ruthie blum 88.
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"I'm home," I called, grunting from the weight of the suitcase I had just lugged up the stairs. Only the dog responded by making an appearance, however, as no two-legged member of my family ever stirs before noon when school is out.
Not that I really minded. My three-week disengagement from disengagement and work and parenthood had been as successful an operation as I could have hoped for. Having a couple of extra hours in which to drink a cup of coffee and unpack in peace would be an added bonus. After that, I told myself calmly, I would tend to all the things I hadn't had to concern myself with for what seemed like a heavenly eternity: the groceries, the cooking, the laundry, the bills, the complaints, the demands, the chauffeuring and that other, secondary job - the one that is supposed to finance all of the above.
"Dear Mom," the e-mail I received before getting on the airplane had nearly brought tears to my eyes. "When you arrive, there will be a surprise waiting for you. We spent the whole day cleaning the house."
The prospect of returning to a tidy apartment alone would have been sufficient cause for celebration. That the children accomplished this together - voluntarily - made me consider whether I shouldn't go away more often.
What the darlings failed to mention was that, during my absence, my old friend Murphy had paid an extensive visit aimed at showing me how much he'd missed having me around. After all, he and I have been pretty much inseparable for as far back as I can remember.
The Welcome mat he had laid out for me so lovingly was as intricate as it was expensive. In fact, I'll be paying for it heftily for some time to come, since it left no tile unturned.
Not keeping me informed on this score was either an act of benign neglect on the kids' part or one of self-preservation. They clearly understood that had I known what was lurking beneath the shiny surface they had taken pains to put on display, I would never have been able to enjoy my vacation. They also may have feared I would have preferred to stay put in the Diaspora they view as tantamount to Wonderland.
Their being sound asleep upon my arrival turned out to be beneficial to all concerned. Mainly to them, since it is they - and not the culprit Murphy - who would have born the brunt of my soon-to-be ill temper.
"Lightbulbs," I jotted down on a note pad, upon discovering that not a single fixture was functional. This item, I decided, would be the first on the shopping list I was going to complete after taking a shower.
But there was no hot water. The boiler, it turned out, had been leaking and the landlord was "in the process" of "getting someone to give an estimate to fix it." So much for that idea.
To maximize efficiency - and keep moving so as to stop shivering from the cold shower - I decided to tackle a crucial chore before heading out to run errands. I would deal with the dirty clothes in the hamper to make room for those now strewn all over my bed.
The washing machine, however, had other plans. These included clamping shut its detergent compartment (which required my having to fetch a wrench to pry it open), making frightening sputtery noises and, finally, refusing to spin. This necessitated unscrewing the filter apparatus to dislodge debris - a process involving the removal of everything in the bathroom due to the ensuing flood - and "sweeping" the water across the floor into the drainage hole.
The dryer, too, greeted me warmly - by short-circuiting.
After fidgeting with the fuse box, I figured it was time to deal with the dishes in the sink. Thrilled to see me back where I belong, the dishwasher became yet another appliance to show off its last legs with flair. This it did by spewing a stream of suds all along the bottom of the kitchen cabinets. The mop, which I found covered in thick, black dog hair and dust bunnies, was not going to be of any use. Paper towels would have to do. But the supply cupboard, thanks to Murphy's embrace, was bare.
"Paper towels," I added to the list, leaving a trail of soapy footprints as I treaded cautiously across the room.
By now I was growing grumpier by the minute. I knew I would have to compose myself before greeting my children, one of whom has been known on occasion to ask me if I ever smile. Which is why I went on vacation in the first place, after all. To recharge the humor battery. Anybody as tight with Murphy as I am has to do that once in a while.
"Hey, Murphy," I said, taking several deep breaths of the Ashram variety. "Can you cut me some slack here?"
But the only answer I received was from the dog, who grabbed his leash off the shelf and told me in no uncertain terms that he had to be taken out. Now.
"Naturally," I sighed. "Why don't you throw up on the carpet to make this whole picture complete?"
As obedient to Murphy as he is to me, he happily obliged. This was definitely not a good moment to be out of paper towels. There would be no postponing a supermarket run.
"Hi, how are you?" a neighbor waved as I stomped out of my building, the dog in tow.
"I need a vacation," I said.
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