the reason for his success. We, yeah. Billy’s upstairs manning the spray gun, Jerry’s on the baseboards, and I’m on these windows. I don’t count pansy boy as a legitimate asset on this team. No sir, weirdos, girlie-men, and dudes wearing corduroys on job sites need not apply.

You see, I’ve been grumpy all morning. Darlene’s been complaining that her new three- thousand-dollar boob job makes her itch; Mark didn’t have any coffee brewing this morning at the shop; and most of all, my bid wasn’t accepted for the big First National Bank job over on Commerce Boulevard in downtown Montgomery, the second bid I’ve recently lost. Big money, that job, and it was supposed to get me out of here, get me on to doing my own thing; it was also a job I needed since I’m the one making Darlene’s extra payment every month. To top everything off, and something always does, the lady of the house—our customer—is prancing around doing her daily chores in a pair of grey stretch pants, and I’ve already dabbed more than one glob of paint on my wrist from being distracted and looking.

The crisp scent of cheese toast is dancing out of the kitchen, blending right in with the smell of exotic coffee percolating, probably some of that fancy Columbian stuff. I load up my brush with thick white paint and run it across the lower right-hand sash of the top window, listening to the low rumble of my empty stomach. Nine over nine. The bottom window’s done, but I’m dragging, unable to determine which is more aggravating: the succulent scent of the glory coming out of the kitchen or the sight of old girl walking around in those pants. Her lower half looks like hammered steel underneath that thin layer of cotton, and I wonder if her old man knows she’s dressed like that around a bunch of painters. I suddenly get a good visual of her up on the kitchen table, dancing for us while we sit around and gulp that exotic coffee, watching, all of us, Jerry, Billy, even sissy-man. The rumble in my stomach subsides and I feel a little better.

After a few minutes I can hear Madam Breakfast upstairs walking back and forth, doing something. But then there’s movement in the kitchen. Nobody should be in the kitchen since we aren’t painting in there, and so I lean my head back to get a view and I’ll be damned if it ain’t our resident goober himself, standing at the kitchen island, messing with something. I continue to watch, mortified with amusement, as he works his hand through a bowl of . . .  cookies! He shoves one in his mouth, and after a quick check, left to right, he filches two more, stuffing them under his white paint rag. I duck my head back out of sight, wait for a second, and then lean back again to watch him re-work the pile of cookies, feathering them all out before stealing back to his room.

I turn back to my window, the nine over nine is a switch in time, and finish up the next couple of panes. I no longer am bothered by the nagging smell of toast and coffee because I’m smiling, lost in my brushwork. Mark has hired a pickpocket! I work my brush cleanly up and down the inside sash, and I continue to replay what I’ve just seen. Is pansy-painter a thug in disguise? Maybe Mark hired him to watch us. Miss Lower-Half is now running down the stairs, probably having forgotten about her breakfast, and as I lean back and watch her breeze across the kitchen tile, humming, she walks right past the cookie bowl and takes a cup out of the cabinet.

I return to my brush, wishing that I had it all on film. This is better than the movies.

(To read more of this story, contact John!)