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When it comes to housework, my wife and I divvy up the chores according to our levels of competence. This means she does most of the work. It is not that I am lazy so much as that I just don't care about the quality of the results as much as she does. For example, after I have made the bed it tends to have a lumpy topology, like a cruller. This is partially caused by my inattention to standard smoothing protocols, but also because of objects inadvertently left underneath, such as underpants or rawhide bones. My wife hates this sort of thing, so she assigns bed-making to herself.

One of the few areas reserved for me is home repairs, because my wife is inept at this discipline. (So am I, but fair is fair.)

Alas, even in my designated ambit of responsibility, I tend to procrastinate. This provokes nagging, which I accept genially. It is the least I can do. Literally.

Recently, the four light bulbs in our main bathroom began to die, one by one. After two had gone, my wife reminded me to replace them. I agreed this was something that definitely needed to happen in the near future, and that I was the man to do it. After the third went out, and evening ablutions became a challenge, my wife began to remind me more frequently. Finally, all four pooped out, which is when things got interesting.

At times like this, my talent as a creative artist kicks in. I pointed out that while this was certainly a chore I would soon attend to, it's not as though the bathroom was pitch black: There was reflected light from the bedroom, sort of like moonlight at midnight, making the bathroom rather romantic, actually, when you looked at it that way, sort of.

Of course, the wife didn't buy this. But our little division of labor is important to her -- I do have a designated ambit of responsibility -- so instead of replacing the bulbs herself, she began leaving me physical hints. She placed a package of new bulbs next to my computer. For a couple of days, it made a passable coaster for my coffee cups.

Next, she put it on the stairs leading to our bedroom. This was a potential broken-glass hazard, especially in bare feet, but if one is careful, one can negotiate past it without incident or injury. After two more days, she put them at the top of the stairs. Finally, she put them in my sink. Taking them out of the sink would have been acknowledging their presence, so I had to learn to shave around them.

In all, eight days had passed. Finally, last Saturday morning, I was working on my computer when I heard a quavery voice from upstairs:

"Can you come steady me so I don't fall?"

I walked upstairs, into the bathroom.

My wife was standing on a three-legged stool, three feet off the ground. She had a light bulb in each hand. The stool was extremely unsteady; she was teetering like a drunk on a tightrope.

I lunged and grabbed her at the waist and carried her down tenderly, as if I were Clark Gable and she were Vivien Leigh.

"Don't ever do that again!" I said, hugging her. "You could have really gotten hurt."

She apologized for her recklessness. Then I put in the light bulbs.

It wasn't until days later that I replayed the scene in my head and realized that Something Was Wrong. I went back to check. The light bulbs aren't in the ceiling: They're on a vanity, and only six feet off the ground. She hadn't had to use a stool at all.