It was a sunny, warm summer day when Jim and I sat in the shade of the front porch, sipping beer and talking about life. He confided in me about troubles with his girlfriend, and I spilled the beans about the challenges of life in my current household. He didn’t believe what I had to say until an image he couldn’t believe was burned into his eyes.
Here is, more or less, the story I told him.
* * *
I was thrilled and relieved to get away from Boris the Biohazard (#1) and move into a home that was clean and odourless. My new landlady, Celia, was rather obsessive-compulsive, but that was a small price to pay to be Boris-less.
At first it was comical to be sitting in the living room, watching TV with a drink, and have Celia come in with bed sheets and start spreading them out over the floor, even moving furniture around, to make sure I didn’t spill on anything. “Does she think I’m a baby or a dog?” I wondered. The couches were already covered in blankets, as they were never allowed to see the light of day.
It was especially confusing to see her go to such lengths to protect the carpet as it was already 40 years old, bleached by the sun, stained from raising children, and threaded from years of vacuuming. It was already ruined.
But as Bob (#5) and I became more socially active, having friends over on a weekly basis, her behaviour became less and less benign. She would start having panic attacks before our friends arrived, relieving them through bizarre cleaning rituals.
One evening, after Celia had exhausted herself from cleaning and we thought we were set for an uninterrupted good time with our friends, one friend, Barry, took a sip from a glass of water and set it down on the coffee table. He realized, as soon as he had set it down, that it was not on the placemat, so he picked it back up to move it over before he got caught. And that’s when it happened. I saw it all in slow motion.
Barry picked up the glass, but, in his nervousness, he had grabbed it awkwardly. The glass slipped out of his hand, falling towards the coffee table. The base of the glass struck the table’s surface. Would it stabilize, I wondered, throwing only a few drops onto the placemat? No! The glass was falling at too uneven an angle when it made contact. It bounced, and continued its descent. Barry swore as he reached frantically for the glass, but only succeeded in knocking it to the floor between his feet.
Celia, awakened like a blood hound by the sound of an improperly handled glass, came running into the living room. When she saw the glass lying on its side, she froze, then started to yell. She ran in a panic to grab a rag, and dove to the floor to start mopping up the mess as Barry jumped out of the way.
I never saw where it came from, but somehow she produced a spray bottle full of cleaning product, and started spraying the carpet. Why she did that I would never know, because only water had been spilt. Why would she spray it? Did she think the water had been dirtied by Barry’s lips?
* * *
Jim interrupted my story. “What? Nobody’s that stupid!” I took a sip of beer, trying to decide how to respond to Jim’s comment, when Celia came walking out into the front yard. I saw Jim’s jaw slacken, then his brow furrow as he took in what he saw. Celia was wearing a pair of rubber boots, which was a little strange considering it was a dry, sunny day. In her hands, she carried a plastic container full of dishes and soapy water, and she was also dragging a garden hose. She set down the container, and proceeded to wash and spray the dishes, setting them down in the grass to dry when they were done.
The most shocking thing about this sight, however, wasn’t the fact that she was washing the dishes in the front yard with the garden hose, but the fact that she was wearing, aside from the rubber boots, nothing but a small, black bikini! Oblivious to how she appeared to the neighbours walking by, she sang merrily as she displayed her shrivelled, elderly figure to the world, while scrubbing the dishes in the sunshine.
Would I tell Jim that Celia had been doing this ever since the kitchen faucet broke, and she noticed how shiny the sink had been until she got it repaired? And that she had since decreed that dishes should no longer be washed in the kitchen? Nope. I took another sip and said. “Well there you go.”
Jim said nothing, and took a long, deep chug of beer.