It was her favorite phrase. Never mind it was usually justified, it still always left him a little sore for the rest of the day. After all, he always managed to fix it in the end. Even if it did mean eventually having to crack open the instructions.
There was the one time with the new kitchen faucet when he forgot to reinstall the rubber washers. When he turned the water back on it went spurting out all over. He scrambled to turn it back off, but not before they had both been quite drenched down the front.
She had laughed, handed him a towel, and said, “Next time read the damned instructions!”
He ripped the faucet back out while she mopped up the floor, but before long they had a brand new fixture with the detachable spray wand she had always wanted.
Then there was the new printer he had bought for her birthday. No, no, no, he would not read the instructions! He could do this one just fine, thank you. Three hours later when he still couldn’t get the ink onto the paper, she discovered the little tab over the ink cartridge was still firmly in place.
She sighed and patted his shoulder gently. “Next time, darling, read the damned instructions!”
But now she could print out the pictures of her children, so far away at college, on high quality photo paper to share with her quilting group. She always told him how much she preferred having real pictures in her hand, pictures she could frame and hang. It just wasn’t the same on the computer.
Summer found him in the home improvement center, as he had decided to build a do-it-yourself fish pond for her garden. He had back-filled the hole with a cushion of sand, set the liner, and arranged the flagstones around the outside before he realized he had not laid the hose for the pump and filter.
She came out with a glass of lemonade and a sandwich and said, “Next time, read the instructions, first.”
It took him another two days to tear it all down and get it set to right. But she loved so much sitting by the pond in the long evenings with a cup of tea, watching her fish.
The years stretched on. These days it was the mechanized wheel chair with ‘some assembly required’. He had accidentally installed the controls backward, so she had to push left to go right, pull back to move forward. She told him to leave it, at least it worked.
Then she gently cupped his face and kissed his lips and said, “Next time, read the damned instructions.”
When he sat beside her hospital bed, holding her hand as the machines beeped and the pain medicine slowly dripped into the IV in her arm, he wiped at his eyes and said, “How can I fix it this time, Lin? You didn’t come with any instructions.”