Flipside: Cats' cradle

"Let's face it," Gila thinks bitterly, wringing a towel into the bathtub, "I'm a dysfunctional person." She has just spent the better part of an hour, after a full-day's work, mopping up puddles whose source has yet to be located. A leak that appears and reappears every week or so, with no warning and even less notice. A leak that has been hiking up her water bills to astronomical heights and threatening to drive her crazy - or into the poorhouse, whichever comes first. This, she has figured out, is connected to some blockage or other. Blockage that no snake or amount of caustic soda is able to budge. Blockage she fears is related to feline fur. Hiring a professional, in spite of her sister's admonitions, is out of the question. A plumber would see a woman living alone as prey, she assures herself. His estimate would be mind-boggling, she is certain, and his final fee well beyond that. Just like the guy at the garage. But the mechanic, who flirts with her before committing highway robbery, at least does so on public premises - not in the privacy of her home. Where she is visibly unprotected. Vulnerable. At his mercy. Hence her newfound occupation. Though "preoccupation" would be a far more accurate definition of her unwitting plunge - as it were - into the pipe-and-drainage system of her apartment. A plunge, like so many others, she feels she is forced to take against her will. Like tonight. Tonight! "Oh, no," she wails, looking at her watch - and in the process at her chafed hands and chipped nail-polish. The realization that she has only 15 minutes in which to get to the dry-cleaner before it closes makes her want to grab the phone and call off the whole thing. And while she's at it, vent her rage at her sister for getting her into this fix in the first place. Skipping the clothes-run - that will cut into precious primping time - is not an option. Not when she's got nothing else to wear that flatters her figure and isn't covered in cat hair. Though why she should care about how she looks this evening eludes her. Particularly when she's sure it's going to be a disaster. Obviously he's a loser like the rest of them, after all. Otherwise he'd be happily married by now. Not living by himself in some crappy apartment with a bunch of cats and half-eaten, three-day-old pizza in the fridge. "How in the world did I let myself get roped into this?" she growls, replacing her plastic slippers with socks and shoes and putting on her coat over dirty, wet jeans. Part-walking, part-running, she makes her way up the street as though she were on an obstacle course. Swinging her hips to one side to avoid colliding with a family at the felafel stand, she nearly bumps into a baby carriage. "It'd be safer to jog in traffic," she mumbles to herself, arriving just in time to complete her errand. HANGER HOOKED on her index finger and Saran-sheathed outfit slung over her shoulder, Gila now saunters back, still seething at her sister's meddling and at her own stupidity for succumbing to it. "But you two have so much in common," she recalls the fateful tactic her sister had employed to get her to agree to go on a blind date - a humiliation she had sworn she would never, ever, subject herself to again. "That's interesting," Gila had responded. "Does he leak or is he blocked?" "He's voting Kadima," her sister had continued her barrage without listening. "Oh, I get it," Gila had quipped. "He both leaks and is blocked." "Like you, he loves animals," her sister had purred, as if reciting a resume from a written bio. Or from a J-Date entry. "Like you, he keeps kosher at home, but he's flexible outside. Like you, he's careful with money..." "You mean he's cheap," Gila had interrupted. "I mean that he's frugal - not extravagant," her sister had protested, desperate to end the conversation with a thumbs-up for an arranged meeting between her husband's colleague and her sibling, each of whom could do with a little companionship - and other things - from a member of the opposite sex. "And he's got three beautiful children who live with their mother," Gila had mocked in a sing-song voice. "Nooooo," her sister had retorted. "Like you, he's never been married." "Aha!" Gila had said triumphantly. "In other words, there's something wrong with him." "How can you say that?" her sister had feigned hurt feelings. "You've never been married either." "Exactly," Gila had said, hoping to put an end to her sister's pestering. But to no avail. "The only thing wrong with either of you is that neither of you has met the right person," her sister had insisted - employing a cliche Gila had taken to be a euphemistic way of telling her that she's too stubborn, picky and judgemental. And that if she's not careful, she's going to wind up a hermit, knee-deep in cat-litter. "Let's face it," Gila had sighed. "I'm a dysfunctional person." "Oh no you're not," her sister had said, preparing her secret weapon to make the final kill. "You're merely a coward." AS SHE enters her apartment, Gila holds the dry-cleaning over her head to prevent the cats greeting her in the vestibule from clawing at the plastic wrapping. Then she goes into her room and shoos the cats asleep on her bed out into the hallway and shuts the door behind them. Now she climbs into the bathtub and turns on the shower. Suds and grime begin to rise around her ankles, the result of the water backing up instead of flowing down the drain. Scrubbing fragrant shampoo into her scalp, she swears that if this date is even remotely passable, she will call a plumber first thing in the morning. ruthie@jpost.com